No one can deny that both young, left-side infield players have a ton they want to prove on the diamond, but it will be important for both Xander Bogaerts and Will Middlebrooks to keep composed during the long 162 game season.
The troubling part for the Red Sox is that the depth behind those two is virtually none – it’s not there. But if Bogaerts is what he projects to be, then the Red Sox should be more than okay at short-stop. Middlebrooks is serviceable both offensively and defensively, but he showed last season that he still has a lot to work on at both ends.
Middlebrooks is coming off last season where he was sent down to Pawtucket after coming up to Boston and falling short of expectations. His bat wasn’t quite there and his third-base defense wasn’t as good as Bogaerts by the end of the season. With Drew and Bogaerts playing so well, Middlebrooks got the short end of the stick and it was the right call by Farrell that ultimately led to a World Series victory.
This turned some fans and baseball people against Middlebrooks and some started calling for the Red Sox to trade him because he still has value in the MLB, but not necessarily to the Red Sox. Middlebrooks now has come in this spring with one thing in mind and that is to prove the doubters wrong.
Similarly to Middlebrooks, Bogaerts has something to prove too.
Bogaerts had been hitting .143 this spring, which is normal for batters early in spring. Still, during yesterday’s 4-2 loss against the Pirates, Bogaerts showed promising signs at the plate. Bogaerts, in his first at bat, drilled a single against the outfield wall and was cut off trying to steal second – on his second at bat, Bogaerts hit a single for an RBI and then stole second base – his last at bat, he hit into a force play for an out.
“Much more like we’ve seen Xander last year,” John Farrell said. “Three-two fastball, he lines a ball off the wall in center, he stayed back well on a breaking ball on a 2-2 count, he just let the ball travel a little bit more tonight rather than getting jumpy at times. He looked comfortable in the box.”
“There’s been a quicker release,” Farrell said. “He’s gotten some throws off in a very timely fashion. His internal clock has picked up as the speed of the game has. Those are all positive signs – He came up and jumped onto the scene pretty productively last season. He’s had to deal with a lot on the defensive side. I’m not saying he’s not separating offense and defense but he’s still yet to hit his stride offensively.”
Bogaerts made contact on every at bat and could have gone two for three if he didn’t try to make a single into a double. Bogaerts has a lot on his plate, trying to prove every one of the baseball experts right that he will be the next great offensive short-stop in the MLB. In some ways it is just as hard, if not harder, as what Will Middlebrooks is going through in trying to prove them all wrong.
Both Middlebrooks and Bogaerts are very young and, with the weight of their first full season ahead of them. One trying to prove he’s the success everyone believes he is, and one trying to prove he’s not the failure everyone believes he is, they will surely be restless in their pursuit. The trick is to keep them calm and level-headed throughout the process.
Bogaerts and Middlebrooks project to be the starting short-stop and third baseman. Some may disagree with me, but I think the experience gained by Middlebrooks last season is going to help him this season. Like I said, there is limited depth behind these guys so the pressure isn’t just limited to them performing, but also to stay healthy.
There are questions leading into every season in every sport, but the question for this Red Sox team is just how strong these two young players can be. The future success of the Red Sox hinges on players like Middlebrooks, Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr. At least two out of those three will get the opportunity to prove something.