FORT MYERS, Fla. — Xander Bogaerts took a few ground balls at third base last Friday. That ended when Red Sox manager John Farrell arrived at JetBlue Park over the weekend.
“He told me to go to shortstop and not to worry about third base,” Bogaerts said Wednesday after a lengthy workout. “I hope that means something good for me.”
As it stands today, Bogaerts is the shortstop. But that could change if the Red Sox sign Stephen Drew, who remains a free agent on the eve of spring training officially opening. Until Drew signs, Bogaerts can’t be sure exactly what role he’ll have.
“Nobody has said anything to me about it,” Bogaerts said. “It’s definitely not perfect, but I have to play baseball no matter what. I can’t worry about it too much. I’m working at shortstop every day and trying to get my reps in and get ready.”
Drew is negotiating with the Mets, who could use an upgrade over Ruben Tejada at shortstop. But signing Drew comes with the additional cost of losing a draft pick and that has depressed his market. Agent Scott Boras could return to the Red Sox seeking a short-term deal for Drew and try the free agent market again next winter.
Farrell and general manager Ben Cherington spoke hopefully of retaining Drew a few weeks ago, saying they valued the idea of having greater depth on the left side of the infield. The Sox would have been comfortable with playing Drew at shortstop for another season and using Bogaerts at third base.
But with players now on the field, Sox officials have been more measured with their comments about Drew and seem ready to start the season with Bogaerts at shortstop and Will Middlebrooks at third base.
That the two arrived at camp early and have been working hard with infield coach Brian Butterfield doesn’t hurt their chances.
The 21-year-old Bogaerts is certain to make the team regardless. He hit .250 in 18 regular-season games last year before emerging as a starter in the postseason. Bogaerts started eight games in October, entering the lineup for Game 5 of the American League Championship Series and staying there.
Bogaerts was 8 for 27 (.296) in the postseason with four extra-base hits and nine runs scored. Teammates marveled at how unaffected he was by the atmosphere.
“I learned so much about the game last year, the preparation you need,” Bogaerts said. “The other teams will find your weakness right away. I need to get better at everything, especially recognizing pitches. But I know I can do it.”
Bogaerts was in major league spring training last season but only for a few weeks. He was away for a month playing for the Netherlands in the World Baseball Classic.
“The WBC was great. But being here the whole time will help me,” Bogaerts said. “I’ve seen improvement just the last couple of days working with [Butterfield] on my fielding. Being around the coaches and the older guys all spring will be important for me. I’ll be able to get better.”
Bogaerts returned to his home in Aruba shortly after the World Series and stayed there for the winter. A small ballpark was named in his honor and he was the guest of honor at a series of celebrations. Only five Arubans have played in the majors and Bogaerts was the first to earn a World Series ring.
“Oh, man. It was a lot of fun,” he said. “People were so excited. Having the park named after me was really cool. It’s all hard to believe.”
Bogaerts, who retains rookie status, is one of the top two or three prospects in the game. For the Red Sox, he is their version of Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, and Manny Machado, a young player who can make a profound impact.
For now, he waits to find out what position that will be at.
“It’s all out of my control. I just have to go with it,” Bogaerts said. “Right now, I’m the shortstop and I want to stay there. That’s my position and I hope it’s my position on Opening Day.”