BALTIMORE — It doesn’t take a professional scout to notice that the guy playing shortstop for the Red Sox is a pretty special talent.
You can make the argument that the Sox essentially wasted a year having Jose Iglesias try to develop his offensive game in Triple A. He really didn’t need to do that because, quite frankly, his forte is his forte. He’s an exceptional defensive talent and whatever he hits, he hits.
Iglesias could have been facing major league pitching for a full season, and while he surely would have struggled, he could have made the adjustments as he went along. There’s no substitute for facing big league pitching, getting a chance to work with hitting coach Dave Magadan all season. Iglesias didn’t get the chance until the end.
All young players eventually have to make adjustments. Dustin Pedroia had to do it. And despite the fact Will Middlebrooks had success this season, he too likely will go into a funk and then have to figure out how to move forward.
There’s talk that the Red Sox want Iglesias to hit the weight room this season. Don’t do it Jose. Defy them. Never lose that incredible flexibility that you have, because that’s what makes you the best defender in the league at your position.
“No, I’m not going to get big or anything like that, but I want to be stronger,” Iglesias said. “I had this back thing that bothered me all season, so I want to get rid of that. I want to have nothing of that left when I go to spring training. I want to work hard and work smart.”
“I’d barricade the door to the weight room,” one National League scout said. “I wouldn’t want this kid near a weight. He’s so natural and fluid and so smooth. Anything that disrupts that is crazy.”
Iglesias had another decent day in Sunday’s 6-3 loss to the Orioles amid Boston’s horrible season.
He doubled to right in the third inning and made a sensational play to rob JJ Hardy going toward the bag in the fourth. He’s a showstopper out there. He’s extraordinary at his position, and one of these days the Red Sox will put defense ahead of offense.
The pervading thought is that a shortstop needs to hit in the American League. The Sox certainly have lived by that, which is why Alex Gonzalez, despite two stints with the team, never stuck.
And take nothing away from Mike Aviles. He was a good player for the 2012 Red Sox. He played a solid shortstop, had his share of extra-base hits, and was a tough out every at-bat. But he’s not the game-changer that Iglesias is. Iglesias saves hits and therefore saves runs.
Iglesias plays hard and he runs very well. He could be a player who steals some bases, one who can handle the bat and bunt and move runners along. It’s up to the powers-that-be to create a lineup in which a team can carry a weak link offensively at one spot in the order to take full advantage of his special talent in the field.
That time is probably coming next season.
“I know next year is a big year for me,” Iglesias said. “I know I have to show them a lot because I want to be here all year. I want to be a major leaguer. It’s been a long road, but I think I’m ready for it. I know I can handle the defense and I’m so much more confident in my hitting now.”
It would appear the team has to make a commitment to Iglesias, who is already a wealthy young man after the Sox gave him an initial four-year, $8.25 million contract, $6 million of which came in a bonus. That contract ends after this season.
Iglesias is a Cuban defector, and had to be tough to deal with that situation. That’s why it was laughable when some speculated that manager Bobby Valentine might have ruined Iglesias’s confidence by pinch hitting for him on a 2-and-2 count vs. Toronto Sept. 16.
In fact, it wound up motivating him. Iglesias has been a far better hitter since that incident (5 for 26 after starting 1 for 28). He knows that his hitting has kept him out of the majors to this point. What Valentine did was issue a wake-up call to him; he wants to make it so that no manager ever does that to him again.
“It stuck in the back of my mind,” Iglesias said. “It happened and I took it the right way. I took like, ‘OK, that happened, now what am I gonna do about it?’ I wanted to be a better hitter after that, and I think I have been since that happened.
“I think I’m a tough person. I’ve been through some things in my life so I can handle anything. I want to be a complete player, so I want to take all the things I need to work on and get them better before I take the field in spring training. I don’t want them to have to say to me ‘You still need to work on this or that’. I want to come in and have them say, ‘You’re ready,’ because I think I am ready.”
And then he’ll have to keep the position if he earns it. The Sox feel that Xander Bogaerts might be their new Hanley Ramirez. It could mean Iglesias will have to fight to keep the shortstop spot even if he gets it. Bogaerts is no Iglesias when it comes to the glove.
“Bogaerts would be an offensive shortstop,” said one AL scout who watches the Red Sox organization. “His defense is fine. His throws are erratic, but he could play short in the big leagues. His bat will get him there. But don’t think you’re gonna find a shortstop like Iglesias anywhere.
“If they don’t recognize that he’s special, they’re missing the boat. That kid does things out on the field that nobody else can do. You can watch him for five minutes and know that.”