FORT MYERS, Fla. — Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts, Boston’s top prospect, is chugging away at his first spring training, doing whatever he can to impress staff and teammates.
Either way, though, he’ll soon be headed out of town.
Bogaerts, 20, a native of Aruba, will be leaving JetBlue Park to join Team Netherlands as it prepares for the World Baseball Classic. The Netherlands begin competition March 2 against South Korea in Taiwan.
“It’s going to be exciting,” Bogaerts said. “Those guys that that I’ve played with growing up, it’s going to be fun playing with them again.”
The Red Sox figure the WBC is a great place for growth. After all, there are few short-term plans with Bogaerts in Boston, as shortstop Stephen Drew signed a one-year contract with the Red Sox and Jose Iglesias, another prized prospect, is still in the mix. So, 2014 might be more of a fit in Boston for Bogaerts. And until then, he just wants to play and prepare.
Along the way, if a position switch pops up, he’s all for it. And that’s a good thing because Team Netherlands would like to pencil him in at third base or designated hitter. The Netherlands has several highly regarded shortstops on its roster, and would like to spread the wealth. Bogaerts, who joined the Red Sox as an amateur free agent in August 2009, is ready, even though he has only played shortstop in his professional career.
“No problem,” he said. “Just to be able to play and be in the lineup, that’s what’s important for me. And to be able to play and help the team win, that’s important to me.”
Bogaerts guessed the last time he played third was “maybe when I was small in Little League.” To prepare for the move, the Red Sox began working him out at third base on Tuesday. He will start at the position Thursday vs. Boston College.
“A typical corner infielder is going to use a one-handed fielding technique, which he naturally went to just moving to third base,” Boston manager John Farrell said. “He’s an infielder and he’s got a lot of natural ability and instincts there. But we’ll get two days of work days with him and then get him in a game.”
It can be disconcerting for any team to have their players out of camp, unable to monitor their performance or progress. The concern grows when it’s a No. 1 prospect. But the Red Sox have communicated with the Netherlands Federation about Bogaerts.
“The only concerns would be just through repetition,” Farrell said. “There’s different angles. A shortstop’s got the ability. He’s further away from the ball, so there’s more of an internal clock, and fielding the hop at its highest point in that last hop. (At third), it’s a little bit more reactionary. There’s going to be a little bit more different angles to it. He’s going to end up playing balls more straight up then be able to either come around a ground ball or come through a given play.
“Hands and feet are the same, in turns of the timing of it. But there’s no real concern. It’s just getting comfortable with the angle that he’ll be seeing groundballs.”
Manny Machado, once a top prospect for Baltimore at shortstop, made his debut in 2012, appearing in 51 games, all at third base. That situation was a little different than what Bogaerts is facing.
“The major difference between the two is there was a pressing need (for the Orioles),” Farrell said. “And certainly provided (Boston third baseman) Will (Middlebrooks) stays healthy, that need doesn’t exist here. At the same time, it’s an opportunity to expose (Bogaerts) to the position and see where things go as he gets deeper into (his) career.
“As a young guy, you don’t know how that body type is going to continue to mature physically. But by all indications, it seems like he could stay at shortstop.”
Either way, for a team that plays under such a spotlight in Boston, the move has raised some eyebrows. After all, Bogaerts may eventually have to make a permanent move from shortstop. Listed at 6-foot-3, and 175 pounds, there is a good chance he is not done growing.
“(Shortstop) is going to be (the long-term position),” he said. “I’m working hard trying to stay at shortstop. That’s the only position I know playing right now. (But I’ll do) whatever to help the team win.
“Wherever they need me to play, I’ll be able to contribute at that position.”