<
>

Top Sox prospect is in a good place

PAWTUCKET, R.I. -- When the Boston Red Sox hired Gary DiSarcina this past winter to be their Triple-A manager, the organization knew he would be a valuable asset to the club.

He first began working with the Red Sox organization in 2006 and spent five years in various roles, including consultant, manager of Class A Lowell and minor league field coordinator. He first began to work with shortstop prospect Xander Bogaerts in 2010, a year after the Red Sox signed him as an international free agent.

The two quickly built a strong relationship.

DiSarcina, a native of Billerica, Mass., had spent 12 years as a big league shortstop for the California and Anaheim Angels, and knew Bogaerts had the tools and makeup to become a special player.

In 2011, DiSarcina joined the Angels organization and spent two seasons as a special assistant to the general manager. However, he missed being on the field, and the Red Sox were looking for a PawSox manager. DiSarcina was hired and returned to the Red Sox organization at what seemed like the perfect time.

Many of the younger prospects he first worked with in this organization, including Bogaerts and Jose Iglesias, were on the verge of possibly becoming major leaguers, and there was no one better than DiSarcina to help them get there.

By now, everyone in Red Sox Nation knows Iglesias was part of a three-team trade at the deadline and was sent to the Detroit Tigers as the Red Sox acquired pitcher Jake Peavy from the Chicago White Sox. Iglesias, a natural shortstop by trade, had been playing mostly third base for the Red Sox, since the club had signed veteran infielder Stephen Drew during the offseason as a bridge before either Iglesias or Bogaerts was ready to take over the position in Boston.

While Drew has been playing well, the Red Sox have been in need of help at third base since Iglesias was traded. The team recalled Will Middlebrooks from Pawtucket on Friday, and he has started the past three games at third base.

Bogaerts, a natural shortstop, began to get some experience at third base during spring training because he was set to play that position for the Netherlands in the World Baseball Classic. After the regular season began, Bogaerts played nearly the entire first half at shortstop for Double-A Portland. He was promoted to Pawtucket on June 13 and played his first game at third base for the PawSox on July 3.

Since then, he has played only eight games at third, but the Red Sox want him to have that experience ... just in case.

"He's still a big league shortstop in my mind," DiSarcina said. "The organization still has 100 percent confidence that he's going to be a shortstop, but he's going to play a little more third base now that Will's gone."

With Middlebrooks in Boston, the plan is to have Bogaerts play third base at least three times a week for the PawSox.

"That's just protecting them, their needs up there, because you never know what's going to happen," DiSarcina said. "But he's our shortstop if something happens to Stephen and he's got to be ready. I think he's progressing fine, it's at a slow rate but it should be at a slow rate, he's a young kid. It's tough to throw three or four things at him at this level, this age."

Bogaerts entered Tuesday's game against the Louisville Bats at McCoy Stadium with a .284 average, eight home runs and 29 RBIs for the PawSox. Defensively, he's handled both positions on the left side of the infield well.

Fans and media alike have been drooling for the Red Sox to promote him to the big leagues, but there's no rush given that Drew is playing well and Middlebrooks has been given the opportunity to once again prove himself.

"I know I'm just one call away," Bogaerts said. "You never know when that opportunity is yours, but I just try to come to the field and try to play good. That's who I am, and I don't take anything for granted. I grind out all my at-bats and try to hit the ball good and hopefully good results happen. I'm a fighting spirit, and that's one thing I have a lot. I just come to the field, play hard and try to win."

Switching positions hasn't been an issue for him. He says he is comfortable at both shortstop and third base.

"I like the infield, so it's OK with me," he said. "I just try to play good and don't make any errors. It's simple: catch the ball and throw the ball. It may sound easy, but it's pretty hard."

Given DiSarcina's background and experience in the big leagues, this is where his relationship with Bogaerts is most valuable. DiSarcina had his first taste of the majors as a 21-year-old shortstop for the Angels. A shortstop by trade, DiSarcina played his first game at third base in only his 37th game at the major league level.

"I was still overwhelmed," he said. "I felt like a fish out of water. I didn't know where to stand. I didn't know how to play counts. I just remember thinking, 'God, I'm close to that hitter.' Danny Tartabull is standing 90 feet from me. I think it's great what [Boston] has done with Xander to give him experience over there because you just never know. For me, it was a little overwhelming."

When DiSarcina first worked with Bogaerts in 2010, the prospect was almost embarrassed because he thought he wasn't good enough at that point.

"He saw me when I was really bad, and he sees me now that I'm progressing," Bogaerts said. "It's really good to have him around. To work with him every day and trying to figure out how to get better each day. He played in the big leagues for 12 years, so he knows what he's talking about. I'm just a minor league guy trying to become a major league player. I just try to get as much help from anyone as I can."

Bad? How is it possible Bogaerts thought he was bad after being named the Red Sox Latin Program Player of the Year, posting a .314 average with three home runs and 42 RBIs in 63 games during his first professional season?

"I wasn't bad," Bogaerts admitted. "I was terrible with all the fundamentals. I could catch the ball but not the way you're supposed to, and I threw it a little awkward. But they've polished me, and I'm trying to put on the finishing touches. I'm trying to get there, and hopefully it won't take long. I really work hard at playing the position I love."

The conversations he has with DiSarcina are often blunt and to the point. It helps that Bogaerts is the type of young player who listens.

"He understands that he has work to do. He's really improved in a lot of areas, but he understands he needs to get better in certain areas," DiSarcina said.

Those areas of improvement include baserunning and bunting, according to the PawSox manager. DiSarcina says Bogaerts is constantly asking questions during games.

"When you're 20 years old and inexperienced at third base, you're going to have a lot of teachable moments," DiSarcina said.

Bogaerts credits DiSarcina and current Red Sox minor league infield coordinator Andy Fox for helping him become the polished player he's turning into.

"I've been very blessed," Bogaerts said. "Obviously, one of the biggest parts of my career, so far, is I've been around almost the same coaching staff throughout the minors. It's weird but it's also a good thing that I'm always around the same people."

While his Red Sox family has been important, his bloodline is also an important part of Bogaerts' development.

His twin brother, Jair, was a onetime minor leaguer with the Red Sox, too, and was the player to be named later sent to the Chicago Cubs to complete the compensation for Theo Epstein. Jair Bogaerts is no longer playing and is attempting to become a player agent. He recently spent a few weeks staying with Xander, and during that stint, Xander got on a roll at the plate. From July 20-26, Bogaerts had a season-high seven-game hitting streak.

"He's not here right now but he needs to come back to help me get more hits," Bogaerts said with a smile.

"We're twins, and sometimes we think the same things," Bogaerts added. "It's weird to be twins but it's also fun. It's great to have him around. After the Futures Game [in 2012], it was like a button, and I started going, like boom. I took off from there, and it was the same time this year when I saw my family again and it just clicked and I've gone off from there. I'll probably have them around every All-Star break. I guess it makes you happy to have family around."