Lakeland, Fla. — Remember that skinny kid the Tigers acquired from Boston to play shortstop back in 2013?
He’s not a kid anymore, and he’s not that skinny, either.
Jose Iglesias is 27 years old and entering his fourth full big-league season. There is a maturity to him now — emotionally and physically — that wasn’t there two years ago. He grown as a player, still playing with an entertainer’s flair but not nearly as big a showboat.
“He did an excellent job last year of being more of a meat-and-potatoes defender,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “That’s probably the first time that phrase has ever been uttered in the history of human civilization. But he did an excellent job last year.”
He’s grown as a teammate. He is a more engaging presence in the clubhouse, a far cry from the aloof player who in 2015 said he wasn’t there to make friends. On the field, he is much more willing make personal sacrifices to help the team, like hitting the ball to the opposite field to move a runner.
His body has grown, too, and this is something clubs tend to worry about with shortstops. Iglesias is in superb shape — this isn’t a question of fitness. He is still playing at roughly 185 pounds. But there is more thickness to him now; his is more of a man’s body. His legs are a little bigger, more mass in his arms and torso.
He looks stronger, for sure, but with shortstops, there is always a concern about losing agility and quickness, losing defensive range. Ausmus has seen nothing from Iglesias to this point that would indicate a problem.
“He’s still relatively young,” Ausmus said. “As long as he continues to work hard, I don’t think it should be an issue. But like anyone, if he doesn’t work hard it might be a problem.”
Iglesias improved his defense, at least in analytic measurements, significantly. His went from minus-3 to plus-3 in defensive runs saved. According to FanGraphs, his zone rating went from 2.3 to 11.6.
And Iglesias took measures this offseason to build off that improvement. He worked out at the Bommarito Performance Systems (BPS) in Miami — a program that Miguel Cabrera, J.D. Martinez, Ryan Braun, Dwayne Wade and numerous others endorse.
“Absolutely, agility and quickness are part of my game and I’ve got to keep that,” Iglesias said Saturday morning. “But also, I am working on trying to avoid injury, to be injury-free — that was the goal of my offseason training.
“And I feel really good.”
At BPS, along with the agility, strength and conditioning training, Iglesias was put on a nutrition program. His sleep patterns were monitored. He did reactive neuro-muscle training, resistance-rotational power work — you name it.
“It’s just a mix of a lot of things,” he said. “It’s a great program for me.”
If he can help it, Iglesias isn’t going to let his body outgrow the shortstop position — and trust him, he believes it’s something he can control.
“It doesn’t matter how old you are, you’ve got to be careful about what you put into your body,” he said. “And how hard you train. I am not concerned about that at all.”
Iglesias came to spring training last year with the expressed goal of being a better teammate, of worrying less about his personal statistics and more about doing the little things to help the team win games.
By all accounts, he exceeded that goal. And it’s carried over. Case in point:
In his heart, Iglesias believes he could grow into a prototypical No. 2 hitter.
“No doubt about that,” he said.
But his comfort level for now is hitting at the bottom of the order and the manager’s preference is to have a little more power at the top of the order.
“I am ready to do anything Brad or the coaching staff tells me to do,” Iglesias said. “Whatever is best for the team. I am healthy and I’m going to be good. It doesn’t matter where I hit.”
This year, he was asked how he might take his game to the next level.
“The next level?” he said, pondering the question. “Just stay healthy and play the game. I want to stay on the field for 155-160 games a year. That would be next level for me.”
After missing the entire 2014 season, he played 120 games in 2015 and 137 last season.
“Last year was a step in the right direction for me, absolutely,” he said. “Mentally, physically, I am getting into my prime as a baseball player. I feel really good about that.”