Bogaerts finding comfort zone entering second season

Moving, thinking faster could have major impact on Red Sox shortstop's defense

Bogaerts finding comfort zone entering second season

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- For all the talk to this point in Spring Training about the improved first-step quickness of Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts, the other area he's gotten quicker in is every bit as important.

Bogaerts is now thinking faster entering his second full season, and that could have an immeasurable impact on his defense at the all-important position of shortstop.

"Absolutely, and it's evident to us," said Red Sox infield instructor Brian Butterfield. "We've already done four team defenses where he's a step ahead of where he was last year."

In hindsight, perhaps too much was expected of Bogaerts at this time last year. Even now, he is only 22 years old.

"There's so much that goes into it," said Butterfield. "It's just a critical position and a guy that at such a young age and in a big-time market, that was quite a challenge for a kid. But I think having the ups and downs, he showed some toughness by fighting through it. He finished the season strongly and I think that helped him coming into camp this year and he knows that he worked real hard and we have a confident player going in."

For a guru of fundamentals like Butterfield, there's nothing quite as sweet as seeing a player whose body and mind are working in harmony.

"His feet have a purpose -- a consistent purpose every day," Butterfield said of Bogaerts. "It was a little bit like a roller coaster last year. I think he's picked a lot of good things up. The thing he does understand, and he would be the first one to tell you, is that the first step quickness without the anticipation, it can't work. One working with the other is the way you're going to be a championship-caliber shortstop and he understands that. I think we'll see that right away when we start playing games."

The first test comes Tuesday afternoon, when Bogaerts starts at short against Northeastern University (1:05 p.m. ET, JetBlue Park). And Bogaerts can't wait.

"I feel really good right now," he said. "I feel pretty quick, pretty fast. And I'm just excited to be out there. It will be fun [Tuesday]. It's been a while since we've been out there in competitive games."

There is clearly a more relaxed look about Bogaerts these days -- and a surer tone in his voice.

"This year has been kind of a different Spring Training," Bogaerts said. "I came here with a lot more confidence, just knowing kind of what to expect in camp. Especially last year being my first year, I was kind of a bit nervous. But this year is very different. We have a great team right now. I'm just trying to get to know all the guys and blend in."

And that's exactly what Bogaerts couldn't do last year -- blend in.

After a strong postseason in 2013, all eyes were on Bogaerts at this time last year. He was touted as an American League Rookie of the Year candidate. He was a "can't miss" prospect. All the trappings were in place for Bogaerts to have the kind of underwhelming season that he did.

Making it all worse was that slump -- the one that wouldn't end. From June 9-Aug. 30, a span of 213 at-bats, Bogaerts hit .146 with three homers, 13 RBIs and a on-base/slugging line of .188/.211. It seemed almost unfathomable.

"I never really struggled before in my whole career. Last year was really tough trying to get out of it," Bogaerts said. "And not having answers because you've never been through it made it harder. Once I go through a rough stretch again this season, I'll probably know what to expect and how to handle it."

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Brownie Points, and follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.