FORT MYERS, Fla. — It wasn’t exactly a watershed, but it was a first. On Tuesday morning, for the first time in his career, Xander Bogaerts took groundballs at third base rather than shortstop as part of his preparation to play as a third baseman and designated hitter for Team Netherlands in the World Baseball Classic. He will also take groundballs at third on Wednesday before starting at third base in an exhibition game against Boston College on Thursday.
Sox manager John Farrell suggested that Bogaerts had a favorable first day of work at the position.
“[It was] just an early look today. Typically corner infielders are going to use a one-handed fielding technique, which he naturally went to, just moving to third base,” said Farrell. “He’s an infielder. He’s got a lot of natural ability and instincts there. We’ll get two days of work days with him and then get him into a game on Thursday.”
The shift is not without its challenges. Will Middlebrooks, for instance, needed months to become comfortable at third base when he moved there just prior to the start of his first professional assignment with the Lowell Spinners in 2008. The different demands on a third baseman are subtle but real.
“There’s different angles. A shortstop’s got the ability, one, he’s further away from the ball so there’s more of an internal clock, and fielding the ball at its highest point in that last hop. Here, it’s more reactionary,” said Farrell. “There’s going to be a little bit of different angles to it. he’s going to end up playing balls more straight up rather than being able to come around the ball. He’ll come through a given play. Hands and feet are the same in terms of the timing of it. There’s no real concern. It’s just getting comfortable with the angle he’ll be seeing a ground ball.”
There can be benefit to even a brief introduction to third base. For instance, a year ago, the Orioles were able to move Manny Machado from short to third in the big leagues despite the fact that he’d played only two games at the position in the minor leagues thanks in part to the spring training instruction the phenom received at the position.
For now, with Will Middlebrooks in line to be the Sox’ everyday third baseman, the Sox do not foresee a big league need for Bogaerts at third base.
“The major difference between [Machado's situation last year and Bogaerts' this year] is there’s a pressing need there. Certainly, provided Will stays healthy, that need doesn’t exist here,” said Farrell. “At the same time, it’s an opportunity to expose [Bogaerts] to the position and see where things go as he and [Jose Iglesias] and others get deeper in their careers and where they ultimately end up. As a young guy, you don’t know how that body type is going to continue to mature physically, but by all indications, it seems like he can stay at shortstop.”
That, certainly, is the case for now. But if Middlebrooks should get injured, or if down the line Iglesias establishes himself as an everyday shortstop, the fact that Bogaerts is getting some exposure to a new position has the potential to carry with it a positive impact.
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