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Is Iglesias the One?

Posted by Christopher L. Gasper, Globe Staff  February 23, 2010 03:33 PM

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FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Being a shortstop for the Red Sox has become akin to being a Plymouth Red-Bellied turtle or a humpback whale -- you are an endangered species in Massachusetts. Fenway Park has become the killing field for the careers of major league shortstops.

The shortstop position is known as "6" by the official scorer. For the Sox it should be deep-six. Since 2004, the Sox have used 19 different players at shortstop and had 15 different starting shortstops. Marco Scutaro will be starting shortstop No. 16 -- literally, since that's his jersey number too.

Here are his predecessors: Alex Gonzalez, Julio Lugo, Jed Lowrie, Nick Green, Alex Cora, Royce Clayton, Dustin Pedroia, Edgar Renteria, Ramon Vasquez, Mark Bellhorn, Orlando Cabrera, Nomar Garciaparra, Pokey Reese, Ricky Gutierrez, Cesar Crespo.

Jose Iglesias is his successor.

The future of Red Sox shortstop is the 20-year-old Iglesias, the most exciting Sox prospect at the position since Hanley Ramirez. The Cuban export, No. 76 in your program, has already made quite an impression on Pedroia with the Gold Glove second baseman and one-time shortstop saying Iglesias has some of the best hands he has ever seen.

It's mesmerizing to watch Iglesias take infield. He is downright Omar Vizquel-esque. His fielding is part art and part artifice, the ball transitioning from his glove to his hand like magic. He has a flair to his fielding as well, something the Sox have actually been trying to tone down a bit. Too bad because it's fun to watch Iglesias field a ball between his legs.

It's obvious the Sox think highly of Iglesias -- manager Terry Francona spent 20 minutes chatting with him the other day on the field -- but they're trying to temper expectations, although general manager Theo Epstein allowed with copious qualifiers that Iglesias's development ceiling "is certainly as an everyday shortstop for a first division club."

The Sox don't want the already confident Cuban to get a big head from being in big league camp.

Iglesias, who is rapidly learning English, is well aware why the Sox sunk $8.25 million over four years to sign him last September, more than a year after he defected from Cuba while playing in a tournament in Canada. He knows the Sox have come up short at shortstop recently.

"It's not a secret that that has been the history the last couple of years, but I am just worried about getting better every day, and it's a goal of mine to be the shortstop of the Red Sox," said Iglesias in Spanish, translated by Sox staff assistant Alex Ochoa. "I know I have to work every day and improve."

Iglesias was very measured in his comments. But in a conversation with ESPN's Jorge Arangure last September he said he wanted to be the Derek Jeter of Boston. Before we get all "The Old Man and the Sea," realize that Iglesias also said his father's favorite team is the Red Sox and cited Luis Tiant.

A quick study, when asked what players he patterns himself after he steered clear of the Bronx and mentioned legendary Cuban shortstop German Mesa, known as "The Magnet" and Hall of Fame Cardinals shortstop Ozzie Smith.

Like I said, the kid is confident.

"That's one of the first things that [international scouting director Craig Shipley] said when he first saw him and he called me, 'This kid has a little Pedroia in him,' " said Epstein. "He didn't have monster tools that jumped out at you. Obviously, he could play defense and he did certain things offensively that we believe in, and he believed in himself. He played with a real confidence. That's hard to fake."

The big question about the 5-foot, 11-inch, 175-pound Iglesias is whether he'll be able to hit at the major league level. In 18 games in the Arizona Fall League, Iglesias hit .275 with two homers and 12 RBIs. (He also learned that in American baseball, it's generally not a good idea to act like Rickey Henderson after you hit a home run or you're going to get drilled.)

Iglesias's ears perked up when he heard a question asked in English about his bat.

"Obviously, no one has really seen me hit or anything like that," he said. "I've been practicing hard on my hitting as well as my fielding, so hopefully I can show there is not that much separation between my bat and my fielding. Hopefully, they talk about both."

Epstein said the Sox believe that Iglesias can be more than just a good glove.

"We like his bat," said Epstein. "We would not have signed him if we thought he was a defense-only guy, if we didn't think he could actually hit big league pitching. We like the swing. We love his eyes, the way he picks up the ball. ...We think the swing plays to all fields. He has the ability to shoot the ball hard the other way. He also has a knack for turning on balls up that he can drive, and lofting with enough pull-power to hit the ball out of the ballpark.

"He is going to get a lot stronger, which is really the most important thing for him now from the offensive perspective, besides just getting at-bat after at-bat after at-bat. We like him as an offensive player."

With Scutaro aboard, Lowrie feeling better about his wrist and Iglesias waiting in the wings, Epstein may have finally found a way to transform shortstop from a shortcoming into an organizational strength.

"I think that there are always going to be areas of great stability and great organizational depth and there are always going to be other positions of weakness, or lack of depth and more turnover, and shortstop just happens to be the one area where we just haven't had stability," said Epstein. "I look now and I see shortstop as an area of strength in the organization."
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The word

Christopher L. Gasper riffs on the news


...That's what the Patriots have when it comes to picks in the 2013 NFL Draft, which starts Thursday. After all those years of stockpiling picks the way a survivalist does non-perishables the Patriots have just five picks in this year's draft, thanks to Band-aid trades for Albert Haynesworth, Chad Ochocinco and Aqib Talib. Five picks would be the fewest draft picks in franchise history. (Part of that is attributable to the trimming of the draft to just seven rounds in 1994). Further complicating matters is that two of the Patriots' greatest needs are at wide receiver and cornerback, positions where they have sustained draft droughts. With that in mind, I'm convinced the Patriots are going trade back out of the first round of a quanity-over-quality draft where you're just as likely to pick a Pro Bowl player in the second and third round as you are in the first round.

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