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How Xander Bogaerts can stay at shortstop

08.04.14 at 8:21 am ET
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Red Sox infield coach Brian Butterfield doesn’t know if the move to third base affected Xander Bogaerts‘ offensive production. Butterfield has no way to find out the answer to that question. That being said, Butterfield has noticed a difference in the 21-year-old in the days since the team decided to trade away Stephen Drewessentially committing to Bogaerts as shortstop for the rest of the season.

For Butterfield, the body language from Bogaerts has been the most obvious sign of the player’s happiness in moving back to his old position.

He’s always an energetic, smiling kid anyways, but he seems even more enthusiastic, and I’m sure that’s partly attributed to his move back to shortstop,” Butterfield said. “We have a chance to make some more leaps in his progression at shortstop because he does feel a lot more comfortable there.”

While the team appears committed to Bogaerts at shortstop for the remainder of 2014, there is no guarantee that he will stick at the position next year, let alone the rest of his career. Bogaerts struggled defensively to start the season, posting a -7.7 ultimate zone rating (a defensive metric used to quantify how many runs a player has saved or given up through their play on the field), placing him among the worst defensive shortstops in baseball.

Bogaerts’ early season struggles ultimately helped push the team to sign Drew to play shortstop. Before the decision to sign Drew was made, Butterfield said wholeheartedly that he believed that Bogaerts was trending in the right direction defensively and said that he could stick at the position moving forward. That position for Butterfield has not changed in the three days since Bogaerts’ move back to shortstop.

The biggest thing that we tried to accomplish before he made the move to third was just to get his feet right. Two days of early work or three days of early work, his feet have been right on cue. I’m very pleased with that,” Butterfield said. “During the preparation period, sometimes a guy doesn’t catch the ball the way he wanted to. The biggest thing that you’re trying to accomplish is something from the belt down, and it’s there right now. A good start coming back to his old position.”

Having seen Bogaerts play at both shortstop and third base for an extended period of time, Butterfield says that Bogaerts looks more comfortable, from a mechanical and footwork standpoint, at shortstop versus third base. Butterfield notes that Bogaerts looked more rigid at third base than he did at shortstop. In what he has seen during batting practice ground balls and during the game, Butterfield says that Bogaerts looks more fluid at his old position, pointing specifically at his ability to approach balls and establish his base throwing the ball more consistently while manning short.

I’ve always looked at shortstop as an up-the-funnel, moving-forward-type position. Going from the back of the diamond to the front of the diamond,” Butterfield said. “You’re going up the funnel to attack the ball while third base is more of a side-to-side, even front-to-back, back-to-front, in order to get the better hops. I call it a zig-zag position at third base. At shortstop, the demands are greater, so you better attack the ball, especially on guys that can run, you better attack the ball and not let it bounce too many times, and get it in the air quickly.”

Anticipation, Butterfield said, is something that is vital to a player’s success in the field, regardless of position. A player’s ability to know the situation, recognize the situation, identify the player’s swinging plane and anticipate where the ball will be hit is critical in a player’s success at the position.

Butterfield noted a play during Saturday’s game when Bogaerts moved in slow on a ground ball hit by Jeter — allowing the Yankees captain to reach base safely — as something where experience would increase the player’s success rate at anticipating such a play.

No. 1 is concentration and focus on the ball in the hitting zone, and now we anticipate a swing. You’ve got a pretty good idea of where this hitter may hit the ball,” Butterfield said. “If it’s fastball away, you can think glove side, up the middle. If it’s fastball sinking underneath his hands as a right-handed hitter, you can think to your backhand side. There is so much that goes into it, but part of it is concentration for nine innings. That’s not easy. And then really working, because defense is work. Every time there is a swing, there should be movement, there should be time to get your feet down when the ball is in the hitting zone.”

Standing at 6-foot-3, Bogaerts is taller than the average shortstop. Bogaerts’ height often is listed as a reason that he should move off the position. Butterfield, however, said that height does not play a factor in one’s ability to play shortstop, and he can point to having coached a young Jeter through his defensive struggles early in the Yankees legend’s career.

“[Bogaerts] and I talk about Derek all the time. That’s his idol,” Butterfield said. “We also talk about Cal Ripken Jr. He was a 6-foot-[4] shortstop. People always said Cal didn’t have great range, but he did because he anticipated. That’s the key word, anticipated. He would go out there and take balls off the bat and anticipate swings and anticipate going to his glove side. Anticipate going to his backhand side. That’s something that we’re in the midst of working on, giving [Bogaerts] some greater anticipation to where the ball is going to be hit.”

Bogaerts and Jeter share some of the same qualities as a baseball player, Butterfield mused.

Very good athlete. Very good intelligence. Both are very intelligent people. [Bogaerts] is still developing a baseball IQ, because again, he hasn’t played a lot of baseball,” Butterfield said. “He’s learning at the big league level, which is tough duty. A lot of guys spent more time in the minor leagues to learn their trade. He has a lot of positives and now it’s let him play and make sure that the preparation is correct at all times.”

Butterfield said that Bogaerts has all the attributes as a leader to play shortstop.

He has a contagious personality. He has outstanding athleticism. He has body control,” Butterfield said. “When he’s really focused and exploding, he’s got long strides and he can gobble up ground. There are a lot of prerequisites, and I remember my dad always telling me, when you see something in an athlete, you may not see it consistently for a while, but if you see it once, it’s good enough. We’ve seen it in [Bogaerts]. We’ve seen the explosiveness to his glove side and backhand side. It’s just a matter of harnessing it and getting more consistency.”

While there are a lot of things, week to week, that Butterfield and Bogaerts will continue to work on to improve the shortstop’s defense, the coach said that consistency is the most important attribute in order to become a sound defender.

The consistency on the little things that we want to accomplish. There are so many things. To pinpoint, it all starts with the feet, and his feet have gotten a lot better. It’s obvious to me in three days that he’s got nice recollection of the way he was using his feet before he moved over to third base,” Butterfield said. “Being on top of everything that we do, team defensive-wise, being more of a quarterback on the field. It’s not just the fundamentals of running and catching the ball and throwing it to first base. There is a lot of other things that go into it. We’re looking to improve in a full package of things before the year is out.”

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