Iglesias knocking on big league door
Red Sox's future shortstop feeling no pressure this spring
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- For now, he wears No. 76 and sits near the front of the Red Sox's clubhouse in Spring Training, near all the other Minor League players.
But it's easy to imagine Jose Iglesias occupying a more central location at this time next year with a much lower number on his jersey. Even in his current location in the clubhouse, Iglesias manages to stay in the middle of the action.
On just about any morning, Dustin Pedroia will walk by and say something to him. David Ortiz has also taken the kid under his wing. They talk to him and joke with him, because they like him and have a pretty good idea where he is headed.
Iglesias is the Red Sox's shortstop of the future, probably the near future. It's been said too often for it not to be true, right? That would seem like a lot of pressure for any prospect to bear, but Iglesias, who defected from Cuba in 2009, relishes the expectations, and the "shortstop of the future" moniker.
"No pressure," said Iglesias, comfortable enough with English that he speaks without an interpreter. "That's my goal. I came into this country a year ago, and I'm very excited about that. No pressure. All I know is playing baseball. I feel great when people say that. I want to do that for my family, for my team, for myself, for everyone."
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Even the man who holds the job now -- the same man who has a dual option for next season -- suspects the forecasts of Iglesias' arrival date to be more fact than speculation.
"It depends on him," said shortstop Marco Scutaro. "But I think if he goes down there [to the Minors] this year and gets 400 or 500 at-bats and he plays good, I think he should be ready for 2012."
And if Iglesias, who is ranked 42nd in the annual MLB.com Top 50 Prospects list, does make it by then, there are few people around the Red Sox he will thank more than Scutaro.
As luck would have it, Boston's shortstops of the present and future both live in South Florida during the winter. So how often did they work out together in the offseason?
"Every day," said Scutaro. "We worked out with the same trainer and we'd go hit."
Is it really smart for Scutaro to essentially be training someone to take his job?
"I don't really care," Scutaro said. "I think he's a great kid and I don't care. I know he's going to be the next shortstop here and I just want the best for him. The main thing I can do is just go out there and play good for this team. As long as I'm helping him to help this team, that's great. That makes me feel good."
Iglesias' eyes light up when Scutaro is mentioned.
"You see how hard he works," said Iglesias. "He's a very special person. He's a very, very good person."
The shortstop Iglesias has been compared to most often is a man he has never met. Omar Vizquel is now entering his 23rd season in the Majors. The similarities with Iglesias? Soft hands, effortless range and modest build.
"I've watched him play, but I've never talked to him," Iglesias said. "I hear he has amazing hands and I think he's been in this game for 21 years -- that's my age! I appreciate that comparison. I don't know him, but I hear he's a very, very good player."
The reason Vizquel was so good for so long is because, aside from all the flashy stuff, he was a vacuum cleaner on the routine plays.
To get to the Major Leagues and stay there, Iglesias knows that he must master the art of making the routine play. He already has the spectacular play down to a science. That is his gift.
For the second Spring Training in a row, the Red Sox are drilling him on fundamentals. Third-base coach Tim Bogar, who is also Boston's infield instructor, works with him every day.
"A guy with his ability, it's easy," Bogar said. "The issue that pops its head sometimes is that he's so good at it, he gets bored, and when he gets bored, he gets a little bit flashy and he has fun, which we want him to have, but at the right times. We emphasize to him that we want guys making right turns to the dugout and not trying to look too good all the time, and he's done really well with that."
Thanks to how well Iglesias has picked up English, those lessons have become more productive. The difference between Iglesias last spring and now?
"I think, first and foremost, he understands the pro side and all the little nuances of being a professional baseball player," Bogar said. "In Cuba, it's a little bit different. You come over here and you have to adjust to the whole thing. His English is unbelievable compared to last year, which makes everything a lot easier, because being able to communicate the mechanics of anything from the fundamentals, cuts and relays, bunt plays, all that stuff is where he actually needed to clean up a little bit.
"They did it differently over there. Coming over here and being able to do those little things is a big thing. Now that we can communicate, it's going a lot better."
There is something else that sounds different about Iglesias besides his improvement of the language. Scutaro hears it in the morning when he walks by the cage.
"You can tell when he hits BP, the sound is a little different than last year," Scutaro said.
Offense will be the key to what type of leap Iglesias will make this season.
"Obviously he's got to mature at the plate a lot, and that comes with experience and time and maturity," Bogar said. "I think that will come. Defensively, he can go out there right now and hold his own. But to be a complete player, and to be an everyday player, I'd say the offensive side of the game has to come around."
Iglesias handled the bat well this weekend, going 5-for-8 against the Yankees and Orioles. But the Major Leagues come with far more challenges than the Grapefruit League.
"I just have to keep going," Iglesias said. "Get ready to swing at pitches in the zone. Nothing special -- just time. Keep going every day, work hard in the cage every day with my hitting coach and that's it."
Off the field, Iglesias has never been happier. His father recently got out of Cuba and is now with him in Florida.
How long will Iglesias have his father in America?
"If God is willing, forever," said Iglesias. "It's very important."
Not only did Iglesias regain his father, but he just witnessed the birth of a son.
"My son, he was born a couple of weeks ago," Iglesias said. "That's the most important thing in my life right now."
Last year was more difficult for Iglesias, because he had to learn a new culture and a new language while integrating himself to professional baseball. And his Double-A season at Portland ended after 57 games when his right hand was broken by a pitch.
"I got hit by a pitch and couldn't control that," Iglesias said. "The first two months of the season were freezing, and after that, I got hit by a pitch. I can't do anything but stay healthy and try to play the whole year."
His future double-play partner will keep tabs on him.
"I think he's getting more comfortable and getting used to everything -- the country, the guys," said Pedroia. "He looks good. He's working hard. He's getting older and getting stronger, so that's going to help him out offensively. Defensively, we've all seen [what he can do]. He's ready defensively. He just needs time to get stronger and stuff like that."