PAWTUCKET – 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 – as an added bonus – 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 it’s appropriate to deploy the glove.
“It’s a lot more effective if a teammate is helping you, especially when that teammate is of Will’s stature,” noted Pawtucket manager Gary DiSarcina. “I was glad Will came over and took groundballs with him.”
Middlebrooks echoed DiSarcina’s sentiments before getting into the specifics he covered with Bogaerts.
“He’s a shortstop and he’s trying to learn,” said Middlebrooks. “As a shortstop, you go straight at balls. At third base for most part, you’re diving at an angle most of the times.
“He caught on quick. He’s a real good athlete,” Middlebrooks continued.
Mind you Bogaerts isn’t experiencing his first third-base rodeo – the 20-year-old saw time there during the World Baseball Classic as part of his duties with Team Netherlands. Upon Bogaerts’ arrival at Triple A, the Red Sox enacted a defensive plan that would officially take effect once the youngster got his feet wet – 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 PawSox’ 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 – it’s just that the dynamic has changed now that he’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.)
“We talked to Xander for about 20 minutes (Wednesday) about it,” said DiSarcina. “It’s just about putting another tool in the toolbox. If you have the ability to play third base or second base and you’re in Triple A and something happens upstairs … you don’t want to be pigeonholed as a one-position player. You just limit yourself.
“If Xander does get called up, he might have to go over to third or second just by basic need,” the skipper continued. “You want him to experience those positions down here before he goes up there.”
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.
“We may move Xander over to third just to give Will a blow if Will’s been playing five or six days in a row, or maybe DH Will and move Xander over there,” said DiSarcina. “He’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.”
Middlebrooks produced a smile – something that was missing during Wednesday, his first day back in the minors – when asked if there was any correlation between the olive branch that Kevin Youkilis extended a year ago to him assisting Bogaerts.
“To 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,” said Middlebrooks about understanding the importance of giving back – even if that means helping out someone who’s inquiring about the same position you play.
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03