BOSTON -- The reality is that Xander Bogaerts has barely even started his Major League career, yet he already has a World Series ring on order and the satisfaction of knowing he played a significant part in his team's ultimate accomplishment.
As a reminder that Bogaerts is still an up-and-comer and not yet an established All-Star, he was named the top shortstop prospect in the game in rankings released by MLB.com experts on Monday.
Yes, Bogaerts is still a prospect. But he's likely to shed that label by playing full-time for the Red Sox in 2014. The only question is where. Bogaerts is slotted in to be the Opening Day shortstop. But he could shift to the hot corner if Stephen Drew re-signs.
Bogaerts proved his ability to play third last season, taking over the hot corner for the final eight games of Boston's magical postseason run.
"The one thing he learned on the fly was third base," Red Sox manager John Farrell said recently. "As we got deeper into the postseason, I felt like he got himself in better position on certain angles to ground balls, and that's a credit to Brian Butterfield with the assistance of John McDonald, with the work they were putting in each day early. Before coming here, I think he had about a half-dozen games at third base. To ask him to continue to learn it and perform at the most critical time of year, he handled it great. It just opens up more flexibility for us as we build the team."
The Red Sox aren't going to hand anything to Bogaerts, nor would he want them to. They will have a full Spring Training to monitor him, and then determine how he best fits into the team's 2014 plans. Barring a major surprise, Bogaerts will be an everyday player.
With a patient hitting approach and developing power, Bogaerts possesses the type of offensive skills any organization would love to have from a top prospect.
"I mean, he certainly looks like he's ready to play in the big leagues," general manager Ben Cherington said earlier this winter. "We've obviously thought very highly of him for a long time. You don't know exactly when the stage is going to arrive, but he looked very comfortable on it when he got on it. We're glad he's on our side."
Butterfield, Boston's tireless infield instructor, was easily able to identify what sticks out about Bogaerts beyond the talent.
"Bogaerts is the type of guy, you don't have to chase him down to get him to go out and work," Butterfield said. "A lot of times, the defensive work is a little bit more challenging, because their money is made on the offensive side of the ball, more often than not. Bogaerts would come look for me -- I wouldn't have to look for him. When guys do that, you realize that want to become great players. They understand it's not all glitz and glitter of offensive baseball."
The 21-year-old from Aruba got 50 plate appearances for the Red Sox in the regular season, hitting .250 with a .320 on-base percentage and one home run -- a rocket at Yankee Stadium in early September. In the postseason, when the pressure was even more intensified, Bogaerts hit .296 with a .412 on-base percentage in 34 plate appearances.
Though the sample size was small, it should help Bogaerts considerably as he enters 2014.
"It's definitely valuable," Bogaerts said a couple of days after the World Series. "My first year in the big leagues, to get a ring … next year I know expectations will be pretty high. I'll get back to work in the offseason and hopefully have a good, healthy season in 2014."
Bogaerts has created the most excitement of any Red Sox prospect in quite a few years, and nobody will be surprised if he makes a strong run at being Boston's first American League Rookie of the Year Award winner since Dustin Pedroia in 2007.
The last prospect who created this much of a buzz before being entrenched with the club was probably Nomar Garciaparra, who won the AL Rookie of the Year Award 10 years before Pedroia.
In a few short weeks, the Bogaerts era is on the verge of starting in full force, and everyone will be watching.