PORTLAND, Maine — He is the youngest player on the Portland Sea Dogs roster.
But shortstop Xander Bogaerts is also one of the Boston Red Sox’s top prospects.
He is ranked the 20th top prospect in the MLB.com Top 100 Prospects list and eighth in the Baseball American Top 100 Prospects List.
It’s easy to see why.
Last season, he hit .302 with 27 doubles, three triples, 15 homers and 64 runs batted in for Salem in the high Class A Carolina League, which earned him a promotion to the Double-A Sea Dogs.
He then hit for an even higher average in Portland (.326). He had 10 doubles, 5 homers and 17 RBIs in just 23 games. He was Portland’s starting designated hitter in its opener Thursday night against Trenton and went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts and a groundout to third in the 13-5 loss.
Bogaerts is a native of Aruba in the Netherlands Antilles and had the opportunity to play for The Netherlands in the World Baseball Classic. He played third base and hit .263 with two doubles.
The Netherlands was one of the surprise teams of the tournament, going 4-3 and reaching the semifinals, where it was beaten by eventual champ the Dominican Republic 4-1.
Playing in the World Baseball Classic was “awesome” said Bogaerts.
“I got to play with a lot of new guys and we played in different parts of the world. We traveled a lot. We played in Japan, Taiwan, Arizona and San Francisco,” said Bogaerts. “No one expected us to go as far as we did. The Dominican Republic had a bunch of [Major League Baseball] All-Stars and so did the American team. But we played really well. We had a good run. We did the best we could.”
Bogaerts received the opportunity to face some of the world’s best pitchers and he feels it was beneficial to his development.
“My confidence level is pretty high,” he said.
He returned to the Red Sox spring training and went 2-for-7.
“I struggled a little bit. My timing was off. But I got back on track and got a few hits and I felt pretty good. Hopefully, it will carry on throughout the season,” said Bogaerts.
Soccer is the most popular sport in Aruba but Bogaerts said baseball is second and he grew up in a “baseball family.”
“My whole family played baseball,” said Bogaerts, whose twin brother, Jair, also signed with the Red Sox but has since been traded to the Chicago Cubs. He is a catcher-first baseman.
Bogaerts, who played in Bangor in the 2009 Senior League World Series for Aruba and reached the semifinals, signed as an international free agent that summer and made his pro debut in 2010.
He received a signing bonus in excess of $400,000.
“I wasn’t drafted so you have to try to impress the scouts,” said Bogaerts, who did just that.
Sea Dogs manager Kevin Boles called Bogaerts a “special player.
“He has a chance to be an impact bat,” said Boles. “He’s been fun to watch. Between the major league camp and the World Baseball Classic, he has had a lot going on. But he handles things well. He handles the big stage. He has had a lot of attention focused on him. But the talent is as advertised.”
“He’s awesome and he’s a great guy to be around,” said Sea Dogs pitcher Drake Britton.
Hall of Fame pitcher Bert Blyleven, who was a coach for the Netherlands in the WBC, told MassLive.com’s Evan Drellich “[Bogaerts] can play. He has power. He can play all three infield positions [third, second, short], he’s a good kid and he worked his rear end off in the WBC.”
Bogaerts, who was named the Red Sox’s minor league offensive player of the year last season, has high hopes for this season.
“I want to keep working on my defense and my speed. I’m just going to go out and do the best I can. That’s all I can do. I’d like to steal more bases,” said Bogaerts, who stole just one base for Portland and four for Salem.
“I haven’t tried to steal bases before. I’ve just got to go,” said the 6-foot-3, 175-pound Bogaerts. “I can’t be afraid. I got hit on the nose when I was sliding into second and the shortstop’s throw sailed on him and hit me. That stopped me a little [from stealing].”
He said he intends to carefully watch the pitchers’ front foot in order to get a jump “and I’ll also ask the guys who are pretty good base stealers what they look at.”
In his first pro season, 2010, he hit .314 in the Dominican Summer League with three homers and 42 RBIs. The next year, he hit .260 with 16 homers and 45 RBIs for Greenville in low Class A.
Bogaerts enjoys being in the Red Sox organization and likes the fact young players like 23-year-old shortstop Jose Iglesias are given the opportunity to make it to the major league club.
“There’s a lot of chances for young players. Hopefully, I’m next,” said Bogaerts.