FORT MYERS, Fla. -- A tale of two shortstops.
The first was a young, Spanish-speaking kid who played as if he’d been born with a glove on his hand, but hit as if he wasn’t sure which end of the bat was up. He spent three seasons in single-A ball, and it wasn’t until his third season at that level he hit better than .225. He spent parts of three seasons in Triple-A and never hit better than .233.
His first season in the big leagues, he hit .220. “He couldn’t hit the ball out of the infield,’’ one scout recalled Tuesday.
You might know the name: Omar Vizquel, who has 23 years in the big leagues. If he makes the Toronto Blue Jays this spring, a good bet, he will celebrate his 45th birthday as a major leaguer. He is the closest thing to Ozzie Smith this generation has seen, his glove alone making him a candidate for Cooperstown, and he also learned how to hit, with a lifetime line of .272/.337/.353/.690.
The second was also a young Spanish-speaking kid who played as if born with a glove on his hand. He couldn’t hit, either, batting .214 in his final season of Triple-A, but was promoted to the big leagues, where he hit passably in his first season, but never learned to take a walk, had a career on-base percentage of .289 and failed to live up to his notices.
You might know his name, too: Rey Ordonez, who played for Bobby Valentine when he was with the Mets.
The Red Sox are eager to learn where 22-year-old Jose Iglesias will fall on the spectrum between Vizquel and Ordonez. On Tuesday morning, they elected to return him to Triple-A Pawtucket, which has been their inclination all along, barring a collapse by Mike Aviles or a spectacular advance by Iglesias.
Manager Bobby Valentine talked up Iglesias all spring, and a couple of weeks ago thought the kid was beginning to figure it out at the plate. But then came the steady diet of breaking balls, and in Valentine’s word, it became clear that Iglesias was still “searching.’’ That should hardly be a shock, given that Iglesias has just over 600 professional at-bats. The search, as it were, will continue in Pawtucket.
“It’s real tough to sharpen your teeth on major-league pitching,’’ Valentine said Tuesday, “as Frank Howard would say.’’
No one should expect him to be down there long. Aviles deserves to open the season at short. He can hit and played an adequate shortstop.
“With his bat and that park [Fenway], he’ll hammer the wall,’’ the scout said.
Aviles is a good player to have on a winning team. He can hit and he’s versatile, with the ability to play three infield positions -- second, third, and short -- plus the outfield, where he spent two weeks in Puerto Rico learning to play.
In time, that is how he will serve the Red Sox, because Iglesias is simply too splendid a defender not to receive the summons sooner than later. His athleticism is off the charts, and he showed all spring -- as Valentine tested him with pickoff plays and hit-and-runs and the like -- that he has a high baseball intellect. Aviles himself is agog at the kid’s skills with the glove.
An argument can be made that with all the offensive weapons the Sox have, they can afford to carry a defensive specialist. The Red Sox may arrive at that conclusion, too. But at the start of the season, especially without Carl Crawford, the Sox could use Aviles’ bat, especially as a hedge against other guys starting slowly at the plate.
But until Aviles proves to the Sox he cannot play short on a daily basis -- exposing a lack of range or an inaccurate arm or another such deficiency -- the Sox can benefit by waiting on Iglesias. The Red Sox have some concerns on the left side of the infield, where third baseman Kevin Youkilis may not have the same range he once had, and Aviles is not the one to make up the loss of a step or two.
But the Red Sox are looking at the big picture, the one in which they envision Iglesias being their shortstop for years to come. They are not sacrificing on their ability to win this season, but they are willing to give Iglesias more time -- and Aviles some rope -- before they go in a different direction.
“You have to give the other guy [Aviles] a chance,’’ the scout said. “Once the Sox sour on him defensively, then you’ll see the other kid.’’
Valentine understands that the minute Aviles falters, the clamor will grow for Iglesias.
“Every time there’s a groundball into the outfield, half the people will be saying, ‘Jose would have gotten that ball,’’’ Valentine said. “That’s not fair to Mike. But life’s not fair.’’
But Valentine also noted that if Iglesias was kept and the team got off to a slow start offensively, “the finger would be pointed right at [the shortstop]. That’s not fair, either.’’
So, barring an injury, on April 5 Aviles will be the eighth different player in the last 10 seasons to be Boston’s Opening Day shortstop. His lease is unlikely to be a long one.