The collective panic attack that flashed across the followers of the Boston Red Sox at the beginning of June was riveting. Stephen Drew, whose play at shortstop was key to Boston’s 2013 World Series run, was returning to the team to supplant rookie Xander Bogaerts, who had, despite his solid play at the plate, channeled Edgar Renteria circa 2005 in the field.
The move from short to third would be too much for the fragile mind of the 21-year-old Bogaerts to handle. There would be no coming back from it, or at least that’s what many said.
To the credit of the Drew-was-the-worst-signing-ever club, they made the evidence sing and dance the way they wanted it to. The struggles Bogaerts experienced playing at third — hitting .182 with a .517 OPS and 46 strikeouts to six walks in 180 plate appearances — was harped upon, with no attention paid to the fact he went a combined 4-for-8 with three extra-base hits, two home runs, and three RBI in his first two games at third, and hit .317 with an .870 OPS in 11 games before the Sox traded Drew to the New York Yankees at the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.
Meanwhile, the story on Drew was how he couldn’t hit his way out of a paper bag (and he couldn’t). But no attention was paid to the fact he was playing in February-form, facing guys in midseason form, or more importantly the fact he solidified the middle of the field defensively, which is what he was brought in to do.
So the move back to short for Bogaerts was supposed to be the point where he took off, back at his natural position and where he was hitting .296 with an .816 OPS through 54 games at the position to begin the 2014 season. Except there’s one problem with that notion that he’d ‘take off’ — he hasn’t taken off. In fact, he’s taken about five steps back.
In eight games since the supposed shortstop of the future returned to short, he’s reached base just five times in 35 plate appearances — three hits, one walk and one other time by virtue of an error. Bogaerts is hitting just .097 with a .279 OPS. He reached base once in seven plate appearances in Saturday night’s 19-inning marathon loss to the Los Angeles Angels, on a two-out walk in the 15th frame.
While excuses have been made for the struggling rookie over the last two months, it looks like the basis of his problems haven’t been as simple as moving a few feet to the left on the diamond. Bogaerts, despite being back home a shortstop, continues to look just as vulnerable at the plate as he did before. His approach continues to be out of whack, swinging at bad pitches and holding back on good ones. He continues to look overmatched at the plate. He continues to struggle with secondary pitches.
The book on Bogaerts looks like an easy-read among major league pitchers, who are having no problems regurgitating the information between the covers; that’s what is really affecting the young shortstop between the ears.
Bogaerts will break out of it eventually. He has the talent to be a great player for a long time — you don’t get named the No. 2 prospect by accident — and has proven he can play at the major league level. When it comes to young players, it’s a process, as we’ve come to find out this season.
It’s just a matter of being patient and taking the proper steps.