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Xander Bogaerts, the WBC, the position question and Red Sox roster depth

01.28.13 at 1:03 pm ET
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Xander Bogaerts may get his first taste of a position other than shortstop this spring. (AP)

Make no mistake: The Red Sox have a clear preference with regards to their top prospect, Xander Bogaerts. He’s played 249 games in the field in his minor league career, and every one of those at shortstop. The Sox aren’t itching to see that change by any stretch of the imagination.

“Certainly, Xander’s only played shortstop for us. That’s where he’s been,” said Red Sox farm director Ben Crockett. “That would be our strong preference — playing him at shortstop.”

Yet as a player who is slated to take part in the World Baseball Classic for the Netherlands, there’s a very good chance that, for the first time in his life, Bogaerts — a native of Aruba — will be asked to occupy a position other than shortstop. The Netherlands roster already features a pair of standout defensive middle infielders in Andrelton Simmons of the Braves and Rangers top prospect Jurickson Profar.

And so, while a final determination has yet to be made, there is a very good chance that Bogaerts will spend part of the spring getting acclimated to third base, the position that he’s most likely to play for the Netherlands. And if that happens, the Sox are willing to permit the adjustment to happen for the WBC.

“I don’t think we’ll go into it completely closed-minded. Certainly, we have a strong preference for shortstop, but understand the situation and the things that are at stake,” said Crockett. “If he ends up being the guy they want playing shortstop, then it’s easy for all of us. But if Profar is there and Simmons is there, and both are healthy, both are playing well, it’s a challenge and something we’ll have to talk about. We’ll consider it. I think we understand the situation and understand his desire to play.”

Indeed, while the Sox’ ideal course for now is to continue Bogaerts’ development at shortstop, there is a case to be made for giving him time at third base as early as this spring. After all, the 20-year-old — who hit .307 with a .373 OBP, .523 slugging mark, .896 OPS and 20 homers in 127 games as a 19-year-old in the High-A Carolina League and Double-A Portland last year — appears to be on a big league fast track as a potential impact slugger in the near future.

A case can be made that, at some point in 2013, he would represent a top depth option for the organization not just at shortstop (an area of the field where the Sox actually have a solid number of players should Stephen Drew get injured, including Pedro Ciriaco, Jose Iglesias and Brock Holt) but potentially at third base (in case Will Middlebrooks ends up being sidelined and even potentially at second (if Dustin Pedroia is sidelined at any point).

All of that being the case, there’s an argument to be made for having Bogaerts start to play more positions than just shortstop now. Even if the team remains committed to the idea of having him as a shortstop for years to come, he would have more opportunities to impact the big leagues faster with greater positional versatility. After all, Orioles shortstop prospect Manny Machado reached the big leagues last year as a third baseman; though the Red Sox developed Jed Lowrie as a shortstop (with some time as a second baseman in his first three pro seasons), he made his big league debut as a third baseman in 2008 — a position where the team had him work at some length in that spring training — as a result of an injury to Mike Lowell.

So, a case could be made for getting Bogaerts acclimated to other positions now so that he can have multiple potential paths to the big league roster. Indeed, within the Red Sox organization, there is dialogue about the appropriate defensive developmental path for the physically impressive 20-year-old.

“It’s a fundamental debate that I actually had with someone at the organizational meetings just a couple days ago: What makes more sense? Are we trying to get every rep out of a guy because we think that’s where we think he should play and where he’s going to play, versus the exposure to a bunch of different things, because who knows what they’ll play when they get up [to the big leagues]?” said Crockett. “I think both are valid arguments. Hard to say exactly how that will play out.”

The honkballers who will represent the Netherlands may have quite a bit to say about the matter. If Bogaerts will indeed be playing a position other than short in the WBC, then Sox coaches will also work with him in spring training to help him gain comfort at that position, with instructors such as Sox third base coach Brian Butterfield and Pawtucket manager Gary DiSarcina likely to have the opportunity to help prepare Bogaerts for the WBC competition.

“If we know for a fact that he’s going to be on the left side of the infield, we’ll get him reps at both positions,” said Sox manager John Farrell, who noted that while he managed the Blue Jays, both Brett Lawrie and Adeiny Hechavarria faced transitional challenges in moving around the infield. “Some might say, it’s an infielder on the left side – it must be the same. But there are some subtleties there where, repetition is going to be needed.”

And ultimately, that repetition to prepare for the WBC could offer an even faster path to the big leagues for Bogaerts than the one that he might follow by playing solely at shortstop this year.

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