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April 15, 2010

One-Hoppers

Double-A Game Report: Iglesias Plays Portland

by David Laurila

It was a predictably-chilly night in Portland, Maine -- 49 degrees at first pitch and 40 when the final out was recorded -- but the Sea Dogs home opener against the Trenton Thunder provided no shortage of hot-prospect action. Several of the best young players in the Red Sox system saw action for the home team, including much-ballyhooed shortstop Jose Iglesias, a 20-year-old native of Havana who was inked as an international free agent last September. The Double-A Eastern League is an ambitious starting point for any player, but Iglesias is clearly special. He is the player I came to see, and I wasn’t disappointed.

The first thing one notices about Iglesias is that he simply loves to play baseball. He plays with confidence, he plays with grace and flair, and he plays hard. Very hard. Twice tonight he grounded to second base, and each time he busted it full bore down the line to make what should have been a routine play close.  He does nothing at half-speed.

“He’s a very exciting, very energetic, very talented young kid,” gushed Sea Dogs manager Arnie Beyeler before the game. “He’s a lot of fun to be around, because he just exudes energy when you’re around him. He bounces around and loves to play. He also works very hard. He’s a confident kid and very professional. He’s got an unbelievable ceiling and it will be fun to watch him play and see where he ends up.”

Iglesias’s calling card is his defense -- scouts have been effusive about his glove -- but his bat also shows life. The right-handed hitter doubled high off the left field wall against Jeremy Bleich in the fifth inning, the first base knock that the Trenton southpaw allowed on the evening. In the tenth inning, he led off with a line single to right-center field only to be stranded at third. [Trenton went on to win 4-2 in 11 innings on a Damon Sublett home run.]

But with Iglesias, it really is about defense. Blessed with quick feet and quick hands, he made one this-is-why-scouts-gush play in the contest. With the bases loaded and none out in the fifth inning, Trenton’s David Adams hit a ground ball to the right side that second baseman Nate Spears made a nice play on, his throw barely nipping the runner going into second for the force. Most shortstops would have been satisfied to accept the one out and avoid the incoming flashing spikes, but with a cat-quick motion Iglesias wheeled and threw to third to catch a startled runner turning the bag too aggressively. The play not only helped prevent a bigger inning, it earned high marks for both its athleticism and headiness.

“He’s good,“ said Beyeler. “You don’t want to compare people to different guys, but I got to see [Rey] Ordonez when he was a young kid and he reminds me of that -- just the flashiness, yet it’s not a show-off type flashiness. He’s that good and he can make plays like that. I think that Iggy has a chance to be a little better hitter -- he’s more offensive minded and a little stronger -- but he’s very flashy with the glove. He gets to balls. He does it easily, so it’s a lot of fun to watch him.”

Coming from Cuba, a country which has produced not only Ordonez, but also the likes of Bert Campaneris, Leo Cardenas and Zoilo Versalles, it is little wonder Iglesias plays the game with such elan.

“In Cuba, we play with a lot of fun and a lot of flair,” explained Iglesias. “It’s a game. You need to be serious on the field, but it’s also time to have fun. Coming to the field and having fun is the way that it should be.”

Asked about his favorite player in Cuban baseball history, Iglesias said, not surprisingly, that it was German Mesa. Why?

“Because his hands were incredible,” explained Iglesias, “the way he played shortstop.”

 In frigid Portland, Maine, in front of 5,654 fans, Jose Iglesias showed that he too can play shortstop.  He can play it very, very well.

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