Shortstops: Jeter and Bogaerts

So maybe it is premature to mention Derek Jeter and Xander Bogaerts in the same breath, but I can’t resist.  Jeter just announced that this coming season will be his last and Bogaerts is preparing for his first full season.  But there is something about them that seems to be to be so similar.  Maybe it has to do with demeanor.  Maybe it is just being Red Sox fan hopeful.  Whatever it is, I was struck by the comparison.

Derek Jeter is the Yankee that even Red Sox fans admire.  Tyler Kepner wrote in the New York Times about his retirement.

The greatest compliment we can give Derek Jeter, as he prepares to leave the grandest stage in baseball, is that he never let us down. He has made thousands of outs and hundreds of errors and finished most of his seasons without a championship. Yet he never disappointed us.

This is no small feat for the modern athlete, in an age of endless traps and temptations.

From cheating to preening to taunting — even to defensible acts, like fleeing to a new team in free agency — the hero, almost invariably, breaks our heart sometime. Not Jeter.

He grew up beside a baseball diamond in Kalamazoo, Mich., dreaming of playing shortstop for the Yankees, and that is what he has done. He has never played another position, never been anything but No. 2 for the Yankees. But this season, he announced Wednesday, will be his last.

“The one thing I always said to myself was that when baseball started to feel more like a job, it would be time to move forward,” Jeter said in a statement on Facebook, adding later: “I could not be more sure. I know it in my heart. The 2014 season will be my last year playing professional baseball.”

Derek Jeter in 2008 after breaking Lou Gehrig’s mark with his 1,270th hit at Yankee Stadium

Derek Jeter in 2008 after breaking Lou Gehrig’s mark with his 1,270th hit at Yankee Stadium

If Frank Sinatra were around, he could sing “My Way” at Jeter’s retirement.

Jeter is perhaps the most secure, self-confident player in baseball, a sharp contrast to the disgraced Alex Rodriguez, whose season-long suspension means that he will never again be teammates with Jeter. Groch [Dick Groch, the scout who signed Jeter] said he noticed these traits while scouting Jeter, who smiled under pressure and showed the leadership skills of a chief executive.

Derek Jeter always knew who he was and never acted out of character.

And what of the Red Sox rookie?  Xander Bogaerts, the kid from Aruba who speaks four languages (Dutch, English, Spanish, and Papiamento [the official language of Aruba]) also grew up playing baseball.  Even though he was called up last August, he remains eligible for rookie of the year for 2014.  Peter Abraham profiled him in today’s Boston Globe.

Xander Bogaerts took a few ground balls at third base last Friday. That ended when Red Sox manager John Farrell arrived at JetBlue Park over the weekend.

“He told me to go to shortstop and not to worry about third base,” Bogaerts said Wednesday after a lengthy workout. “I hope that means something good for me.”

As it stands today, Bogaerts is the shortstop. But that could change if the Red Sox sign Stephen Drew, who remains a free agent on the eve of spring training officially opening. Until Drew signs, Bogaerts can’t be sure exactly what role he’ll have.

“Nobody has said anything to me about it,” Bogaerts said. “It’s definitely not perfect, but I have to play baseball no matter what. I can’t worry about it too much. I’m working at shortstop every day and trying to get my reps in and get ready.”

I think the Sox need to forget Drew, even if he is a great fielder, and go with Pedroia, Middlebrooks and Bogaerts. Time to see how the kids do.

Xander Bogaerts during the ALCS vs. Detroit

Xander Bogaerts during the ALCS vs. Detroit

We will need to see how he matures but Bogaerts seems, so far, to be cast in a Jeter mold.

But with players now on the field, Sox officials have been more measured with their comments about Drew and seem ready to start the season with Bogaerts at shortstop and Will Middlebrooks at third base.

That the two arrived at camp early and have been working hard with infield coach Brian Butterfield doesn’t hurt their chances.

The 21-year-old Bogaerts is certain to make the team regardless. He hit .250 in 18 regular-season games last year before emerging as a starter in the postseason. Bogaerts started eight games in October, entering the lineup for Game 5 of the American League Championship Series and staying there.

Bogaerts was 8 for 27 (.296) in the postseason with four extra-base hits and nine runs scored. Teammates marveled at how unaffected he was by the atmosphere.

“I learned so much about the game last year, the preparation you need,” Bogaerts said. “The other teams will find your weakness right away. I need to get better at everything, especially recognizing pitches. But I know I can do it.”

Last October, Joon Lee wrote a long profile of Bogaerts for Red Sox blog, Over the Monster.  One quote stood out for me.

“I’ve always been a pretty quiet guy,” Xander said. “I don’t really go out a lot so I try to stay out of the most trouble as possible. Nothing good happens at night so that’s why it’s good to stay at home.”

Not a wild and crazy guy.  Yes, I know, Jeter didn’t exactly stay at home, but he never talked about his personal life.

Derek Jeter and Xander Bogaerts:  The past and the future?  We shall see.

Photograph:  Jeter, Barton Silverman/The New York Times

Photograph: Bogaerts, Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY

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