Iglesias poised for breakout season

PAWTUCKET, R.I. -- Red Sox prospect Jose Iglesias has accomplished more than most 21-year-olds could handle.

He defected from Cuba as a teenager. He became a multimillionaire when the Red Sox signed him to a four-year deal worth $8.25 million, including a $6 million signing bonus, as an international free agent on Sept. 8, 2009. He dealt with a broken hand, but successfully completed his first season of pro ball at Double-A Portland in 2010. Now, he's set to make his Triple-A debut on Thursday for the Pawtucket Red Sox.

"It's been one long year for me," Iglesias said during media day on Tuesday at McCoy Stadium. "I had a problem in my hands last year and I couldn't play every single day, but I feel great, especially now being at Triple-A. It's a new experience for me. If I make this game simple and work hard, something good will happen."

Something good is likely happen sooner rather than later, but before he reaches his ultimate goal of playing in the big leagues with the Red Sox, Iglesias will continue to hone his skills in the minors.

The right-handed-hitting infielder has become a sorcerer at shortstop with his defensive prowess. This kid can do things with a glove that would impress any Hall of Fame shortstop. In fact, ESPN's Keith Law calls Iglesias "the best defensive shortstop prospect I've ever seen."

The 5-foot-11, 180-pound shortstop was limited to 57 games with the Sea Dogs last season due to a broken right hand he suffered when he was hit by a pitch on May 29. He played 13 rehab games for Single-A Lowell before being activated from the disabled list on Aug. 17. He finished with a .285 average with 10 doubles, 3 triples and 13 RBIs for Portland.

Because his season was shortened due to injury, there was some thought the Red Sox would decide Iglesias needed more time at Double-A and that he would start the 2011 season with the Sea Dogs. At the end of spring training, however, it was decided he would start at Triple-A Pawtucket.

Iglesias said he wasn't surprised by the decision.

"Not really," he said. "It's doesn't matter where they send me, I just want to play baseball. I've never been here, this is my first time, but Triple A is a very good league. I hear it's good, like Double A. Double A was a good league."

Not only is it impressive to see how well he has developed on the field, but what Iglesias has done off the field is just as important to the success of his career.

"Maturity is the big word for him," said
Arnie Beyeler, who is set to begin his first year as manager of the PawSox and was Iglesias' manager in Portland last season. "He came in here as a young kid and was thrown into the fire in another country, and anybody who has traveled around the world, and did that kind of stuff, can really respect what he did. Baseball is the easy part of what he does."

Beyeler has been instrumental in the development of many current Red Sox and PawSox players, including Clay Buchholz, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jed Lowrie, Lars Anderson, Josh Reddick and Ryan Kalish.

Iglesias has learned to speak English and can handle any conversation with ease, especially when it comes to baseball. He's had to find a place to live, set up a bank account and learn the expectations of playing baseball for the Boston Red Sox.

"He did a nice job last year," Beyeler said. "He had a good season, and I think he also learned a lot when he was hurt. That'll help him in the long run. And he learned how to play a full season -- that's something he's never done before."

As much as he learned both on and off the field in 2010, his progress in both areas should continue in 2011 because for the first time since coming to the United States, Iglesias is surrounded by his family.

"Last year, I felt very sad because when I had a bad game and got back home after the game, I saw nobody and that was a tough thing for me," he said. "This year, I feel more comfortable."

In early February, his father, Candelario Iglesias, left Cuba and made it to the United States, and saw his son play for the Red Sox during spring training for the first time. Iglesias' dad will be living with him in Pawtucket this season.

"He says he's freezing. I told him, 'Last year, in Portland, that's freezing.' It's great he's here," Iglesias said.

Iglesias became a father just over a month ago when his girlfriend gave birth to Jose Iglesias Jr. The new dad said his son is his new motivation to get to the big leagues.

"For me, he's the most important thing in my life. When you have a baby, I can't explain what you feel. It's great. It's very special. He's one month and 10 days and he's beautiful -- like me," Iglesias said with a big smile.

Along with his father, son, girlfriend and "mother-in-law," Iglesias is set to continue his quest.

"Family is very important for your career, too," he said. "When you finish a game, you come back home and see your family waiting for you; that makes you happy. If you have a bad game, when you come back home you see your baby, your dad and your girlfriend, your family makes you feel better. That's great."

His Red Sox family has also been an important factor in his development.

During spring training the last two years, it was common to see Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia talking baseball with Iglesias. They will soon be double-play partners. It was also a daily practice to see the prospect with Red Sox shortstop Marco Scutaro and DH David Ortiz. Even newcomer Adrian Gonzalez took interest in Iglesias' development this spring.

"It's like a family," Iglesias said. "All the guys on the team tried to help me, and not just me, but every young guy, and that's a good thing."

Iglesias spent the offseason working out with Scutaro in Miami, and it didn't take the veteran shortstop long to realize the strides the youngster had made, and his huge potential.

"He's a great kid and he's going to be a great player," Scutaro said during spring training. "He's a great person, and I'm just trying to help him out as much as I can. I'm trying to teach him how things go in the big leagues and how to work all around."

Scutaro predicted that Iglesias would be ready for the majors in 2012.

"Whatever decision the team makes, I'm ready," Iglesias said. "I'll do everything I can. I'll play 100 percent every single game, and when the [Red Sox] need me, I'm here and I'll be ready for them."

Joe McDonald covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.