TORONTO — It’s like watching your son grow up and marveling at the things he can do and the things he will do. You watch him struggle with things, experience things for the first time.
Xander Bogaerts is the Red Sox’ young son.
Bogaerts is the most hyped young Red Sox player since Nomar Garciaparra. We remember Garciaparra’s growth process well; he also played shortstop as a young player in Boston.
We watched Garciaparra, who came from a very different background and was a college star, turn into a two-time American League batting champion. We saw him develop before our eyes.
We look at Bogaerts, who had two hits off R.A. Dickey Sunday to improve his average to .287, and we wonder where this is going to go. He solved a former Cy Young Award winner and a knuckleballer. His team lost to the Blue Jays, 7-1, but Bogaerts certainly did his part during a 2-for-4 day in which he also struck out twice.
Every day there’s something new for Bogaerts. You’re watching his first steps as a big leaguer, and there are things that make you go, “Wow,” and things that make you wonder if he ever will get better at it.
Bogaerts is conscientious about his craft. He has so much pride that he came from Aruba, not exactly a baseball mecca, and that he’s made something special of himself, that he’s the starting shortstop of the Boston Red Sox.
He probably works too hard. He probably should rest his body more, but at age 21, he’s not about to take it easy. There are refinements that need to be made. Every day there’s something new to learn. This is like baseball school. Whether you’ve experienced it or not, you’re going to be tested.
For instance, in the eighth inning, a ball was hit up the middle. Bogaerts ranged to his left and slid to make the stop, but he just couldn’t control the ball to complete the play and the fifth Blue Jays run scored.
It was a big run at the time, though the Jays added two more. But if the Red Sox had mounted a big comeback, the play he didn’t make would have loomed larger.
Scouts marvel at Bogaerts’s ability and what he will be sometime soon. One wishes he had Jose Iglesias’s or even Deven Marrero’s range, or Stephen Drew’s reliability, but he may never have the former and right now he doesn’t quite have the latter. But it’s not for lack of effort or desire, which is what impresses his teammates.
“He’s doing really well,” David Ortiz said. “He’s hitting .290, so there’s not much he’s not doing right at the plate. He’s such a good kid and we’re here for him. He’s a kid who has a lot of questions. He’s very respectful and I talk to him a lot about baseball and life and all the things he needs to know as he goes through his first season.
“A lot of these things he’s got to learn on his own. He has to experience it for the first time and you put that in the back of your mind and move on. He hit a tough pitcher today. I’m sure he hasn’t seen too many knuckleballs before, but you saw his approach at the plate. He got an education there.”
The Orioles have a knuckleballer in their farm system that Bogaerts faced a few times coming up. But Dickey, of course, is different — and elite.
“I got a strikeout against him, so I wouldn’t say I was that great against him,” Bogaerts said. “Location is everything. Things aren’t coming out at 90-something. So you have to be patient. One thing is for sure, don’t miss his fastball if he throws it to you.”
Bogaerts batted seventh in Boston’s “knuckleball lineup” Sunday. After Jonny Gomes’s two-out single in the second, Bogaerts’s single moved Gomes to second, and a Jackie Bradley Jr. single scored Gomes for Boston’s run.
In the seventh, Bogaerts doubled to left after Will Middlebrooks was hit with a pitch, which was the end of Dickey’s day. With runners at second and third, the Red Sox were unable to score at a pivotal time in the game.
“The hits are falling and my confidence is growing when I’m up there,” Bogaerts said.
Another lesson came in his last at-bat in the ninth against Esmil Rogers. Bogaerts was ahead on the count, 2 and 0, and he saw a steady diet of sliders from Rogers. He wound up striking out to end the game.
“I was 2-0 and he throws me two fastballs, then slider, slider, slider, slider. I’d never seen that before,” Bogaerts said. “I never expected that. That’s something I’m going to have to get used to. The way certain pitchers or certain teams pitch me is probably going to change from team to team and pitcher to pitcher.”
Ortiz doesn’t think Bogaerts is fazed at all by the positional debate that could be in his future — whether he will stay at short or move to third.
“I just think he’s trying to have fun and trying to learn,” Ortiz said. “And I’ve said to him to control the things you can control and don’t worry about anything else. Some things are just out of your hands. They were for me coming up and you just have to go with the flow.”
One wonders how much better Bogaerts would be offensively if he didn’t have to handle such an important and difficult position in the field. Playing shortstop brings on stress and wear and tear, but since Drew turned down a $14.1 million qualifying offer, the team has committed to Bogaerts as its shortstop.
He has a -2.8 UZR rating, 26th among major league shortstops, and below average (zero is average). Bogaerts wants to be better than that. He wants to not only make the routine plays, but make the plays pitchers believe their shortstop should make.
Pitchers were spoiled last season by Iglesias’s range both at short and third and Drew’s range and reliability. There’s no question that’s missing from the Red Sox infield.
“The more I play there, the better I think I feel there,” Bogaerts said. “I think you gain confidence, and with that confidence you perform better. I want to make plays for my teammates and the pitchers. I want to help them.”
Ortiz said he spoke to Bogaerts, too, about the photo of a scantily clad young woman that was posted on Bogaerts’s Twitter account a couple of weeks ago. Bogaerts immediately shut down his account and was talked to by manager John Farrell about the situation.
“We talked about it,” Ortiz said. “He’s a young kid. And he’s single. I don’t think that’s anything he should worry about. He dealt with it, it’s over with, and he did something about it.”
He is the young buck and Ortiz and the veteran players are his Papi. They protect him and kick him in the pants if he needs it. He is their young son, and every day they watch him grow into a baseball man.