FORT MYERS, Fla. — In just about every way possible, it was a breakout season for Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts.
By the time 2015 was over, he had played in all but six games and compiled a .776 OPS, the best among American League players at his position.
Bogaerts batted .320 — second in the American League — had 45 extra-base hits, drove in 81 runs, and was a finalist for a Gold Glove.
“I’ll be the first to say we’ll take what Xander did last year and sign up for it this morning,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said Monday. “That’s a very good player.”
Bogaerts appreciates the sentiment. At 23, he already has a World Series ring and has become the reliable all-around shortstop the Sox have been seeking since the trade of Nomar Garciaparra in 2004.
But he wants more than a repeat of last season. Much more.
“Xander is constantly working,” said Red Sox hitting coach Chili Davis. “We all understand how good he can be, and I think he does, too.”
Bogaerts hit 7 home runs in 613 at-bats last season, something that was a bit embarrassing for him. Bogaerts had 13 home runs in his first 582 at-bats in the majors and averaged 17 during his three full seasons in the minors.
“I was going the other way with the ball so well, I didn’t want to get out of that,” he said. “But I know I have the power.”
Bogaerts and Davis have discussed the issue at length. Their first goal is not to change too much. Bogaerts is at his best when he’s using the entire field and has a balanced, consistent swing.
“I want him to maintain the discipline he has shown,” Davis said. “There comes a time when you recognize your power zone and know you can get the bat on the ball and drive it. You have to be selective.”
That means being cognizant of the count, the situation of the game, and the pitcher on the mound.
“React to the circumstances,” Bogaerts said. “It’s hard, but if you put your mind to it, you’ll get it. It starts in batting practice. I can learn how to pull the ball there, so if I get in the right situation, you’ll be prepared for it.”
Said Davis, “Know when you can do damage. Understanding the count is the first thing. So much of being a good hitter and hitting for power is understanding the situation you’re in. You’re going to see Xander grasp that.”
The Red Sox batted Bogaerts fourth Monday against the Pittsburgh Pirates, a bit of an experiment for Farrell. He likes the idea of getting David Ortiz to the plate in the first inning and not having three righthanded hitters in a row in Mookie Betts, Dustin Pedroia, and Bogaerts.
“This is one variation that we could be taking a look at,” Farrell said.
That look becomes plausible because Farrell knows Bogaerts won’t start swinging like a madman just because he’s batting cleanup.
“Last year, when we elevated [Bogaerts] to the three-hole, the same thought or argument could be made,” said Farrell. “But what happened with Xander when that happened was that he took off and became a very consistent offensive player for us. We don’t see that really changing who he is as a player.”
Davis, who hit 350 home runs in his accomplished career, admitted that he pressed at times when batting fourth. But he doesn’t see Bogaerts getting caught in that trap.
“He’s a smart kid,” said Davis. “He’s not there to be a different hitter; he’s there because he’s earned it. We don’t want him to change a thing, just keep learning.”
Bogaerts was 0 for 3 Monday and is 4 for 17 in spring training through seven games. Power is not on his mind right now.
“That’s for later on,” he said. “I’m just trying to get my timing. I’m still not seeing the ball the way I want regardless of who’s pitching. That’s how I am, always in spring training. I’m dealing with it.
“I want to be a consistent hitter and just let the power come. Don’t go out and try and get the bombs. Don’t look for home runs. Just try and put a good swing on it.”