Red Sox rave as Xander Bogaerts blossoms into one of baseball's best shortstops


NEW YORK -- Xander Bogaerts arrived in 2013 as the most heralded Red Sox prospect in a generation, but he didn't exactly zoom to stardom.

He was damn good, mind you, but not transcendent. He started in the 2013 World Series at age 21, won a Silver Slugger award in 2015, and made his first All-Star team in 2016, but it still somehow felt like he hadn't quite reached the heights predicted for him.

By the time he broke through in 2018 with his first 100-RBI season, hardly anyone noticed. The electrifying Mookie Betts devoured oxygen en route to an American League batting title and MVP, newcomer J.D. Martinez flirted with the Triple Crown and the Red Sox rampaged to 108 wins. Bogaerts' .288 batting average, 23 homers, 103 RBIs and .883 OPS felt like just another nice story in a season full of them.

A year later, however, Bogaerts is making a quiet assault on the AL shortstop hierarchy. He may not be as skilled a defender as Cleveland Indians Gold Glove winner Francisco Lindor, and he may not be quite as dynamic an offensive force as Houston's Carlos Correa (then again, maybe he is), but he is crowbarring himself into their ranks with his all-around skill set and durability, not to mention leadership.

With the team just a game over .500 after Sunday's victory in New York, Bogaerts shines as one of  the few bright spots amid a sea of regression.

"He's very special," said winning pitcher David Price. "Offensively, defensively, he's one of the elite shortstops in all of baseball. I'll take him over anybody."

Bogaerts went 2 for 4 with his 12th home run in an 8-5 victory Sunday that allowed the Red Sox to salvage the series finale after two straight losses. He raised his average to .305 and his OPS to .936 to accompany the 12 homers and a team-leading 39 RBIs. All four numbers rank in the top five among AL shortstops, and all but the batting average are top two.

"It's cool to see," said manager Alex Cora. "We made a big commitment with this player and he's not only leading the team on the field but I think in the clubhouse. . .  I'm very proud of him. He changed his game a little bit. We asked him to do something else offensively and he's adapted and now he's hitting .300 with power. We'll see where it takes us."

The commitment Cora referenced was a massive contract extension worth $120 million over six years that could keep Bogaerts in Boston through 2026. With David Ortiz retired, Dustin Pedroia effectively finished, and Betts no guarantee to be here beyond next season, this suddenly feels like it could be Bogaerts' team into the next decade.

Examples of his leadership abound. There's the way he has literally taken Rafael Devers under his wing, constantly putting his arm around the youngster in the dugout as they talk shop. He has eased the transition of rookie Michael Chavis to new positions at first and second base. There's even his willingness to face cameras and notebooks after tough losses, filling a team spokesman role that Betts, for instance, could probably live without.

"The fact that I first got here and I looked up his age and he was like 24, I felt like I had been playing against him my whole career and he's only 24," first baseman Mitch Moreland said recently. "He never has a bad day, whether he's 0 for the last three games or tearing it up, he comes in with a smile on his face. He's a great teammate. You can't say enough about what he brings to the table. He's a big part of our success. He deserves everything he gets."

Bogaerts is blossoming at age 26 in his seventh MLB season.

"That's what's wild," Chavis said. "I knew he was a good ballplayer. I didn't know how good he was. Offensively, I don't think I've seen somebody hit an elevated fastball as well as he has. He's talented for sure. Just physically, he's a specimen. He's big, he's strong, he's fast, he can play defense, he can hit. He does it all. He's a special ballplayer."

He has also evolved since Cora arrived and asked him to alter his approach in order to drive the ball. Bogaerts nearly won a batting title in 2015 when he hit .320, but it's what he likes to call "a soft .320" that included only seven home runs.

"I think my mindset has changed," Bogaerts said. "I remember before, I used to see a big hole up the middle and just want to get a base hit up the middle, run hard, maybe get an infield hit. I don't think like that no more. I think it's the mindset I go up to the plate with. I still see that big hole, but it's not something I want to do. I want to drive it."

As the Red Sox look to escape the zombie stagger that has defined their season, it's nice to know they can lean on someone like Bogaerts, who hasn't even entered his prime but is playing like one of the best shortstops in baseball.

"Bogey stays even-keel," Price said. "Doesn't matter if he's going good or going bad, Bogey always shows up to play. Whether or not he's feeling good physically or he's ailing, it doesn't matter. He's always in that lineup, never gets days off. I don't think he's ever had a DH day in his career. Bogey is special."

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