Iglesias prepared for shot with Red Sox
TAMPA, Fla. -- He was at his home in South Florida last winter when he heard the Red Sox had signed veteran Stephen Drew to play the position he hoped would be his.
"I mean, it wasn't fun," Red Sox shortstop Jose Iglesias said. "I take that as a challenge. I prepared myself the best way possible to help this team win. I think that'll pay off."
And isn't it funny how things work out? Two weeks ago, Iglesias seemed headed back to the Minor Leagues. He had Drew ahead of him on the depth chart and hotshot prospect Xander Bogaerts just behind him.
Iglesias had looked overmatched at the plate in a brief tryout at the end of last season. Never mind that he's all of 23 years old and in just his fourth season of professional baseball. Never mind that Iglesias has started just 24 Major League games after flying through the Minor Leagues.
Iglesias emphasized he didn't worry about what anyone thought. He prepared himself to play this winter and let others worry about where he stood with the organization.
"I didn't want to show anybody anything," Iglesias said. "Like I say, I just want to be a better player, be better every day. That's all I can do."
He may have caught the kind of break every young player must have. Drew's concussion has again thrust Iglesias into the spotlight. Iglesias seems likely to be the Red Sox's Opening Day starter at shortstop, and if he takes advantage of the opportunity, he can thank plenty of people.
Iglesias got some tough-love talks from Red Sox coaches in the final days of last season about his attitude and about keeping the same approach regardless of circumstances.
Iglesias added 10 pounds during an offseason that included a trip to Arizona to work out with Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia, who believes Iglesias has a chance to be an elite defensive shortstop.
At the moment, Iglesias, ranked as the No. 6 Red Sox prospect by MLB.com, is still a work in progress. He's an impact defensive player. That part of his game has never been questioned.
"We're confident he can be a Major League defender right now," Red Sox manager John Farrell said. "He's got very good hands. He's got a good internal clock. He's got quite bit of range."
Offense is the issue. Iglesias batted .118 in 68 at-bats last season and was going so badly that former Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine pulled him in the middle of an at-bat in September. If his confidence can survive that kind of slap, there's probably an inner toughness that's not on display for the entire world.
Then again, Iglesias has been through plenty. He defected from Cuba to the United States at 18 and hadn't seen his mother until a reunion was set up in Mexico last winter.
Iglesias has revamped his offensive approach this spring, and even though he's hitting just .217, Farrell said the shortstop has taken steps in the right direction.
"He's looked confident since games began," Farrell said. "In the box, he has been a confident hitter. I think he's started to figure some things out and what's best for him. Not only the type of swing to take, the aggressiveness to it. The fact that he's a little more upright in his setup in the box has allowed him to see the ball a little more readily, and it's translated to much more consistent hard contact."
If the Red Sox get enough offense out of other areas, they may be able to afford a run-saving shortstop even if he's not a great offensive player. However, they probably can't live with him hitting .118 regardless of his defense.
Again, though, Pedroia and others emphasize how far Iglesias has come in such a short period of time. The Red Sox promoted him all the way to Double-A ball in his first pro season and had him in the Major Leagues a year later.
Then this season, just when Iglesias seemed headed back to the Minor Leagues to finish polishing his game, Drew's injury has opened a door.
"I feel pretty good," Iglesias said. "I'm trying to stay positive, stay with my plan. Even if you don't have a good game, stay with it. When you give 100 percent every single day, you're going to be happy with yourself."
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.