Tigers hope for a healthy Iglesias to start at shortstop

Tigers hope for a healthy Iglesias to start at shortstop

DETROIT -- The Tigers will go into Spring Training in 2015 with the expectation that Jose Iglesias will be ready to go when camp begins in mid-February. If he meets that expectation, he's likely to be the Tigers' starting shortstop.

If the stress fractures in his shins that forced him to miss the entire '14 season -- and half that time unable to put weight on his legs -- also lead to a slow recovery for him to full speed, however, they'll have to protect themselves. That likely leaves them with much the same roster situation they have now.

"I don't want to anoint him without our manager and staff seeing him," Tigers president and general manager Dave Dombrowski said during his season wrapup press conference Tuesday. "But for me, I'd be surprised if he's not, because I think he's a premium young shortstop that is outstanding from a defensive perspective that's got speed and will add something offensively."

Defensively, it's the one way the Tigers can upgrade their infield without a major shakeup to the roster. Miguel Cabrera and Ian Kinsler are set on the right side of the infield, and while Nick Castellanos ranked at the bottom among Major League third basemen by most defensive metrics, the Tigers are counting on at least some improvement with more experience and a better knowledge of how to play hitters.

The Tigers had a glimpse of Iglesias' range and glove down the stretch in '13 after Detroit acquired him at the Trade Deadline as the eventual replacement for Jhonny Peralta. His charging, barehanded grab and flick to first on a slow roller in Chicago was one of the top highlights of the season in the league. His range, especially in the hole between short and third, was a boon to then-third baseman Cabrera while he was playing through a groin tear.

Tigers officials are proceeding with the belief that he can get back to that type of play after a year off. The fact that he put up much of his play while dealing with the shin soreness, a recurring issue that dated back to his Red Sox days, suggest that it's a realistic expectation.

Because the injury is so rare among baseball players, there's little to no previous history to go on.

"First of all, the doctors tell me he'll be fine and that he'll be ready to go for Spring Training," Dombrowski said. "He's ramping up [physical activity] on a regular basis as far as any [physical] impact is concerned, and I saw video of him over a month ago where he was already playing catch and that kind of stuff. The doctors tell me he'll be fine.

"I have to see him play day in and day out in the spring and see him handle the pounding, and then I'll be real comfortable at that point. [Tigers manager] Brad [Ausmus] and his staff haven't had the advantage of having seen Iglesias play, but based on what we know of Iglesias, if he returns to the form of the past, which they tell me he will, he would be our regular shortstop. But I also have to protect ourselves, because even though we hear that from the doctors, until we see it for ourselves, we have to leave ourselves some hedge in case he's not 100 percent."

Even if he does report to camp at full strength, the Tigers will have to protect themselves until they know he can stay there. Iglesias' shin issues seemingly flared up and settled down, rather than a constant pain.

In other words, it would be difficult for the Tigers to use their other young shortstop, Eugenio Suarez, as a prospect in a trade package this winter, even if a healthy return from Iglesias would leave Suarez potentially blocked at the big league level. While Andrew Romine has shown he can handle shortstop and fill the spot for stretches, as he did down the stretch and into the postseason, he's not a potential long-term replacement.

Romine is out of Minor League options, which is partly why Detroit was able to acquire him in March after Iglesias' season-ending fate was confirmed. If the Tigers are going to keep him in the organization, they'll likely have to keep him on the big league roster as a utility infielder.

Hernan Perez, who never did get his chance as a fill-in shortstop but made the September and postseason rosters as an extra infielder and pinch-runner, is also out of options. Suarez has two options remaining.

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.