Remembering Former Tiger Shortstop and Defensive Wizard José Iglesias

In the history of the Detroit Tigers, no shortstop, including Hall of Famer Alan Trammell, made the type of spectacular plays like José Iglesias did in five seasons in the Motor City.

It seemed like every night his acrobatic plays made the highlight reel on ESPN Baseball Tonight.

I have yet to figure out why the Tigers never entered into a long-term contract with Iglesias or why since he left in 2018 after compiling a .268 batting average in Detroit, he has played for five different organizations in five years.

It’s still a mystery to me. I would have thought and had hoped that Iglesias would be playing in his 11th season with the Tigers.

In 11 major league seasons he has a .276 lifetime batting average, and while playing shortstop he has a .982 fielding percentage while committing only 70 errors in 3,796 chances. (Current Tiger shortstop Javier Baez made 26 errors to lead the majors last year!)

On July 30, 2013 Iglesias was acquired by the Tigers from Boston in exchange for Avisaíl Garcia and Bryan Villarreal in a three-way trade involving Chicago, largely due to the impending suspension of shortstop Jhonny Peralta for his role in the Biogenis performance enhancing drug scandal. (Boston acquired Jack Peavey from Chicago.)

Detroit finally got their man as the team had previously been outbid by Boston when the 18-year-old phenomenon signed with the Red Sox after secretly escaping and defecting with a teammate from the Cuban national team following the first game of the World Junior Championship in Edmonton, Alberta Canada in 2008.

After three seasons in the minors, the Red Sox promoted Iglesias to the big leagues in 2013 where in 63 games he batted .330 and displayed his outstanding defense before the trade to Detroit.

Tiger fans quickly realized that the team had acquired an amazing shortstop as evidenced by an incredible play Iglesias made in Chicago on August 12th.

When Josh Phegley tapped a broken bat slow roller just past the left side of the mound, Iglesias raced in, scooped up the ball in his bare hand and in one motion, without setting himself, feet off the ground, and body horizontal, he snapped off an impossible sidearm toss to Prince Fielder at first to nail the Chicago catcher. Many called it the “play of the year.”

Iglesias’ play was called “play of the year” in 2013

In 135 at bats for the Tigers in 2013 he batted .259, but his remarkable reflexes, quick hands, strong arm, innovative flair, and dazzling plays thrilled fans throughout baseball.

Sadly, Iglesias missed all of the 2014 season due to bilateral tibial fractures in both legs.

The following year, in his first full season as a starter, the 25-year-old was selected to his only All-Star game where in the first half of the season he was consistently in the top five of A.L. batting leaders.

That year, Tiger manager Brad Ausmus told me: “He’s an acrobat playing shortstop and it seems like he has eyes in the back of his head and makes throws to second and first without looking. He makes plays that no one else in baseball can make.”

In the eighth inning of the All-Star game Dodger catcher Yasmani Grandal hit a sure base hit deep in the hole between second and third. Iglesias ranged far to his right, snagged the ball, and with the grace of a ballet dancer spun with both feet in the air and threw a cross body throw to first to nail Grandal by four steps.

Iglesias told me in 2015: “When I make a great play, I feel good for my team and the pitcher, but then to get the crowd into it is pretty fun, and it can help change the game.”

One of the best compliments Iglesias received came that year from Tiger coach Omar Vizquel, the future Hall of Famer who won 11 Gold Gloves.

Vizquel told me: “Jose is one of the greatest shortstops in the game right now. It’s weirdto see a guy with this much talent as young as he is. He reminds me of me when I first came up. He has a certain flair to his game and does a lot of weird different things that people don’t see very often but sometimes he does a little bit too much like I first did and I have told him to tone it down a bit,.I only have to tell him things once and he makes the adjustment right away.”

During the 2015 season, Iglesias posted a .300 batting average in 416 at-bats, with 17 doubles, two home runs and 23 RBIs.

For the next three years, the Tigers avoided arbitration with Iglesias and signed him to one year deals though he continued to play excellent defense and posted batting averages of .255 (2016), .255 (2017) and .269 (2018)

The Tigers elected to not resign Iglesias after the 2018 season, who at 28, made $6.275 million before becoming a free agent.

 In October, he posted on Instagram, “Thank you Tiger fans for all the support you have shown me and my family over the past 6 years. I will miss you. My time in Detroit has been very special. Thank you all.”

Since he left the Tigers five years ago, Iglesias has had a few injuries but he’s still  posted respectable numbers though his skills have undoubtedly diminished a bit with age.

He has played for Cincinnati (2019), Baltimore (2020), the Angels and Red Sox (2021) and last year Colorado where he hit .292 in 118 games before becoming once again, a free agent.

This season, thus far, he has failed to make a major league club.

In March he signed a minor league contract with the Miami Marlins he accepted an assignment to Triple A Jacksonville but then on April 20th he triggered his opt out clause and elected free agency. On April 25th, Iglesias, now 33, signed a minor league contract with San Diego and one month later he opted out of his contract and became a free agent. Five days later he signed a new minor league contract with the Padres and played in 28 games for Triple A El Paso hitting .317. And then on June 19th he again opted out of his minor league contract to become a free agent, and as of this writing he remains unsigned.

Certainly, the trajectory of Iglesias’s once promising career has not been what most observers expected when he joined the Tigers ten years ago.

But I for one will continue to fondly recall his game when he donned the Olde English D.

5 replies on “Remembering Former Tiger Shortstop and Defensive Wizard José Iglesias

  • PhilK

    Obviously the talent remains in place although agreeably at a reduced level of performance. His reputation preceeds him and also obviously the personality and ego rumors remain in place to this day. He values himself and his performance/contributation level at several times what that service is actually worth to any
    ‘team’. He will forever remain an enigma and one can only hope he will emerge from his self-adulation and some day become a man. Sadly, it will be too late.

  • PhilK

    Obviously the talent remains in place although agreeably at a reduced level of performance. His reputation preceeds him and also obviously the personality and ego rumors remain in place to this day. He values himself and his performance/contributation level at several times what that service is actually worth to any ‘team’. He will forever remain an enigma and one can only hope he will emerge from his self-adulation and some day become a man. Sadly, it will be too late.

  • PhilK

    Obviously the talent remains in place although agreeably at a reduced level of performance. His reputation preceeds him and also obviously the personality and ego rumors remain in place to this day. He values himself and his performance /contributation level at several times what that service is actually worth to any
    ‘team’. He will forever remain an enigma and one can only hope he will emerge from his self-adulation and some day become a man. Sadly, it will be too late.

  • Micah Fitzpatrick

    If you are great at positioning yourself, get a jump on the ball you don’t have to make a lot of acrobatic and spectacular plays.

  • Chris Guyor

    Add me to the list of people who couldn’t understand why the Tigers let iglesias go, then struggled to find anyone near his skill level. I’ve always believed it was simply a money matter, as they had signed too many players to oversized contracts (Hello Jordan Zimmerman). I did love that he was the first guy to congratulate Miggy when he got his 3,000th hit. A great Tiger!

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