Xander Bogaerts was promoted to Triple-A last week. If you’re even a casual fan of the Boston Red Sox, you’re probably aware of this move.
In an age where prospect hype is often hard to contain, it becomes difficult to appropriately qualify how good the truly elite prospects in the game might be. Every hard-throwing righty is a potential ace, as is every lefty with a three-pitch mix. Every fast middle infielder is the next Jose Reyes. Every catcher with pop the next Buster Posey, every five-tool outfielder the next good version of Matt Kemp.
Nearly all of these hyperbolic prospect predictions prove incorrect. Each generation can only have so many All-Stars, never mind so many Hall of Famers and living legends. So I’m not going to sit here and tell you that Bogaerts will be one of the all-time greats. In fact, I’m not even going to compare him to current or past major leaugers.
But I am going to compare him to others in the minor leagues. Because for the first time in a very, very long time, you can make a good argument that the Red Sox have the best prospect in baseball.
Bogaerts was the youngest position player in the Eastern League during his stint at Portland this season. Given that many believe the jump from High-A to Double-A to be the toughest in the minors, many assumed that Bogaerts would finally hit a bump in the road on his path to stardom.
And they were right, for about 10 games. Then something clicked within Bogaerts, and he did to Double-A pitchers what he’s done to pitchers everywhere else. He broke them.
Bogaerts finished his time in Portland with a slash line of .311/.407/.502 in 259 PA. He hit 6 homers, 12 doubles and nabbed 5 bases to boot, although speed will not be a part of his MLB game. That’s good for a wRC+ of 151, and, again, came from a 20-year-old playing shortstop.
What the Red Sox have in Bogaerts is a player who could very well hit third or fourth in a lineup and adequately man one of the most important defensive positions on the field. Players like that simply don’t come along very often, and now that he’s a stone’s throw away from the majors, Bogaerts’ upside starts looking less like a dream and more like a reality.
With Jurickson Profar a mere 30 at-bats away from losing his prospect eligibility, Oscar Taveras is widely considered the best prospect in the game. Just four months Bogaerts’ elder, Taveras began the season at Triple-A and has performed well there, hitting .309/.348/.429 for a wRC+ of 106. Taveras is a better overall athlete than Bogaerts and has one of the best pure hit tools we’ve seen in recent years. He can play center field in an emergency, but it best suited for right field, which is likely where he’ll spend the majority of the year. He doesn’t have quite as much raw power as X-man right now, but he could grow into enough power to make it close. He’s a stud, and an easy and safe choice for No. 1 overall.
If absolute upside is your thing, there’s an argument to be made for Byron Buxton as baseball’s best minor leaguer. The No. 2 overall pick in the 2012 draft, Buxton is doing mean things to Single-A as a 19-year-old, stomping the competition to a .344/.431/.561 line for an absurd wRC+ of 174. He has 80 speed, 80 defensive ability in center and a chance for plus power and a plus hit tool as well. He’s a physical freak, and the sky is the limit here. He’s another reasonable choice for the minors’ top dog, but that Buxton is still at least two-plus years (and probably three-plus years) away drops him a notch below Bogaerts and Taveras in my book.
So let’s compare the two future anchors for the Red Sox and Cardinals. Here’s how I’d grade their projected future tools on a 20-80 scale.
If you go just by the numbers, Taveras may seem like an obvious choice. Bogaerts only projects to best him in power, and Taveras is a bit closer to the majors right now as well.
But this is where positional scarcity comes into effect, and most people now believe Bogaerts as the requisite skill to start his MLB career at shortstop. Perhaps the presence of Jose Iglesias means he’ll begin his career at third, but that’s not a knock on Bogaerts and shouldn’t lessen his perceived value.
The question, then, becomes a bit philosophical. Would you rather have a stat line of .320-20-100 with a .370 OBP and 15 steals from a good defender in right field? Or do you prefer .280-30-110 with a .370 OBP and 5 steals from and adequate defender at shortstop?
There are arguments to be made both ways, but that’s my point. You don’t have to agree that Bogaerts is the best prospect in baseball, but you do have to admit he’s in the conversation. For Red Sox fans, that’s a very, very good thing.