FORT MYERS, Fla. — There are other phenoms this spring, young Boston Red Sox players capturing the imagination of media and fans.

Mookie Betts tops the list.

Then there are the Cuban sensations, mysterious in that no one really knows how they will perform. All we know is Boston paid a lot of money to get them: $72.5 million for Rusney Castillo and $63 million for Yoan Moncada.

So whatever happened to Xander what’s-his-name?

Bogaerts is the name. The Red Sox shortstop is a ripe 22 years old.

Xander Bogaerts was once Boston’s No. 1 prospect. Red Sox followers watched his progression through the minor leagues – including stops in Portland in 2012 and ’13 – and eagerly awaited his ascension to the major leagues. That happened at the end of 2013, culminating as the starting third baseman in the World Series.

But now Bogaerts seems to be old news, in the background this spring training.

“That’s good,” Bogaerts said. “Coming up (through the minor leagues) I was always the one talked about. I like it like this.”

One reason the attention has faded is because expectations have been lowered after a so-so rookie season in 2014: .240 batting average, 12 home runs, 138 strikeouts.

Last year began well for Bogaerts. He played shortstop and batted .304 with an .835 OPS through May. Defensively, he made six errors and played solid enough.

Then came the collapse. Bogaerts slumped badly (.135/.426 in June). It coincided with his move to third base, which was needed when Will Middlebrooks was hurt and Boston signed Stephen Drew to play short.

But Bogaerts said the position switch was not the reason. The problem came when he tried to make adjustments. Once the hits stopped coming, he didn’t know how to fix it.

“I was losing confidence,” Bogaerts said. “I never struggled before. I didn’t know what to do.”

Granted, Bogaerts always hit in the minors (career .296 average, including a .315 mark in 79 games with the Sea Dogs).

He struggled all summer. Oddly, eight days off at the end of August – spent recuperating from a concussion – may have provided Bogaerts with a needed break. In September he came back, batting .313/.806.

Bogaerts returned to shortstop when Drew was dealt to the Yankees at the trade deadline. Despite projections that the 6-foot-2, 210-pound Bogaerts would eventually outgrow the position, the Red Sox have committed to him at short this year, signing free agent Pablo Sandoval to play third.

This spring Bogaerts has spent numerous mornings working one-on-one with infielder coach Brian Butterfield. Last Sunday at 9 a.m., Butterfield rolled balls to Bogaerts’ left and his right, working on his first step to the ball.

“He’s much better,” Butterfield said. “He’s in a way different place from last year. We keep trying to remind him of that.

“He’s still a very young player. He really hasn’t played a lot of baseball. A lot of things he’s experiencing, offensively or defensively, might be the first time he’s experienced it.”

Bogaerts can get down on himself. Last Saturday, Bogaerts went 0 for 3 and made an error. He was still talking about it the next day.

“That was a rough one,” he said.

That’s when Butterfield tells him to turn the page.

“If he has a day that’s not as clean as he likes, we remind him – you’re way ahead of where you were last year,” Butterfield said. “This is a process.

“We’re patient. We like the player. We think he’s going to have a big impact with the Boston Red Sox organization for a long time. We’re very pleased where we’re at right now.”

As a hitter, Bogaerts still gets into bad habits of lunging at the ball. When he stays back and is patient, he produces.

Bogaerts remains a bundle of potential. (Did we mention he’s a year younger than Dustin Pedroia was in his rookie season?) Bogaerts will contribute this season.

What Bogaerts needs to do is avoid the prolonged slumps and keep improving defensively.

If he does that, he may emerge from the shadows and become the force the Red Sox are counting on.

 


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