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There is no need to start a countdown. Slick-fielding shortstop Jose Iglesias is ticketed to be a member of the Pawtucket Red Sox on the first day of the 2011 season.
Iglesias certainly brings a degree of star power to the PawSox, a claim backed by Baseball America lauding the 21-year-old Cuban defector as the organizationâ€™s top prospect. The fact Red Sox officials feel comfortable about promoting Igelsias to Triple-A after enduring an injury-plagued 2010 campaign speaks volumes about the progress heâ€™s made after signing a four-year, $8.25 million contract (including a $6 million signing bonus, the largest sum the team has ever handed out) in September 2009.
â€śHeâ€™s a hardworking kid and Iâ€™m looking forward to having him around,â€ť said Arnie Beyeler, Pawtucketâ€™s first-year skipper who managed Iglesias at Double-A Portland a season ago. â€śHeâ€™s a high-energy kid whoâ€™s a lot of fun to watch play.â€ť
Last yearâ€™s stint with the Sea Dogs was interrupted when Iglesias suffered an injury to his right hand after being hit by a pitch in late May. Following the setback, Iglesias spent 20 games rehabbing at Single-A Lowell, hitting .350 with a .438 on-base percentage. For the second straight year the Red Sox had Iglesias participate in the prestigious Arizona Fall League, where in 16 games he batted .269 with one extra base hit in 67 at-bats.
While it may seem Iglesias still has a lot to prove at the plate before heâ€™s worthy of a spot at the major league level, his glove is already considered by many to be big-league caliber. The 2011 Minor League Baseball Analyst had this to say about Iglesiasâ€™ fielding prowess: â€śDefensive wizard with spectacular hands and feet that project to a potential Gold Glove. Well above-average arm strength and plus range to both sides give him the ability to make any play.â€ť
Beyeler can attest to the above description of Iglesiasâ€™ penchant for simplifying even the most difficult play. â€śHeâ€™s pretty flashy and likes to flip the ball around, but itâ€™s not because heâ€™s trying to show off. Thatâ€™s how he fields. Heâ€™s pretty good at what he does and brings a lot of energy to the game. Heâ€™s a young kid, so consistency is a key for him, but you let all the ability that he brings to the table take over and let him play.â€ť
Last season served as Iglesiasâ€™ introduction to pro ball in the United States, an experience that Beyeler said the hotshot phenom managed just fine.
â€śHe picked up (English) in one yearâ€™s time to the point that you could communicate with him,â€ť relayed Beyeler. â€śUnless youâ€™ve been to another country and thrown to the wolves, you donâ€™t understand what these kids go through until they come over here. Itâ€™s not easy and not a lot of fun at times. It can be scary, but these guys can deal with it on a daily basis. In that regard itâ€™s unbelievable.â€ť
Beyeler anticipates that the final decisions regarding the PawSoxâ€™ opening night roster will be made following this afternoonâ€™s preseason game against Durham. Some clues as to the clubâ€™s makeup have already been provided as Thursday marked the release of pitchers Adam Mills and T.J. Large along with first baseman/outfielder Aaron Bates and infielder Ryan Khoury. The final transaction of the day saw outfielder Bubba Bell, last yearâ€™s team MVP for the PawSox, traded to Cleveland in exchange for cash.
â€śItâ€™s not a lot of fun because youâ€™re sending a lot of good players home,â€ť said Beyeler when asked to provide a general sense of the mood of the war room when constructing the 24-man roster. â€śThatâ€™s a great benefit to have because of the depth in the system. You look at Portland and Pawtucket where there have been a lot of homegrown players in the past. Thatâ€™s a big tribute to the scouts and the minor league staff. But you need the room and to tell someone that theyâ€™ve got to go someplace else, thatâ€™s never fun. It makes for a rough morning when we have to do things like that.
â€śHopefully the guys that make the team understand whatâ€™s going on and feel pretty fortunate that they get an opportunity to keep playing and get after it on a daily basis,â€ť Beyeler continued. â€śWeâ€™ve still got guys around and weâ€™ll have to see how things shake out. We should have something concrete (later today) because on Saturday we have camp games before everyone heads on out.â€ť