BOSTON (CBS) – Heading into his rookie season, there isn’t much Xander Bogaerts hasn’t seen despite just a few short months in the Major Leagues.
He got his first taste of the majors in mid-August, collecting his first hit in his fifth at-bat. His first career home run is out of the way as well, as the phenom clubbed that out of Yankee Stadium in a 13-9 Red Sox win in mid-September.
The playoffs? Those won’t be new either, as the 21-year-old saw action in 12 games during Boston’s run to a World Series title, getting the start at third base in the final games against the St. Louis Cardinals. When the Red Sox open the home portion of their season at Fenway Park on April 4, Bogaerts will have his named called and collect a World Series ring with the rest of his teammates.
All that’s different this time around is that Bogaerts will likely start this season in the majors, and not climbing his way up the Red Sox system as he did in 2013.
Should everything fall into place this spring, Bogaerts could find himself starting at shortstop on opening day. He’s already reported to the team’s spring training facilities in Lee County, Fla., as have a handful of other players, in order to get an early jump on 2014.
But even though the hype and high expectations will surround him this spring and throughout the season, Boston’s top prospect is taking it all in stride.
“I’m just going to go out there and play the same way I have all along: play as hard as I can like it’s the last game I’m going to play,” Bogaerts told WBZ NewsRadio 1030’s Jonny Miller from Fort Myers on Tuesday. “I never try to predict what I’ll try to do. But I always try to do my best, and hopefully all the hard work I did over the offseason pays off during the season.”
All that hard work has included countless hours taking ground balls in the infield, some extensive weight training, and even more agility work, which the 21-year-old says has made him a faster this offseason. He hasn’t focused on just one thing, but a wide array of areas in order to improve his overall game.
If you’re concerned about Bogaerts letting the hype go to his head, don’t be. He ranks No. 1 on The Sporting News’ Top Prospects in baseball list, and is near the top of numerous other prospect rankings, but none of that means anything to him. All that matters to him is the name on the front of his jersey, and representing that name properly.
“It’s always great to be named something like that, but you have to remember that you represent the Red Sox,” he said. “You have to be on a straight line, because you have a lot of eyes on you even though you don’t see them. You always have to do stuff the right way to be an example for the other guys coming up.”
Bogaerts learned not to get overwhelmed by his, or any, situation during Boston’s run to a championship last season. He learned under veteran leaders like Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz, who he called “special players,” but it was one of the lesser-known Red Sox that gave him the best advice when he was thrust into action in the Fall Classic.
“Quentin Berry told me to just try to help; you don’t have to be Superman or be a hero, just try to help any way you can,” remembers Bogaerts. “Don’t get too excited and help any way you can, whether it’s a bunt hit or a walk. Just try to help.”
He helped plenty, scoring nine runs in 12 playoffs games, including the go-ahead run in Boston’s 3-1 win in Game 5 of the World Series in St. Louis. Bogaerts hit .296 during the postseason, shifting over to third base to allow Stephen Drew’s solid glove to remain on the field.
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While he would prefer to play shortstop this season, a position that has been a revolving door for Boston since the 2004 trade of Nomar Garciaparra, Bogaerts is open to whatever the Red Sox need him to be. If they re-sign Drew, who Bogaerts calls an awesome guy and good player, he’d be open to playing third along with Will Middlebrooks.
Any way he can help, Bogaerts is open. Whatever helps help the team.
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