PAWTUCKET â€“ Xander Bogaerts took groundballs at McCoy Stadium on Thursday afternoon, a pregame ritual that the promising shortstop has down to a science.
This particular day was different. Not only was Bogaerts taking grounders at third base, but â€“ as an added bonus â€“ he was the under the tutelage of someone who knows a thing or two about manning the hot corner.
Bogaerts would tap out so that Will Middlebrooks could tend to his work. The scene had a student-teacher vibe to it, with the latter passing along tips to the former that focused on the importance of reading angles off the bat, setting his feet and when itâ€™s appropriate to deploy the glove.
â€śItâ€™s a lot more effective if a teammate is helping you, especially when that teammate is of Willâ€™s stature,â€ť noted Pawtucket manager Gary DiSarcina. â€śI was glad Will came over and took groundballs with him.â€ť
Middlebrooks echoed DiSarcinaâ€™s sentiments before getting into the specifics he covered with Bogaerts.
â€śHeâ€™s a shortstop and heâ€™s trying to learn,â€ť said Middlebrooks. â€śAs a shortstop, you go straight at balls. At third base for most part, youâ€™re diving at an angle most of the times.
â€śHe caught on quick. Heâ€™s a real good athlete,â€ť Middlebrooks continued.
Mind you Bogaerts isnâ€™t experiencing his first third-base rodeo â€“ the 20-year-old saw time there during the World Baseball Classic as part of his duties with Team Netherlands. Upon Bogaertsâ€™ arrival at Triple A, the Red Sox enacted a defensive plan that would officially take effect once the youngster got his feet wet â€“ one that includes work at other infield positions.
Not long ago, the odds of exposing Bogaerts to third base coinciding with the addition of Middlebrooks to the PawSoxâ€™ roster seemed remote. Yet as DiSarcina pointed out, the fact that Middlebrooks is now in the fold will not relegate the Bogaerts-to-third-base experiment to the back burner.
The idea of taking Bogaerts out of his perceived comfort zone should not be interpreted as Boston management fueling the belief that the No. 1 prospect in the farm system profiles better as a third baseman at the next level. All roads point to shortstop for Bogaerts â€“ itâ€™s just that the dynamic has changed now that heâ€™s just one phone call from the majors.
(As a side note, Bogaerts would have to be added to the 40-man roster before such a scenario came to fruition.)
â€śWe talked to Xander for about 20 minutes (Wednesday) about it,â€ť said DiSarcina. â€śItâ€™s just about putting another tool in the toolbox. If you have the ability to play third base or second base and youâ€™re in Triple A and something happens upstairs â€¦ you donâ€™t want to be pigeonholed as a one-position player. You just limit yourself.
â€śIf Xander does get called up, he might have to go over to third or second just by basic need,â€ť the skipper continued. â€śYou want him to experience those positions down here before he goes up there.â€ť
DiSarcina mentioned that it could be a while before Bogaerts sees game action at third base. Once that day comes, and if Middlbrooks is still with Pawtucket, the skipper already has a schedule in mind.
â€śWe may move Xander over to third just to give Will a blow if Willâ€™s been playing five or six days in a row, or maybe DH Will and move Xander over there,â€ť said DiSarcina. â€śHeâ€™s going to be a big-league shortstop, but just to increase his value of him, it puts an extra tool in his tool box.â€ť
Middlebrooks produced a smile â€“ something that was missing during Wednesday, his first day back in the minors â€“ when asked if there was any correlation between the olive branch that Kevin Youkilis extended a year ago to him assisting Bogaerts.
â€śTo be in that situation, with me coming up and (Youkilis) kind of on his way out, for him to want to him me out and be a good guy meant a lot,â€ť said Middlebrooks about understanding the importance of giving back â€“ even if that means helping out someone whoâ€™s inquiring about the same position you play.
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