Xander Bogaerts: The Next Elite Third Base Prospect?

Xander Bogaerts was signed as an international free agent by the Red Sox at the age of 16. Signed as a shortstop, Bogaerts may grow out of the position by the time he makes it to the big leagues, but he has impressed at the plate in his first year of full season ball.
In his first year of pro ball, playing in the Dominican Summer League, Bogaerts hit .314-.396-.423 with 3 HRs, 42 RBI, 39 runs scored and 4 stolen bases. But what was most impressive was his plate discipline, as he owned a 37-30 K/BB rate in 239 at bats.  His triple slash line stood out where the DOSL league average was .235-.334-.311, and he was only 17 years old in a league where the average age was just under 18.5.
Bogaerts didn't hit for much power as his .423 slugging percentage indicates, but it appeared in 2011. More on Bogaerts after the jump:

Before I talk about his 2011 season, here is a look at his career minor league stats, courtesy of Baseball-Reference:

Year Age Tm Lg Lev Aff G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB
2010 17 Red Sox DOSL FRk BOS 63 280 239 39 75 7 5 3 42 4 5 30 37 .314 .396 .423 .819 101
2011 18 Greenville SALL A BOS 72 296 265 38 69 14 2 16 45 1 3 25 71 .260 .324 .509 .834 135
2 Seasons 135 576 504 77 144 21 7 19 87 5 8 55 108 .286 .359 .468 .828 236
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 11/13/2011.
The Red Sox decided Bogaerts was ready for full season ball at the age of 17, and he did not disappoint. In a league where the average age was 21.4 years old, Bogaerts hit .260-.324-.509 with 16 HRs, 32 extra base hits, 45 RBI, 38 runs scored and a 71-25 K/BB rate.  The league average triple slash line in 2011 for the South Atlantic League was .260-.332-.392, so Bogaerts performance was that much more impressive. His plate discipline dropped a bit as he struck out in 27% of his at bats, while walking in just under 9.5% of his at bats but the drop was expected as he was very young for the league.
Here is what Baseball America had to say about Bogaerts in their Top 20 South Atlantic League prospect list, where they ranked him as the 10th best prospect,  a few weeks ago:
Bogaerts may have been the fourth-youngest position player in the SAL this season, but he showed more maturity on and off the field than most veterans. Drive coaches extolled his ability to correct mistakes from one at-bat to the next and to recognize how pitchers tried to attack him. He handled breaking balls well and drove the ball to all fields, exhibiting well above-average power.
"He's got some pop and life in that bat," Greenville manager Billy McMillon said. "He's an aggressive hitter and he hits the ball as hard and far as anyone you'll see. When you see his enthusiasm and energy, you're impressed with what you see. You can envision him playing for a long time."
That is plenty of praise for the young Bogaerts, who will probably move a level at a time, and start the 2012 season at High A Salem in the Carolina league, where the average age of each player is just under 23 years old. Bogaerts has outperformed the league average in each of his minor league stops, so I would not be surprised to see him continue to do so in High A in 2012.
Mike Newman of Fangraph's and Scouting the Sally recently penned an article discussing Bogaerts and Greenville teammate Brandon Jacobs here, and had this to say about Baseball America ranking Jacobs ahead of Bogaerts in their Sally League Top 20:

As a believer in both prospects, their both being ranked in the top-10 is well-deserved and I commend Baseball America for it. However, to rank Jacobs above Bogaerts means the young outfielder is expected to profile as an elite power bat at the big league level with enough offense to offset the added value Bogaerts brings as a younger talent playing a premium position. With Bogaerts, the fact that he was able to hold his own in a full-season league as a teenager is very encouraging, and his added defensive value means that we don’t have to be quite as aggressive in projecting the development of his offensive abilities. Putting Jacobs ahead of Bogaerts implies that there’s a large expected offensive gap between the two, but having watched them both in person, I’d argue that’s probably not the case, and if asked to pick one of the two Sox prospects from Greenville this year, I’d take Bogaerts.

If you have read Newman's chats over at Fangraphs, you would know he is a big fan of Bogaerts, and I can see why. Bogaerts has performed above league average at each level in his minor league career and 2012 could bring more of the same. 

I can see him being ranked in many Top 100 prospect lists in 2012, probably in the first half, but with another solid season at the plate, he could be a Top 20 prospect in due time. He may eventually move to third base, but right now he will probably stick at shortstop till he proves he cannot stay at the position. Red Sox assistant farm director Ben Crockett had this to say about Bogaerts performance in 2011:

Xander has really impressed in his first season in the States, both with the bat and the glove," said Crockett. "He’s made huge improvements defensively since the beginning of spring training and has consistently displayed his athleticism at shortstop. At the plate he’s shown an impressive ability to drive the ball to all fields and at times shows an advanced approach for his age. Overall, Xander has excellent tools that profile at the highest level.

If he can stay at shortstop, not a definite, he could easily be a future Top 10 prospect should he continue to hit for power and improve his plate discipline a bit in 2012.

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