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Kevin Gray's On Baseball: Bogaerts compared to Hanley Ramirez
Portland Sea Dogs Xander Bogaerts looks out from the dugout during the game against the New Hampshire Fisher Cats at Northeast Delta Stadium in Manchester Wednesday. (Mark Bolton/Union Leader)
MANCHESTER -- The story of how a kid from Aruba signed with the Red Sox? It’s starts with chicken pox.
Xander Bogaerts was sick, in bed, on the day the Red Sox were conducting a tryout on the island. His twin brother, Jair, made a solid impression on Red Sox scout Mike Lord and then-vice president of international scouting Craig Shipley, but the tryout wasn’t complete without Xander.
“I was home, laying down. My brother told the Red Sox about me, and they wanted me to come to the tryout. I finally went to the field. I did everything. I felt terrible, but I knew it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” he said. “Tryouts don’t come every day in Aruba.”
The 16-year-old Bogaerts put on a display of athleticism and power and eventually signed with the Red Sox for $510,000. Three years later, the slender 6-foot-3 shortstop has become the No. 1 prospect in the organization.
Bogaerts, who plays tonight against the New Hampshire Fisher Cats, might remind fans of another island-born Sea Dogs shortstop who came through the Eastern League: Hanley Ramirez. Bogaerts has the silky hands and power stroke of a teenage Ramirez. Red Sox minor-league manager Arnie Beyeler and others in the organization tend to bring up Ramirez, a three-time All-Star and former batting champion, when asked about Bogaerts.
“My favorite player was always Hanley,” said Bogaerts, called up from Advanced-A Salem earlier this month.
In his first game with the Sea Dogs, Bogaerts homered over the batters’ eye in center field at Akron, and he proceeded to blast five homers in his first 14 games for Portland. The 19-year-old enters tonight’s game with a .300 average, 20 homers and 77 RBIs in stops at Salem and Portland.
Hitting for power is often the last tool to develop for young stars, but that’s not the case with X-Man.
“I have no idea where it’s coming from, to be honest. I never was a power hitter,” he said before Wednesday’s game. “It started coming on last year (16 homers), and I don’t know why.”
What became of twin brother Jair, a catcher? He signed with the Red Sox and was eventually sent to the Chicago Cubs as compensation for Theo Epstein, who left Boston to become the president of baseball operations for the Cubs.
Xander, lately, has been fighting off a slump. Eastern League pitchers have been keeping the youngster off-balance, inducing bad swings and getting him to expand his strike zone. A better approach at the plate is the biggest point of emphasis, he said, when asked about his own development.
“Pitch recognition. Swing at a pitch I know I can handle. Don’t swing at a pitcher’s pitch,” said Bogaerts, riding an 0-for-9 stretch in the series at New Hampshire. “I’m working hard at being more consistent.”
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WHAT TO WATCH: Fisher Cats shortstop Ryan Goins, not to be upstaged by Portland’s rising star, has two homers and eight hits on the homestand. Goins, batting .289, has the most hits (152) by a lefty hitter in franchise history. The 24-year-old has enjoyed a breakout season while putting himself on Toronto’s radar.
“The kid works hard and does anything and everything to help the team win,” Fisher Cats hitting coach Jon Nunnally said. “He’s a team guy. He’s a winning ball player. Those are the types of guys that have a good shot at reaching the big leagues.”
Bogaerts ranks second in Boston’s farm system with 20 homers. Teammate Travis Shaw ranks third with 19 homers. Bryce Brentz has 17 homers, ranking fifth.
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GAME DAY: It’s Fan Appreciation Night at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium. The first 1,000 fans will receive a Subway gift card ranging in value from $1-$100. A pair of southpaws take the mound for tonight’s 6:35 contest. Sean Nolin (0-0, 1.00 ERA) makes his third start for the Fisher Cats, opposed by Portland lefty Drake Britton (4-6, 3.66 ERA).
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Staff writer Kevin Gray covers pro baseball for the New Hampshire Union Leader and New Hampshire Sunday News. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @graymatter11.