PAWTUCKET — Is Xander Bogaerts really and truly ready for the big leagues – 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 Bogaerts’ first-ever big-league summons – 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 – he did offer plenty of supportive evidence regarding the strides this 20-year-old wunderkind has taken in a short period of time.
“I like to use the expression that he came up here and survived,” DiSarcina said with a smile before delving further. “He adjusted and he performed, and he’s done it (since June 13, when Bogaerts arrived after he outgrew Double-A Portland).
“That’s pretty impressive for a young player,” DiSarcina added.
Bogaerts’ 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 – 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 Pawtucket’s lineup.
“He’s 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,” said DiSarcina. “The bunting is another story. He’s 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 who’s throwing 95 with movement.
“Bogaerts knows that bunting is a weakness in his game, but it’s a weakness not because he’s 20. It’s a weakness because of a lack of experience,” DiSarcina added. “He may get antsy and swing at balls in the dirt, but what he does really well is that he separates at-bats. He won’t take that poor at-bat into his next at-bat. He’ll hunt and look for a pitch and learn to take that breaking ball because he’s now seen how that pitcher throws it.”
Explaining concepts to Bogaerts has proven just as important as getting him in the batter’s box.
“(PawSox hitting coach) Dave Joppie has done a good job in explaining the importance of playing baseball,” DiSarcina said. “That starts with their routine and the mental side of the game when they’re talking in the cages.”
The most notable alteration in Bogaerts’ game came defensively. While DiSarcina pointed out that Bogaerts has made noticeable strides at shortstop, the fact that he’s seen time at third base is a development that may allow him to sneak into Boston’s 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.
“The 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,” DiSarcina said. “Those are things that have nothing to do with his age. It has to do with experience and playing.”
On viewing Bogaerts at the defensive position where he feels most comfortable, DiSarcina said, “When he first got here, he was all over the place. Shortstop is a leadership position where you’re going to get a lot of different balls hit your way, whether they’re hard hit or choppers. It’s a tough position to play because there’s so much to work on.”
“He’s done a good job as far as positioning. He’s settling down and not walking around as much, turning around and playing with dirt,” DiSarcina expanded. “You don’t have to hit him groundballs. You can go out and walk through the point you wish to make. I think that’s how he remembers by challenging him with ‘Where are you supposed to be when a double is hit down the right-field line?’”
There are, however, some rough edges in need of smoothing – call them minor details. DiSarcina feels that Bogaerts needs to be quicker when getting his tag down on stolen-base attempts.
“It takes years to get adjusted to that position,” said DiSarcina, “but he’s definitely not going backwards. That’s a credit to paying attention to what he needs to do and working on it.”
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.)
“Any time a young player gets called to the big leagues, you can’t insulate him or put him in a bubble, especially in this market,” said DiSarcina. “If you focus on that night’s task, which is helping the team win, you should be fine.”
DiSarcina joked that Bogaerts’ longest slump probably materialized during his final three days with the PawSox, when he sustained a 0-for-10 drought. Immediately looking ahead, he shouldn’t be knocked off-kilter if he’s not in Boston’s lineup every day – between Double A and Triple A, Bogaerts has accrued 507 plate appearances (he had 520 plate appearances in 2012).
“He’s shown no signs of fatigue or rust,” 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.
“He has that innocence like he’s playing wiffle ball in the backyard. The next at-bat is coming and he’s not going to let the result of the last one, affect him. In his mind, he’s got another chance,” summed up DiSarcina. “It’s a quality that not a lot of guys have.”
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03