Bogaerts in shape for strong season

MASHANTUCKET, Conn. -- Things rarely came easy for Boston Red Sox phenom Xander Bogaerts in his first full year at the major league level last season. And yet, the team’s faith in him never faltered.

Through all the ups and downs -- the hot start at the plate, the massive slump from June to August that coincided with a shift from shortstop to third base, the strong finish to the season after once again settling in at short -- the team never suggested it was considering the idea of sending Bogaerts back to the minors.

Now, Bogaerts is looking to reward the team’s faith with a breakout 2015 season. After spending time working out at the EXOS performance institute in Arizona this offseason, the 22-year-old feels that he’s pushed his body more than ever before. And the results are showing.

“This is probably the strongest I’ve ever felt going into a season -- and by far,” Bogaerts said Saturday at the Sox’s Winter Weekend event. “I’m definitely real excited for the season.”

Formerly known as Athletes’ Performance, EXOS was put on the radar in Boston largely due to Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia’s workouts at the institute each offseason. This year, Bogaerts followed in Pedroia’s footsteps, appreciating the experience so much that he said he intends to return for a few more weeks before he reports to Fort Myers for spring training.

“I kind of never challenged my body to lift heavier weights because I’ve always tried to kind of maintain the same,” Bogaerts said. “Getting the knowledge from those kind of guys and just trusting the whole system that they have over there and just pushing your body, it’s really a difference than any years I’ve had in the past.

“It was mostly gym and conditioning and speed and stuff like that, power and speed. It was definitely something that I really enjoyed.”

Bogaerts said that toward the end of last season he felt as if his body were giving up on him. Before leaving Boston, he met with infield coach Brian Butterfield to lay out an offseason plan that would help him properly prepare for next season. One of the areas Butterfield told Bogaerts to prioritize was his first-step quickness defensively at short, a goal he confidently feels he was able to accomplish.

“The balls that just miss the glove, I definitely will get them now,” he said.

That’s good news, as Bogaerts’ defense at shortstop figures to play a large role given the Red Sox’s tendency toward ground-ball pitchers in their starting rotation. Upon heading back to Arizona in the coming weeks, Bogaerts intends to meet up with Pedroia, who lives in the state during the offseason, so that the double play duo can take ground balls together and work on their timing.

After all that came with the shift to third last season, Bogaerts reiterated his pleasure in being able to focus on playing shortstop, the position he feels most comfortable at. All the other uncertainty is in the past.

“I’m just coming in there prepared every day to help the team win,” Bogaerts said. “That’s the ultimate goal.”

The Red Sox likely will be expecting big things out of Bogaerts this season. And after all the work he’s done to get ready, he’ll be expecting big things out of himself.

“I feel exactly where I want to be and I’m looking forward to this season,” he said.