Iguchi returns for second season
Wants to improve average, power and stolen base numbers
TUCSON, Ariz. -- Tadahito Iguchi reported to Tucson Electric Park on Tuesday with a season of change on his mind for 2006.
But before Iguchi could focus on the present job at hand with the White Sox and the future goal of repeating a World Series championship as a key contributor for the South Siders, the standout second baseman explained the decision to not play for Japan in the upcoming World Baseball Classic. Through a translator, Iguchi made clear that this was not a spur-of-the moment action to pull out from the team after originally committing to the competition.
It was a decision that needed to be made, though, for the benefit of his personal growth as a player and the well-being of his employer. If Iguchi had played for Japan and his team reached the finals of the World Baseball Classic, then he would have missed most of Spring Training in Arizona.
"This was a difficult decision, but in the end, I felt as if this was the better decision," said Iguchi, who finished fourth in the American League Rookie of the Year balloting after hitting .278 with 15 home runs and 79 RBIs in 2005, while playing nearly flawless defense.
"The Japanese people wanted me to participate and the manager, [Sadaharu] Oh, wanted me to participate," Iguchi added. "But as far as my performance here, not the first year but the second year is where I really want to succeed."
Iguchi originally was signed to a two-year, $4.95 million contract prior to the start of the 2005 season, with a club option held at $3.25 million for 2007. But Iguchi's extra push to be in Arizona has very little to do with future monetary means and more to do with personal pride.
For starters, manager Ozzie Guillen seems more and more set on giving Juan Uribe a solid shot to anchor the second spot in the lineup and move Iguchi down in the order to a more run-producing role at sixth or seventh. Guillen spoke to Uribe by phone on Monday night and said that the shortstop was excited by the possible change.
Uribe's feeling is shared by Iguchi, who handled the second spot in the order last year with silky smooth aplomb. But according to Iguchi, he felt his skills would fit better by anchoring another position in the lineup.
Not only will hitting sixth or seventh give Iguchi a viable chance to flash his power stroke, but he also will get a steadier chance to show off his speed. Iguchi topped 20 home runs during four different seasons in Japan, and went over the 40-stolen base mark twice.
"Last year, this kid battled every day to make it to the big leagues," said Guillen of Iguchi. "Now, he has one year under his belt. I feel confident he should have a better year. What I see from him is a great RBI man and a chance to get him more home runs."
Guillen has termed the move with Uribe and Iguchi as a Spring Training experiment and reserves the right to make a change. Iguchi claims he won't be disappointed, though, if he ends up hitting second when the season starts.
"My priorities will be different this year and I will be batting a different second than last year, while performing the same tasks I did last year," said Iguchi, when asked for his possible reaction if he returned to hitting second. "I definitely want to hit .300 this year.
"I want to build my batting average, but I think I can run a lot more. I want to start running. It's something where I have to take into consideration the team's timing, but it's something I want to do.
"I've always really wanted to be in the position where I can hit like I want to hit and run like I want to run," Iguchi added. "I'm hoping to do that this year."
The very humble Iguchi smiled when asked if the White Sox title changed the pecking order of popularity in Japan to put him on top, with Seattle's Ichiro Suzuki and the Yankees' Hideki Matsui trailing close behind. Iguchi pointed out that it was up to the Japanese fans to decide, quickly adding that catcher Kenji Jojima, his teammate for eight years in Japan, also will be thrown into the mix with the Mariners.
If Iguchi has the sort of top-notch season that he has planned, coupled with continued White Sox success, Iguchi might become Japan's favorite son. It would hold true even with Iguchi forgoing the Classic to come to Arizona.
"I don't really know what I'm going to be batting in the end," Iguchi said. "It's something I'm going to have to prove in the camp. I don't know what it will end up proving for me, but in order to become world champion once again, coming to camp was a necessity."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.