EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

June 30, 2013

Boston's hot shot at shortstop

Defensive whiz Iglesias showing eye-popping improvement at plate

On Pro Baseball
Christopher Smith

---- — When given the opportunity to prove he could be the everyday shortstop, Jose Iglesias failed miserably during the final month last season.

Iglesias batted just .118 with a .200 on-base percentage and .191 slugging percentage. And although he proved to be a major league Gold Glove-caliber defender, the Red Sox deemed his offense unready. GM Ben Cherington signed veteran shortstop Stephen Drew to a one-year deal.

The Drew signing could have been the beginning of the end for Iglesias here in Boston. That’s because the Red Sox’ top prospect, smooth-swinging Xander Bogaerts, plays shortstop and projects to be major league ready by Opening Day 2014 at the latest.

Undoubtedly, Iglesias needed to produce if and when any major league stint arose this summer. Or he’d risk being leapfrogged by Bogaerts, who isn’t as talented defensively as Iglesias but is a powerful and patient hitter.

Iglesias never was afraid his opportunity, at least in Boston, was dwindling away.

It certainly isn’t anymore. He’s taken full advantage of both major league stints he’s received this season and became Boston’s starting third baseman recently. In 37 games with Boston entering yesterday, Iglesias was batting .419 (52 for 124) with a .467 on-base percentage and .548 slugging percentage.

“I try to prove nothing to nobody,” Iglesias said. “That’s just me. I don’t know if I’m right or not. I just enjoy the game and (try) be the player I’ve always been.”

For a player who had failed more than succeeded as a hitter in the minors and majors before this year, Iglesias has a high confidence level — bordering on cockiness — that probably is helping him right now.

“I never doubted myself as a hitter (and) as a player and I never will,” Iglesias said.

The 23-year-old first got his chance this year when Drew began the season on the disabled list. Iglesias batted .450 (9 for 20). Called up again from Pawtucket when third baseman Will Middlebrooks went on the DL, Iglesias continued to hit and then won the everyday job at third after Middlebrooks returned.

Middlebrooks has since been demoted to Pawtucket.

Iglesias obviously has worked himself into Boston’s and longterm plans and Bogaerts likely will be moved to third base or a corner outfield position.

“He’s always had a lot of confidence, I just don’t think he’s had a lot of success,” said Sox first base coach Arnie Beyeler who managed Iglesias in Double-A Portland in 2010 and Triple-A Pawtucket in ‘11 and ‘12. “He’s had some good spring trainings and I think this year he’s kind of carried it over.”

Confidence personified

Iglesias knows he won’t keep hitting .400 the rest of the year.

His batting average on balls in play entering yesterday was a ridiculous .481. For balls to the outfield his average is an even more absurd .714. So his hits are finding holes and he’s getting somewhat lucky at times.

Iglesais is going to slump at some point. The balls off his bat won’t always find holes. What is important is how he deals with that and the adjustments he makes when pitchers adjust to him. His confidence certainly will help during tough stretches.

“I think that’s a very good challenge,” he said about dealing with a potential slump. “You’ve got to stay positive.”

Like night and day

Beyeler called the difference between Iglesias as a hitter “night-and-day” from 2010 to now.

“He’s always a guy who’s had hand-eye coordination and put the ball in play,” Beyeler said. “We always thought that he was going to hit.”

Iglesias said in the last year he has learned to be much more disciplined.

“No matter what the result is, stay with your plan and be consistent with it,” he said. “That’s the most important thing.”

Iglesias considers himself a line-drive, gap-to-gap hitter.

“My goal is to be on base no matter how,” he added.

He certainly is getting on. He had a 27-game on-base streak snapped Wednesday. Seventeen of Iglesias’ first 52 hits were infield singles. He’s shown a tremendous ability to get out of the batter’s box quickly.

“He’s a guy that’s got to move the ball around and hit-and-run, bunt and move runners but that said, he does have some surprising pop for his size and he can drive the baseball,” Beyeler said.

‘Watch out’

Blue Jays shortstop Jose Reyes said about what makes Iglesias great in the field: “How relaxed he (does) stuff. How easy he (does) stuff. When you’re young and you come to (the majors) sometimes you try to rush and do too much. He seems like he’s been here a long time.

“He looks like he can play. That’s good to see. And he look like he make adjust at the plate now, too, so watch out.”

Impressive improvement

The knock on Jose Iglesias was that he was a mediocre at best hitter. That’s changed this spring.

Year AB R H RBI Avg. OBP Slug

2013 124 22 52 9 .419 .467 .548

2012 68 5 8 2 .118 .200 .191

Note: Totals are with Boston only.