FORT MYERS, Fla. — Just three weeks past his 21st birthday, Xander Bogaerts stood on baseball’s biggest stage for the first time and showed he belonged.
He helped the Boston Red Sox win the World Series last year. Now he’s in spring training, still trying to prove he fits in – as their starting shortstop.
“Hopefully, this year I can win the job,” Bogaerts said.
With no competition in camp, he has that job. But the humility of the mature-beyond-his-years native of Aruba impresses manager John Farrell.
“It’s refreshing to not think that he’s entitled to anything because of either the reputation he’s already generated at the minor league level or the accolades that he’s receiving outwardly,” Farrell said, “to stay committed to what his work is and to know that this is a humbling game.”
Bogaerts was called up to the majors for the first time on Aug. 19 and played 18 regular-season games. He had just 44 at-bats, with 11 hits, but Farrell had enough faith to use him in 12 of Boston’s 16 postseason games, 11 at third base, a new position for him.
He started the last eight games, including all six in the World Series, in place of a slumping third baseman Will Middlebrooks.
If Bogaerts was nervous, it didn’t show.
“You have to be really locked in,” he said. “You have to be focused. You have to pay attention to all the details. It’s no time for mistakes or if there are mistakes, let it be very small.”
“It was a lot of pressure, a lot of butterflies, nerves before the game, but you try to control it during the game,” he said.
His World Series numbers weren’t outstanding — five hits in 21 at-bats and one error in nine chances. But he singled and scored the go-ahead run in Boston’s 3-1 win in Game 5 against the St. Louis Cardinals.
And he had the poise and plate discipline of a veteran.
“Pretty remarkable when you consider the age and limited number of at-bats, even on the professional level as a whole,” Farrell said.
At 6-foot-3 and 185 pounds, Bogaerts has good range in the field and power potential at the plate.
The Red Sox thought so much of him that they traded Jose Iglesias, a shortstop prospect who had been ahead of him in their system, to the Detroit Tigers on July 30. They also chose not to re-sign Stephen Drew, last year’s starting shortstop.
Now Bogaerts can focus on one position.
“I need work on everything,” he said. “Slow grounders, ball up the middle, backhand. But the most important thing for me is try to make the outs on the routine plays.”
He also needs to work more with Dustin Pedroia. The second baseman will have a new double-play partner for the fourth straight season.
“The ability’s through the roof,” Pedroia said. “He’s willing to put the time in and learn and get better every day and the sky’s the limit for him.”
One thing he already is outstanding at is his maturity.
“I try to act like a grown person,” said Bogaerts, who speaks four languages. “I’m still 21, though, but you just have to do the things the right way, see the way the veteran players go about this business and stuff, especially baseball-wise.”
“So, off the field, hopefully I don’t have any problems. I don’t go out a lot and I don’t drink, so that definitely helps you stay away from trouble.”
The Red Sox spotted his potential early, signing him in August 2009 as an international free agent when he was just 16.
He hit .314 in the Dominican Summer League in 2010 and .260 with 16 homers at Single-A Greenville in 2011.
The next year he batted .302 with 15 homers at Single-A Salem and .326 at Double-A Portland. And last year, he hit .311 at Portland, .284 at Triple-A Pawtucket and .250 at Boston.
“He’s on the right path,” Farrell said.
Last year, Bogaerts left major league spring training camp early to play for the Netherlands in the World Baseball Classic.
This year, he’s headed for the opening day shortstop job with the Red Sox.
“Hopefully, I’m here to stay,” Bogaerts said, “and I’m here for a long time.”
NOTES: LHP Chris Capuano has both roster and performance bonuses as part of the $2.25 million, one-year deal finalized Saturday and can earn a total of $5 million. He would receive $250,000 each for 120 and 150 days on the 25-man active major league roster, $200,000 apiece for 12, 14, 16, 18 and 20 starts, and $250,000 for 22 starts. Capuano would earn $75,000 for 70 innings and each additional 10 innings through 160, and $125,000 apiece for 170 and 180 innings.