COMMENTARY | Being in the 2013 playoffs is all but a foregone conclusion for the Boston Red Sox.
With 11 games left to play, the team has a commanding 9.5-game lead in the American League East and a 10-game lead in the wild-card standings.
As soon as they officially clinch their spot in the playoffs, they will need to start planning their roster. Although they have had a number of important contributors this year, all eyes should be on rookie Xander Bogaerts, who could be the breakout star of the postseason.
He has no guarantees of being rostered, but the 20-year-old Bogaerts is a player who should receive serious consideration. He is a dynamic talent who could potentially join the recent trend of young players breaking out on the national stage in the playoffs.
A natural shortstop who also plays third base, Bogaerts would be a good fit as the team's postseason backup infielder and utility man.
Prior to the start of this season, he was named as the sixth-best prospect in baseball by MLB.com.
He lived up to his lofty status by hitting a combined .297 with 15 home runs, 67 RBIs and a .388 OBP in 116 games in the minors, splitting time between Double-A and Triple-A.
Since being called up last month, he has impressed in his brief stint with Boston, hitting .303 (10-for-33) in 13 games with a home run, a stolen base and 4 RBIs. He has also played flawless defense.
The Red Sox have starters at shortstop and third, with Stephen Drew and Will Middlebrooks, respectively, getting the most playing time at those positions. However, both have sat at various times during the season to allow for better matchups. Continuing this trend in the playoffs could give Bogaerts his shot to spark the team.
Drew has hit .247 with 12 home runs and 62 RBIs in 114 games, but he has struggled with left-handed pitching. Against southpaws, he has hit just .182 with 52 strikeouts in 137 at-bats.
Drew is also poised to become a free agent after the season. Bogaerts could let his play in October show he is ready to take over shortstop on a long-term basis and make the team feel good about potentially letting the veteran go elsewhere.
The right-handed hitting Middlebrooks slumped horribly earlier in the season and spent over a month getting his swing together in the minors. He has played much better since his return, but his numbers still stand at a modest .231 with 15 home runs and 42 RBIs in 84 games. In contrast to Drew, he has hit just .216 against right-handed pitching.
It would be dangerous for the Red Sox to solely rely on those two to hold down the left-side of their infield for the duration of their playoff run. Having another potential impact player like Bogaerts to get spot starts and come in as a late-inning replacement would be a nice luxury.
Despite the rookie's lack of experience, he's not facing much competition for the backup infield spot. John McDonald, 38, is the most likely alternative. The veteran can play all over the infield but is a non-factor at the plate. He has hit just .235 with 28 home runs in 15 major league seasons, and he has slumped badly this year with a combined .094 average in 47 games split between four teams.
Giving Bogaerts, who is a vastly superior athlete, a chance would not be setting a precedent. In recent seasons, a growing number of rookies have had starring roles in the playoffs.
Last year, Baltimore Orioles third baseman Manny Machado, then a 20-year-old himself, was the team's starter in the playoffs. Although he had just three hits in 19 at-bats, he did have a home run and impressed with his stellar defense and veteran-like poise. He used that performance as a springboard to an excellent 2013 season that saw him earn an All-Star berth.
In 2010, San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey led his team to the playoffs by virtue of his Rookie of the Year season. He hit .288 in the playoffs, helping the Giants beat the Texas Rangers in the World Series.
Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper, St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Trevor Rosenthal and Oakland Athletics pitcher Jarrod Parker are other recent examples of valuable young contributors in the postseason.
Just because there isn't a starting spot awaiting Bogaerts, doesn't lessen his potential impact or the value his participation in the playoffs could have on his development. Players can make their reputations in the postseason based on just one game or even one at-bat, given the high stakes.
The Red Sox have a lot of things to consider as the playoffs near. However, giving their young phenom a chance may not only help them in the short term but also give them a glimpse of his future potential, especially if he joins the trend of young players becoming breakout stars in the postseason.
In addition to the Yahoo Contributor Network, Andrew Martin has written extensively for Bleacher Report and a number of print publications and websites on the topics of history and sports (particularly the Boston Red Sox and New England Patriots). He also produces his own blog and has appeared on various sports talk shows and podcasts.
You can also follow Andrew on Twitter: @HistorianAndrew.
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