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PAWTUCKET â Is Xander Bogaerts really and truly ready for the big leagues â this after spending a little more than 10 weeks at Triple-A Pawtucket?
There is probably one person in the Red Sox organization who best qualifies to answer this question. While PawSox manager Gary DiSarcina politely declined to speak directly on Bogaertsâ first-ever big-league summons â DiSarcina met the media inside his McCoy Stadium office at 5 p.m. Monday while simultaneously, Boston was trying to adjust to the time change in San Francisco â he did offer plenty of supportive evidence regarding the strides this 20-year-old wunderkind has taken in a short period of time.
âI like to use the expression that he came up here and survived,â DiSarcina said with a smile before delving further. âHe adjusted and he performed, and heâs done it (since June 13, when Bogaerts arrived after he outgrew Double-A Portland).
âThatâs pretty impressive for a young player,â DiSarcina added.
Bogaertsâ time in Pawtucket featured more than a young player learning the ropes in a league that features numerous veteran arms. In some ways, the highly touted prospect went through several do-it-yourself renovations.
He came to Pawtucket armed with the reputation as a middle-of-the-lineup option and a largely unpolished shortstop. He leaves this particular neck of the woods in a far different state â a more well-rounded state you might say.
As a hitter, Bogaerts was beginning to understand the importance of moving hitters along rather than strictly swinging for the fences. That goes back to DiSarcina placing Bogaerts in the No. 2 spot in Pawtucketâs lineup.
âHeâs had three hit-and-run opportunities and he was successful with one that saw him hit a home run. His two others were tough pitches on him,â said DiSarcina. âThe bunting is another story. Heâs come out when we have early bunting work during a long homestand, but hitting off a machine is not the same as hitting off a guy whoâs throwing 95 with movement.
âBogaerts knows that bunting is a weakness in his game, but itâs a weakness not because heâs 20. Itâs a weakness because of a lack of experience,â DiSarcina added. âHe may get antsy and swing at balls in the dirt, but what he does really well is that he separates at-bats. He wonât take that poor at-bat into his next at-bat. Heâll hunt and look for a pitch and learn to take that breaking ball because heâs now seen how that pitcher throws it.â
Explaining concepts to Bogaerts has proven just as important as getting him in the batterâs box.
â(PawSox hitting coach) Dave Joppie has done a good job in explaining the importance of playing baseball,â DiSarcina said. âThat starts with their routine and the mental side of the game when theyâre talking in the cages.â
The most notable alteration in Bogaertsâ game came defensively. While DiSarcina pointed out that Bogaerts has made noticeable strides at shortstop, the fact that heâs seen time at third base is a development that may allow him to sneak into Bostonâs lineup more often than not. Bogaerts ended up playing 10 games at third base for the PawSox with his most recent appearance at the hot corner taking place this past Sunday.
âThe more he played (third base), the more you saw some of the inexperience. He failed to cover on a first-and-third when we had the runner dead at third. There was a swinging bunt that he misjudged a little bit,â DiSarcina said. âThose are things that have nothing to do with his age. It has to do with experience and playing.â
On viewing Bogaerts at the defensive position where he feels most comfortable, DiSarcina said, âWhen he first got here, he was all over the place. Shortstop is a leadership position where youâre going to get a lot of different balls hit your way, whether theyâre hard hit or choppers. Itâs a tough position to play because thereâs so much to work on.â
âHeâs done a good job as far as positioning. Heâs settling down and not walking around as much, turning around and playing with dirt,â DiSarcina expanded. âYou donât have to hit him groundballs. You can go out and walk through the point you wish to make. I think thatâs how he remembers by challenging him with âWhere are you supposed to be when a double is hit down the right-field line?ââ
There are, however, some rough edges in need of smoothing â call them minor details. DiSarcina feels that Bogaerts needs to be quicker when getting his tag down on stolen-base attempts.
âIt takes years to get adjusted to that position,â said DiSarcina, âbut heâs definitely not going backwards. Thatâs a credit to paying attention to what he needs to do and working on it.â
As the pregame conversation progressed, DiSarcina began to warm up to what potentially lies ahead for Bogaerts, who would be the youngest Red Sox position player since 20-year-old Dwight Evans in 1972. (Ironically, Evans was present at McCoy Stadium on Sunday.)
âAny time a young player gets called to the big leagues, you canât insulate him or put him in a bubble, especially in this market,â said DiSarcina. âIf you focus on that nightâs task, which is helping the team win, you should be fine.â
DiSarcina joked that Bogaertsâ longest slump probably materialized during his final three days with the PawSox, when he sustained a 0-for-10 drought. Immediately looking ahead, he shouldnât be knocked off-kilter if heâs not in Bostonâs lineup every day â between Double A and Triple A, Bogaerts has accrued 507 plate appearances (he had 520 plate appearances in 2012).
âHeâs shown no signs of fatigue or rust,â DiSarcina pointed out.
In closing, DiSarcina pointed out a quality that figures to serve Bogaerts quite well as sets sail on the next phase of his baseball odyssey.
âHe has that innocence like heâs playing wiffle ball in the backyard. The next at-bat is coming and heâs not going to let the result of the last one, affect him. In his mind, heâs got another chance,â summed up DiSarcina. âItâs a quality that not a lot of guys have.â
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