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|Bogaerts is the rare shortstop prospect with 30-homer potential.|
NEW BRITAIN, Conn. -- When talking to scouts and front-office executives about Boston Red Sox prospect Xander Bogaerts, the initial observation is always the same: hitting. The 6-foot-3, 185-pound shortstop has thrived offensively at every level since signing with the organization in August 2009.
ESPN's Keith Law, who ranked the Aruba native as the No. 5 prospect in all of baseball heading into the season, said earlier this year that "a shortstop who can hit like this is a pretty special commodity."
Bogaerts has elite bat speed and power. Despite a slow start that he blames on the weather -- "It was so cold I couldn't even hold the bat" -- the 20-year-old is hitting .284/.367/.432 with two homers for Double-A Portland.
It's a skill set that have most within the industry wondering not if he'll suit up for the Red Sox, but when. However, while his rise through the organization appears quick, it isn't without questions.
Bogaerts, right now, has above-average range and a strong arm. He typically makes smart reads and takes good angles to get to balls.
In a recent game against the New Britain Rock Cats, he didn't have any problems defensively. This was most evident on a sharp liner hit just left of the second-base bag by Rock Cats outfielder Curt Smith. Bogaerts scooped up the ball, spun completely around and in one motion threw Smith out at first.
It was a play that even had the opposing crowd clapping. It was also a play that some evaluators believe he might not be able to make in a couple of years when he adds more muscle to his tall but slight frame.
Ben Crockett, Red Sox director of player development, isn't one of them.
"I don't think anybody can really predict physically what's going to happen to a player," Crockett said. "He's in great shape right now. He's quick, agile and strong. He's in a pretty good place. We're going to continue to work on all of those aspects.
"That's where we are right now, and we really haven't had any signs show that it's not going to work."
Of course, other factors are in play when determining Bogaerts' big league position. While Stephen Drew is not the long-term answer at short, Jose Iglesias -- a "defensive wizard," according to an AL West scout -- is waiting in the wings. Deven Marrero, a shortstop out of Arizona State who was Boston's first-round pick in 2012, was invited to major league camp as a non-roster player this past spring and has shown great potential.
"If his body fills out, gets too thick, loses some range, there might be a consideration to move him to third," said a National League Central scout, who has seen Bogaerts extensively. "I think the Red Sox have more depth at shortstop and have less depth at third base, so that might be part of their thinking of why he's been playing some third base."
The suggestion of shifting Bogaerts to third base, in theory, makes sense because he can add the necessary muscle and not need the range to play shortstop. His arm strength will still be showcased nightly at the corner. It's a move that has been done in the past, most recently with Los Angeles Dodgers infielder Hanley Ramirez, a player often compared to the talented prospect.
Bogaerts has played shortstop almost exclusively, though he played third base while with the Netherlands team in this year's World Baseball Classic.
"It was different," he said of the experience. "The ball comes hit a little harder. It's closer to the barrel of the bat. Everything is just closer, different angles. With shortstop, you have more time."
Right now the Red Sox have 24-year-old Will Middlebrooks at third base. However, he's struggled since a hot start in 2012 and is hitting just .203 with a .243 OBP, and his long-term grasp on the hot corner is looking a bit more tenuous.
If Bogaerts' bat is ready for the majors, Boston will make room. It's certainly possible we'll see Iglesias at shortstop, Bogaerts at third base and Middlebrooks at first in the near future. And that infield group could play together for the next decade.
At this point, Boston seems intent on keeping Bogaerts at short, and who can blame them? Shortstops who hit for power are a rare commodity.
It could, in the end, come down to situational need, injury or a front-office move. Bogaerts clearly wants to play shortstop and many tend to agree he'll stay there, at least early in his career.
"His hands are good and his range is fine," the AL scout said. "There have been a lot of big shortstops. I'd keep him on there until he proves he can't play there. Right now he hasn't shown that."