The Red Sox may insist their white flag is tucked away, still gathering dust since 2012 -- perhaps in A.J. Pierzynski’s now-vacant locker -- but the signs are all around. Mookie Betts is up. Christian Vazquez is up. Space in the rotation could soon open up for both Brandon Workman and Rubby De La Rosa. The rest of this season will be spent developing young prospects at the game’s highest level so that, even if they make a miraculous climb back from 9 1/2 games out of first place in the A.L. East, the core of the next great Red Sox team will have accumulated valuable big-league innings.
“We are where we are,” said Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington. “If the standings were turned upside down, if our positioning was different, maybe that wouldn't be happening. But we are where we are, so we gotta find out about guys. We've gotta see what opportunities come our way. At the same time, we're trying to get better as quickly as we can in ways that make sense.”
Already, several young players have seen significant MLB action in 2014. At times they’ve flashed the skills that have had them earmarked as young organizational thoroughbreds. At times -- more often that not for some -- they’ve struggled badly. Luckily for the Red Sox, their system is deep with ready-made Major League talent. It's on the backs of those players that the oft-mentioned “bridge” will be built, and the construction is underway.
After hearing from members of the organization and players as well as MLB scouts, we look at six Red Sox up-and-comers who will help determine the team's direction for years to come. Here's one:
Where does he stand?
The prized jewel of the Red Sox farm system, Xander Bogaerts lived up to the hype and then some last October. This year? To say he’s experiencing some growing pains would be an understatement. Since June 3, his batting average has dipped from .304 to .235. His on-base percentage is down more than 80 points in that same time frame.
In the field he’s made the move from shortstop to third base, and it’s been rocky. He’s made 13 errors on the season, seven of them coming at third, causing one scout to wonder why he was moved in the first place . . . and why he’s not moved back now given that the team is all but out of contention.
“I think Boston kind of panicked,” the scout said. “If this guy’s your shortstop, which to me he is, you gotta let him play . . . I don’t get it. I think you have a superstar there that you’re kind of moving off the block.”
Where do the Red Sox hope he’ll be, eventually?
In short: Back at short. And hitting.
Bogaerts has long been touted as a future middle-of-the-order type of bat who has an advanced understanding of the strike zone and a patient approach, all of which was on display during Boston’s run through the playoffs in 2013. Despite his struggles this season at the plate, the organization's opinion of him has remained consistent.
“I don’t think anything’s changed,” said Ben Crockett, the Red Sox' director of player development. “I think young players, and all players, go through times of struggle in their careers and guys are able to make those adjustments and learn from them as they continue to progress.”
As far where he plays in the field, those within the organization have not ruled out a move back to shortstop this season. Perhaps once he gets back on track offensively, he could be relocated. But until then, the team seems reluctant to pile too much onto his plate.
“I see him as a good defender somewhere,” said Sox infield coach Brian Butterfield. “We're hoping it's going to be shortstop. I think he has the prerequisite tools: He has body control; he has arm strength. He's still trying to trust in that arm and gauge it. He's getting there. But I think his feet have gotten better. I think he has the ability to anticipate and take away hits. We're hopeful he becomes a shortstop, but even if he doesn't, he's a baseball player. And every team is looking for baseball players. If it's short or if it's third or if it's the outfield -- wherever -- and the bat comes like we think it's going to come, then he's going to be a real important cog to this organization.”
What does he have to do to get there?
Butterfield -- who helped Derek Jeter learn to be a big-league infielder in the Yankees minor-league system -- has recently worked with Bogaerts to help him feel more comfortable using a lower body position at third base. Bogaerts also still has a ways to go with his footwork at third, which can get “a little bit backwards,” according to Butterfield, and cause errant throws.
At the plate, scouts have noticed Bogaerts has abandoned that beyond-his-years approach at times during his slump.
Whenever he does solve his issues, it appears it’s going to be at the big-league level.
“There really hasn't been any discussion of that, any consideration of [sending Bogaerts back to the minor leagues],” Cherington said. “I don't think you say unequivocally ‘no’ to anything, but we're committed to this guy. Part of what we need to do is develop players here. There are things that come along with playing Boston that are a little bit different than playing in Pawtucket or playing elsewhere. He's going to get a lot out of playing here and figuring this out here and getting through this while he's in Boston. That's what we want him to do, and that's what we're focused on helping him with right now.”
Trade him or keep him?
No six-week slump is suddenly going to make Bogaerts expendable. The 21-year-old is still the closest thing to “untouchable” that the Red Sox have.