SARASOTA, Fla. -- At some point last season, José Iglesias got on Joey Votto’s routine. As far as routines go, it is not the easiest to adhere to. A known perfectionist, the Reds slugger has long held the reputation as one of baseball’s most tireless workers, famous for his marathon cage sessions and attention to detail.
“That’s where my attachment to him stemmed from,” Iglesias said this week in the Orioles clubhouse. “His preparation is sharp. The way he carries himself, the way he works out, the way he goes about the way he treats people. That’s what got me. How professional he is, how hungry and how loyal he is to his work.”
Now in Baltimore via a one-year, $3 million deal (with a 2021 club option), the 30-year-old Iglesias is one of the rebuilding Orioles’ few veterans. His one season with Votto in Cincinnati came after a five-year run with the Tigers, where Iglesias grew into one of MLB’s elite defenders, was runner-up for the American League Rookie of the Year Award in '13 and made the AL All-Star team in '15.
But the slick-fielding shortstop’s tenure in Detroit was controversial at times, given how his maturity, work ethic and effort were questioned -- sometimes publicly -- as the Tigers slid into their rebuilding phase. He now considers meeting Votto a turning point in his career in that regard.
“I’ve been lucky enough to be around great players since the beginning of my career, from Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz, Victor Martinez, Torii Hunter and Miguel Cabrera in Detroit -- but Joey is definitely different,” Iglesias said. “The things Joey taught me the most was how to be a leader, how to work hard, and you really respect how he stays so hungry. That definitely got me. When you are young, you don’t work as smart or with the same intensity. I understand things today that I didn’t when I was 20.”
That’s the hope for an Orioles team that reportedly explored other options this offseason before tabbing Iglesias to fill its vacancy at short, looking to stabilize its ultra-inexperienced middle-infield situation. After his signing became official in January, club officials spoke glowingly of Iglesias’ potential as a clubhouse leader, a role he said he’d embrace. Executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias expressed hope that Iglesias would become a mentor to young infielders like Richie Martin, who is in camp battling to be Iglesias' backup.
Iglesias is the third-longest-tenured and fourth-oldest player on Baltimore’s 40-man roster.
“Being a leader on the field, it’s a big responsibility that I’m willing and excited to do,” Iglesias said this offseason. “It’s my time now, and I’m excited about the challenge of making my teammates better.”
That, in a nutshell, is what Iglesias says Votto taught him. Though the truth is, they “talked about everything,” from hitting to training to nutrition, the latter a hot topic in their text chain these days. Votto’s latest tip?
“Watermelons are better for hydration than bananas,” Iglesias said. “Watermelon is the key! He said if you hydrate, the ball will carry more. So I’ve been chugging water the last two days.”
Whether it was fruit, the friendly confines of Great American Ball Park or sharing a lineup with Votto, the ball carried for Iglesias last year like never before. He had arguably his best offensive season in Cincinnati, hitting .288 with a .724 OPS and career highs in hits (145), homers (11), RBIs (59) and total bases (205).
“Joey is always looking at research, looking at what’s next and how he can make himself better,” Iglesias said. “We were always talking about how when you play baseball, you don’t want to go home with anything left in the tank. I want to give everything we have each and every day, until the last day we get the chance to put on this uniform. I am not going to go home saying I didn’t give 100 percent to this game. That was the best lesson he gave me.”