Red Sox manager Alex Cora hoping Xander Bogaerts can become ‘elite defender’ at shortstop

Xander Bogaerts has proven to be one of the best shortstops in all of baseball in recent years, but that’s not stopping Red Sox manager Alex Cora from wanting more out of the 28-year-old moving forward.

Bogaerts just wrapped up a 2020 campaign in which he finished 17th in American League MVP voting thanks to putting up a .300/.364/.502 slash line to go along with 11 home runs and 28 RBI over 56 games played.

Impressive offensive production, per usual. However, the Aruban-born infielder put up rather unimpressive defensive numbers, as has been the trend since he made his first career Opening Day roster back in 2014.

Among 20 qualified major-league shortstops this past season, Bogaerts ranked 19th in Defensive Runs Saved (-5), which essentially means he cost the Red Sox five runs, and 13th in Ultimate Zone Rating (0.3).

Going back to 2014, the two-time All-Star has posted negative DRS totals in each of his last seven seasons with Boston, per FanGraphs.

The Red Sox, with Cora back at the helm, would like to see Bogaerts put it all together and become just as adequate with the glove as he is with the bat in his hands.

“Xander, for instance, when you talk about about the shortstops around the league and now you add [Corey] Seager to that equation, he’s up there with them,” Cora said of Bogaerts when speaking with NESN’s Tom Caron earlier this week. “Maybe the next step for us is to push Xander to be a better defender — and he’s not a bad defender — but to become an elite defender.”

This isn’t the first time Cora has brought up Bogaerts’ need to improve defensively, either. The Sox skipper said something along these same lines at least year’s winter meetings in San Diego.

Now that he is back, perhaps Cora will get on his shortstop in a similar fashion to the way he got on Rafael Devers in 2019. Of course, Devers has his own defensive kinks to work out, and Cora spoke about that process with Caron, too.

“With Raffy, we know what we have to work with,” he said. Expect both Bogaerts and Devers to be a focal point at the start of spring training in February.

Red Sox’ Chaim Bloom values Bobby Dalbec’s versatility, is still confident in Rafael Devers’ defensive abilities at third base

Since making his major-league debut in 2017, Rafael Devers has tried to prove that he is capable of being a competent third baseman defensively, but has struggled thus far in doing so.

This past season alone, the 24-year-old logged 475 innings at the hot corner and was worth -6 defensive runs saved (DRS), the worst mark among qualified American League third baseman, according to FanGraphs.

Devers’ defensive difficulties have led to speculation that the Dominican-born slugger could eventually move over to first base, especially now with the emergence of Bobby Dalbec.

Dalbec, who was called up for the first time in late August and saw the majority of his playing time come at first, is capable of playing both corner infield positions adequately, and the Red Sox certainly value his versatility moving forward.

That being said, don’t expect Devers and Dalbec to swap primary positions anytime soon, as Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom still has faith in the former’s abilities with the glove.

“We know Raffy is capable of a lot more than he showed in 2020,” Bloom said when speaking to reporters via Zoom Wednesday. “I think he knows that. Everybody who has seen him knows that. You guys know the bond Alex [Cora] has with him, and that is already something we’ve discussed in making sure that we’re doing everything we can to help him be in position to play a really good third base, as he has done in the past.

“I think the early indications, from the offseason, are that Raffy is preparing himself to do that,” added Bloom. “It was obviously a tough summer. The way the season started back up, he never really got going — he was never really in-sync defensively. He knows that, and now with an offseason ahead of us, we’re really optimistic that he’s going to come into the spring looking very different.”

Despite the hardships Devers endured at third base this past season, he still enjoyed moderate success at the plate as highlighted by his .845 OPS for the month of September.

With Cora back in the fold as Red Sox manager, Devers could in theory return to his 2019 form in which he led the American League in doubles (54) and total bases (359) while finishing 12th in MVP voting.

As for Dalbec, here’s what Bloom had to say about the 25-year-old former top prospect who looks primed to make his first career Opening Day roster next spring:

“With Bobby, we want to be able to maintain his ability to play both [corner infield] positions. I think the versatility is going to be great for him. That could be important on day one or it could be important in a year or two years. The fact that he is capable [of playing third] is huge. You never want somebody who has the ability to play other positions to be pigeonholed at first base.”

Per FanGraphs, Dalbec accrued 175 2/3 innings at first base and 15 innings at third base over the course of his rookie season. The former fourth-round draft pick made three errors, all of which came at first. He also hit eight home runs in 23 games, which equates to 56 homers over 162 contests.

Red Sox’ Alex Verdugo Picks up Team-Leading Fourth Outfield Assist in Sunday’s Loss To Yankees

The 2020 Major League Baseball season may just be 22 games young, but Red Sox outfielder Alex Verdugo has already made quite the first impression with his new club.

After coming over in that blockbuster trade with the Dodgers in February, the 24-year-old is slashing .286/.342/.529 with seven extra-base hits, five of which being home runs, and eight RBI through his first 20 games with Boston.

More importantly, for this piece anyway, Verdugo leads the Red Sox in outfield assists and is actually in a three-way tie with the Rays’ Kevin Kiermaier and the Pirates’ Bryan Reynolds for the most outfield assists in baseball with four on the year thus far.

That fourth assist for Verdugo came in Sunday night’s loss to the Yankees, when after fielding a softly-hit fly ball off the end of Mike Tauchman’s bat in the third inning while on the run, the left fielder worked against his momentum, spun 180 degrees, cocked back, and threw an absolute dart to Jonathan Arauz to get Tauchman at second base.

Per Statcast, Verdugo’s throw to second came out of his left hand at a whopping 81 mph and got back to the infield in just over two seconds.

The play, as fantastic as it was, may not have made too much of a difference by the end of Sunday’s contest, but it just goes to show how impressive Verdugo’s arm strength truly is, which makes sense when you consider the fact that he was a legitimate pitching prospect coming out of high school.

According to FanGraphs, Verdugo has been one of the better defensive outfielders in the American League so far this season, as the Arizona native ranks 11th among qualified AL outfielders in Defensive Runs Saved (6) and 14th in UZR/150 (4.7).

When asked about this highlight play during his postgame media availability Sunday night, Red Sox manager Ron Roenicke said Verdugo’s throw was “outstanding.” Indeed it was.