Pencil him in, Red Sox fans. Jose Iglesias is your 2013 Opening Day shortstop.
Manager John Farrell hasn’t specifically stated such just yet, but Iglesias’ impressive performance against the Phillies on Sunday all but solidified his status as the man for the job.
How long Iglesias’ starting shortstop reign lasts is anyone’s guess. The club will likely turn to Stephen Drew as soon as the veteran is healthy enough to return to action. In the meantime, though, it’s hard to ignore the growing level of intrigue surrounding Iglesias.
Iglesias’ stock plummeted last season. The 23-year-old had every opportunity to cement himself in Boston’s 2013 starting lineup, yet he sputtered down the stretch, hitting a putrid .118 (8-for-68) in 25 major league games. Rather than captivating the Red Sox with his nifty glove work, his cup of coffee with the big club instead generated concern as to whether or not he’d ever develop enough offensively to become an everyday starter in the majors — hence the Drew signing.
With spring training nearing its end, though, Iglesias’ stock is rising as quickly as it dropped. We’re no longer seeing a great defender whose major league potential was limited because of his inability to hit his way out of a paper bag. Instead, we’re seeing a player who could create a very interesting shortstop situation in Boston with a hot start to the regular season.
The Red Sox have 9.5 million reasons to play Drew over Iglesias when the veteran returns, and there’s little doubt that Drew is — and probably always will be — the superior offensive shortstop. Iglesias has shown vast improvement this spring, though, and it’ll be very interesting to see how the team proceeds going forward.
Iglesias showed up to spring training having put on about 15 pounds, and it’s had the effect that the Red Sox were hoping for. He’s shown much more pop at the plate, and his noticeably bigger frame hasn’t impeded his excellent defensive skills one bit.
Iglesias’ 3-for-3 performance on Sunday — which included a sharply hit double over center fielder Ben Revere‘s head (off Cliff Lee, no less) — brought his spring average to .273 (15-for-55). It’s not a crazy figure by any stretch, and his .298 on-base percentage is still a bit concerning, but the shortstop’s offensive development certainly passes the eyeball test.
Iglesias looks more comfortable — even showing an ability to think outside the box in dropping down a bunt single on Thursday — and his increased strength is noticeable. He has seven extra-base hits this spring, which is five more than his last three spring trainings combined and four more than he had in 68 major league at-bats last season.
Obviously, we shouldn’t get too wrapped up in Iglesias’ spring performance. After all, it is still spring training, and there is still plenty of room for improvement in the infielder’s overall game. It’s hard not to be encouraged, though, especially since his status as a prospect was starting to get a bit murky.
None of the Red Sox’ other shortstop options — Brock Holt, Pedro Ciriaco or Drew Sutton — have done anything to win the Opening Day job. Iglesias, meanwhile, has taken advantage of his opportunity.
It’s now up to Iglesias to prove he belongs in the majors for all of 2013, rather than just a few games in Drew’s absence.
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