It's fair to say that Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts are two of the most hyped prospects to come out of the Red Sox farm system in the last 10 years or so. The two rose through the ranks in entirely different ways, with Bogaerts following a relatively normal if somewhat accelerated, track through the minor leagues with an appropriate hype train given his natural talents at the plate. Betts, on the other hand, shot through the minors like a Hyperloop train with his potential outpacing the hype that accompanied him, at least nationally (no prospect can be underhyped in Boston).
Fittingly enough, Bogaerts and Betts' respective success at the major league level have mirrored their paths coming up through the farm. Bogaerts underwent a normal transition, learning his way around the shortstop position defensively with the assistance of third base coach Brian Butterfield while struggling to lay off sliders off the plate that affected his entire approach at the plate during his rookie season. Betts continued, almost supernaturally, to succeed. The 23-year-old outfielder adjusted to major league pitching during his first extended stint in the majors and finished his first full season last year among the top-15 outfielders in baseball in regards to WAR.
So while Bogaerts received more hype, placing as high as no. 2 in many prospect rankings, Betts, so far, has succeeded at the plate to a higher degree, playing into the comparison of the relative-to-decently-well-off-man's Andrew McCutchen with the potential to grow into an equally-as-wealthy-and-well-off version of the Pittsburgh Pirates star. Since coming up to the major leagues, Bogaerts' hype as the next great shortstop has been lapped by Astros stud Carlos Correa and matched, to a lesser extent, by Cleveland Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor.
The projections on the Bogaerts - Betts tandem reflect the career trajectory of both players. Take a look at the Steamer, Fans and ZiPS projections courtesy of FanGraphs and compare the output to the production last year.
For most of the categories here, with the exception of power, many of the projections for Bogaerts go down compared to his marks in 2015. A lot of this is likely attributed to the .372 BABIP Bogaerts posted last season, which was up considerably from the .296 mark in 2015.
The rather incredible increase in BABIP suggests that part of the jump in performance last season from the Red Sox shortstop was due to luck; with ground balls that infielders scooped up in 2014 instead finding gaps in 2015. One would expect this mark to even out somewhere in the middle, unless Bogaerts -- and this is not necessarily out of the conversation -- improved rather considerably at the plate and the increase in BABIP is due to almost entirely to skill rather than luck.
While one can't really expect Bogaerts to hit .320 again, there was definitely a tangible difference in his approach at the plate last season that clearly benefitted his ability to get on base. Expect that to continue next season, even if some of the doubles are traded for fly outs and home runs.
The interesting projection with Bogaerts is the increase in power. Throughout his rise in the minor leagues, Bogaerts was lauded for his natural pop; the ball simply came off his bat differently. That power has not entirely manifested itself at the major league level yet, but flashed from time to time. Some folks and scouts projected Bogaerts to top out at 20-25 home runs at the peak of his career (which he is nowhere near yet), but the moderate increase to 12 (which feels kind of low) to 16 home runs feels reasonable.
The projections for Betts are equally fascinating, but for an entirely different reason.
What stands out immediately with Betts' projections is the consistency, which has been the mark of career to date. In his rookie year, 2014, Betts hit .291. He hit .291 in 2015. Now, there were some pretty big ups and downs within that .291, especially last season, but at the end of the day, we've kind of known what to expect out of Betts thus far in his career. A consistent leadoff hitter who has some pop and can really sparkplug things.
And while it's totally reasonable to imagine that Betts could end 2016 with similar stats to his rookie year and his first full season, what the projections overlook here is the fact that he's still getting better, something that was accounted for in Bogaerts' power projections. Betts is 23 years old and this is in no way going to be his ceiling as a player. Especially considering the adjustments he made after the All-Star break last season, it's not unreasonable to expect to see Betts see a jump in his slash line and potentially project continued development in power.
In many ways, the projections for Bogaerts and Betts mirror the ups and downs (or really lack thereof) in their career. For the foreseeable future, the duo provide one of the best young cores in major league baseball and, for that, the Red Sox should be infinitely proud of the foundation they've set themselves.
That being said, the third season (and second full year for Betts) will set the expectations for both players for the foreseeable future. If Bogaerts puts together a season similar to his last, the bitter remnants of his rookie year will no longer be considered. For Betts, the question is whether he's actually a superhuman, and if the otherworldly consistency is a fluke or a feature. And I'm sure the Red Sox hope for the latter.