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August 10. 2013 10:27PM

Dave D'Onfrio's Sox Beat: Middlebrooks up, but where's Bogaerts?


World infielder Xander Bogaerts (2) attempts to steal second base during the first inning of the 2013 All Star Futures Game at Citi Field on July 14. (Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports)

It makes some sense as to why it didn't happen as soon as Jose Iglesias was pulled from a game and sent packing for Detroit.

The Red Sox had to be patient because they had to be confident and relatively certain that their next move would work. Brandon Snyder was down to his final option, so sending him to the minors represented a risk of losing him to another organization and Brock Holt has the versatility to fill in at shortstop or second base, so he projects as their utility man now and for the rest of the season.

So it makes sense that the Red Sox waited 10 days to address the situation at third base, which had become increasingly it exposed as a liability. It makes some sense, too, that they went with Will Middlebrooks - the more experienced option - and plugged him right into the nine spot in their lineup on Saturday night.

But Xander Bogaerts would've made more sense at this time for this team.

Desperate for help at third base, aching for the addition of a productive right-handed bat that's not painfully prone to strikeouts, and mindful of his playoff eligibility, the opportunity was there to bring Bogaerts to the major leagues - and unveil the best prospect in their own system and one of the best in all of baseball, while just as much fortifying their present-day roster for an October run as lighting the fuse on what is expected to be a scintillating future.

The time was right because from the time Iglesias was traded to the Tigers on July 31 until Saturday night's tilt against the Royals in Kansas City, the tandem of Holt and Snyder has been a liability. Defensively they've been decent - and that would be the biggest concern with Bogaerts, who's a natural shortstop and had through Friday played only seven Triple-A games at third base - but offensively they've been a black hole at the bottom of the order.

Together they were 5-for-38 (.132) in the first 10 games since entering into an everyday platoon. That wasn't good enough, particularly with both Bogaerts and Middlebrooks both hitting well in the meanwhile.

Over that same time frame, Bogaerts racked up three times as many hits as the pair playing for Boston, posting a .341 average and an .810 on-base plus slugging to bring his season totals to .289 and .845, respectively. That's a small sample size, with the 20-year-old entering Saturday with only 52 games and 222 plate appearances at Triple-A.

But that's a larger body of work at that level than Middlebrooks had when the Sox summoned him last year. Including 16 games at the end of the 2011 season, Middlebrooks had played only 40 games for Pawtucket, with 160 plate appearances and a .268 average, when the organization brought him up to Boston last April and by trading Kevin Youkilis a couple months later effectively installed him as their third baseman of the future.

Don't be mistaken: Middlebrooks isn't a bad option as the third baseman of the present, either. He's an instant upgrade over Snyder or Holt, even at his worst, and he's hit .333 with a .907 OPS over the eight-game hitting streak he took with him to Kansas City. He's heating up, and he's generally streaky, so with every game meaningful at this point in the year the Sox might as well take try to take advantage of the hot bat.

The question - and the long-term concern - is that he's coming off a month in which his on-base percentage was .292 for July. He was sent down to work on his plate discipline, patience, and general approach, but there's clearly work still to be done. He might've benefited from more time on the farm.

Bogaerts, on the other hand, has been steady. Elevated to Pawtucket in mid-June, he hit .305 that month, then .311 the next, and nine days in he was batting .325 in this one. Between Portland and Pawtucket he was hitting .300 against righties, .310 against lefties. He'd worked 61 walks, giving him an overall OBP of .394. And he had totaled 46 extra-base hits in 109 games.It all points to consistency, and by all accounts he boasts that quality on the mental side, too - which is part of the reason to hold out hope he could help the Sox in the postseason. Not currently part of the 40-man roster, he'd need to be added to that moved to the active big-league roster by Aug. 31.

There's no need to wait that long, though.

Middlebrooks is better than delaying the decision one day more. But the time for Bogaerts is now.
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STAT OF THE WEEK: Mike Napoli, who appeared to break out of a slump by banging a three-run double and reaching base four times on Friday night, had struck out 149 times through the Sox' first 118 games. That put him on pace for 205 whiffs this season. The team record is Mark Bellhorn's 177 set in 2004, and Napoli was on track to break that with three weeks left to play.

Dave D'Onofrio covers the Red Sox for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His e-mail address is ddonof13@gmail.com.


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