Bogaerts on a mission to make the transition

February 27th, 2024

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Batting practice ends shortly after 11 a.m. MT. Most of the Padres gather their gear and make for the clubhouse or the lunch room. and infield coach Tim Leiper, meanwhile, retreat to the far reaches of the Peoria Sports Complex -- the half-field where infielders typically get extra work.

For half an hour, Leiper stands on the left side of the infield and gives Bogaerts double-play feeds from different angles and positions. Bogaerts focuses intently on the way his feet maneuver around the bag.

After more than a decade in the big leagues as a primary shortstop, Bogaerts is making the transition to second base, where he never has played a game professionally. And while he staunchly believes his skill set will translate, there’s one area that’s nagging him.

“It’s the turn at second -- getting the feeds from third, getting the feeds from shortstop,” Bogaerts said. “That’s been tough. I’ve been so used to seeing it one way for quite some time.”

That’s not to say the rest will be easy. There are different cut-off rules, different angles to learn and a new batch of double-play feeds to work on.

“There’s a ton of nuances,” manager Mike Shildt said. “It is a new position, but a guy that’s got a super-high baseball IQ.”

Even as a shortstop, Bogaerts spent some time playing on the right side of the diamond before shift restrictions came into play. It’s not entirely new.

Still, after his first day going through a full infield practice, Bogaerts summed up the jarring nature of it thusly:

“I got a little bit of a headache today, standing there and seeing the ball go to short and third,” he said. “Normally I see those balls right in front of me. Now I’m looking sideways to see it. It just feels a little different.”

Try doing something one way for 11 years, then changing it abruptly. Yeah, it can be a headache.

But that’s what Spring Training is for. By the time Bogaerts takes the field in Korea next month for the regular-season opener against the Dodgers, it’s supposed to feel natural. That’s part of Leiper’s job in his first season as third-base and infield coach in San Diego.

“He’s a great athlete,” Leiper said. “So you just rep it out and you get good at it, and the learning curve is really pretty small. … It’s just different angles and seeing balls off the bat in a way you’re probably not used to.”

The Padres’ 7-4 loss to Cleveland on Monday afternoon was Bogaerts’ third game of the spring at second base. It was also his most action-packed.

He made one misstep. On a first-inning grounder, Bogaerts’ sidearm flip to shortstop Ha-Seong Kim was high. It pulled Kim off the bag, and the runner was ruled safe on a fielder’s choice, though Shildt was quick to note, “Yeah, we might’ve challenged it.” Still, it was a play Bogaerts should make -- and a perfect example of the growing pains he’ll go through.

Otherwise, Bogaerts was solid. He snared a liner in the third. Then, later in the frame, he got his first test of that double-play turn. Ramón Laureano sent a slow chopper to short, where Kim fielded and flipped to second. Bogaerts received the ball, and transferred it quickly while taking a smooth step behind the bag. He fired to first to nab Laureano by half a step.

It looked, well, natural.

That’s what the Padres are counting on. Their infield defense was already excellent last season. But they thought they could elevate it by putting Kim, one of the sport’s best defenders, back at shortstop. That meant a tough conversation with Bogaerts on the morning of his first day of camp.

Since then, the Padres have raved about Bogaerts’ willingness to transition. He’s getting extra work nearly every day before games begin.

Really, Bogaerts is the key to this whole plan. The Padres know they’ll get excellent shortstop defense out of Kim. They know they’ve got two of the sport’s best corner defenders in Manny Machado and Jake Cronenworth. The high-ceiling for this infield is predicated largely on how well Bogaerts takes to second base. So far, so good, the Padres say.

“He has tremendous aptitude and is a tremendous athlete,” Leiper said. “It looks like it just comes naturally to him. The other thing, he’s just a great person and a great teammate. It seems to me when you have all those things lined up, it’s amazing how good things happen.”