Javier Baez (L) and Xander Bogaerts (R) - Jake Rath and Steve Mitchell, USA Today Sports
Scientists, theologians, philosophers, scouts, and sabemetricians all agree that Jurickson Profar of the Texas Rangers is the best overall shortstop prospect in baseball. Slots two and three at that position belong to Javier Baez of the Chicago Cubs and Xander Bogaerts of the Boston Red Sox, our topics for today's Prospect Smackdown.
BACKGROUND AND INTANGIBLES
Baez: Born in Puerto Rico, Baez moved to Florida as a teenager and played high school ball in Jacksonville. Drafted in the first round in 2011, ninth overall, Baez signed for $2,625,000 after drawing prep comparisons to Gary Sheffield. He opened 2012 with a stunning performance in 57 games in the Low-A Midwest League, then struggled a bit after being promoted to High-A. He played against older competition in the Arizona Fall League, and could begin 2013 as high as Double-A. Baez plays with aggression but has a mercurial personality that turns some observers off.
Bogaerts: Born in Aruba, Bogaerts was signed by the Red Sox as an international free agent in 2009, earning a $410,000 bonus based on his solid tools and relative polish for his age. He jumped to the Low-A South Atlantic League at age 18 in 2011 and thrived, then continued his forward march with strong performances in High-A and Double-A in 2012 at age 19. His personality, intelligence, and overall makeup are considered first-class. He may open 2013 in Double-A or Triple-A.
Comparison: Both players stood out as amateurs and have moved quickly through their respective systems. Bogaerts has a clear edge with intangibles and makeup.
TOOLS, PHYSICALITY, AND HEALTH
Baez: Baez is a 6-1, 205 pound right-handed hitter and thrower, born December 1st, 1992. His weakest tool is his speed, which is just average, but he has a very impressive throwing arm, good enough for third base or shortstop.
His defense turned out to be better than anticipated at shortstop, where his instincts work well and help his range play up. Many scouts assumed he would have to move to third base, but that's no longer a foregone conclusion. Despite his average running speed, he is a skilled baserunner who swiped 24 bags in 29 chances last year.
As a hitter, he features truly outstanding bat speed: he may get the bat through the hitting zone faster than anyone else in the minors. He has power to all fields and the ball jumps off his bat when he makes contact. On the other hand, his approach to hitting is extremely aggressive and he swings at everything. He is the rare player who could have enough bat speed to get away with it, but at higher levels he'll need to show a better feel for the zone in order to produce to his maximal ability.
A broken thumb knocked Baez out of the Arizona Fall League early, but otherwise he has had no serious health problems.
Bogaerts: Bogaerts is a 6-3, 175 pound right-handed hitter and thrower, born October 1, 1992. His weakest tool is his average running speed, but his throwing arm is very strong, good enough for shortstop or third base. His glovework at short has been better than anticipated, with instincts that help his range play up. It is no longer assumed that he'll have to move to third base, though he'll hit enough to handle any position. He runs decently but is not an aggressive stealer at this point.
As a hitter, Bogaerts shows above-average bat speed and power to all fields. He makes adjustments quickly, seldom makes the same mistake twice, and shows reasonable plate discipline. Double-A pitchers got him to chase more often after his promotion, though he continued to produce big numbers despite some problems with plate discipline (see below).
So far he has had no major health concerns.
Comparison: Their defensive profiles are very similar: both came into pro ball as shortstops destined for third base, but both played well enough with the glove to remain at the more difficult position for now.
On offense, I think Baez has slightly more pure bat speed than Bogaerts, but Javier's hitting approach is tremendously aggressive and has more risk to it. Xander can also get overaggressive but seems more amenable to coaching at this stage in his career, and continued to mash the ball in Double-A even with a minuscule walk rate. Baez had more problems making his approach work in High-A, a level that Bogaerts dominated.
Overall, both project as .300+ hitters with power. Baez's pure upside may be a touch higher, but Bogaerts is more refined currently and has a higher floor. Baez is more of a threat on the bases.
Baez: Baez hit .333/.383/.596 with 12 homers in just 213 at-bats for Low-A Peoria last year, followed by a .188/.244/.400 mark in 80 at-bats for High-A Daytona. Thus far he is a .293/.342/.534 career hitter in 339 plate appearances, with 16 homers, 14 walks, and 73 strikeouts.
Bogaerts: Bogaerts hit .302/.378/.505 with 15 homers, 43 walks, and 85 strikeouts in 384 at-bats for High-A Salem, then .326/.351/.598 with five homers, one walk, and 21 whiffs in 92 at-bats for Double-A Portland. He is a career .296/.366/.495 hitter in 1108 plate appearances, with 99 walks and 214 strikeouts with 39 homers.
Comparison: They both mash.
Baez: If it comes together and his aggressiveness doesn't get the best of him, Baez can be a .300+ hitter with outstanding power, much like Sheffield or perhaps Vladimir Guerrero in terms of production. If he stays at shortstop, all the better, but even at third base his bat would be a tremendous asset.
Bogaerts: Bogaerts also projects as a .300+ hitter with outstanding power and a chance to stick at shortstop.
Comparison: Their maximal outcomes are similar in my view: both project as All-Star caliber hitters who might stick at shortstop but would still be excellent even if they move to third base. Baez is two months younger, which is not a big deal.
It is close but I put Bogaerts ahead right now, due to his combination of excellent upside with a more polished approach than Baez, despite being within two months of age on the calendar. Bogaerts does need more refinement, but Baez needs even more. Xander's better makeup reputation also helps.
I gave Bogaerts a Grade A and ranked him fourth on my Top 50 Hitting Prospects list. Baez ranks 10th with a Grade A-.