Who will emerge as Boston’s primary shortstop in 2012?

Jose Iglesias could be the Boston Red Sox starting shortstop in 2012. (Nati Harnik/AP)

After coming to terms with a new skipper in Bobby Valentine, the big challenges facing Ben Cherington and the Boston Red Sox this offseason were replacing Jonathan Papelbon and filling out the back end of the rotation, as well as potentially strengthening the shortstop and right field positions.

The additions of Mark Melancon and Andrew Bailey gave the Red Sox options in the closer role, and the Melancon deal, specifically, gave Boston the option of moving Daniel Bard into a starting role, making the search for starting talent a bit simpler.

Boston supplemented the departure of Josh Reddick to Oakland by bringing in Ryan Sweeney in the process and also signed Cody Ross, which, when Carl Crawford returns to full health, should give the Red Sox balanced production from their outfielders – at least by the numbers – with the chance of some repeat power from Jacoby Ellsbury, who had a career year in 2011, batting .321 with 32 home runs.

However, this offseason has left the Red Sox without either of their starting shortstops from the spring of 2011 and the question of who will be the next player through the Boston Red Sox’ shortstop turnstile.

Boston’s front office likes the offensive production of Mike Aviles, who came to the organization from Kansas City at the trade deadline in 2011. Although he spent the better part of his time at third base filling in for injured Kevin Youkilis, Aviles managed to bat .317 in 38 games with the Red Sox after hitting only .222 before coming to Boston. All told, Aviles only played 14 games at short in 2011 and has been training in Cuba this offseason as an outfielder, says GM Cherington.

Another option in the middle infield is Nick Punto, who comes to Boston after helping the St. Louis Cardinals win the World Series over Texas in October. Going on 34 this season, Punto is a nice replacement for the utility role Marco Scutaro and/or Jed Lowrie would have played in 2012, but as a starter, Punto only spent eight games at shortstop in 2011 and, without a defensive upside, does not have the offensive numbers to qualify as an everyday starter.

Perhaps the answer lies – as the Sox hope it does – with Cuban prospect, Jose Iglesias. Last year was Iglesias’ first full season above double-A, and at only 21, he already is viewed as someone who “will get to balls that most, if not all, will not,” according to his scouting report. Furthermore, Iglesias’ “instincts and anticipation produces his well above-average range.”

What has prevented the Red Sox from taking a chance on this product from Havana is his underwhelming bat. In his first season at triple-A in 2011, Iglesias hit .235 in 101 games. However, the Red Sox have not started a shortstop with both solid offensive and defensive production since the departure of Orlando Cabrera following the 2004 World Series. Red Sox scouts understand that Iglesias “will most likely learn to hit at the major league,” and with few proven options to turn to in 2012, it is possible that Iglesias could emerge as the Red Sox number-one shortstop coming out of spring training.

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