PAWTUCKET – The worst-case scenario that Xander Bogaerts envisioned never came to pass.
Initially, Bogaerts thought he was being summoned to the manager’s office because he didn’t protest a strike three call that came with the count full. Portland’s Kevin Boles felt the decision that went against the highly-touted prospect was egregious. Protesting balls and strikes usually results in a swift ejection, which Boles eventually received after attempting to stick up for his shortstop.
Upon hearing that Boles wished to see him after Portland dropped both ends of Wednesday’s doubleheader to Erie, Bogaerts’ mind started racing. Did he commit a faux pas by not turning around and saying at least something to the home-plate umpire, like perhaps the pitch was outside the strike zone? Was giving the silent treatment the reason why Boles ended up getting tossed?
Upon taking a seat in Boles’ Hadlock Field office, Bogaerts was asked why he had been told to report. With Sea Dogs hitting coach Rich Gedman on hand, the 20-year-old recapped the aftermath of that fateful at-bat, one that would prove to be the last one with Portland.
“(Boles) told me that I had gotten promoted,” smiled Bogaerts while standing on foreign ground – the home clubhouse inside McCoy Stadium. His PawSox debut will have to wait until Friday as Thursday’s game against Buffalo was rained out.
On the surface, Bogaerts followed the developmental creed right down to the last syllable. He was dominating Eastern League pitching to the point that now seemed as good a time as any to elevate him to a level where a new set of challenges surely await. He ended up reaching base in 51 of 56 games with Portland while posting a .407 on-base percentage to go along with a .502 slugging clip.
What makes the gaudy numbers Bogaerts compiled even more noteworthy is that he was able to right the ship after having his spring training schedule interrupted, that due to his commitment to the Netherlands entry in the World Baseball Classic.
Learning to play baseball in the cold weather that defines Maine in April also took time to get used to, as Bogaerts’ batting average sat at .266 following a 0-for-3 showing with two strikeouts on April 21.
The following day, Bogaerts collected four hits in five trips to raise his batting average to .304. Some may say that he hasn’t looked back since, and they would be hard pressed to argue. Bogaerts leaves Portland with a .311 average along with 24 extra-base hits and 35 RBI.
“It was really cold and that really messed me up mentally,” said Bogaerts looking back to his very early – emphasis on early – season doldrums. “From late April on, I’ve been seeing the ball really well and have been very patient.”
Having a select eye has also been at the root of Bogaerts’ Sea Dog success – one he attributes to a curveball machine that helped him better decipher offspeed pitches. He walked just once in 92 Double-A at-bats a season ago. In 219 at-bats this season, he’s drawn 35 walks.
“To be honest, in the beginning [of Bogaerts’ Double-A tenure], I started swinging at everything. I didn’t know they would throw me different than other guys. They’d throw me four sliders in an at-bat, and I was just swinging, swinging, and afterwards I’d sit back and realize they didn’t throw me anything to hit. That’s when I became a little more patient, just swinging at strikes – when I noticed when they weren’t pitching me anything good. I had to make adjustments because (Eastern League pitchers) were throwing me differently.”
Bogaerts doesn’t need to introduce himself to too many PawSox folks. Manager Gary DiSarcina recalls seeing Bogaerts as a skinny 17-year-old in the Dominican Summer League while the organization's infield coordinator in 2010. Hitting coach Dave Joppie already has a history with Bogaerts that dates back to the brief time the two worked together in Portland in 2012.
To see the heights Bogaerts has climbed in three years is something that brought a grin to DiSarcina’s face.
"I saw him in the Rookie Development Program (in January), and he was sitting in a chair -- and he stood up to say 'Hi,' and I thought he was a pitcher," DiSarcina shared. "I thought he was Stolmy Pimentel [the ex-Red Sox farmhand who was shipped to Pittsburgh as part of the Joel Hanrahan deal] or something. He was huge. Oh, my God. I remember him as a baby. It's a same with a lot of these guys when I came back – (Alex) Hassan, (Dan) Butler, all these guys – but more him because he was 17 years old. He's grown into his body. He looks like a man now."
Bogaerts was slated to hit sixth for Pawtucket on Thursday night. Just to give some idea of the Red Sox’s desire a player that some say has middle-of-the-order potential, Will Middlebrooks was penciled in the No 5 spot when he made his PawSox debut on August 20, 2011.
“First of all, just like when we get guys who are sent down, I just don’t think you want to start talking to them or overdoing things. It’s a big adjustment whether you’re going up or down,” said DiSarcina. “For me, I’ll watch him for a couple of days, work with him and listen to him and let him be himself. What he did down in Double A, he can do here, there’s no doubt.”
Said Bogaerts, “I’ll just be patient. I’ll try to do the same thing I’ve been doing in Portland. I’ll see how the pitchers are trying to pitch me. The first couple of weeks, I’ll see how they’re pitching me so I can take that going forward. “It’s a great challenge for me, a new experience. I can’t wait to get on the field.”
EXTRA BASES: Thursday’s scheduled game will be made-up as part of a doubleheader Friday at 5:35 p.m. at McCoy. Rubby De La Rosa will start Game 1 for Pawtucket with Allen Webster slated to pitch the second contest. … The PawSox added outfielder Alex Hassan – who had been sidelined with a right calf strain – and reliever Jose De La Torre to the roster Thursday and are expected to do the same with pitcher Alfredo Aceves possibly as soon as Friday. … Hassan is fresh off a rehab stint with Single-A Greenville where he batted .478 in eight games. He’s expected to see time at first base with Pawtucket. … Three former PawSox of note are on this year’s Buffalo club – reliever Tommy Hottovy, first baseman Mauro Gomez and starting pitcher Justin Germano, who was spotted in the hallway with his 2012 Governors’ Cup championship ring in his possession.