Discipline at plate among traits setting young infielder apart from rookie peers
BOSTON -- "You can't predict a 21-year-old doing this," said the man in the corner of the champagne-soaked clubhouse.
The words of Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington could hardly capture what Xander Bogaerts did on Saturday night in Boston's American League pennant-clinching 5-2 win over the Tigers in Game 6 of the AL Championship Series.
Drawing two walks for the second time during the Red Sox's playoff run, Bogaerts, who turned 21 on the first day of October, became the youngest person to do so twice in a single postseason. It was just his 14th Major League start.
"That poise -- it seems like he's got ice water in his veins," said Red Sox president and chief operating officer Larry Lucchino. "He is 21, but boy, does he play like a veteran."
All three of Bogaerts' plate appearances ended on a full-count pitch. He walked his first time up, hit a double off the Green Monster that barely stayed in the park in his second plate appearance, and he started a memorable rally his final time up.
The setting: The seventh inning, one out, Jonny Gomes on second base, the Red Sox down, 2-1.
The plate appearance: Tigers starter Max Scherzer entered at 104 pitches. He quickly worked Bogaerts to a 1-2 count.
Said Bogaerts: "I came in, I wanted to be aggressive off Scherzer. And then I said, 'You know what? Let me be patient because I've never seen him and he has a funky motion.'"
The fourth pitch Scherzer threw was a 95-mph heater just outside the strike zone and Bogaerts laid off to run the count to 2-2. The fifth pitch was a hard-bending slider that just missed, and again Bogaerts laid off to make it 3-2. The sixth pitch was almost perfect. Another breaking ball, it floated through the outside corner of the strike zone. Bogaerts let it go, it was ruled a ball and he had drawn his second walk.
Scherzer left the game after that pitch.
"He was seeing the ball," Red Sox hitting coach Greg Colbrunn said of Bogaerts. "His ability to slow the game down is fun to watch. I mean, he goes up there, no panic."
Two batters later, Shane Victorino hit a grand slam and the Red Sox took a lead they never relinquished.
This postseason, Bogaerts is 3-for-6 with three doubles, five walks and one strikeout.
"It's hard to put into words what poise he's shown in these games, these at-bats," Cherington said. "It's one thing to go up there, get a mistake and hit a ball hard. But he's had quality at-bats. He's seeing pitches, taking tough pitches -- it's pretty remarkable what he's doing."
The Red Sox signed Bogaerts out of Aruba for a $410,000 signing bonus in 2009 when he was still a teenager. They watched him hit at every level of the Minor Leagues. He hit .307 between Class A Advanced and Double-A in 2012 while recording 44 walks against 106 strikeouts in 532 plate appearances.
Cherington was pleased. But he wanted more.
"You think back to the conversation last winter -- Spring Training -- with him," Cherington said. "The player development people [said] if there was one part of his game that he needed to develop a little, it was his discipline at the plate. He said, 'OK, I'll do that.' And sure enough, he did it. And he did it at Double-A, he did it Triple-A, and he's doing it at the playoffs. It's pretty impressive."
The competition level improved, and so, too, did Bogaerts' patience.
International free agents are hard enough to scout, project, sign and develop. Bogaerts has been the pride of an international scouting team that also brought the Red Sox Jose Iglesias and Felix Doubront.
"Look, he was a big part of what we did tonight and the last couple of days," said assistant general manager Mike Hazen. "Iggy as well, before we had to trade him. Felix Doubront. They've been an integral part of the team. We try to bring in talent any way we can.
"That market is so hard to sign guys. Sometimes you probably overpay, sometimes you pay them a little less. He's certainly a pretty special kid so far, and hopefully, he keeps going."
The World Series, which will pit the Sox against the National League champion Cardinals, begins at Fenway Park on Wednesday, with an air time of 7:30 p.m. ET and a first pitch time of 8:07 p.m. on FOX. Cherington said he didn't expect the Red Sox to advance this far.
To have Bogaerts making an impact? Truly unbelievable. International scouting is simply too difficult to project, even for a talent like Bogaerts.
"It's really hard," Cherington said. "Obviously, at the time, we thought highly of him. But you can't predict this. ... Being that poised in those situations, the at-bats that he's had, it's why scouting and development is so important.
"If you spend a year in Latin America, do really good work, you'll sign a bunch of players that aren't going to make it, even if you make good decisions. So when they do work out, you celebrate that, you're happy about it and it's fun watching him play."