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Buildup continues

Shortstop of future Iglesias adding bulk, refining game

By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / February 16, 2011

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FORT MYERS, Fla. — He recently turned 21 and became a father for the first time, another sign that Jose Iglesias’s life keeps changing and changing rapidly. From Cuban refugee to professional ballplayer, to one day — the Red Sox hope — superstar shortstop.

To get there, Iglesias is learning first-hand what it takes, and while he isn’t over his head, nothing has come easy.

What he keeps seeing is the incredible level of conditioning required to be a major league ballplayer for a 162-game grind, particularly an infielder. Then this winter, he had the opportunity to spend three weeks training with Alex Rodriguez in Miami. Asked how tough the workout was, he rolled his eyes and called it “ridiculous.’’

The meeting with A-Rod came about because he and the Yankee superstar have a mutual friend, and A-Rod extended the invitation to train after Iglesias finished his stint in the Arizona Fall League. Rodriguez has made it a point over the years to work out with prominent young Latin players, hoping to serve as a mentor to them.

Iglesias was honored to receive the invitation, even though Rodriguez plays for the rival Yankees. The Red Sox did not have to authorize the workout at the Miami gym, they are aware that Rodriguez is one of the best-conditioned athletes in baseball, and a positive influence from him on one of their young players is welcome.

After the three weeks, Iglesias said, he was in the best condition of his life. He needs to be, because he’s entering an important season. He’s likely to spend most of the year in Triple A, but whether he starts there or in Double A is the only question, after Iglesias missed about two months of 2010 with a broken bone in his hand after being hit with a pitch.

The injury was slow in healing, but as Iglesias pointed out through his interpreter, nonroster pitcher Clevelan Santeliz, “I just need to keep working hard and progressing and gaining the experience I need wherever I play. It was very hard not playing for two months, but I had to work hard to get the injury to heal and get ready for what was next for me.

“That’s the approach I’m taking. I’ll do whatever they ask me to do because I know they’re trying to do what’s best for me and my career.’’

Iglesias received a $6 million signing bonus and a four-year, $8.2 million deal in September 2009 after he had defected from Cuban while playing for the junior national team in Canada. Since then, the hype on him has been through the roof.

When Sox general manager Theo Epstein spoke about a “bridge to 2012,’’ Iglesias was the poster child for that concept, which is why Marco Scutaro’s contract only runs through this season. The Sox are clearing the decks at shortstop for Iglesias, who should be a major leaguer by 2012 if he continues to improve on a .285 season at Double A (221 at-bats before his injury) and the .267 he hit in Arizona for the Peoria Javelinas (67 at-bats).

Some scouts who have watched Iglesias since he became a pro do not rubber-stamp him as an All-Star. There have been mixed reviews. His obvious skill is with his glove. He is a smooth-fielding shortstop who would make Cuban shortstops of the past like Bert Campaneris and Zoilo Versalles proud.

What he will be as a hitter is the great unknown. His numbers haven’t been off the charts, and he noted yesterday that he “needs to be more patient’’ at the plate. He did not hit a home run all of last season and appears to be more of a gap hitter who could begin to hit for power as his body develops.

One scout who watched him often for Portland noted, “I like the fact he hits the ball to right-center. That will be a benefit to him. I think that probably took away from his numbers in Portland because there, if you don’t hit the ball down the lines, it can be tough because the weather’s colder up there to hit the ball in the gaps and expect it to travel.’’

He’s a major league-ready fielder right now, though yesterday he included “getting more consistent with the routine play’’ on his list of things he’d like to get better with. As with many flashy shortstops, sometimes the routine play becomes a little bit boring to him, but Iglesias is quickly learning that there can be no lapses on the field for starting shortstops in the majors.

“It’s obvious he’s an asset for an organization,’’ said the scout. “You’d love to have a kid like this. He reminds me of a cross between Rey Ordonez and Omar Vizquel. He can make the sensational play, but what it comes down to is making the routine play and not turning the routine play into an ESPN highlight video.

“And it also it comes down to hitting. In the American League especially, your shortstop has to hit.’’

Iglesias is listed at 5 feet 11 inches, 175 pounds, so some muscle mass has seeped into his once-thin body. He appears thicker in the chest and arms.

Iglesias just shrugs when asked if he’s on course to be a major leaguer by 2012.

“Other people make those decisions,’’ he said.

For years, the shortstop position has been a bridge (over troubled waters) for the Sox, who have gone from Nomar Garciaparra to Orlando Cabrera to Edgar Renteria to Alex Gonzalez (twice), along with Pokey Reese, Nick Green, and Scutaro. Scutaro should again be the starter, with Jed Lowrie challenging for playing time.

Once the bridge reaches Iglesias, the turnover should end.

“I just want a healthy year, and keep playing hard,’’ Iglesias said. “If you work hard, good things will happen.’’

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.

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