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Tim O

Tim O’Sullivan: Finally called up, Bogaerts ready to shine for Red Sox

The wait is over. The Red Sox promoted Xander Bogaerts from Pawtucket to the big club yesterday, and it’s about time.

The Boston bosses have been careful with Bogaerts, insisting they didn’t want to rush the 20-year-old phenom. But the brass didn’t have to worry, Bogaerts can make the leap. That’s what he does.

Bogaerts has been rushing himself through Boston’s farm system ever since he signed with the team in 2009. The shortstop from Aruba has adapted at every level, so it seems only logical he’ll adjust to life in the majors. And since the Red Sox are in a division battle with valuable playoff seeding on the line, and they’ve lost seven of their last 10 heading into last night’s game, the call couldn’t have come at a better time.

Let’s start with the leaping ability. In 2010, Bogaerts’s first foray into professional ball, he put up a .314/.396/.423 slash line in the Dominican Summer League and was named the Red Sox Latino Program Player of the Year. He jumped straight to Low-A Greenville the next year and struggled with average (.260), but showed good plate discipline (.324 OBP) and exceptional power (.509 SLG).

Bogaerts made eye-popping strides last season in High-A Salem (.302/.378/.505) and then tore things up during his 23 games in Double-A Portland (.326/.351/.598). He spent the first 56 games of this year back in Portland and kept posting impressive numbers (.311/.407/.502). After that, he became the second-youngest position player ever called up to Pawtucket and didn’t slow down much there, hitting .284/.369/.453 in 60 games. You can see why he’s the top-rated prospect in the Boston farm system and ranked No. 6 in all the minors by MLB.com.

Not only has Bogaerts shown the ability to adjust over the long-term, he’s also done it in the short term, and he did it on a big stage. Bogaerts played for the Netherlands in the World Baseball Classic this March, and after going 2-for-14 in his first five games, he went 3-for-5 in his last two games. Sabermetricians will scoff at the small sample size, but it’s still an intriguing example.

No, the WBC is not the MLB, and Bogaerts is the youngest position player called up to Boston since 20-year-old Dwight Evans made the jump in 1972. But Bogaerts has done everything he can to prove he has ability beyond his years, and with their division lead shriveled to one game before last night’s game, the Sox could really use the boost.

Shortstop Stephen Drew helped Boston stay atop the American League during late July and early August, but he had started in 25 straight games and seems to need a breather after going just 3-for-24 with one walk and one extra base hit in Boston’s last two series. Bogaerts could provide that break and he would be a good platoon partner for the left-handed hitting Drew, who has hit .272/.367/.461 against righties this year, but just .195/.28/.345 against lefties. The right-handed hitting Bogaerts has hit .298/.452/.474 against lefties and .280/.335/.446 against righties.

There was plenty of speculation that Bogaerts would get called up to play third base after the Sox dealt Jose Iglesias on July 30. Boston decided to give Will Middlebrooks a second chace instead, and so far that looks like another wise move by General Manager Ben Cherington – Middlebrooks has gone 12-for-26 with three doubles and a home run in his first eight games back in the big leagues. Still, if Middlebrooks needed a day off or hit a snag, Bogaerts could step in. He’d be a better offensive option than Brock Holt, who was optioned to Pawtucket to make room for Bogaerts. Holt hit .203/.275/.237 during his 23 games with Boston. And even though Bogaerts only played 10 games at third during his stay in Pawtucket, his exceptional instincts, strong arm and overall athleticism would help him make the transition if needed.

Wherever Bogaerts plays, the hope is that he sparks the team like Jacoby Ellsbury did when he was called up in 2007 and hit .353/.394/.509 in 33 games to help push the Sox to an eventual World Series title. Ellsbury was 23 at the time, but maybe Bogaerts could be this year’s Manny Machado, who was called up to Baltimore last season as a 20-year-old and helped get the Orioles into the postseason by hitting .262/.294/.445 with 26 RBI in the final 51 games of the season.

Of course, there’s always the chance that Bogaerts will struggle when he gets his first taste of Major League pitching, like Dustin Pedroia did during his call-up in 2006, or like Mike Trout in 2011. But even if Bogaerts does have a hard time during his first weeks the Red Sox, chances are good he’ll make the necessary adjustments and get over it. That is, after all, what he does.

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