The acquisition of Jose Iglesias during the 2013 season was initially met with mixed reviews. The circumstances were a little unusual, as the Tigers were scrambling to replace Jhonny Peralta after his suspension for his involvement in the Biogenesis scandal. Normally, the scenario would have been viewed as a contending team bolstering their roster for a playoff push, but in this instance there was an air of desperation. The Tigers’ hands were tied and they were forced to grab the best shortstop they could afford.
That’s not to say that Iglesias was viewed as a disappointment. He was hitting a scorching .330/.376/.409 in 234 plate appearances at the time of the trade. But the scouting report on Iglesias -- as well as some of his peripheral numbers -- suggested that it couldn’t last. He was described as a defensive wizard, as good as any you’ll find, but more Brendan Ryan than Troy Tulowitzki. The general consensus was that the new kid could hit well enough to stick in the major leagues, but his glove would only ever be able to buoy him up to an average overall shortstop. Some of the more pessimistic scouting reports even had him pegged as a lifelong utility infielder and defensive replacement.
Most Tigers fans would have preferred an alternate universe where Peralta could continue playing -- and the Tigers could hang onto a very good prospect in Avisail Garcia -- than the one where they were forced into trading assets for a high-stakes gamble like Iglesias. Unfortunately that wasn’t an option, and the general response to the trade seemed to be a mix of relief that the Tigers were able to acquire a solid player and wiggle out of a bad situation, along with a negative reaction to the situation as a whole.
Throughout the rest of that season, Iglesias lived up to his billing. He dazzled Tigers fans with regular shows of defensive brilliance they hadn’t seen since Alan Trammell was turning two in a Detroit uniform -- Iglesias may have even been a shade better. But his production at the plate fell back to earth, and he hit .249/.306/.348 as a Tiger. It wasn't totally unexpected, but it was an acceptable level for a glove-first shortstop. Still, the major draw was his defense. That beautiful, glorious, impossible defense.
Then, he got injured. Iglesias missed the entire 2014 season with stress fractures in each of his legs. Tigers’ fans felt cheated, to be given a glimpse of such an exciting player only to have him snatched away after just a few months. The Tigers scraped by at shortstop in 2014, but the tease Iglesias had provided stuck with the fans, making his return one of the most anticipated elements of the approaching 2015 season.
Even amid the excitement for Iglesias there were few who truly expected much from the young Cuban offensively. Fans loved him for aesthetic reasons -- for stunning defensive highlights that were even more fun to watch than a towering Miguel Cabrera home run. Iglesias is an incredibly exciting player, and he was poised to bring excellent fielding to a team that had suffered through awful defense for several seasons. If he could hit his weight, that would be enough.
Once again Iglesias is putting on a clinic with his glove, performing exhilarating highlight-reel plays on a regular basis. That was expected, though. The surprise is what he has done at the plate.
Alcides Escobar is the current vote leader to start the All-Star game as the shortstop for the American League squad, riding the wave of new and enthusiastic Royals fans after their unexpected run to the World Series last year. Iglesias is in second place and trails Escobar by almost one million votes. While Escobar has managed to stay on the field longer -- Iglesias has battled nagging groin and knee injuries recently -- Iglesias has done more with the playing time he’s received. The Tigers’ shortstop has dominated Escobar in each of the offensive rate stats thus far.
The only American League shortstop that has a case against Iglesias offensively has been Marcus Semien, who has failed to get on base as often but shown significantly more power, blasting six home runs already this season. His additional playing time has allowed him to help his team more offensively, but Semien is only pretending to be a shortstop. A second-baseman by trade, he’s managed to commit 18 errors already this season, easily negating any slight advantage he holds over Iglesias offensively.
The key for Iglesias this year has been an incredible ability to make contact with a pitch and put balls in play, allowing him to maximize the value of his speed. He has swung and missed at only 3.5 percent of pitches, a figure that ranks second in the AL among all hitters with at least 150 plate appearances, and his 7.9 percent strikeout rate easily leads the team.
It appears as though the uncanny hand-eye coordination and hand speed that makes him an elite defender has translated to hitting as well, where he wields a bat with control that few other players possess. Tigers' fans might be reminded of the days of Placido Polanco, who put the ball in play an incredible 89 percent of the time during his tenure in Detroit, except that Iglesias is actually drawing more walks. He's been the Tigers' best hitter this season, excluding Miguel Cabrera of course, and would be one of the most valuable players in the league if he continues his torrid pace.
Jose Iglesias has earned his reputation as a phenomenal glove-man: he's truly the best defensive shortstop in the AL. His highlight reel speaks for itself. This year he has also been the best hitting shortstop -- or at least a close runner-up. The choice seems obvious: Jose Iglesias deserves to represent the Tigers in the All-Star game.
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