Like watching a talented musician, good fielding looks easy. Watching Jose Iglesias range to one side, field the ball cleanly, and throw all in one motion does not look hard. You come away thinking, “I could do that.” Except, no, you couldn’t. It isn’t until you have a baseline for comparison, another player trying the same play, that it becomes clear how difficult it really is.
I was down in Florida for a few spring training games this past weekend and was lucky enough to see Iglesias play eight innings against the Yankees on Friday night. Since this article has the words “ridiculous” and “incomplete” in the title I feel that I can definitively say the glowing reports on Jose Iglesias’s fielding prowess are not overstated. (But if it turns out they were overstated don’t say I didn’t warn you.)
As the starting shortstop last Friday on a relatively chilly night in Tampa, Iglesias fielded four balls accounting for five outs. But maybe more importantly, not one Yankee singled through the left side of the infield or up the middle all game.
The first two hitters of the game, Derek Jeter and Russell Martin, both grounded to shortstop. Neither is a burner at this stage of their career, but Iglesias made both plays easily, showing off good range to his left on Jeter and an accurate arm on both grounders.
The play that stands out to me was the double play to end the second inning (video here). Alex Rodriguez led off with a single, Robinson Cano flew out to left and up stepped Jorge Posada. Posada hit a grounder right up the middle. It wasn’t crushed but it did make it over the mound and was headed by the bag. But by the time the ball got to second Iglesias was waiting in front of the base. He fielded the ball and, rather than tagging the runner, he stepped backwards, tagged second base, and as if completing a singular motion, made a little under-armed flip to first. From where I was sitting (admittedly light years away in the right field stands) the throw looked to be heading fifteen feet over first baseman Lars Anderson’s head and into the stands. It wasn’t, instead landing in Anderson’s glove about five steps ahead of Posada.
Like driving, decisiveness is important for a fielder. When driving you can cut in front of someone and the vast majority of the time they’ll react to you and no accident will occur. The problem comes when you realize you made a mistake and try to correct it mid-stream. That’s when you hit the breaks or swerve and the guy behind you ends up parked in your back seat. Posada’s grounder presented a number of options to Iglesias and if he had hesitated to determine what he should do, he might not have turned the double play. But he didn’t hesitate. He picked a course of action and went with it.
Tagging second required him to step backwards forcing his momentum away from first base, but Posada comes down the line with the speed and dexterity of a one legged sloth on hallucinogens so in this instance that would not be a problem. He stepped back, tagged second instead of Rodriguez who was trying to induce a chase, and almost casually flipped to first to get Posada by five steps. That one play encapsulated the abilities I’ve read about: excellent range, a strong arm, quick feet, decisive and smart.
What will make Iglesias an All Star or break him as the second coming of Rey Ordonez will be his hitting. During Friday’s game Iglesias had two singles and a walk in four plate appearances. Both his hits were ground balls and while neither was particularly cheap, it would have been nice to see him barrel one up. The walk was a four pitch job hatchet job by a suddenly struggling 20 year old Manny Banuelos. Credit Iglesias for not bailing Banuelos out of his self created rut, but even then its only partial credit. It was an effective if not awe-inspiring day at the plate, but then I wasn’t going to learn much about Iglesias as a hitter last Friday anyway. As a 21 year old ticketed for AA, that chapter is yet to be written. You can close the book on his fielding though, because Jose Iglesias can pick it and impressively so.