FORT MYERS, Fla. -- I believe in Jose Iglesias, although I never risked as much for my faith as Johnny DiPuglia, the former Red Sox international scout.
DiPuglia's stealthy pursuit of the Cuban shortstop before he defected once led to a tense confrontation with one of the guards assigned to keep Cuba's best ballplayers from leaving.
This was a few years ago at an international tournament in Mexico, where the Cuban national team was playing, and DiPuglia had followed Iglesias and a couple of his teammates into a men's room in order to have a few words with him. The security guard attempted to intervene and warned DiPuglia he had to leave.
DiPuglia, who is now Washington's director of international scouting, would have none of it. "We're in Mexico, not Cuba," he said. "Your rules don't fly here."
I believe in Iglesias the way Craig Shipley, the Sox international scouting director at the time, did when the kid was still just 18 and had successfully escaped from Cuba, but had not yet signed with the Sox. While Shipley prepared churrasco on the grill, Iglesias played whiffle ball in Shipley's backyard in Miami.
"He's a good kid," Shipley, who practically became family to Iglesias before leaving to become an assistant to Arizona GM Kevin Towers, would later tell me. "That's a hard situation, to be 18 and leave your family and not know when you're going to see them again. People sometimes forget that."
I believe in Iglesias the way Theo Epstein did when he gave him a four-year major league deal worth $8.25 million, the largest contract the Red Sox have ever given an amateur player.
I believe in Iglesias, ever since the first time I saw the magic in his hands and marveled, the way first baseman Mike Napoli did here Thursday.
"He's special, man," Napoli said. "I've never seen a young kid with hands like he has. Just watching him take ground balls, I can't remember ever seeing a young kid with such quick hands who reads balls and hops the way he does. And he's really young, too. He hasn't gone through those periods of learning in the minors. He's still learning here."
I believe in Iglesias, even though he didn't hit a lick last summer in the big leagues and former manager Bobby Valentine, who claimed to be one of the kid's biggest fans, made him endure the humiliation of being lifted for a pinch hitter with a two-strike count. I believe when Will Middlebrooks, who played with Iglesias even before he got to Boston, says he notices a difference this spring.
"He's more aggressive," Middlebrooks said. "He put a lot of work in the last two offseasons, trying to get stronger. That was the biggest thing. He's always had a good approach, but he just hasn't been very strong. He's starting to grow, he's getting stronger. Some people grow earlier, some people grow later. He's just a late-blooming guy. He's really impressed me this spring training so far."
Will he hit?
"I think if he just stays on the path he's on, he will," Middlebrooks said. "He's a hard worker. When he came over, when he first got here with us, he was all about his defense, because that's what got him where he is, obviously. Now he's starting to take a lot more pride in his offense, because he knows you can't be one-sided in the big leagues, you've got to come up with the big hit, here and there, to help the team out. The results are starting to show."
I believe in Jose Iglesias, even more when manager John Farrell talks about the way Iglesias is standing more upright at the plate, allowing him to see the ball better.
"I don't know that you can pinpoint any one thing for why the offensive side hasn't developed as quickly as the defensive side," Farrell said. "I just know the way he's swung the bat this spring, he's started to figure some things out with his setup at the plate, which has translated into a much more free, much more aggressive ability to swing the bat."
I believe in Jose Iglesias, especially after he tells me about Uncle Leo. That would be Leo Posada, a 76-year-old former ballplayer and coach from Havana who once taught hitting to his nephew, Yankees catcher Jorge Posada, and mentored other big leaguers, including Raul Mondesi. Iglesias said that in addition to spending a week in Arizona working out with Dustin Pedroia, he let Uncle Leo -- and nephew Jorge -- put him through his paces in Miami.
The work he did in the offseason has paid obvious dividends.
"My approach is way different from the last few years," he said. "I'm hitting the ball hard most of the time [including a double down the line Thursday], I see the ball really good, I'm recognizing pitches, that's all I can ask for.
"I know what I can do. Unfortunately the last few years, I didn't get that feeling I was looking for. This offseason, I worked really, really hard with Leo Posada. Him and Jorge. And I went to Arizona with Pedey. It was a really good offseason. I worked mornings, afternoons, even some nights. The work is paying off every day."
I believe in Jose Iglesias. He is 11 pounds heavier, healthy and strong. And he's still only 23 years old. The Red Sox probably did him a favor, importing Stephen Drew for a year. But his day will come.
John Farrell believes, too. There are other top shortstop prospects, like Xander Bogaerts and Deven Marrero, lining up behind Iglesias, angling to leapfrog ahead of him. And maybe one day they will. But Jose Iglesias will one day be in the big leagues. If not for the Sox, then someone else.
Iglesias believes that day has come. The waiting is not easy.
"The greatest challenge any player has is when do his personal goals align with the team's goals," Farrell said, "and when they don't, there's disappointment. You understand it. You respect it. It's out of their control. It then becomes a matter of, 'OK, I've got to take care of the business that I can control every day.'
"You can't hide in between the lines and nothing is given to you. He has major league ability. I'm sure there's going to come a time when he's going to be a very good major league player."