Iglesias may end Sox's shortstop shuffle
Cuban defector is advanced defensively for a 19-year-old
BOSTON -- Orlando Cabrera. Edgar Renteria. Alex Gonzalez. Julio Lugo. Jed Lowrie. Gonzalez again. Yes, those men represent the carousel the Red Sox have had at shortstop since July 31, 2004, the day Nomar Garciaparra was dramatically traded.
Marco Scutaro will likely fill the position for the next two years, after he has reached an agreement with the Red Sox that is pending a physical on Friday. But as early as 2012, Boston could at last have a long-term answer at shortstop.
One month shy of his 20th birthday, Jose Iglesias, a Cuban defector the Red Sox signed to a four-year, $8.25 million deal back in September, appears poised to become the shortstop of the future at Fenway Park.
Not since Hanley Ramirez was traded for Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell in November 2005 have the Red Sox had a young shortstop to be this enthusiastic about.
Iglesias is the latest product of Boston's aggressive international scouting department.
"Jose's obvious attributes are his advanced defensive ability, sound approach at the plate -- [while still needing refinement] -- and above-average feel for the game given his age," wrote Craig Shipley, the team's vice president of international scouting, in an e-mail. "The less obvious include his intelligence -- something we quickly became aware of as we interacted with him off the field. Jose is further along in his development than most 19-year-olds. That said, he still has many things to learn/refine both on and off the field. We believe he has the tools to be a solid contributor in Boston."
Clearly, Iglesias is the type of player who will draw oohs and aahs when people watch him play defense.
Gary DiSarcina, a fine defensive shortstop in his Major League career and now a Minor League infield instructor for the Red Sox, has been working individually with Iglesias.
For three weeks, DiSarcina worked with him in the instructional league, and more recently, he spent a few days with Iglesias in the Arizona Fall League.
"His athleticism is the first thing that I notice about him," said DiSarcina. "He's not a big kid. He's very similar to, I would say, a real skinny Omar Vizquel or a real, real young Nomar Garciaparra, where his body type is a little bit wiry. He's a very quick-muscled, quick-twitched kid with a lot of energy. I've heard comparisons to Rey Ordonez. I didn't really get to see Rey play, because he was in the National League."
But DiSarcina has already seen enough of Iglesias to be excited about what he can do once his development is complete.
"He'll improvise out there. His hands are so quick," DiSarcina said. "He'll get to a ball and you don't think he'll be able to throw the kid out, but he uses his feet and his hands really well. His arm strength is good. He doesn't have a plus-plus arm, but he has good enough arm strength where if he makes the play in the hole, he's going to be capable of throwing a kid out."
Of course, Boston knows better than to pencil Iglesias in as the next Ozzie Smith. There will be so much seasoning and development that needs to take place, and the Red Sox's farm system will work closely with Iglesias over however many years it takes so they can ultimately get the most out of him.
What Red Sox fans want to know is how soon they will see Iglesias play in the Major Leagues.
|2004||Pokey Reese||827 2/3||85||189||6||.221|
|2004||Nomar Garciaparra||311 1/3||52||81||6||.321|
|2004||Cesar Crespo||96 1/3||20||30||3||.165|
|2005||Alex Cora||48 1/3||9||24||0||.269|
|2005||Alejandro Machado||2 2/3||1||1||0||.200|
|2006||Alex Gonzalez||966 1/3||163||305||7||.255|
|2007||Julio Lugo||1,228 1/3||214||360||19||.237|
|2007||Alex Cora||202 1/3||25||69||3||.246|
|2008||Julio Lugo||671 1/3||100||176||16||.268|
|2009||Nick Green||644 1/3||104||198||14||.236|
|2009||Julio Lugo||243 1/3||39||51||7||.280|
|2009||Jed Lowrie||163 2/3||22||52||1||.147|
|2009||Chris Woodward||12 2/3||0||2||1||.215|
|2009||Gil Velazquez||11 2/3||3||3||0||.000|
"We don't know yet," said Epstein. "That's to be determined. He obviously has advanced skills defensively and we like his foundation to hit. But he's young. He's not done maturing physically, and he has a lot of adjustments to make to life in the U.S. and professional baseball. It's way too early to put a timetable on it. I saw him before we signed him, a few times. Obviously, I really like what I see. Initial reports are encouraging, and I look forward to get to know him as a player and as a person. He's a great kid. For a kid his age, he's doing a lot of things right out there."
The Red Sox will get to see a lot of Iglesias during Spring Training. As a member of the 40-man roster, he will open in Major League camp before transitioning later in the spring.
The Arizona Fall League was a good chance for the Red Sox to see Iglesias perform in an organized environment. In 18 games, Iglesias hit .275 with two homers and 12 RBIs.
"For a first look, he did very well," said Mike Hazen, the director of player development for the Red Sox. "He more than held his own out there in that league, which is a very advanced league. He was one of the younger guys in the league. He has very good athleticism and defense, which obviously we have been told quite a bit about it. Offensively, he's got a pretty simple, quick, short swing and he did a good job. We're very happy with what he did out there."
It is yet to be determined exactly what type of hitter Iglesias will become. But he has some tools to work with. The Red Sox will school him in the organization's hitting philosophy, which focuses on plate discipline and grinding out long at-bats against the opposing pitcher.
"What I see of him offensively is he has power for a little kid. He does have some power in his bat, he's got some snap," said DiSarcina. "I know he hit a couple of home runs in the [Arizona] Fall League. I didn't get to see them, but I did see him hit a double in the gap, and he has very quick hands. [He has] a good lower half as far as staying balanced. He swings at a lot of pitches in the dirt right now. He went a year and a half without playing.
"For him to go out to the Fall League and even hit .250, we would have been happy. His plate discipline got better as the Fall League went on. What you notice about him is he's not a big kid but the ball sounds good coming off his bat."
Then there is the glove that brings great joy to Iglesias -- not to mention the fans who watch him.
"The other thing he displays is love for the game," DiSarcina said. "Even coming out doing ground-ball work, fundamental work, he enjoys it, loves it and he's somewhat of a perfectionist. If I hit him 10 ground balls and he drops or makes an error on that ninth or 10th ball, he's going to want to start all over again and take 10 more. That's what I like to see about him, especially in a kid who is 19 years old.
"He's a perfectionist and he understands that he needs to make every play. During a game, his job is to make the routine play. But he's going to make a lot of spectacular plays. He loves to play baseball. You don't get a lot of kids who love to get out and work and take ground balls. Those are the rare kids. I think that's part of the excitement about him. The minute you see him out there fielding ground balls, you see the excitement and then you become excited as a staff member."
Without question, however, Iglesias is still getting an education in the fundamentals so necessary to be a great defender in pro baseball.
"I think there's probably some work to be done on both sides. We don't really know how much coaching he had over the last few years, so there's still some things to clean up on both sides of it," said Hazen. "I think defensively, just from a positioning standpoint, there were some little things that he and Gary DiSarcina were working on in the Fall League."
DiSarcina elaborated on some of those things.
"The thing that he does well is he knows where he's supposed to be on the field," DiSarcina said. "And if he doesn't, if he goes to a wrong cutoff position, or, for instance, on a guy stealing second base, he has a tendency to just run straight to second base instead of holding his ground for a little bit to make sure the hitter doesn't hit the ball into the hole.
"But you mention one thing to him and he retains the information and tries to apply it. That's what I think we all see I in him also, especially as far as his instincts for the game and ability to retain information. He does need to be professionalized. He needs to play games. We need to have some patience with him as far as adjusting to the culture and adjusting to the style of baseball over here. It's different. We are more routine-oriented and professional, while in Cuba, where he played, it was more freestyle, and you just kind of go out there and try to be flashy, and it's more of a show for the fans of Cuba.
"He's going through that phase right now. We're staying on him and getting him to understand that the big thing over here is to get into a routine and make the routine play in practice. It's not so much about putting a show on. It's more about being professional and making all the plays. Over here, we just need to get him more into a structured environment and then let his athleticism blossom."
And it should be noted that baseball adjustments are just part of what Iglesias will go through -- particularly in his first full year in Boston's farm system.
"I think the thing we all have to have is a little patience with him. He's coming to a new culture," DiSarcina said. "He's left his family behind in Cuba. He understands English OK. I'm sure he'll start to understand it more and start to speak it a little bit more. I've enjoyed watching him play. He's a very exciting, impact type of kid."
Ultimately, Iglesias could finally be the one to end the Red Sox's ongoing shortstop shuffle.
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.