Playing new position, Iglesias flourishing
Rookie still plays stellar defense, but offense now keeping him in Majors
BOSTON -- The Red Sox's shortstop of the future -- that became the unofficial moniker for Jose Iglesias -- kept getting derailed.
Sometimes it was the pure lack of opportunity. Veteran players with money due to them (Marco Scutaro, Mike Aviles, Jed Lowrie, etc.) were slotted to play shortstop for Boston.
Other times, Iglesias didn't help his case. Such was the case last September when he responded to his chance to play every day by hitting .118 in 68 at-bats. That underperformance led the Red Sox to invest $9.5 million in Stephen Drew in a one-year deal this past winter.
Iglesias certainly never wished a concussion on Drew, but that's what the veteran got when he was belted by a pitch in the batting helmet in a Spring Training game on March 7.
It was then that Iglesias had the chance to show the Red Sox just how hard he worked last winter. Given the chance to play in Spring Training, Iglesias hit the ball with authority that he had never shown in his pro career. He was also starting to prove that he had an idea of what to swing at.
And all the while, he was playing the same stellar defense that had always cemented his reputation. Iglesias broke camp with the Red Sox while Drew was still sidelined and hit .450 in the first week of the season, producing nine hits in 20 at-bats.
The way Iglesias looked at it, there would be no return trip to Triple-A. He had shown what he could do, and it was up to the Red Sox to figure out how to work both him and Drew into the equation.
Then came April 9, and Iglesias learned that Pawtucket was exactly where he was headed back to.
"A little bit [surprised]. I was getting in rhythm at the time. That definitely surprised me," Iglesias said. "I want to play here. I went down there with my mindset, that when my second opportunity comes, I'll be better than the first one."
It is easy for someone to say they will go back to the Minors and stay focused, and another to execute it, especially when you brim with the type of confidence Iglesias has always had.
"I think the hardest thing to do is put my mind in the right place and be consistent," Iglesias said. "It took me a few days."
Perhaps there were a few days when Iglesias acted a little "too big league" for his surroundings in Pawtucket. Manager Gary DiSarcina took him out of a game and kept him on the bench for a few days.
"A player's goals, the timing of their goals doesn't always align with the organization," said manager John Farrell. "I think Gary DiSarcina did a great job with him. There had to be some manning up to the situation, and to his credit, he's come back in a good way."
And here Iglesias is now, perhaps finally in the Major Leagues for good.
That second opportunity -- the one Iglesias vowed he would be ready for -- came in late May when third baseman Will Middlebrooks went out with a back injury.
Playing a new position (third base), Iglesias flourished, making all the routine plays and several spectacular ones. Those who saw the Red Sox play the Tigers on Sunday in Detroit will have a hard time forgetting Iglesias throwing out Victor Martinez from his knees.
However, everyone knew Iglesias could field, be it at his natural position or the one he is learning on the fly. The bat is the revelation.
Iglesias has gone from a player solely known for his defense to a veritable hit machine. He enjoyed Monday's off-day with a .426 average in 108 at-bats, and that came after a rare 0-for-3 performance on Sunday.
With 43 hits in his first 100 at-bats of the season, Iglesias became the first American League rookie to pull off that feat since Tony Oliva in 1964.
Yes, there has been some luck. Iglesias has an astounding 15 infield hits, which is almost exactly one-third of his total of 46.
Then again, Iglesias might always be the type of player who gets his share of infield rollers. Allow Farrell to explain.
"When you look at his normal swing, it's one that's in the middle of the field to right-center field, so he's balanced, he's got some momentum that way [out of the box]," said Farrell. "It's not like he's having to regroup with a step because he's a spin hitter or he collapses on the back side. He's got some momentum working in his favor to be in full speed in about a stride and a half.
"No, he's not a basestealer. He thinks he is. But yeah, [15 out of 46]? He's got some good fortune, and there's some fundamental things that allow him to do that."
When Middlebrooks returned to Boston's roster on June 10, the Red Sox knew they couldn't justify sending Iglesias back to the Minors again.
So they kept him around, with the idea of keeping him fresh in a utility role. He would play once or twice a week at third, and the same at short.
But as the hits kept on coming and Middlebrooks continued to slump, a change was made. Iglesias is now Boston's primary third baseman.
Last year, it was Middlebrooks who forced entrenched veteran Kevin Youkilis out of Boston's mix.
"I'm a competitor. I want to play every day," Middlebrooks said. "I understand the circumstances; I understand how well he's played, and like I've said to several people, I'm happy for him. He's worked hard to get where he is, and he deserves everything he's getting right now. I'm not going to be mad, I'm not going to be jealous. He's my teammate. I'm happy for him. Am I disappointed in myself? Absolutely."
If Iglesias changed Farrell's plans on the fly a little bit, so be it.
"As well as he played and as frequent as the performance dictated, you know what? We're not going to stunt this," Farrell said. "That's the beauty of sports. That's the beauty of this. It is up for competition. That's where we are today."
It actually started last winter. Iglesias told the Red Sox he didn't want to play winter ball. Instead, he wanted to spend the time improving his strength and his technique.
"I had a great offseason. I can say a lot of hard work, a lot of time in the gym, a lot of time in the cage. Just all that work paid off," said Iglesias.
Partly due to the urging of Dustin Pedroia, Iglesias stopped trying to be a slap hitter and regained his aggression.
At the same time, Iglesias stopped swinging at everything and started falling in line with the organizational mantra of working counts.
It was stunning to Red Sox fans when Iglesias worked one of the best at-bats of the season on May 26 against the Indians, working a walk against closer Chris Perez and setting the stage of a walk-off hit by Jacoby Ellsbury.
"I'm not working with my swing," said Iglesias. "My discipline at home plate with the strike zone is what has been so big for me. You've got to be consistent and swing at strikes and be aggressive but under control. Be consistent with it and stay with it."
The 23-year-old Iglesias, who signed with the Red Sox in September 2009 after his defection from Cuba, has at last put his employers in the position where they are staying with him.
Fast forward to the 2014 season, and Iglesias will probably be Boston's starting shortstop. Xander Bogaerts, perhaps the organization's top position prospect, is also a shortstop. But Bogaerts has the type of body that could easily project to a corner infield spot, or even the outfield.
Iglesias is now part of Boston's present and future. And if there were ever any doubts he would get to this point, they didn't come from him.
"I've never doubted myself as a player and never will," Iglesias said. "I just have to be consistent and get my workouts done and prepare for the games and play 100 percent every single night."