NEW YORK -- On Friday afternoon, Xander Bogaerts sat in the dugout of Yankee Stadium, taking stock of his position.
The whirlwind of the last almost three weeks has presented a number of significant adjustments: a new level (the majors); work at a still-new position (incorporating third base while also continuing his work at shortstop); new information to process (advance scouting meetings and the use of video to prepare for opposing pitchers); and a new role as an occasional bench contributor rather than the everyday responsibilities for which he is being groomed.
The opportunity is too great to be jarred by its foreign elements. Instead, Bogaerts suggested that he wanted to embrace this moment as a springboard to much more significant goals.
"I don't just want to be a good player. I want to be something special. I'm really working hard to try to become something big. That's my goal. I'm really trying hard to become something great. If it's extra early work, no matter what it is, if it's to get me better, I'll definitely do it," said Bogaerts. "I'll take grounders in the morning, afternoon, at night, at midnight -- I don't have a problem with that at all. I live at the field. That's what I'm good at. The more time you spend at the field, the better you get.
"It will probably take me a little time to get my timing back [when playing in games], but that's not the point," he continued in assessing his part-time role. "Just being around the big league guys, seeing what they do on a daily basis, playing in front of big crowds, the atmosphere is unbelievable. The more experience I get, it really doesn't matter if it's one at-bat per week or one at-bat per game. Each one of those is pretty valuable for me. It's my first time up in the big leagues. It's something you can't forget, and something you can take a positive out of."
On Friday, Bogaerts added to the mounting list of firsts he's checked off during this first exposure to the big leagues, and he did so by offering a compelling preview of why his professed desire to be great is more description than boast. The 20-year-old, in his team's 13-9 victory, sent a ball to a part of Yankee Stadium that other members of the Red Sox could not recall seeing a player reach. Bogaerts' first career home run was not so much a milestone as it was a statement, flying over the Red Sox bullpen and landing in the first row of the bleachers above it.
For ANYONE to reach that part of the park was insane. For a SHORTSTOP to do it was ridiculous. For a TWENTY-YEAR-OLD shortstop to do it bordered on mind-blowing.
"I wasn’t doing that at 20, that’s for sure," mused Jonny Gomes, who was in the lowest level of the minors while making his pro debut with Princeton of the Rookie Level Appalachian League at age 20. "That’s a big part of the ballpark. We just can’t forget that in between the lines and the behind the scenes stuff, that the kid is 20 and is a shortstop. Not too many shortstops with that power."
Yet even the formidable display that Bogaerts put on with that swing didn't represent the high end of his ability to crush the baseball. After all, the phenom -- who in his 10th big league game went 2-for-4 with a double and a homer -- actually experienced a cramp in his right calf as he connected with the ball.
"Maybe you can see it on the video. When I hit it, I was like, 'Ahhhhh.' I wasn't even paying attention to the ball," Bogaerts admitted. "I knew I hit it good, but I didn't know it was gone. I was more worried about the cramp."
He did not see the majestic flight of the ball soaring into territory that is rarely explored. He would have liked to have seen it, of course, but the fact that he missed it doesn't represent too much of an issue. In addition to the widely available opportunity to see video of the shot, there's a strong likelihood that he will match and surpass the eye-opening display many times over.
After all, there have been plenty of other instances in which Bogaerts has done something similarly jaw-dropping. Interestingly, a survey of those who have seen Bogaerts throughout his Red Sox career resulted in comparable instances at every one of his professional levels in which he inspired awe:
SINGLE-A GREENVILLE (2011)
The Greenville Drive were on the road playing the Rome Braves in conditions best described as inhumane. The listed gametime temperature of 95 degrees that Sunday afternoon did not accurately capture the horrific swelter of the Single-A game.
In the top of the second, Bogaerts lifted a high pop fly down the first base line. On its descent, the catcher could not haul it. While the ball ticked off the catcher's glove in fair territory, the call was blown, the ball ruled foul. Bogaerts stepped back into the box.
Especially at that level, at that age, it is difficult for players to look past what they cannot control and to focus on what they can. And so, it would have come as no surprise had that mistake been the prelude to a punchout or a bad outcome.
Instead, when the next pitch was a fastball, middle-in, Bogaerts was ready.
"He ambushes this pitch -- fastball, middle-in. He hit it a ton -- 420, 440. It was a no-doubter," said one member of the organization. "To me, the most impressive thing was just the maturity. It wasn't like the game was out of hand. To not let that play get into his head, take the next pitch and hit a bomb, and not only hit a bomb, but crush it -- that was when I was like, 'Holy (smokes) -- this guy is somewhere between Hanley and Manny.' "
HIGH-A SALEM (2012)
The ballpark in Wilmington, Del., is considered something of a graveyard in left-center. There is a reason why the Carolina League teams that play there (including, at one point, the Red Sox) characteristically are at or near the bottom of the league in home runs. Not only is there little carry at the field, but there's also towering signage in left-center, requiring a player to do something special to sneak a ball over the fence.
Bogaerts did not bother with a sneak attack. Instead, he bludgeoned a ball to left-center that sailed over the scoreboard in what a member of the organization thought was likely 450-plus feet.
DOUBLE-A PORTLAND (2012)
Brandon Workman qualifies as something of a Bogaerts expert. There's a good likelihood that no one has spent more time as the young shortstop's teammate in his meteoric ascent through the Sox system than the big right-hander.
They were together in Greenville in 2011, again in Salem in 2012, got promoted to Double-A Portland at the same time last August, opened this year back in Portland together, and then got promoted this year to Pawtucket within a week of each other. While Workman moved up to the big leagues about six weeks ahead of Bogaerts, there's likely been only about two months in the last three years when they haven't been playing for the same team.
And so, it was telling that Workman said that the blast in Yankee Stadium was not the most impressive of the 20-year-old's career. Instead, he cited the shortstop's Double-A debut last August 9.
"He hit one out to right-center in Akron that went a mile," said Workman. "No idea [how far it went]. I don't know how deep the fences are. I just know it went way out. That was ridiculous."
Left-hander Drake Britton likewise recalled the shot in Akron as "way further than" the one in Yankee Stadium.
"To me, the home run he hit today was probably just a medium one," he said. "It was a bomb. But I've seen him hit balls way further."
Portland manager Kevin Boles likewise cited the same one.
"Cleared the Miller Lite sign/batter's eye, dead central," Boles texted. "Guys rarely one-hop the centerfield wall in [batting practice]. Hit a 2-iron that cleared it in about three seconds."
Sea Dogs play-by-play man Mike Antonellis guessed that the assault on Akron was likely at least 450 feet to center.
TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET (2013)
Workman identified an additional homer this year in Pawtucket, in Bogaerts' first day in Triple-A, as another Bogaerts blast of distinction. PawSox play-by-play man Jeff Levering described that one as the longest shot he'd seen from the shortstop, noting that it banked off the second level of signage at McCoy in left-center, flying what he estimated at 430 feet, at a minimum.
MAJOR LEAGUES (2013)
Saturday's home run was memorable in its own right for its majesty. Veteran power hitters in their career primes do not visit the region of left-center where Bogaerts' home run touched down.
But it was made all the more staggering by virtue of the fact that it was Bogaerts' first start since last Sunday. After he received just one plate appearance in the previous five games, the rookie managed to stay sharp enough to drop into the lineup, line a double to left, hammer the homer to left-center and make a beautiful play on a Robinson Cano bounder to short, charging, barehanding the ball and firing a strike to first in one fluid motion.
"He’s just very comfortable at this level," marveled manager John Farrell. "Today was a glimpse of why people are so high on him as a player, even at the very early stage of his career."
There are more glimpses in store. He is TWENTY. He is a SHORTSTOP. And he is driven to be great. Those who have seen him believe that the goal is within his reach.
"It's unbelievable how good he is at such a young age. It kind of makes you think, 'What's he going to be like when he's 25, fully done growing?' " said Workman. "I'm bigger now than I was at 20. He's not done growing. He's going to be a monster."
But for now, he is patient. He is, relative to his peers, a child, but one who is showing an adult's perspective in taking advantage of an extraordinary opportunity that is not only rare but also a prelude to something bigger to come down the road.
"I don't have any problem being on the bench. I'm 20 and I'm in a playoff race," said Bogaerts. "I'm 20. Most 20-year-olds right now aren't in a playoff race. . . . I'm definitely fortunate. I'm blessed to be in this position right now."