September is upon us, and for some reason that means teams get to add up to 15 more players to their roster for the most important stretch of the regular season. Whether or not you agree this is a bizarre rule is neither here nor there, though. It’s a thing, and one that has one big storyline for the Red Sox. The decision to call up Yoan Moncada became official on Wednesday, though it’s something that’s been discussed for weeks though.
The top prospect in the system (and, for some, in all of baseball) won’t be the only young player to join the team in the next week or so, but he’s certainly the most exciting. Now that he’s here, the burning question is how much of a role he will play right away, and whether or not he can leverage that into a bigger role as the postseason nears. Luckily, there is some recent franchise history that can help us find that answer.
Let’s travel back to this time in 2013. Breaking Bad was coming to an end. Ben Affleck was just announced as Batman. “Roar” by Katy Perry was first being unleashed upon us, and we still haven’t escaped its grasp. Xander Bogaerts was being called up to the majors for the first time. The similarities between that and the Moncada situation is uncanny. Sure, Bogaerts got the call a couple weeks earlier than Moncada, but that’s the biggest difference. Both entered their respective seasons as one of the premiere prospects in the league. Both moved over to the hot corner after spending most of their professional career in the middle infield. Both did so because the incumbent at third was struggling.
The early role for Moncada figures to also share some similarities with that of 2013 Bogaerts, though with one key difference. It’s hard to believe now (or at least it was for me), but Bogaerts played in just 18 games in the regular season that year. Will Middlebrooks still got the vast majority of the starts at third base, as the then-20-year-old Bogaerts split time between third, shortstop and the bench. However, as the month went on, it became clearer and clearer that Middlebrooks was not the caliber of player that should be playing for a team with World Series aspirations, particularly when someone as talented as Bogaerts is waiting in the wings. Middlebrooks did start the month on a tear, but he put up just a .411 OPS in his last 15 games. This opened the door for Bogaerts to play the role he did in October and the one we will always remember him for.
Transporting back to this year, with “Roar” still playing, now inexplicably in political settings, Moncada finds himself in a similar situation. Travis Shaw is playing the role of Middlebrooks, and is doing a phenomenal impression. Like the former third base phenom, Shaw excelled in his rookie year. He obviously continued that success into the first half of the 2016 season, giving everyone hope he could stick here long term. Recently, it’s been a different story. Since the start of June he is hitting just .208/.278/.362, leaving some doubt that he should be playing every day on yet another team with World Series aspirations.
Like in 2013 with Bogaerts, that’s not enough to hand Moncada the job right away. Bogaerts was arguably an even more well-regarded prospect than Moncada (as crazy as that sounds) and had more upper-minors experience. Even with those advantages, he was relegated to a part-time role to start his career. It was only because of others’ struggles that he began to gain more playing time.
I’d imagine the same fate is awaiting Moncada. He’s certainly not going to be sitting on the bench every day, but the guess here is that he’ll play roughly half the time when a righty starts, at least to start his major-league career. From there, the onus is on Shaw to keep that kind of split. If he continues to struggle, Moncada will start to eat into more and more of that playing time. In fact, the urgency figures to be even greater this time around. Back in 2013, the Red Sox had the division all but locked up early into September, with very little drama around their playoff berth. This season, they are locked into a tight and crowded race for both the division and one of the wildcard spots. As such, expect there to be a slightly shorter leash for Shaw than there was for Middlebrooks.
Beyond all of that, the biggest takeaway I have from my trip back to 2013 is that Bogaerts really wasn’t all that good in his first regular season. Obviously, we’re talking about a tiny 50 plate appearance sample, but his .250/.320/.364 line leaves a lot to be desired. With that being said, he looked like he was major-league ready when he was standing in the batters box. Despite his youth, Bogaerts was incredibly poised at the plate and was able to walk ten percent of the time while maintaining a workable 26 percent K-rate. As Moncada comes up with more plate discipline concerns than Bogaerts had at this point in his career, this is what I’ll be watching for more than anything. The K and BB numbers won’t be as important as his general feel for the strike zone against the most advanced pitching he’s ever seen.
Now that Moncada is up, there are a million different ways things can go over the final month of the season. He could earn himself an everyday role by the end of the season, he could turn into a bench piece for a playoff run, or he could be left off a potential postseason roster all together. Looking at the amazingly similar experience undergone by Bogaerts in 2013, one should expect him to be eased into the majors to start the month, with any increase in playing time being dependent on Shaw’s success as well as Moncada’s maturity. Really, though, the biggest takeaway is this: Everything is wildly similar to 2013. The Red Sox are guaranteed to win the World Series this year. You heard it here first.