The young shortstop for the Red Sox will be more active in the field this season.
Baseball fans have always loved the long ball and strikeouts.
But defensive shifts could be the new eye candy.
Xander Bogaerts will be on the move quite a bit this season, and the Boston Red Sox plan to take advantage of his exceptional athleticism and arm strength.
Bogaerts isn’t accustomed to shifting over to the right side of the field, acting as a second baseman. However, he’ll have a fair share of help when he looks over to the clubhouse for guidance.
Former Red Sox infielder Alex Cora has played more than 3,500 innings as both a second baseman and shortstop in his big league career. The manager has full confidence in Bogaerts to execute seamlessly in a defensive shift, and can help the young shortstop handle the pressure of shifting in Fenway Park.
In addition to Cora, analytics coach Ramon Vazquez played nine seasons as a utility man in the pros. A former Major League infielder that can provide positioning based of experience and deep statistical evidence serves as a major benefit for Bogaerts.
Not to mention, third base coach Carlos Febles spent five years as a Royals second baseman before playing shortstop. He too, can provide another opinion on anything counterproductive he may see on the field.
While Bogaerts doesn’t have the luxury of playing with them on the field, the three coaches will be able to cope with Bogaerts through tough times. His potential discomfort will come with three coaches who can dissect every angle, foot step and responsibility it takes to execute a clean shift. Cora told Chad Jennings of the Boston Herald that Bogaerts’ athleticism is among the best on the team, and expects the shortstop to handle the transition smoothly:
"“He’s more athletic than all our coaching staff,” Cora said. “Better than Ramon, better than Carlos, and better than me. He’s a better athlete. He’s one of the best athletes on the squad, so we expect him to get used to it, because we know that physically he can handle it. There’s no doubt in my mind that he’ll be fine.”"
Trusting the Bogaerts with a plethora of fielding responsibilities is a huge confidence boost for the Aruban native. The new shift-heavy approach on defense is something the Red Sox aren’t accustomed to. Bogaerts will play on the right side of second base against the most pull-happy left-handed hitters in almost every scenario. This shift used to be the third baseman moving to the right side of second base while the shortstop free ranges on the left side.
"“Xander is the kind of guy who can turn the ground ball to the right side to first or second,” Cora said. “Give it to him and turn it. He can do that. I don’t want the third baseman who’s in the shortstop area to go all the way and try and turn that one. I think Xander is athletic enough that he can cover his position, go to the bag and make that throw to first base, and that’s the most important thing.“Another thing is you have to put your best defender on that side because you’re playing the percentages. I feel Xander is a good defender, so I put him in a spot where he is going to defend that lane and make that play.”"
Cora trusts Bogaerts’ arm with the difficult angled throws, but Bogaerts says he’s still learning how to put touch on his throws rather than firing it from across the diamond. Think of it as a quarterback who is used to throwing the long ball, but now must take some velocity off to hit his target in the corner of the end zone.
"“For me, it’s the throws,” Bogaerts said. “I’m used to long throws. Now it’s just you’ve got to get a good arm angle and good velocity to get it there. It’s not the same as throwing from short, hard over. Now, at second, you have to kind of in-between-ish to first.”"
According to Jennings, Bogaerts dropped to a full sidearm motion as if throwing directly across the bottom of his ribcage from right to left. To learn that motion, he’s been working with Dustin Pedroia during morning drills.
Bogaerts is still learning to master Pedroia’s ability to sling it from an angle, rather than aiming it with an over the top release.
"“Pedey gets the ball here and he throws it here, routinely,” Bogaerts said, again showing a sidearm motion. “I can’t do it from short because the baserunner will probably reach (by beating the throw) or the ball will sail into the dugout.”"
Cora knows there will be growing pains, but he believes Bogaerts has the strongest arm in the infield, and this throw will eventually become routine for him.
"“He’s the strongest arm out there,” Cora said. “And I feel like he can make that throw. But it’s not an easy one.”"
We know Bogaerts isn’t comfortable at third base, and views himself strictly as a shortstop. While he’ll be fielding balls from the right side of the field, he is still technically a shortstop. As long as that’s the case, we can expect Bogaerts to take this challenge head-on with a smile on his face.