Young Sox ready to look ahead
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — While the old guys were playing at Fenway Park against the Yankees Sunday night, the kids were giving us a glimpse of what it might be like for the Red Sox in 2014 and beyond at the All-Star Futures Game at Kaufmann Stadium.
Shortstop Xander Bogaerts was the designated hitter and went 1 for 4 (single, two strikeouts, and a groundout) for the World team, while righthander Matt Barnes pitched in the ninth inning for the US team and retired the last two batters of the game in his club’s 17-5 win.
The one guy who wasn’t here was center fielder Jackie Bradley, who is taking minor league baseball by storm. It appears Bradley could move from Portland to Pawtucket at some point this summer. There are some scouts who have watched Bradley who think he could handle major league baseball right now.
Barnes, the 19th overall pick in last year’s draft from the University of Connecticut, has been dealing with his first bout of adversity. Overall he’s 7-2 with a 2.44 ERA with 101 strikeouts in 81 innings at Greenville. But in his last three starts he’s allowed 14 earned runs. In his last start, he allowed six runs over 3⅔ innings with six hits and two walks.
“I got a little bit out of routine with my fastball command,” Barnes said. “I haven’t been as sharp as I had been. I worked on my curveball a little and sacrificed the changeup. I just want to get back into a good routine and do the things I did well in the first half.”
Barnes knew he’d be pitching the ninth Sunday, but he was told he’d be asked to get one out. Instead he got two. He threw 95 miles per hour on those pitches but has been known to crank it up even higher. But Barnes said he just wanted to throw strikes.
Barnes, like Bogaerts, was thrilled to get invited to the game. He said, “It’s an honor to be selected to pitch here. You see great players and guys who are getting ready for the big leagues. You’re playing out here with these guys and before 30,000 people. You couldn’t ask for much more.”
Bogaerts, from Aruba, has been playing shortstop at Salem, but there are some in the Red Sox organization who project him more as a third baseman/outfielder. The Sox had a similar situation with Hanley Ramirez, the player Bogaerts is most often compared with, when they had him, but they kept him at shortstop until the Marlins moved him to third when they acquired Jose Reyes in the offseason.
“He’s my favorite player,” Bogaerts said about Ramirez. “It’s exciting to be compared to him, but he’s up there and I’m trying to get up there. I just like the way he went about his business, the swagger. I just admire the way he plays.”
Bogaerts is hitting .286 with 12 homers and 48 RBIs in the Carolina League. He struck out in his first at-bat against Pittsburgh’s top pitching prospect, Gerrit Cole, on a 99-mile-per-hour fastball, but then hit an 83-m.p.h. changeup from Seattle prospect Danny Hultzen, a lefthander, to left field for a base hit in the third inning. As he stopped at first he had a big smile, knowing his mom was watching on TV back in Aruba.
Bogaerts struck out in his third at-bat against Diamondbacks prospect lefty Tyler Skaggs. He later grounded out against Washington prospect Alex Meyer.
Bogaerts is considered an average shortstop (he’s made 14 errors), but one who should continue to improve as he gains more experience. But if he gets any bigger, he’ll likely be moved.
“I think I’ll be a shortstop,” Bogaerts said. “I’m working hard trying to be that. They haven’t told me about changing positions and have really never mentioned it to me. I hear it from other people sometimes. I gained a lot of pounds between now and when I first signed. I was 170 and now I’m 200, so I want to keep it up in that area so I can keep my flexibility.”
Bogaerts thinks he’s improved his defense, but he needs to be more consistent with his throwing.
“I need to make less errors,” he said. “Mostly throws, sometimes I get lazy and lob the ball over. Stupid errors. Once I get older, I’ll figure it out better.”
Bogaerts was happy to play in the game even if it was as DH, but he knows he doesn’t want to be just a hitter as his career continues.
“I don’t like it,” he said. “Sometimes you get stiff in the dugout. I really prefer to play in the field. I was in the lineup, so that was fun.”
While Bogaerts managed only the one hit, he was glad his mother got to see it.
“I just kept saying I have to get the first one so mom can see it,” Bogaerts said.
Bogaerts has a brother, Jair, who was signed at the same time. In fact the Red Sox discovered Xander when they were scouting Jair. Jair was traded in spring training as part of the Theo Epstein compensation. Xander said while it’s tough to leave his brother, he said, “I know he’s out there in that organization playing and I’m happy for him.”
Bogaerts’s homers have been tough to come by, but he’s had a decent amount while playing in Salem.
“It’s a big field with a big wall,” he said. “You have to hit bombs. I’ve hit some nice ones when the wind was blowing out. I feel my power is there and I’ve hit the ball to the wall and to right. The wall is too big, man. Hopefully I’ll hit some more out.”
Barnes and Bogaerts would love to keep moving up the system.
Barnes is on a fast track and once he straightens out his recent problems, he likely will keep moving. As a top college pitcher he’s not expected to spend too much time in the minors. Not with his type of stuff. Bogaerts also could make a meteoric rise, though some believe he will need more time than someone such as Bradley, who seems to be a man on a mission.
“I’d love to be pitching in the big leagues now,” Barnes said. “Who wouldn’t? I just want to keep getting better and pitching like I’m capable of, and the rest will take care of itself.”