Red Sox: Xander Bogaerts aims to steal more bases this season

Feb 27, 2017; Fort Myers, FL, USA; Boston Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts (2) leads off first base against the St. Louis Cardinals at JetBlue Park. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 27, 2017; Fort Myers, FL, USA; Boston Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts (2) leads off first base against the St. Louis Cardinals at JetBlue Park. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

Boston Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts wasn’t often given the green light on the base paths last season, but he hopes to steal more bases this year.

Xander Bogaerts emerged as a budding star two years ago by nearly winning a batting title and followed that up by showcasing a spike in the power department last season. What element of his game will the Boston Red Sox shortstop improve upon in 2017?

One idea that Bogaerts appears to have on his mind this spring is being more aggressive on the base paths. The 24-year old doesn’t have blazing speed, but he has sufficient wheels to swipe the occasional bag.

Bogaerts set a career-high with 13 steals last season. He believes he’s capable of more, but in past seasons he was rarely given the green light to run because he was often hitting in front of David Ortiz. Stealing second would leave first base open, giving opposing pitchers little incentive to pitch to Big Papi. With the iconic slugger now retired, Bogaerts is hoping it opens up more opportunities for him to run.

"“I always like to steal. I like that,” Bogaerts told reporters this week, per ESPN’s Scott Lauber. “We’ll definitely miss David in the middle of our lineup. Hopefully that frees me up a little bit more to steal. But we’ll see. Staying healthy is obviously the main thing, but stealing bases is something I definitely like.”"

The Red Sox were an average base stealing team last season, ranking 13th in the majors with 83 steals. Mookie Betts led the way with 26, while Bogaerts was the only other hitter that reached double-digits. This was partially due to roster construction, as Boston had their fair share of slow-footed hitters in the lineup.

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That’s not likely to change much this season. Ortiz may be gone, but it’s not as if Mitch Moreland is going to be an improvement in the base stealing department. Travis Shaw wasn’t much of a threat to steal, but the concept that Pablo Sandoval will run wild is laughable. A full season of Andrew Benintendi gives the team a boost in speed, but that’s about the only significant upgrade from a base stealing perspective.

If the Red Sox are going to run more this year it will have to come from a change in philosophy from manager John Farrell. Without a prolific home run hitter anchoring the middle of the lineup, Boston will need to rely on other methods to score runs. Being more aggressive on the base paths would be one way to accomplish that and the Red Sox do have a few candidates they could utilize that strategy with more often – including Bogaerts.

With his home run power already on the rise, increased opportunities to run could put Bogaerts in position to join the 20/20 club this season. Only nine major league hitters topped both 20 home runs and 20 steals last season, including Betts. If Bogaerts can join his teammate in that exclusive club this season then it could give the Red Sox two 20/20 players, which only the Arizona Diamondbacks could claim last year.

The counterargument would be that the presence of Betts in the lineup behind him may prevent Bogaerts from getting the green light for the same reasons he didn’t with Ortiz behind him. Betts is now the best hitter in the lineup and the Red Sox certainly don’t want to take the bat out of his hands. Of course, if opposing teams do walk Betts in that scenario they risk Boston pulling off a double-steal, putting a pair of runners in scoring position for Hanley Ramirez.

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Bogaerts may not get the chance to run wild this season, but we should expect his base stealing opportunities to increase. Improving upon this aspect of his game will further his development as one of the top young shortstops in the game.