Xander Bogaerts content to stay in background

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Let’s take a moment to review the dominant storylines of Red Sox camp so far this spring:

  • Mookie Betts

  • Starting rotation: Is it good enough?

  • Cuban teenager Yoan Moncada signs record-setting deal

  • Hanley Ramirez 2.0 returns to the Red Sox

  • Cole Hamels: Will they or won’t they?

  • Mookie Betts

  • Pablo Sandoval, glad to be out of San Francisco

  • Dustin Pedroia and Mike Napoli healthy again

  • David Ortiz and the great pace-of-play debate

  • Mookie Betts

  • And, after the last two days, Babe Castillo (home run, triple, single)

Notice who’s missing from this recitation?

(Hint: A year ago at this time, he was being hailed as the Caribbean Nomar, fitted for an All-Star uniform and booked for early enshrinement in Cooperstown, all at the tender age of 21.) “X” marks this spot.

"I like it better this way,’’ Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts said. “I’ve always been a laid-back guy. For me, this is much better.''

Bogaerts has only himself to blame, of course. In 2013, the kid became the youngest position player to debut with the Sox since Dwight Evans in 1972, then made an even bigger grab for attention in the postseason, when he started the last eight games of the Sox's title run at third base, posted an .893 OPS, and didn’t seem the least bit fazed by the size of the stage. He was hailed as a hero in his native Aruba, where the prime minister showed up to greet him upon his return, tabbed as the spiritual successor to Nomar Garciaparra and measured for certain stardom even before he showed up in training camp.

“It was tough, especially for someone like me, who has never been in a big spotlight like that,’’ Bogaerts said the other day. “The World Series made everything much bigger.

“Now there’s Mookie, and they’ve signed a lot of good players. To have [the spotlight] on them is good for me.''

The premature presumption of greatness has given way to recognizing a work in progress, while not dismissing the high ceiling. Bogaerts spent eight weeks in Arizona instead of in his native Aruba this winter working at EXOS, formerly known as Athletes Performance Institute.

His absence from home was made more tolerable for his mother, Sandra Brown, because his sister had moved to Hong Kong and had a baby, so mom’s company was welcomed. “She was gone the two months I was gone,’’ said Bogaerts, who is close to his mother. “That made it much easier.''

There was purpose in Bogaerts's exodus to the desert.

“I learned a lot last year,’’ he said. "That was basically my first full year and the most important thing I learned I needed was to be stronger. I was pretty worn down halfway through the season. I’m better prepared.''

A big part of Bogaerts’s work at EXOS revolved around improving his first-step quickness at short. The improvement has been noticeable, manager John Farrell said. “He’s reaching balls he would never have gotten to last season,’’ he said.

“Just in general I feel quicker, stronger,’’ Bogaerts said. “Regardless of whether you see it or not, I know what I feel, and I feel like I can reach anything.''

He also spent some time with his double-play partner, Pedroia, who makes his home in Arizona. They worked out some, Pedroia said, but more importantly, they had a chance to talk at some length about working together and the trials that come with being in the big leagues.

Bogaerts struck out 138 times in 594 plate appearances last season. On June 3, Bogaerts had posted a slash line of .304/.395/.464/.859 and after an erratic start at short, appeared to be improving. But the Sox had elected to re-sign Stephen Drew, more as a reaction to the problems Will Middlebrooks was having at third, and Bogaerts was moved to third. While he insisted the move did not impact him at the plate, he went into a horrific slump, and even after the Sox traded Drew to the Yankees at the trade deadline, he continued to be helpless at the plate. Over a 63-game stretch through Aug. 30, he posted a .147/.193/.212/.405 slash line.

"I never struggled to that degree,’’ he said, “but there’s always a first time.

“You’ve just got to keep going and battling. The toughest part was trying to get out of it. You just don’t know what to do because it had never happened before.''

Bogaerts finished on the upswing over the season’s final 25 games, batting .320 with four home runs, six doubles and an OPS of .824. He singled, lined into a double play and walked Sunday, and no one seems perturbed by the .222 average he has in the spring’s first dozen games.

“I’m just one year older, but I just feel more comfortable,’’ he said. "I struggled really badly last year. I don’t think it’ll get any worse than that. I’ve been through a lot, from the World Series through struggling that much, so what else can I do?''

For now, Bogaerts is content to figure that out in the shadow of others. The spotlight can wait.