Expectations should have tempered for Xander Bogaerts, dreams managed. Even so, as we saw on Sunday at Fenway Park, Bogaerts isn’t even in the neighborhood.
And so as Jackie Bradley returns to the minor leagues with his future very much in doubt, let there be no question as to the Red Sox’ top priority between now and Sept. 28, the final day of this wretched 2014 Boston baseball season: they have to get Bogaerts on a roll. Short-term failure plagues everyone, as it did here in 2012, but long-term failure is something altogether different. And so as much as the 2014 season has been a disappointment, bigger still is the regression of the best prospect the Red Sox have had in a generation.
Since June 8, is a span covering 55 games, Bogaerts is batting .147 with an OPS of .399. He has 30 hits (22 singles) and 57 strikeouts. And now Bogaerts is throwing to first base before he steps on second to turn a double play, the kind of walk-and-chew-gum brainlock that put his current psyche on full display.
Handle with care.
Is that who Bogaerts is? No. At least not from everything we’ve been told. Bogaerts physical play at shortstop actually has improved since the start of the season, but his confidence has withered. Yesterday, Joe McDonald of ESPN Boston reported that the Red Sox are cognizant of Bogaerts’ “confidence issues” and that he was recently seen talking to Bob Tewksbury, the former major league pitcher who once served as the team’s sports psychologist and who is now employed by the Major League Baseball Players’ Association. Many players have had their careers salvaged by such mental training, John Smoltz among the most notable.
Here’s the point: Bogaerts is not a lost cause. At the moment, he is just lost. But the Red Sox’ ability to get Bogaerts on the right path was arguably their most important task entering this season, and it is certainly their most important task now.
What the Red Sox need to do with Bogaerts is what they did not do in late May, when they hastily and foolishly brought back Stephen Drew. Stand by him. Reassure him. Believe in him. Maybe that means an occasional day off to release the pressure, ease his mind, build his confidence. And if that means sitting down with him every day between now and the end of next month, so be it.
As for Bradley – and opinions on this will differ – his future as the Red Sox’ center fielder may be over. Obviously, Mookie Betts has passed him on the depth chart. The Red Sox have been in heavy pursuit of Rusney Castillo. Brock Holt is currently a far more complete player than Bradley is. The Red Sox are in the process of building their 2015 outfield now, and so Bradley wasn’t just squeezed out of the picture this year. Yesterday, he was squeezed out of the picture for 2015 and beyond.
Between now and Opening Day of next season, the Red Sox have a great deal of work to do – and not just with regard to their roster. The failures of Bradley, Bogaerts and Will Middlebrooks should prompt them to take a good hard look at their player development operation and the fast-track approach they took with all three of those youngsters.
Combined, before reach the big leagues, Bradley, Bogaerts and Middlebrooks had 356 plate appearances at Triple-A. Dustin Pedroia alone had over 700. This is a stark contrast to the Sox’ operation under Theo Epstein, who, as Nick Cafardo of the Globe recently pointed out, believed that every prospect should get 500 plate appearances at Triple-A before arriving in Boston.
Of course, with Bradley, Bogaerts and Middlebrooks, what’s done is done. There is no going back with anyone. But if Bogaerts, in particular, is not an appreciably better player by the middle of next season, the Red Sox will be asked how and why they failed to develop a can’t-miss kid, one who was to be at the core of their lineup for years to come.
And that failure will far outweigh anything that happened on the field this year.
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