By Tim Casey
PAWTUCKET, R.I. -- Outside of the Pawtucket Red Sox clubhouse on Saturday night, Jair Bogaerts waited patiently for his twin brother, Xander, who had gone 0-for-4 with a walk in a performance he called "just a bad day." The poor outing was an aberration.
Few, if any, minor leaguers are receiving as much hype as 20-year-old Xander Bogaerts. He is a 6-foot-3 shortstop projected as a potential middle-of-the-order hitter in an organization that hasn't had any consistency at the position since Nomar Garciaparra left nine years ago. In a baseball-obsessed city, he is seen as hopefully the next Nomar -- or maybe even better.
If they do not trade him before Wednesday's deadline, the Red Sox will almost certainly call up Bogaerts from Triple-A when rosters expand to 40 players in September, if not before. Bogaerts could make his major league debut as soon as this week and play a role in the team's pennant run, possibly at third base, now that Jose Iglesias is struggling at the plate.
"No, I don't think about [a promotion]," Bogaerts said on Saturday. "When it happens, it happens. Those things take place by themselves, you know? I just don't try to think about it too much."
With the non-waiver trade deadline rapidly approaching, Bogaerts say he isn't giving any thought to potentially switching teams, either (even if plenty of other people around the game are contemplating it, particularly in the context of a swap for Cliff Lee). The Red Sox once dealt top shortstop prospect Hanley Ramirez, Bogaerts's favorite player, to the Florida Marlins in November 2005 for a package that included Josh Beckett. It would be stunning, though, if they part ways with Bogaerts.
"I can't think about [a trade]," Bogaerts said. "I just go out there and play. That's it."
The Red Sox wouldn't be in this situation if not for the strong relationship between Xander and Jair. Growing up in Aruba, they learned baseball in their grandmother's backyard from their uncle, Glenroy Brown, and always played on the same teams. From ages nine to 16, they spent the summers traveling throughout the Caribbean and elsewhere for tournaments and attracted the attention of scouts.
One day in 2009, Jair and others from his country attended a tryout for the Red Sox. Xander couldn't be there -- he was in bed with the chicken pox. Jair told the evaluators about his brother, and they set up an individual workout. Soon, Xander and Jair each received a contract offer from the Red Sox. Xander, the more highly touted prospect, also worked out for the Yankees, Orioles, Astros and Indians. But no team other than the Red Sox wanted to sign both players. That turned out to be the main reason they signed as international free agents with the organization in August 2009, Xander for $410,000 and Jair for $180,000.
"They were the most serious," Jair said. "They came first. They just laid the offer and we just took it…They were pretty trustworthy."
Said Xander: "They wanted both of us. It made [the decision] easy…It worked out."
It did for Xander, at least. Jair, older than his brother by one minute, is no longer in baseball. A member of the Red Sox's Dominican Summer League club in 2010 and 2011, Jair was traded to the Chicago Cubs in March 2012 as compensation for Theo Epstein becoming the Cubs' president of baseball operations. The Cubs released Jair last June, and he hasn't played since.
Meanwhile, ESPN's Keith Law recently ranked Xander as the sport's third-best prospect. Throughout his short career, Bogaerts has had no trouble adjusting to the different leagues and has participated with the World team in the past two All-Stars Futures Games. He began this season with Double-A Portland and hit .311 with a .407 on-base percentage in 56 games. In his final at-bat on June 12, Bogaerts struck out looking at a 3-2 pitch, prompting manager Kevin Boles to argue with the umpire. After the 1-0 loss, Boles asked Bogaerts to come into his office. Expecting to discuss the bad call, Bogaerts instead found out he was headed to Pawtucket, where he has excelled.
"There was a lot of buzz about him at the lower levels when he was coming through," Pawtucket manager Gary DiSarcina said. "You can see why. He's a special player."
In Triple-A, Bogaerts said he is facing pitchers who are "playing with [his] mind" by throwing more off-speed pitches compared with Double-A, which he said has more "power arms" who rely on mostly fastballs. Still, the different approach hasn't bothered Bogaerts, who batted sixth or seventh in the Pawtucket order before recently getting moved up to second. DiSarcina said the Red Sox's front office decides where Bogaerts is in the lineup. Through Monday, he had a .380 on-base percentage and a .483 slugging percentage and had reached base in 26 consecutive games. The success and the rapid rise has even surprised Bogaerts.
"It's not what I expected, definitely," he said. "But I'm thankful. It's crazy."
DiSarcina and Red Sox infield coordinator Andy Fox, both of whom played shortstop in the major leagues, have tutored Bogaerts on his defense. Fox, who travels to all of the Red Sox's affiliates, arrived in Pawtucket last Friday and plans on staying through Thursday. He has been working with Bogaerts at shortstop and at third base, a position Bogaerts had never played until joining the Netherlands' team in the World Baseball Classic in March. During his brief Triple-A stint, Bogaerts has appeared in five games at third, although DiSarcina and Fox project him as a shortstop.
"Right now, when I watch him, there's nothing that says to me he can't be a major league shortstop," Fox said. "[Playing third] is just getting him some exposure -- you never know what's going to happen if [Bogaerts was] ever to get called up [to the Red Sox] … His fundamentals are getting so much better that the adjustment from short to third is not that big of a deal for him at this point."
Fox was once teammates with Derek Jeter in Triple-A, and was with the Yankees when the future Hall of Famer became a full-time starter in 1996 at 21 years old. Fox isn't about to predict Bogaerts as having anywhere close to a Jeter-like career, but he has talked to the prospect about dealing with the grind and inevitable highs and lows of a long baseball season.
"Derek was always very even-keeled, confident," Fox said. "If the guys didn't have the ability, you obviously wouldn't be talking about this. But [the mental side] is another factor. With Xander, when he gets to the big leagues, you want him to stay there and be able to deal with all of those things that come your way. Everything is so magnified that if you prepare for it when you're down here, it makes the transition a little bit easier."
Sometime soon, Bogaerts will likely appear in his first major league game. He could be a replacement for Iglesias, a Gold Glove-caliber defender but questionable offensive player who has 4 hits in his last 40 at-bats. Or he could come off the bench and help out at third or at shortstop for starter Stephen Drew, a free agent at the end of the season.
Bogaerts has only visited Fenway Park a few times, including four summers ago when he and Jair drove to Boston from Maine after their team from Aruba had been eliminated from the Senior League Baseball World Series. On Aug. 23, 2009, they watched the Red Sox lose 8-4 to the Yankees, met Epstein and other staff members and signed their contracts.
"It was a special day for me and my family," Xander said.
Since then, the twins have remained close despite their divergent career paths. Jair, who calls himself Xander's "number one fan," is in Pawtucket to be around his brother but plans on heading back to Aruba later this week.
While Xander won't reveal publicly that he's thought about joining the Red Sox, Jair has no problem admitting he's ready for his brother's major league debut. Whenever that day comes, Jair and his mother will be in attendance.
"It would mean a lot," Jair said. "We'll definitely be there for the first game whenever it is. It's pretty special when he gets there."
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Tim Casey is a freelance sports writer and a former Sacramento Bee sports reporter. He works for HMP Communications, a health care/medical media company.