He's the youngest player to start a postseason game in the history of the Boston Red Sox, the third-youngest to hit a World Series triple in the history of baseball, he won a gold medal at the 2011 Baseball World Cup, and he is slotted in as the opening day shortstop for the reigning World Series champions. At 21 years old, and with only 44 regular season at bats to his name, Xander Bogaerts has already made history. He's planning on making a whole lot more.
Bogaerts is a step off the pace of being a true five-tool player, but you'll forgive him for not being Ozzie Smith when he has a chance to be Cal Ripken Jr. At 6' 3" he is more the size of a third baseman than a shortstop, but he has the arm, range, and reactions to play the 6 for the next decade. Despite the triple from Game 5 of the World Series, his speed is merely above average, and he hasn't stolen many bases at any minor league level. You don't need much speed to bat third, however, and his contact and power make him a prime candidate to occupy the middle of the order for many years.
One year ago Xander was a very good shortstop project who still had to prove he could hit as well as it looked like he should. Coming off a year in which he put up a massive .307/.373/.523 line at primarily High-A ball, he was due to start his age-20 season in AA at Portland. He only lasted about a half season with the Sea Dogs, but that was because he spent a half season at AAA-Pawtucket before getting called up to the bigs in August. With a minors line of .297/.388/.477, his ticket to the big show was well earned, and he rewarded John Farrell's faith in him with a postseason to remember. While his October performance was wonderful, his true test will come this year as the likely everyday shortstop. That performance last year that got him called up to the postseason roster also managed to launch him to the consensus #2 prospect in all of baseball, making him the best Boston prospect in recent memory. ZiPS, which has a lot of very smart people create projections for the upcoming season, puts Xander at a solid .267/.331/.429 with 28 doubles and 16 home runs, which would put him among the top twelve shortstops in the league, and rates slightly better than what Stephen Drew is likely to do this year. Doing this at the age of 21 would be nearly obscene, and there are many people even more bullish on what he's about to do.
Projections abound for the future, but the common comparisons see starting near J.J. Hardy with the potential to reach Troy Tulowitzki; he's a big shortstop with more power than speed. For perspective, Hardy has a career line of .260/.312/.428, with Tulo coming in at .295/.367/.509 and five seasons with at least 24 home runs. The power seems more guaranteed with Xander, as most scouts see him averaging 28-32 home runs in his prime, but his average may never get quite up over the .285 range. He seems to have a good eye for the strike zone, as his OBP is consistently 70 points over his batting average, and that should only improve with time. His weaknesses are a little bit of a long swing, allowing him to get jammed, and a tendency to miss on pitches with sweeping horizontal movement. Assuming he learns how to hit a slider, and he will get every opportunity to do so, that Tulowitzki projection is looking like a significant possibility.
The Red Sox are supposed to be very good this year, seeing as they're bringing back almost everyone from a title-winner, and they are stocked for the future as well. With guys like Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Garin Cecchini about to join Pedroia, Lester, Buchholz and the gang, Boston looks like it's going to have success for the next half-decade. If Bogaerts can live up to the hype, we'll have a new face of the franchise to go with it.