Welcome to Player-A-Day. The purpose of this column is to identify interesting major league players who may be fantasy-relevant in 2014. We will discuss the real world roles that the player may fill, set a range of potential expectations, identify any wild card factors in play, and comment on how this affects the player’s fantasy value.
The high level
Since signing for $410,000 in 2009, Xander Bogaerts has been a name to watch. He burst onto prospect lists in 2011 and has only advanced his cause since that time. He’s currently one of the most projectable players in baseball. He combines able defense at shortstop with good contact and power skills for the position. Barring injury, he could be counted among the best shortstops in the league within a couple of seasons.
Bogaerts had a decent but unspectacular debut late in the 2013 season, but his performance should be enough for the Red Sox to feel comfortable starting him in 2014. It seems unlikely that the club would re-sign Stephen Drew to a multi-year contract and block Bogaerts at his natural position. He may even have the opportunity to bat at the top of the Red Sox lineup, which would make him a first rate fantasy asset. If Jacoby Ellsbury is retained and Shane Victorino continues to hit well, then expect him to bat toward the bottom of the lineup for 2014.
Bogaerts’ skill set includes burgeoning power, respectable contact skills, decent speed, and average or better defense at shortstop. He’s hit over 16 home runs every season since 2011 and some scouts speculate that he could bop as many as 30 a season in his prime. Because he’s spent very little time in the majors, there is not much to analyze from a statistical perspective.
His most consistent skill throughout the minors has been a respectable walk rate, which he carried to his 50 plate appearance sample in the majors. He did strike out 13 times over that small sample (26 percent), but has shown a healthier strikeout rate in the minors. This may prove to be the single biggest limiting factor to his value in 2014, since young players can sometimes struggle adjusting to major league pitching.
Just 50 plate appearances is a tiny sample for any measure. Caveat aside, his batted ball outcomes—which convey more information in small samples than most other stats—tell an interesting story that should be followed closely next season.
He’s consistently shown a high BABIP, including a .323 mark in Boston. His 34 percent line drive rate and 47 percent ground ball rate easily explain the high BABIP (in fact, his xBABIP was in the region of .370) and it will be interesting to see how far those rates regress. The most likely result is that he’ll hit substantially more fly balls, which should be good for his ISO and home run totals but will also hurt his batting average. If his line drive and ground ball rates instead remain at 70 percent or higher, he’ll continue to show a high BABIP at the expense of power numbers. Fantasy owners should prefer a more standard distribution of batted ball outcomes.
Bogaerts has the potential to start over 150 games for the Red Sox. The club will likely carry a defense-first back up in case Bogaerts needs more time in the minors—perhaps retaining John McDonald or signing a free agent like Brendan Ryan. None of these options would take playing time from Bogaerts unless he struggles mightily.
An unlikely alternative is that the club signs Drew or Jhonny Peralta and has Bogaerts compete with Will Middlebrooks for the starting third base job. Middlebrooks’ inconsistent 2013 season could make this option more desirable to the Red Sox front office since it would give the team depth on the left side of the infield, while mitigating the risk from using two relative unknowns in starting positions.
Shortstop is a bit of a wasteland when it comes to league-wide depth and owners are likely to notice Bogaerts’ glowing upside heading into draft season. He has the potential to blow mid-priced assets like Starlin Castro, Jimmy Rollins and Elvis Andrus out of the water and may come with a similar price tag. Just be aware that there is a corresponding risk for failure.
His overall stat line will depend on where he bats in the order. We can expect him to start the season down in the lineup, but his raw skill set could fit at the top or even middle of the order, which will translate to nice counting stat totals. His batting average may be a bit of a drag in the first season, but it’s also possible that he’ll post a respectable rate. Leagues that use more advanced measures like OBP, SLG, OPS or linear weights will get more value out of Bogaerts due to his plate patience and power.
It’s already too late for keeper owners to target Bogaerts at a cheap rate. However, he’s probably still cost effective in most leagues that allow for offseason trading. Because his base swiping prowess is limited, he won’t give you the five category performance of an Ian Desmond. His upside is probably similar to Jed Lowrie‘s 2012 season line (80/15/75/1/.290) while a more conservative estimate would look like Yunel Escobar‘s performance (61/9/56/4/.256).
The things to watch most closely early next season are his strikeout and fly ball rates. If both improve, a breakout season is quite possible.