Not playing prospectsby Jeff Moore
August 20, 2013
Warning: I'm going to make a mountain out of a molehill here. I'm going to rant about something that probably isn't that big of a deal to you. I'm going to explain in great detail something that won't be news after tomorrow, if it's news even then.
No, this is not A-Rod related. I couldn't care less about him or his shenanigans. As you may know, it's prospects that move me, and nothing befuddles me more than when a prospect is promoted to the majors, then sits on the bench, even for a game. The bigger a prospect, the less sense it makes.
Which is why it's so perplexing when a prospect like Xander Bogaerts gets called up to the majors in mid-August to join his first-place teammates, but isn't in the starting lineup. I'm not being hypothetical here. Bogaerts was called up on Monday, a month before his minor league season, and thus his development for the season, came to an end, but in his first game on an active major league roster, had his butt firmly planted on the Red Sox bench.
Again, this probably isn't that big a deal and certainly isn't as big a deal as I'm about to make it. He'll probably be in the lineup on Tuesday and most of the days after, rendering this argument moot. But in the meantime, Bogaerts is in the major leagues, but isn't playing. This doesn't make any sense.
We don't know where Bogaerts is going to play in the field for the Red Sox. He's been a shortstop for most of his career but has seen time at third base in Triple-A this season, making either an option for manager John Farrell. You can make the argument for Will Middlebrooks to stay in the starting lineup at the moment, as he is hitting .462/.548/.692 in eight games since his return to the majors. It's a terribly small sample size, but lesser hitters have had their hot streaks ridden during a pennant race, so one can't fault Farrell for riding the hot hand.
Stephen Drew, too, is worthy of a lineup spot, given that the Red Sox opponent on Monday evening was the right-handed Tim Lincecum. Against right-handers, Drew has hit .272/.367/.461 on the season and his career numbers reflect a similar platoon split.
But neither is a defensible argument with Bogaerts sitting on the bench.
I don't know if Bogaerts will be a batter hitter than Drew against right-handed pitcherss for the remainder of this season, but it's within reach. I don't know if Bogaerts is going to be better than Middlebrooks' .205/.246/.410 against right-handed pitchers for the remainder of this season, but I'm significantly more confidant in its possibility. What I do know, however, is that someone atop the Red Sox front office thinks he will be or Bogaerts wouldn't be in the major leagues.
Perhaps there is a disconnect between front office and dugout in Boston, but I doubt it. I can't imagine John Farrell had the intestinal fortitude to not start the organization's top prospect in his first game on an active major league roster if it didn't come from a front office directive. I'm not in the locker rooms or the press conferences after the games, but some truth serum would likely reveal that this bench day was planned from the get-go.
Which I just don't get.
I'm not saying this is wrong. I just don't understand it. What could be the reasoning behind activating Bogaerts and not starting him?
Long flight to the west coast? Okay, fly him out there on Monday, but don' activate him until Tuesday, giving him a day to adjust to the clock. I'd buy the day off here, as minor league prospects outside of those who experience the Pacific Coast Leauge (which stretches all the way to New Orleans) don't have to experience the cross-country flights and time changes that are a part of the rigors of a major league season. But hold off a day on Bogaerts' activation then. Don't play with a short bench.
Don't want his first at-bats to come off of Lincecum? Then don't bring him up in a pennant race, where he'll be expected to play against great pitching. Also, this isn't 2009. Lincecum no longer constitutes great pitching.
Don't want to take Middlebrooks' hot bat out of the lineup and don't want to bench Drew against righties? Fine, then don't call up your top prospect. We can look ahead at the projected starters and see that the Red Sox are going to face all right-handed starters in this series with the Giants. If Middlebrooks keeps hitting, will Bogaerts get a start?
Of course we know that he will. I'd be shocked if Bogaerts isn't in the starting lineup on Tuesday, as we know the Red Sox didn't actually bring Bogaerts up to sit on the bench, despite comments from Farrell that all but named Bogaerts and Drew as a platoon at short. I can't imagine that lasting too long, especially if Middlebrooks stumbles at all at the plate. If the Red Sox leave Bogaerts in the majors and use up any significant chunk of his dirt-cheap service time sitting on the bench, they should be tried for treason.
But why wait for even one day? As I said from the start, this isn't actually as big a deal as I'm making it out to be, but isn't one game in a pennant race a big deal? It's a big enough deal that it separates the Red Sox from the Rays to lead the AL East.
One player in or out of a lineup doesn't necessarily make a bit of difference, and once Bogaerts is inserted into the Red Sox starting lineup, he's probably not going to start every game for the rest of the season. But this wasn't an exceedingly natural time to call Bogaerts up from the minors, indicating that the Red Sox saw something on their roster that they felt needed a change. Why then delay that change one more day?
A natural time to promote Bogaerts would have been in early September, after the Triple-A season has been completed. It's not that the extra two weeks of experience in the minors would have made a difference, but it would have allowed Bogaerts to finish his season with his Pawtucket teammates and it would have allowed the Red Sox a few more weeks to see if Middlebrooks' resurgence is for real and if he made actual adjustments or if he's simply on a hot streak right now. It would have been easy and natural for the Red Sox to wait a few more weeks for the International League season to end and call Bogaerts up along with a few of his Pawtucket teammates, and do so with little fanfare.
Instead, the Red Sox saw something on their roster and decided that they didn't want to wait two more weeks and that Bogaerts was needed now. He wasn't even on the 40-man roster, so a roster move had to be made to fit him in, but the Red Sox felt it was necessary.
And I'm certainly not saying they're wrong. Bogaerts is talented and has had a great season in the upper minors. He's probably ready and assuming he can play a decent shortstop at the major league level, he's probably an upgrade over Drew. Unless Middlebrooks made some significant changes while in the minors, Bogaerts is definitely an upgrade at the hot corner.
But not if they don't play him.
Bogaerts will play. This will be a forgotten thought in about a week if Bogaerts is in the everyday lineup. It's not even going to cost the Red Sox a game, since Drew and Middlebrooks each reached base multiple times on Monday night. But it just doesn't make sense. Top prospects aren't there to provide depth. They're there to play. Stephen Drew can be depth. If Xander Bogaerts is ready to be in the majors, then he's ready to be in the lineup every day, and that day should have included Monday.
References and Resources
Jeff Moore is the creator of MLBProspectWatch.com, your one-stop site for all the information you need about minor league prospects. He can be reached via e-mail at mlbprospectwatch AT gmail DOT com and can be followed on Twitter at @MLBPW