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Red Sox expect improved offense from rookie SS Iglesias

The SportsXchange

Consider this Jose Iglesias' second chance.

With veteran shortstop Stephen Drew still is experiencing concussion symptoms more than two weeks after being hit in the helmet by a pitch, Iglesias is in line to be the Boston Red Sox's Opening Day shortstop. It's an opportunity he may have gotten had he proven last September that he's capable of hitting at the major league level.

"My plan last year was to learn. If I get a chance to open the season with the team, it's a different plan," Iglesias told the Boston Herald. "This year, it's about getting results, helping this team and winning some ballgames. That's the bottom line."

Team officials claim they have seen improvement from Iglesias, even though it isn't reflected in his spring training batting average. They say they have witnessed a more mature, confident hitter with a better overall approach to at-bats.

If that's truly the case, it would be a stark contrast from the final month of last season. Called up on Aug. 25, Iglesias played almost every day the rest of the way and batted .118 (8-for-68) with only three extra-base hits. His most notable moment: Then-manager Bobby Valentine lifted him for a pinch hitter midway through a seventh-inning at-bat Sept. 15 in Toronto.

Thus, the Sox signed Drew to a one-year, $9.5 million contract. Iglesias was ticketed for Triple-A Pawtucket until Drew got injured.

"When you have a tough time, it's difficult to stay positive," Iglesias said. "This is a negative game. Last year, I took that month as experience for myself. I didn't focus on anything else besides learning how to play the game the right way."

Iglesias was only 19 when he defected from Cuba in 2009 and signed a four-year contract that included a $6 million signing bonus. Assorted injuries have limited him to 1,076 minor league plate appearances over the past three seasons.

"I think we forget how young he still is," assistant hitting coach Victor Rodriguez told the Herald. "Coming here, going straight to Double-A, you don't see a kid that's 19, 20 years old going through that. We all would've loved to see him develop right away, but we knew it was going to take time."

Iglesias always has played sparkling defense, so the Red Sox aren't expecting him to be an offensive force. After all, he likely will bat ninth on Opening Day at Yankee Stadium.

Still, Iglesias still must prove he's a competent hitter if he's going to stay in the majors once Drew returns, especially with top prospect Xander Bogaerts nipping at his heels.

"In the past, he used to give a lot of at-bats away just by swinging at pitches out of the strike zone, making soft contact," Rodriguez said. "Now it looks like he's in a better position when he swings. He has better control of the barrel of the bat, he's squaring balls better. Overall, he's stronger, his daily routine is better."

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