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A step toward their spring

Red Sox see to it that hot prospects won’t go in cold

By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / January 21, 2010

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Jose Iglesias was wearing a stocking cap on his head and black tights under his shorts as he fielded ground balls on the turf inside the Boston College practice facility yesterday.

The 20-year-old shortstop from Cuba saw snow for the first time when he arrived in town last week.

“That’s quite an experience,’’ he said in Spanish.

Everything is for him these days. Iglesias was a player major league teams knew precious little about only 18 months ago. But after he defected from the Cuban national team and showcased his skills, the Red Sox signed him to a four-year, $8.25 million contract.

He since has been labeled the shortstop of the future, the player the Sox have been fruitlessly seeking since trading Nomar Garciaparra in 2004.

“Jose has all the ability in the world,’’ said Eddie Romero, the organization’s Latin American coordinator. “But we can’t rush the process.’’

Still, that process can be made a little easier, which is why Iglesias and 10 other prospects have been in Boston for the team’s two-week rookie development program. The intent is to help them get to know the organization and the city better in advance of getting called up to the majors, while at the same time preparing physically for the season.

The players live with a host family, participate in daily workouts at BC, and listen to presentations by team executives, other players, and special guests, including Celtics coach Doc Rivers.

Several players attended the Boston baseball writers’ dinner last week, all took part in an autograph session for fans on Monday, and they get time off to explore the city.

“The idea is to ease the transition, which will hopefully lead to better performance on the field,’’ director of player development Mike Hazen said. “We want them to get out into the community, see where they’ll live and what that’s like.

“Part of when you’re developing international players is cultural assimilation to the United States more than anything else. We feel somebody like Jose, getting to see Boston, rather than just being at home and working out on his own, will ultimately ease some of the burden.’’

Hazen has impressed on Iglesias and the other players that their season already has started. They will leave Boston at the end of this week knowing spring training is only a few weeks away. Iglesias will be among those in the major league camp.

“For me, it’s going to be a tremendous experience, I’m looking at it that way,’’ Iglesias said, his introduction to the media translated by Romero. “I just turned 20, I’m going into it wide-eyed. I won’t be intimidated. It’ll be more of a learning experience when it comes to seeing some of the veterans.’’

Iglesias played 18 games in the Arizona Fall League, hitting .275 with 2 home runs and 18 RBIs. Scouts compare his defensive skills to those of Omar Vizquel, an 11-time Gold Glove winner.

Fall League teammate Casey Kelly, a pitcher who was once a shortstop, said Iglesias had the quickest hands he ever has seen. Catcher Luis Exposito went further, saying players in Arizona would stop in mid-conversation to watch Iglesias make a play.

“He has a lot of talent and he has his own style,’’ Exposito said. “The guy is that good.’’

The Red Sox list Iglesias at 5 feet 11 inches, 175 pounds. He’s not quite that big and needs time in the weight room along with regular at-bats if he is to handle pitches thrown at major league velocity. But that is why the Red Sox signed Marco Scutaro for two years.

There will be bumps. Iglesias, like many Cubans, is expressive on the field and slowly trotted around the bases after hitting his first home run in Arizona. That got him drilled by a pitch when he next came to the plate.

“You can call it a rookie mistake,’’ Iglesias said. “It’s very different from where I come from in Cuba. I did take it. I learned from the bruise.’’

Iglesias is studying English intently, eschewing his Spanish-language DVDs in favor of watching movies like “Avatar’’ in the theater. The Sox also were surprised recently to discover he had undertaken a study of US history.

“I want to learn,’’ Iglesias said in English. “I try every day. It’s not easy. Difficult for me, but I try. When you want it, you can do it.’’

Said Hazen, “He’s a very mature kid, a very intelligent kid. That jumps out at you right away.’’

Iglesias walked the snow-covered infield at Fenway Park last week to try to get a sense of the place he hopes to call home in a few years.

“I felt like I had a chemistry with the ballpark,’’ he said. “I could really see myself at one point playing in that ballpark. It was a tremendous experience.’’

Theo Epstein has not gone to an arbitration hearing with a player since becoming general manager of the Red Sox in 2002, and it’s unlikely Jeremy Hermida will be the first.

When the sides swapped figures Tuesday, Hermida sought $3.85 million while the Sox offered $2.95 million. The first hearing is not scheduled until Feb. 1.

In most cases, the sides split the difference rather than go deeper into the process. Hermida, who made $2.25 million last season, was obtained from the Marlins in November.

The Sox signed righthander Chad Paronto to a minor league contract that includes an invitation to spring training.

The 34-year-old Woodsville, N.H., native and former UMass player appeared in six games for the Astros last season, allowing eight earned runs in 6 2/3 innings.

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