Why it is Brock Holt -- and not Xander Bogaerts or Will Middlebrooks -- getting the call

July 31, 2013 - 6:56 am

The Red Sox seemed to clear a giant lane to the big leagues for Xander Bogaerts and/or Will Middlebrooks with the trade of Jose Iglesias. And indeed, they very well may have done just that -- for next year. Any questions about whether the Red Sox consider Bogaerts their shortstop of the future were erased when dealing the chief obstacle to that role. Iglesias will now practice his defensive wizardry (in some Medieval cultures, anyone who had his defensive skills might have been thrown into a lake to see if he floated) in Detroit, and Bogaerts has a clear path to being the Sox' shortstop for perhaps years to come (with a chance that in a couple years' time by perhaps 2016 or so, Deven Marrero could claim the starting shortstop role). With Bogaerts at short, that would seemingly position Middlebrooks to reclaim his role as the Sox' everyday third baseman for next year if he can reproduce some of the promise he showed as a rookie in 2012. But for now, both Bogaerts and Middlebrooks remain in Triple-A, with Bogaerts batting third and playing short in Pawtucket's noon game and Middlebrooks occupying the third slot in the lineup. While those two remain in the minors, Brock Holt is getting summoned to the big leagues. So: why? For starters, Holt is the only player of the three who can contribute in a true utility role. He can play short, second and third, giving the Sox coverage in case anything should happen to Dustin Pedroia. Iglesias had offered the Sox protection at all three positions. Holt can serve that function. Bogaerts (who is just starting to get acclimated to third base after spending his entire pro career at short, and who has never played second in a game) cannot. Nor can Middlebrooks, whose next game at a position other than third will be his first as a pro. Of course, even with Holt -- who now seems likely to spend the rest of the year in the big leagues as the Sox' utility player -- getting the call, the Sox could have called up either Middlebrooks or Bogaerts to be the primary third baseman and sent down Brandon Snyder. So why haven't they done that? First, there's the matter of the trade deadline. The Red Sox prefer to avoid shuttling players up and down between levels for short increments. With the team still exploring the market for potential third baseman (with Michael Young available, albeit with unclear signals about whether he's willing to come to Boston), it made sense to wait at least for the dust to settle on the deadline before calling up either. Of greater note, however, might be the fact that neither seems to have accomplished fully in the minor leagues what the Red Sox would like to see them do prior to a callup. Middlebrooks, after going 1-for-3 with a single and a walk on Tuesday, is hitting .257/.323/.774 in 36 Triple-A games this year, including a .250/.306/.427 line in 25 games since being optioned to Triple-A (at a time when Iglesias had won the everyday job at third base). He's shown flashes of an improved approach, but not necessarily on a sustained basis. Bogaerts, on the other hand, has been startlingly consistent at the plate, particularly taking into account that, at 20, he's the youngest player in the International League. He's reached base in 27 straight games, a span in which he's hitting .315/.438/.511. He is a star in the making, and again, unimpeded in his path to being the Sox' everyday shortstop next year. But right now, Stephen Drew is the Sox' everyday shortstop, and that's not going to change barring an unexpected trade. And so, if/when Bogaerts is to come to the majors this year, it would have to be as a third baseman. And right now, he has just five games of experience (and just seven chances) at that position. As PawSox manager Gary DiSarcina told Rob Bradford recently, "Being with him on a daily basis I see all the warts, I see the immaturity, I see the greenness. ... He has a lot to learn. He has a lot to learn in many phases of the game. It's not just hitting. But he's capable of doing it. He's going to be an impact player, no doubt. It's just a matter of time." It probably won't be long, for either Middlebrooks or Bogaerts. The Sox don't have a specific timeline for a move to add one or the other to the big league lineup, but the expectation is that it will happen "soon," according to a team source. With the trade of Iglesias, the future has assumed greater definition. But it hasn't arrived -- at least not yet.