Welcome back to our annual positional preview series, in which we take stock of where the Red Sox stand everywhere on the depth chart for each position. At every spot on the diamond, we will look at where Boston stands on the major-league roster while also looking at their top prospects at the position. We will also take compare how the Red Sox look at the position compared to the rest of the division. Today, we cover the shortstop position.
Xander Bogaerts has been a mainstay at shortstop for the Red Sox for nearly a decade and he’s been at the peak of his powers during the last few seasons, particularly on offense, reaching or surpassing the 130 wRC+ mark each year from 2018 to 2021. During that time, only Marcus Semien has accumulated a greater total in fWAR among players who qualify as shortstops. Bogaerts maintained his dominance in 2021, slashing .295/.370/.493 with 23 home runs, despite a largely league average exit velocity. However, Bogaerts has always gotten by without elite contact, so there’s no reason to be concerned by his 55th percentile finish in 2021.
What is a bit more worrisome is Bogaerts’ work on defense, as he ranked 16th in baseball among qualified shortstops in defensive runs saved last season and near the very bottom of the league in outs above average. Maybe that’s why after all these years, Bogaerts still seems underrated among the glut of talented shortstops in MLB.
Bogaerts’ future with the Red Sox beyond this season may be up in the air, but his standing as a key (if not the key) position player on the roster and one of the best shortstops in baseball remains intact.
Trevor Story is a starter in his own right, so Christian Arroyo is probably the technical backup when the entire starting lineup is playing, but the Red Sox’s new second baseman lived the life of a shortstop for many years before coming to Boston. As you’ve probably heard in just about every write-up about Story since he signed with the Red Sox, the 29-year-old was only an average hitter based on wRC+ last season, but he was still a better than three-win player overall thanks to splendid glovework and blazing speed. Projections expect him to improve at the plate this year, with ZiPS pegging him for a 110 wRC+, making him an exceptional option to slide over to short when Bogaerts needs a day off.
Christian Arroyo, Enrique Hernández, Jonathan Araúz, Jeter Downs
Maybe it’s cheating to call Story the backup at shortstop since he has a full-time job. Sometimes the Red Sox will need someone other than him to spell Bogaerts, and that’s where Arroyo will likely come in. You could make the argument that Arroyo is an overqualified bench player, seeing how he was a slightly above average hitter last year and was destined to be the starter at second base prior to the Story signing. Unfortunately, Arroyo’s 2021 seems like his ceiling, especially as his walk rates have fallen drastically in the last few seasons. So even if he’d be a starter on teams with less depth, having Arroyo as an infield specialist on the bench better suits his talents.
Arroyo isn’t the only depth option at short for the Red Sox. When he’s not in the outfield, Enrique Hernández can step in from time to time and Jonathan Araúz remains a perfectly acceptable replacement in a pinch. Meanwhile, Jeter Downs has lost some ground in the prospect rankings, but he is still on the expanded roster and could make his MLB debut this year if he rebounds from a dismal 2021 in Triple-A.
Marcelo Mayer wasn’t a member of the Red Sox’s organization last year at this time and now he’s its top prospect, depending on which site you ask. The hype started far before he joined the Red Sox, as Mayer, the No. 4 overall pick last year, was ranked as the top prospect in the draft by some. FanGraphs projects his future value at 55 on its 20-80 scale, calling him a player with an “All-Star ceiling.” At only 19-years-old, Mayer won’t be making his MLB debut anytime soon, but he got off to a strong start to his professional baseball career in 2021, slashing .275/.377/.440 with a 121 wRC+ in 107 plate appearances in the Florida Complex League. It seems the Red Sox’s present and future at shortstop are in excellent hands.
Matthew Lugo may not be at the top of the prospect rankings for the Red Sox, but the 20-year-old infielder has promise and, perhaps more importantly, time to develop. He made some improvements offensively with the Salem Red Sox last season, although his .270/.338/.364 slash line shows there isn’t much power in his bat just yet. He also still has work to do in fielding, with SoxProspects.com describing him as “inconsistent defensively at present.” However, due to his age and the strides he made last year, there’s hope Lugo could make an impact down the line.
Other Prospect of Note
- Brainer Bonaci might have slightly better name recognition than Lugo, but he’s a little further back on the development timeline. Bonaci is a year younger than Lugo and split time between the Florida Complex League and Salem last year. He was OK in Florida, slashing .252/.358/.403 with more than a handful of extra-base hits, but he didn’t have as much success a level up, posting a .596 OPS in 49 at-bats. Like Lugo, Bonaci has time on his side, but he’ll need to take a step forward on his development path this year.
Call it bias all you want, but Bogaerts is still the best shortstop in the American League East … for now. That could all change very quickly, however, as Tampa Bay’s Wander Franco is a certified star in the making, while Bo Bichette had his breakout season last year as a 23-year-old for the Blue Jays. I’d still put them both a hair behind Bogaerts for now, but the tables will turn eventually and maybe even this season.
Further down the rankings, the Yankees needed to upgrade at shortstop and did so to some degree by trading for Isiah Kiner-Falefa, a below average hitter with strong defensive skills and speed. Too bad there wasn’t someone like Carlos Correa out there. As for the Orioles, when I started researching this piece, FanGraphs projected Ramón Urías as their starting shortstop; now Jorge Mateo has that honor, with Urías projected to start at third base. Unfortunately for Baltimore, this isn’t a Bogaerts/Story situation, even if Urías flashed some potential last season.
- Xander Bogaerts, BOS
- Wander Franco, TB
- Bo Bichette, TOR
- Isiah Kiner-Falefa, NYY
- Jorge Mateo, BAL