Let’s Not Overhype Red Sox Prospect Xander Bogaerts

The team annoyed some by calling up Will Middlebrooks instead of the hot new prospect.

Xander Bogaerts

Image Credit: Associated Press

The Red Sox surprised some and disappointed others over the weekend by delaying the call up of phenom-to-be Xander Bogaerts, instead promoting phenom-who-was Will Middlebrooks to fill the team’s hole at third base.

The projections for Bogaerts are certainly promising—he has been hailed as possibly the next Hanley Ramirez (no, better!), or this year’s version of Manny Machado. Hey, maybe he’s both! Compare that to known entity Middlebrooks and you get analysis like that of NESN’s Ricky Doyle:

Bogaerts […] might be a wild card, but he comes with the greatest potential reward. It’s not that Middlebrooks is incapable of giving the Red Sox’ offense a boost. It’s just that Bogaerts figures to be a truly special player, and there’s nothing that indicates he wouldn’t make an immediate impact, whereas there is information that suggests Middlebrooks could struggle.

The problem with projections, particularly for prospects who carry the hype of Bogaerts, is that they are so often best-case-scenario driven. Of course, if/when called up, Bogaerts could give the Red Sox a Machado-like boost (seven home runs in 51 games, .262 batting average, strong defense), but he could just as easily—and arguably more likely would—fail to make an impact, play a reserve role when the roster is expanded to 40 players in September, and be left off the Red Sox playoff roster.

Even “can’t miss” prospects (plenty of whom have still managed to miss, by the way) struggle in their first big league stints. Look no further than Jurickson Profar, the Texas Rangers’ 20-year-old shortstop, who many talent evaluators rated as the best prospect in the game entering the 2013 season. In 230 plate appearances over the past two seasons, Profar is hitting .238 with 14 total extra base hits (five home runs). Profar remains the best prospect at his position and, at age 20, is younger than many players who will be taken in next year’s draft. Thus far, however, he has not ignited Texas or shown that he should be in the lineup as the Rangers make a stretch run to secure a playoff spot. None of this should be taken as an indictment of Profar—few 20-year olds take the league by storm. And that’s the point.

Expecting Bogaerts to be anything more than a rotational player—much less pinning any part of the Red Sox’s postseason success on him—would be a mistake. For every Machado or Wil Myers, there are as many, if not more, players who—despite tremendous potential—are not Major League ready when they are first called up. The Red Sox last great shortstop, Nomar Garciaparra, who is being used by some as a stand-in by which to measure Bogaert’s potential greatness, hit .241 in 93 plate appearances—albeit with a .743 OPS—as a late-season call up in 1996. Examining Nomar’s first Major League season and the inaugural performances of Red Sox players past and present, the Providence Journal’s Brian MacPherson offered cooling words for fans who are expecting too much too soon from Bogaerts.

To MacPherson’s point, it wasn’t too long ago that Jackie Bradley Jr. was anointed the Red Sox’s Future. Let’s take a pitch or two before we declare the same about Xander Bogaerts.