Bogaerts has left no doubt he belongs at Midsummer Classic

June 30th, 2016

Xander Bogaerts could have -- and maybe should have -- been an All-Star last year. But the Red Sox didn't perform well as a team, and there are snubs every year.

What Bogaerts has done this year has left no doubt in anyone's mind that he will be standing among the best players in the 2016 All-Star Game presented by MasterCard in San Diego in less than two weeks.

At every round of fan voting, Boston's shortstop held the lead at his position by a wide margin.

And if last year's snub gave Bogaerts that little extra push, all the better.

"I mean, a little bit, probably," said Bogaerts. "But this is a new year. Last year passed. You just had to prepare to try to do it again this year."

It's just that Bogaerts has done everything better this year. And that's saying something, considering he hit .320 and had 196 hits last year.

Even after a recent slump that is likely due to fatigue, Bogaerts spends Thursday's off-day with a .342 average.

If there was one disappointment to Bogaerts' 2015 season, it was the seven home runs. He already has nine this year. And he can tell you exactly why.

"I'm also hitting the inside ball," said Bogaerts. "I always told myself, 'If you can hit that inside ball, you can be really good.' I'm just trying to learn and keep working at it. You have to notice what they're doing with you. You don't want to be hitting those inside pitches to right field, because you just hit little fly balls. Last year, there was no chance I was turning on it. Maybe once in 20 at-bats."

The improvement didn't happen by accident. The 23-year-old loves to work at his craft.

"He's got that type of a brain, a mathematical brain," said Red Sox hitting coach Chili Davis. "He says, 'How do I get to that the right way?' Then when he figures it out, it's like, 'I got it.' And he trusts what he does. It's beautiful to watch."

"You have to work on it in the cage," said Bogaerts. "You have to go in there every day with a purpose and know what you want to do when that ball is in that position. Work at it and then it takes over in the game."

And the most underrated part of Bogaerts' improvement? The walks. He walked 32 times in 654 plate appearances last year. This year, he has 27 in 322 plate appearances.

If pitching to Bogaerts is hard enough for the opposition, there is also the matter of his legs. He stole 10 bases last year. Bogaerts has that same number less than halfway through this season. And when a pitcher prevents him from making hard contact, there's a decent chance that he will leg out an infield hit.

"He's a fearless baserunner," said Red Sox third-base coach Brian Butterfield. "He's become, quickly, one of the better baserunners in the league. He can really run. That's an underrated facet of his game, how fast he is."

Butterfield -- who designs the defense for the Red Sox -- is just glad he doesn't have to plot against Bogaerts.

"When we look at guys on other teams and grade their running speed for our infielders, we go double plus to plus to average to minus to double minus," said Butterfield. "I would grade him as a double plus runner, because he has run some 3.8s for me on balls, and that's a red alert to our infielders. When we face a guy who can run a sub 4, we grade that guy as a double plus runner, which means all infielders shorten up and be ready to get the ball in the air quickly, and it's a very underrated facet of his game."

This past Monday, with the Red Sox on their way to a 13-7 loss, Dustin Pedroia raved at what he saw from Bogaerts on a roller up the middle.

"Our shortstop ran a 3.9 down the line in the ninth inning, down seven runs, and then went first to third. So, yeah, that was pretty cool," said Pedroia, who brought up the baserunning by Bogaerts on his own.

As for last year's All-Star Game, Bogaerts did watch part of it, and he lit up when teammate Brock Holt stole a base. Other than that, the memories are fuzzy.

"I can't remember where it was, but I watched it," said Bogaerts.

It's likely his memories of the 2016 All-Star Game will wind up being more detailed.

"It would be great to get to go there, and hopefully I have a lot of teammates with me," Bogaerts said.