Remember when Xander Bogaerts was bunched alongside Jackie Bradley Jr. and Will Middlebrooks as the young players contributing the Red Sox's slow start? While the narrative was a little ridiculous to begin with, Bogaerts has emerged within the last couple of weeks as the top hitter in the Red Sox lineup while firmly supplanting himself at the top of the lineup.
Bogaerts currently ranks among the 25 players in baseball in regards to wins above replacement according to FanGraphs. His 2.0 WAR currently sits above established stars such as Victor Martinez, Evan Longoria and Buster Posey, among others. Bogaerts' WAR also places him at the top of the Red Sox position players, putting him above Dustin Pedroia (1.3), Mike Napoli (1.1) and David Ortiz (0.8).
The 21-year-old's production is even more impressive when put in context among the rest of baseball. Bogaerts' WAR places him at the top of all shortstops in the American League and second in all of baseball, trailing only the unstoppable Troy Tulowitzki, who sports a 4.4 WAR. If placed among third baseman, Bogaerts ranks as the second best player at the hot corner in the AL, trailing only Josh Donaldson. Bogaerts sports the third highest WAR among third baseman in baseball as well, trailing Donaldson, Todd Frazier and Matt Carpenter.
Not only has Bogaerts been the top offensive rookie in baseball (Masahiro Tanaka's unbelievable, Cy Young Award-worthy start certainly cannot be ignored), but the infielder also ranks among the top shortstops and/or third basemen a little over two months into the season.
It is important to consider that the Red Sox, both publicly and internally, firmly believe that Bogaerts is still a shortstop longterm.
After hitting .278/.387/.378 in April, Bogaerts went on an absolute tear in May, hitting .327/.407/.490 while displaying a significant increase in power as the month rolled on and progressing defensively at shortstop, showing better footwork and more range in the field. At the same time, Bogaerts has been among the best hitters, if not the best, on the Red Sox so far this season.
One of the best rookie offensive seasons in Red Sox history came from another shortstop: Nomar Garciaparra in 1997. Garciaparra had an outstanding rookie season, winning Rookie of the Year honors and finishing in eighth place for the Most Valuable Player award as a 23-year-old while hitting .306/.342/.534 with 30 home runs, 98 RBIs, 44 doubles, 11 triples and 22 stolen bases while posting a 6.6 WAR.
Looking at Bogaerts' production through the first 59 games versus Garciaparra's stats during the same number of games during their rookie seasons is fascinating. Through 59 games, Garciaparra hit .288/.330/.468 with eight home runs, 32 RBIs, 14 doubles, five triples, 16 walks and 42 strikeouts. Bogaerts, on the other hand, has hit .299/.387/.452 with five home runs, 17 RBIs, 17 doubles, one triple, 25 walks and 57 strikeouts.
While he has not hit for the same power that Garciaparra displayed in the early part of the season, Bogaerts has certainly displayed elite on-base skills with the ability to draw walks, something that demonstrates an extremely mature approach at the plate that Garciaparra didn't begin to fully show until his third full season in the league, when he hit .357 with a .418 on-base percentage.
It's also worth taking note of Bogaerts' production compared to another shortstop that he was compared to coming up through the minors: Tulowitzki. Tulowitzki provides a strong comparison to Bogaerts not only because of his size (both are 6'3), but also his age during his rookie season (Tulowitzki was 22 in 2007, his first full season). Tulowitzki put up strong numbers during his freshman campaign, posting a 6.8 WAR while hitting .291/.359/.479 with 24 home runs, 99 RBIs, 33 doubles, five triples, 57 walks and 130 strikeouts.
While Tulowitzki's season line is extremely strong, he struggled through the first 59 games of the season, hitting .261/.333/.372 with three home runs, 27 RBIs, ten doubles, three triples, 22 walks and 54 strikeouts. Bogaerts can say that he performed better than Tulowitzki did during his first two months in his rookie season.
While Bogaerts "started slow" during April, he turned up the production during May and his statistics suggest that he has been one of the top infielders in baseball, despite being a rookie at just 21-years-old (and only six days older than Mookie Betts). Bogaerts is performing like one of the best players in baseball at a time where others his age are just getting drafted out of college without having played a single inning of professional baseball.
What Bogaerts is doing at such a young age is astounding and suggests that he is well on his way to superstardom. With the way that he is playing so far this season, Bogaerts deserves to be at the All-Star game at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minn. in a little over a month from now. Considering how well Bogaerts has done compared to some of shortstop peers a little over two months into their rookie seasons, it will be fascinating to see the his progress, both at the plate and in the field, in the months to come.