FORT MYERS, Fla. — Ah yes, maturity.
You can see it in him physically. You can see it mentally.
Xander Bogaerts, now a 22-year-old major league sophomore, has been humbled by the majors. He has taken his lumps, physically, emotionally, and mentally.
The game he loves, the game that came so easily to him for so long, ate him up in his rookie season. He wasn’t the first one, and he won’t be the last, but after experiencing it first-hand, he now knows that to be a good major league player, a lot of things have to fall right.
And some of it has to come from within.
Pitchers ate him up with sliders and offspeed stuff, and he’s now ready to battle back.
His physical maturity is obvious; he has 210 pounds on his 6-foot-3-inch frame. He’s not Hanley Ramirez-big, but big nonetheless.
“I added some muscle and got rid of some fat,” Bogaerts said.
Any thoughts of changing his position, however, are gone.
He is the Red Sox shortstop.
Oh, if he gets off to a slow start, there will be some Deven Marrero chatter, but Bogaerts looks like a player on the verge of something big.
He put on the extra muscle to hit home runs. He hit 12 of them last season, but he feels he’s capable of a lot more. He will not disclose personal goals — he even says he doesn’t make any so he won’t disappoint himself — but when you speak to Bogaerts, you get where he wants to be.
He wants to be a shortstop who can hit for average and for power and who can knock in runs. But whatever he does this season likely will be an improvement on the 2014 numbers that made many question whether he was everything the Red Sox had built him up to be.
Close your eyes if you don’t want to be reminded of those numbers.
In 144 games, he hit .240 with 12 homers and 46 RBIs. He hit .153 with runners in scoring position. He had a .297 OBP, a .660 OPS. He hit .123 in August.
He hit .182 as a third baseman and .266 as a shortstop. He acknowledges now that the transition to third didn’t sit well with him. It threw him for a loop.
“I understand why it had to happen,” Bogaerts said. “We were trying to get our infield the best it could be at the time. I understood it, and I was happy to help the team, but I always thought I was a shortstop, and that’s the position I love to play.
“It was difficult, but I’ve got to get back there and I think I showed I could play there very well by the end of the year and started to feel comfortable again.”
Power and speed are utmost in his head.
“I feel like I have some speed and I’d like to be able to steal more bases,” said Bogaerts, who stole two bases last season. “Obviously, there’s more to it than that, and the mental part of stealing bases is very important.
“Just to have that confidence to be able to do it is a big part of it, and I think I’m getting to that point where my confidence level to pull it off is definitely there.”
Bogaerts spent time working at the EXOS facility in Arizona to get his body ready to endure a 162-game season.
“I feel I’m better built to do that,” Bogaerts said. “I wore down last year. I learned a lot about what it takes to be a major leaguer and what it takes to do it day in and day out at that level.
“The season was longer than anything I’d experienced. With all the work I did with different exercises, I think I’m better equipped to handle that now.”
Infield coach Brian Butterfield worked hard with Bogaerts on his footwork and feel for the position. It was almost a daily pregame occurrence, and the spring training sessions were grueling.
Then came the switch to third base, with new footwork and a new throw. It seemed as if Bogaerts was always being taught something new rather than just playing.
Bogaerts also had a few workouts with Dustin Pedroia in Arizona in an effort to improve their on-field relationship.
“His big thing was emphasizing angles and positioning,” Bogaerts said. “Get yourself in the right place. Use the right angles to improve your range. Little things you can do that he makes a living at. And I’d like to be able to learn stuff like that from him.”
While wanting to hit more home runs, Bogaerts also wants to get back to hitting the ball to the opposite field.
“I think I got away from that last year,” he said. “You see that Green Monster in front of you like that, it can do a number on you. You just have to pretend it’s not there and just hit the ball where it’s pitched.”
He has done a lot of video study this offseason. He knows now how certain pitchers got him out and he knows he has to make adjustments to give himself the advantage again.
“I know what they have, what they throw, and how they try to set me up now,” Bogaerts said. “I have to get more disciplined at the plate and not get into their counts. I think I understand things a lot better now.”
The Red Sox have not given up hope that Bogaerts emerges as a star. Despite the bad rookie season, other teams were still interested in trading for Bogaerts, testing Boston’s commitment to him.
In the end, the Sox were committed to going forward. Just as Bogaerts is committed to prove their faith in him will yield an All-Star.
“We all struggled last year,” Bogaerts said. “We all know we didn’t do what we were supposed to do, but we’re all committed to winning a World Series again.
“I need to do my part and improve as a player. And that’s what I focused on in the offseason. I can’t wait for things to get started because there’s so much I want to prove to myself and the team.”
Ah yes, maturity is a beautiful thing.