FORT MYERS, Fla. — On one side of the clubhouse, where the prospects sit, Xander Bogaerts deals with high expectations and the pundits who believe he will have to move from his beloved shortstop position as he gets bigger and stronger and loses foot speed.
Where the veterans sit, free agent acquisition Stephen Drew, who will be the Red Sox’ starting shortstop for 2013, is here to resurrect a career derailed by a devastating ankle injury that took a year to repair.
Jose Iglesias, the resident defensive whiz, sits somewhere in the middle, trying to find a little offense that would make him a complete player.
Pedro Ciriaco, who started 11 games at shortstop last season, understands he will be the jack-of-all-trades and the stopgap should Drew go down.
And former first-round draft pick Deven Marrero, after just 29 games at short-season Single A Lowell, is in his first major league camp.
Twenty-four shortstops have started for the Red Sox since Nomar Garciaparra was sent to the Cubs in a three-team deal at the trading deadline of 2004. Julio Lugo tops the list with 245 starts, followed by Marco Scutaro’s 233, Edgar Renteria’s 153, Alex Gonzalez’s 150, Jed Lowrie’s 130, and Mike Aviles’s 129.
Drew will be No. 25 this year. But after that, Boston will have permanent shortstop options for the first time in years.
The biggest hope is the Aruban, Bogaerts, who consistently makes the top 100 prospects lists of those who compile such things. At age 20, he is already 6 feet 3 inches and 210 pounds. And the hype surrounding him has been uncomfortable at times.
He will play for the Netherlands in the World Baseball Classic, but at third base or DH because Texas shortstop Jurickson Profar and Braves prospect Andrelton Simmons have the shortstop position manned.
Bogaerts, one of the most hyped Red Sox prospects in recent times, does not want to make a positional change in Boston. He doesn’t care how big he is getting, he feels he can be a very good defensive major league shortstop. Yet he knows with the abundance of options there, a change may be inevitable.
Bogaerts, who speaks four languages, is motivated to prove those wrong who say he will outgrow shortstop.
“I’m getting bigger, but I’m not like [Derek] Jeter or A-Rod,” Bogaerts said. “Cal Ripken was 6-5. It doesn’t matter as long as you can do the job.”
Bogaerts’s power is emerging, as he hit 16 homers at Greenville (Single A) in 2011 and then 20 combined between Salem (Single A) and Portland (Double A) in 2012. It appears he will start his 2013 season in Portland.
Many have compared him with Hanley Ramirez, who also happens to be Bogaerts’s idol.
“I just love the way he plays,” Bogaerts said. “I’m not talking about attitude or off the field, but on the field. When I hear I’m compared to him, that’s an honor.”
And he is looking forward to the WBC, even if it means playing third.
“It’s still the left side of the infield,” he said. “I know the ball is going to come at you harder and the throw is different, but I’ll start taking some infield there in the next few days to get used to it. I’m excited about playing in the tournament and playing against all the great players.”
As for the expectations, Bogaerts said, “I try to tune that stuff out. I know my friends and family like to hear it, but I need to focus on getting better.”
Drew, who will wear his brother J.D.’s No. 7, knows about expectations; he was a first-round pick, 15th overall, by the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2004. He has been a good offensive shortstop, once hitting 21 homers, but his ankle injury — sustained on a slide into home — cost him parts of the 2011 and 2012 seasons and subjected him to criticism from Diamondbacks management for taking so long to come back.
Having heard all about Fenway from J.D., he feels the ballpark will be suited to his stroke. He feels he’s been a solid shortstop the last three seasons and that working with Dustin Pedroia should be similar to playing alongside Gold Glover Orlando Hudson.
The Red Sox signed Drew to a one-year deal, feeling that would give their crop of young, talented shortstops one more year of development.
“Right now, I’m just going to focus on this year,” Drew said. “I’m excited to be here and hopefully I put up a good year and get this team back in the World Series.
“I worked hard this offseason trying to get my ankle right. It was a horrible accident, and I didn’t know whether it would result in having to curtail some things or even retiring. But the work I put in has given me confidence. I feel great again.”
He considers himself a gap hitter and sees opportunity in the bigger portions of Fenway’s outfield in left and right-center. He has 52 career triples, with three years in double digits.
“I’m a gap hitter,” he said. “You got 420 in center and the Big Monster. If everything clicks and I’m hitting the ball the other way, it’s going to be a big advantage for me.”
Drew said he’s similar to J.D. in that “We still are both kind of low-key guys. That’s what you’ll see. But I probably get a little more feisty here and there every once in a while.”
He did look up to J.D., saying he was a great role model and “a true professional in the way he handled things.”
Iglesias, who is just 23, spent the offseason just trying to get his body stronger so he can avoid injuries, particularly with his back. He worked out with Pedroia in Arizona. He may be the best defensive shortstop in baseball, but if he doesn’t hit reasonably well, he won’t be a full-time player for this organization.
Marrero, 22, seems to be an advanced college player (Arizona State) who could be a decent defender and above-average hitter. He, too, could switch positions. The real trick for the Red Sox player development staff could be to figure out where to play Iglesias, Bogaerts, and Marrero.
The Red Sox may finally be able to stop the revolving door at shortstop.