PHOENIX — Xander Bogaerts just spent a couple of hours building his muscles, but he doesn’t need any help building his confidence.
“I know the best is yet to come,” he says. “I don’t think — I know.”
The Red Sox’ All-Star shortstop already has won two Silver Slugger awards before the age of 25, but last year he played with an injured hand, his batting average dipped, and he hit only 10 home runs, down from 21 in 2016.
For two months, it hurt every time he swung the bat.
“We thought it was going to get better, and it didn’t, and then I played through the pain,” says Bogaerts, who is working out in Arizona this winter at EXOS, an elite training center for athletes. “I know I made a mistake. I probably shouldn’t have played, but this is who I am.
“I just enjoy the game of baseball. I live and die for baseball, and I don’t like being on the bench.”
He promises a power surge next season, but he’s smart enough not to be pinned down with a number.
“Who knows?” he says. “But I’ll definitely hit more that 10, for sure.
“Hopefully I’ll swing for the fence a little more, but to be honest, if you go too big, you won’t have good results. Your batting average will be down.”
Given the choice between 40 home runs or a .350 average, Bogaerts doesn’t hesitate.
“I’d take the .350,” he says.
He pays little attention to recent rumblings that he has peaked and should be traded before he becomes a free agent in two years. In a recent CBS poll, 78 percent of respondents said the Red Sox should trade him to the Orioles for slugger Manny Machado.
What would he say to the naysayers?
“I would advise them to go hit with one hand — see how much they’ll hit,” he says. “They won’t reach 10 [home runs]. So it’s not the best season that I had, but to go through what I’ve been through and to still be able to put up those decent numbers [.273, 62 RBIs], I had no problem with that.”
Bogaerts says he learned the hard way to ignore the media after he was moved to third base in 2014 to make way for Stephen Drew
’“I know in my first year, 2014, I had an up-and-down season,” he says. “Third base, shortstop, third base, shortstop. I used to read a lot of stuff. But if you read into so much negativity, I just believe you’re definitely going to play bad.
“So I use all the negativity as motivation to just go out there and get better.”
He’s a lot like the motto of his native Aruba: One Happy Island.
“I don’t have a lot of distractions here, so I know I’ve just got to wake up in the morning and come here,” he says. “That’s basically the only thing I have planned to do on a regular day.”
An eye on the Yankees
Bogaerts started working out here after Thanksgiving with a group of major and minor leaguers. This was not team-mandated. The EXOS training staff said no one reported in better shape for offseason training.
On this day, he wins the power squat competition, generating 3,044 watts of energy.
“That’s the explosiveness of an NFL player,” says EXOS performance coach Eric Dannenberg.
“So I’m going to be a Patriots guy next year,” he says. “Wide receiver.”
Bogaerts understands that fans want home runs and will tolerate a lot of strikeouts to get them. The Yankees’ Aaron Judge is the perfect example.
“That’s the way the game has changed,” he says.
Growing up in Aruba, Bogaerts used to idolize Yankee great Derek Jeter. As a Red Sox rookie, Bogaerts was greeted by Jeter the first time he reached second base in a game against New York, and it was an “oh my God” moment.
But now, Bogaerts isn’t thrilled that the new Marlins CEO traded slugger Giancarlo Stanton to the Yankees.
“They’re pretty stacked right now with that trade,” says Bogaerts. “I think Stanton to any team changes the whole perspective of a team. He already went to a Yankees team that was pretty good offensively.
“He hit 59 home runs, and Yankee Stadium is not that big of a ballpark compared to the Marlins ballpark.
“But we’ve got top-quality pitchers. So they’re the ones we’ve got to trust to do the job.”
He is not ready to cede first place to the Yankees.
“I don’t think the team that you have on paper is the one that’s necessarily going to be the best,” he says.
He gave the 2013 Red Sox as an example. They had stars like David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia but also guys like Jonny Gomes, David Ross, and Shane Victorino who sparked the team both on and off the field.
“You don’t know how the chemistry will play out during the season,” says Bogaerts. “Chemistry is pretty huge.”
Truth be told, he does not like the Yankees. They are the team he enjoys beating the most.
“We’re always 1-2,” says Bogaerts. “This will heat up the rivalry.”
Bogaerts says he loves the Boston fans.
“They’re great,” he says. “I have no issues with them. They’re always into the game, regardless if it’s cold or hot or if it’s raining. They’re always there. They support you.
“Whenever you are doing good, they’re the best. But whenever you play bad, they get on you, and that’s motivation for you to get out of whatever funk you’re in.”
He definitely doesn’t want to be traded.
“I love it here, man,” he says. “I’m going to be honest. This has been my family since I’ve been 16 years old.”
He has already met with new manager Alex Cora during a brief offseason stop at Fenway Park. He says they already have a good relationship.
“He would always be very friendly to me around the batting cages,” says Bogaerts. “And I just thought he was a great guy. Pedey played with him and would always tell me stuff about him. All good. I haven’t heard anything bad.”
Bogaerts also is scheduled to have lunch with new hitting coach Tim Hyers, whom he knows from their days in the Red Sox organization.
“I’ll probably look to hit a lot more balls in the air next year,” says Bogaerts, borrowing a page from the Ted Williams book of hitting.
Close to the heart
Told that some fans found last year’s Red Sox “unlikable,” Bogaerts makes a face.
“What’s not to like?” he says. “We’ve got guys with great track records. Young and speedy.
“I mean, maybe we don’t have the power that every team has, but it’s not like we’re dead last in runs scored in the league. Plus we’re No. 1 in our division. We have great young guys.”
He believes it’s a cheap shot to say he fades in the second half of the season.
Last year, he was hitting .314 on June 30 when he helped the Sox win a game in Toronto in the 11th inning but suffered a hip flexor injury.
Then he got hit on the right hand July 6 by a fastball from Tampa Bay’s Jake Faria. He rested over the All-Star break and was surprised when his hand still bothered him.
He had to take a second cortisone shot. That left him with a discolored whitish patch on his hand.
“I was freaking out because I didn’t know what it was,” he says. “And then I asked the trainers and they said, ‘Yeah, you might get something like this from the shots.’ ”
In the past year, Bogaerts has lost his devoted grandmother, worried about hurricanes damaging Aruba, and was torn apart by the death of his friend, 5-year-old Ari Schultz, who received a heart transplant at Children’s Hospital in March.
A video of Schultz proclaiming himself Xander Bogaerts and hitting a home run in the hospital while hooked up to a mobile oxygen tank went viral. Bogaerts and catcher Christian Vazquez surprised the young boy and played ball with him at his Malden home on July 14.
“He was such a smart kid,” says Bogaerts. “Very inspirational.”
They promised him he would throw out the first pitch at Fenway Park on Aug. 27. But he suffered a seizure and died six days after the visit.
Bogaerts was devastated.
“They told me right before a game against the Angels,” he said. “I just didn’t expect anything like that to happen, especially that quick. I think I got two errors that day.
“I never imagined you can have an impact on a little kid like that, especially someone who is going through something like that. He definitely changed my life a lot.”
Meanwhile, Bogaerts gets stronger by the day here in the Valley of the Sun. His trainers notice an extra effort this year.
“He’s buying into the weight room and taking care of his body,” says Dannenberg.
His workout partner, Ryan Wolfsberg, a Division 3 college standout who is hoping to play in the minors next year, says Bogaerts is driven to greatness.
“Its fun to grind with him every day because his work ethic is second to none,” says Wolfsberg. “Sometimes with major leaguers, you get guys really full of themselves. Xander is the perfect dude; the money and fame don’t affect him.
“He’s a good baseball player but he’s an even better person. He’s as giving as it gets.”
Stan Grossfeld can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.