|JOSE IGLESIAS Has impressed manager|
Valentine stops just short
He sees Iglesias as 'pretty close'
BRADENTON, Fla. - Bobby Valentine believes Jose Iglesias is ready to play in the major leagues. But the Red Sox manager was careful Wednesday not to say that he wants the 22-year-old shortstop on the roster for Opening Day.
There is a thin line between those ideas, and Valentine straddled it as he sat in the visitors dugout at McKechnie Field before the Red Sox played the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Valentine knows the organization long has believed Iglesias needs more time in Triple A. Ben Cherington has said that consistently since he became general manager in October.
But Valentine also knows what he sees. One of his strengths as a manager is the ability to judge talent, and in Iglesias, he believes the Red Sox have a player ready to contribute.
“He’s pretty close,’’ Valentine said. “We’ve seen a lot. Now it’s a determination of whether or not it’s his time.
“I think he’s played pretty well and showed some really good progress. We have to decide whether he’s had enough undergraduate credentials in order to take the next step forward.’’
There is no question that Iglesias is ready defensively.
In a 6-5 loss to the Pirates, Iglesias made a dazzling play in the fourth inning.
With Kevin Correia on second and one out, Josh Harrison hit a ball up the middle that pitcher Junichi Tazawa grabbed.
Correia was caught off second base. Tazawa ran at him before tossing the ball to Iglesias. Iglesias tagged Correia and made a 60-foot backhanded flip to second base to get Harrison and complete a double play.
“He’s unique defensively,’’ said third baseman Kevin Youkilis. “He’s going to do things you don’t normally see. He can play in the majors, as long as he doesn’t put too much pressure on himself. A guy like Iggy can be there because he has the confidence in himself and in his ability. He just needs to play solid baseball.
“Look at Elvis Andrus [of the Rangers]. He’s not going to hit many home runs and he’s very valuable. We’re going back to what shortstops used to be.’’
Iglesias has hit .261 with a .308 on-base percentage in two minor league seasons since defecting from Cuba. In 671 plate appearances, he has 27 extra-base hits and only 36 walks while striking out 115 times.
This spring, Iglesias is 4 for 17 (.235) with one walk and one strikeout. But he has shown an improved approach at the plate from a year ago and a better ability to drive the ball. That has come from additional strength and some mechanical adjustments.
“He’s shown improvement in some areas this spring, and also has shown that there are still areas for him to work on,’’ Cherington said via e-mail. “We still believe Jose will be a very good major league shortstop. We don’t know yet when that will be.
“As with any decision, I’ll talk to Bobby and the staff and we’ll determine what is in the best interest of the team. The guys who have gotten the majority of time at shortstop this spring have all looked good.’’
Iglesias wouldn’t say whether he thinks he’s ready.
“That’s not for me to decide,’’ he said. “I come to the field and try and get better every day. If they think I’m ready, they’ll tell me. If Bobby thinks that, that’s good. He knows a lot about baseball.’’
Iglesias believes his timing at the plate is better this spring and he understands more about his swing.
“I’ve been working every single day in the cage,’’ he said. “It’s mental. I feel very good at the plate. I have a routine and I’m consistent with my routine.’’
Said Youkilis, “You can develop in the majors. I know I did because I listened to what people were saying. If Iggy made the team, he would learn a lot just from the experience. To me, his offense will never be a question because his defense is that good.’’
Mike Aviles has played 68 innings at shortstop in spring training, nearly twice as many as Iglesias. The plan at the outset was for him to hold the position until Iglesias is ready. Aviles has been adequate in the field and shown good power to all fields.
“Mike Aviles is doing great,’’ Valentine said. “There’s been a lot of guys who were somewhere else waiting for their opportunity and that could be the situation.’’
But Valentine doesn’t want to discount the idea of Iglesias making the team, whether it’s as the starter or a reserve. After consecutive third-place finishes, the Red Sox are in no position to overlook an upgrade.
“I think he can hit and hit on the major league level,’’ said Valentine. “I don’t know if he can make this major league team and perform right now the way we need him to perform in this setting, in the group that we have.
“It’s just my opinion. Again, there might be other opinions. And that could change, can’t it? Hopefully not.’’
Opening Day is two weeks away, and this could evolve into a roster tug-of-war.
“We’re going to have a lot of conversations,’’ Valentine said. “I haven’t even had conversations with all the coaches. Once we have all those conversations, I’ll formulate.
“I just know there are plenty of options. We just have to figure out what those options are.’’