EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

April 10, 2013

It will be a shame to see Iglesias demoted

On Pro Baseball
Christopher Smith

---- — BOSTON — The idea of keeping a $9.5 million shortstop on the bench seems absurd.

But sending red-hot 23-year-old Jose Iglesias to Triple-A Pawtucket might be more absurd.

That’s the pickle as Stephen Drew, who received a one-year, $9.5 million contract from Boston this past offseason, is expected to return from his concussion today when the Red Sox play the Baltimore Orioles at Fenway Park.

Iglesias, who received a large ovation on Opening Day at Fenway, is young, energetic, confident and playing well. He also may be headed to the minors to make room for Drew.

His incredible defense — and his improving offense for the first time in his major league career — is helping the Red Sox win. And shouldn’t the Red Sox do what’s best for the team right now despite monetary issues? After all, that’s what they did by putting Jackie Bradley Jr. on the Opening Day roster.

Iglesias’ glove work has been impressive, and he is part of a defense that hasn’t made an error in all seven games. In his 20 at-bats so far, he has nine hits (.450 batting average), two doubles and a .476 on-base percentage.

Sure, five of Iglesias’ nine hits have been infield singles. Sure, he hasn’t walked yet. He’s not a power hitter or potential .300 hitter for that matter. He probably will be about a .255-.260 hitter when he reaches his full potential. But he is getting on base in his own way with speed right now and playing great defense.

Everybody in the Red Sox organization has been waiting (and waiting and waiting and waiting some more) for Iglesias to show some potential as a hitter in the big leagues.

So why now when he’s showing a glimpse of it and helping Boston win should he be sent down?

The Red Sox should ride it out and see if Iglesias continues to hit. After all, Drew is on a one-year contract and Iglesias could be the longterm answer at shortstop that has been lacking in Boston since the days of Nomar Garciaparra.

Red Sox manager John Farrell discussed the likely move of Iglesias to Pawtucket, saying: “No one’s going to take away from what he’s done. If it turns out that is the move, much like any player who has gotten off to a good start, it’ll be hard to swallow it. But there’s got to be an understanding of where he’s at in terms of the organization, and personal and organizational goals aligning. And sometimes that’s not always at the same time.”

Anyone who plays that good of defense should be given his fair chance.

And the clock somewhat is ticking on Iglesias despite him being just 23. He needs to be given his fair chance soon rather than later because top prospect Xander Bogaerts, who has a sweet and powerful swing, is breathing down his neck.

Bogaerts, with another strong minor league campaign this year, could very well be ready to start Opening Day 2014. The Sox need to know if Iglesias can cut the mustard before that. If Iglesias can, Bogaerts always could be moved to a corner infield or corner outfield position.

“He’s made contact, he’s found some holes with some ground balls,” Farrell said about Iglesias’ start. “He’s beat out a couple of infield hits. He’s taking aggressive swings. Much like we talked about in spring training, he’s in a pretty good place.

“He’s back to a natural swing that’s kind of pull-orientated, Farrell added. “But that’s what works best for him. He’s also used the bunt in a couple of occasions to keep some defenders honest with him. He’s picked out some good spots against left-handed starters to push bunt. And equal to that, we’ve seen his glove work at shortstop. It’s been outstanding.”

Iglesias has a fantastic story. He grew up in Cuba loving baseball and idolizing German Mesa, a shortstop on Cuba’s national team. At 6 years old, he was practicing almost every single day with his dad Candelario Iglesias. He defected from Cuba in 2009 to play for the Red Sox. Motivated to do well here in the United States, he learned English in approximately one year from his minor league teammates and by watching TV.

The Red Sox rushed him through the system because his defense was major league ready or close to it at a very early age. Meanwhile, Iglesias’ offense could have used more development at the lower levels.

Iglesias skipped through High-A, going straight from Lowell to Double-A Portland where he played in just 57 games before being promoted to Triple-A Pawtucket the next year.

His offense stalled in Pawtucket in 2011 when he also had a 10-game stint with Boston due to injuries on the big league roster. He batted just .235 with a .285 on-base percentage in 101 games in Triple-A during ‘11.

When the Sox were a sinking ship late last year, Iglesias was promoted to the big league to see what he could do in an extended stay up here as pretty much the everyday shortstop. But he didn’t take advantage of that opportunity and make his case to be the starting shortstop on Opening Day 2013. In his 25 games (68 at-bats) last year he batted just .118 with a .200 on-base percentage.

Iglesias, who worked out with second baseman Dustin Pedroia in the offseason, received the starting nod this year on Opening Day anyway though due to Drew being on the seven-day concussion DL.

There’s isn’t a huge difference between Iglesias and Drew, who had one of the top OPS among major league shortstops from 2008-10. Since breaking his ankle in 2011, Drew’s numbers have stalled. The career .265 (and .328 OBP) hitter, batted .223 in 79 games last year.

Yes, Drew’s ankle is healthier this year. And he certainly could provide more power than Iglesias. But at the end of the day, Iglesias isn’t a huge downgrade in batting average and on-base percentage and he’s a stronger defensive shortstop.

“He came in and expressed some thoughts on his part after the signing of Stephen over the winter,” Farrell said. “And I think he was determined to show some things a little bit differently, whether that’s how he went about his work or whether that’s what he did inside of given games.”