USA Today Sports

Red Sox 3, Rays 2: What if this is the real Xander Bogaerts?

Rob Bradford
March 31, 2018 - 9:32 pm

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- We can talk about increased launch angle, hunting for pitches early in the count and even health. When it comes to Xander Bogaerts, all of the conversations are legitimate.

But what should be of the greatest interest is the idea that this is the real Bogaerts. Because if this represents what the future holds, the shortstop should be viewed in a brand new light.

First off, what Bogaerts is doing isn't like anything we have seen from him before. After notching three more hits, including a solo homer and RBI double, in the Red Sox' 3-2 win over the Rays, he now has six extra-base hits in the season's first three games. It took him until May 9 to total that many extra-base hits last season, not claiming his first homer until May 25. (For a complete recap of the Red Sox' win, click here.)

According to Elias Sports Bureau, Bogaerts is now the first Red Sox player ever to record multiple extra-base hits in each of his first three games of the season. The only other player to do that since such data started being recorded (1908) was Adrian Gonzalez in 2015.

He was good last year before being hit in the hand with a fastball on July 6 -- hitting .308 with an .818 OPS -- but it was a different kind of package. The potential was seemingly in the somewhat of a holding pattern. Now it seems to have gotten the green light.

"We had a conversation on the back fields," said Red Sox manager Alex Cora. "Two of my favorite players from back home [Francisco Lindor, Carlos Correa], they play shortstop and they’re elite. Xander was in that conversation the last few years, and all of a sudden last year, he wasn’t in that conversation. I told him, ‘I know you can be like those guys. You can be elite. It’s just matter of, keep working, keep listening, and you’ll be fine.’”

Three games are just three games. Understood. But this wasn't just three games in June or July. This was a much-anticipated unveiling, that has resulted in a 2.000 OPS (the Michelangelo of baseball stats).

If it keeps going like this, Bogaerts will have to be viewed in a different light. Before this season, the consensus was that the 25-year-old was certainly a very good player who capably manned a premium position. Over the past three seasons, he does own the fifth-most extra-base hits of any major league shortstop, residing 12 behind Lindor while nipping at the heels of Elvis Andrus, Brandon Crawford and Correa.

But when it came to choosing how the Red Sox might want to allocate their money, extensions for Mookie Betts and Chris Sale would certainly have been prioritized over Bogaerts. Some would say closer Craig Kimbrel should leap-frog the shortstop when lining up for a Red Sox payday.

Heck, remember this offseason when more than a few (although not me) were willing to ship Bogaerts to Baltimore in exchange for one year of Manny Machado?

But what if THIS Bogaerts rides out these last two years in Boston and then hits the open market. You will have let a 27-year-old shortstop -- who would seem to be big enough to morph into a third baseman in the later years of any long-term contract -- bounce, with the hope that 2016 second-round pick CJ Chatham might have evolved when decision time rolls around.

Bogaerts was far from the only reason the Red Sox won their second in a row. Starter Rick Porcello had a pretty big say as well, allowing just one run over his 5 1/3 innings (stretching the Sox' starters' scoreless streak to 18 innings and just more than 76 hours). 

What the shortstop has done is offer a powerful reminder of what might be. One which many might not have seen coming three days ago.