Ridiculously Incomplete Scouting Reports: Jose Iglesias

by Matt on March 12, 2011

in Red Sox

Photo courtesy of Masslive.com

Like watching a talented musician, good fielding looks easy. Watching Jose Iglesias range to one side, field the ball cleanly, and throw all in one motion does not look hard. You come away thinking, “I could do that.” Except, no, you couldn’t.  It isn’t until you have a baseline for comparison, another player trying the same play, that it becomes clear how difficult it really is.

I was down in Florida for a few spring training games this past weekend and was lucky enough to see Iglesias play eight innings against the Yankees on Friday night.  Since this article has the words “ridiculous” and “incomplete” in the title I feel that I can definitively say the glowing reports on Jose Iglesias’s fielding prowess are not overstated.  (But if it turns out they were overstated don’t say I didn’t warn you.)

As the starting shortstop last Friday on a relatively chilly night in Tampa, Iglesias fielded four balls accounting for five outs.  But maybe more importantly, not one Yankee singled through the left side of the infield or up the middle all game.

The first two hitters of the game, Derek Jeter and Russell Martin, both grounded to shortstop. Neither is a burner at this stage of their career, but Iglesias made both plays easily, showing off good range to his left on Jeter and an accurate arm on both grounders.

The play that stands out to me was the double play to end the second inning (video here).  Alex Rodriguez led off with a single, Robinson Cano flew out to left and up stepped Jorge Posada.  Posada hit a grounder right up the middle.   It wasn’t crushed but it did make it over the mound and was headed by the bag.  But by the time the ball got to second Iglesias was waiting in front of the base.  He fielded the ball and, rather than tagging the runner, he stepped backwards, tagged second base, and as if completing a singular motion, made a little under-armed flip to first.  From where I was sitting (admittedly light years away in the right field stands) the throw looked to be heading fifteen feet over first baseman Lars Anderson’s head and into the stands. It wasn’t, instead landing in Anderson’s glove about five steps ahead of Posada.

Like driving, decisiveness is important for a fielder.  When driving you can cut in front of someone and the vast majority of the time they’ll react to you and no accident will occur.  The problem comes when you realize you made a mistake and try to correct it mid-stream.  That’s when you hit the breaks or swerve and the guy behind you ends up parked in your back seat.  Posada’s grounder presented a number of options to Iglesias and if he had hesitated to determine what he should do, he might not have turned the double play.  But he didn’t hesitate.  He picked a course of action and went with it.

Tagging second required him to step backwards forcing his momentum away from first base, but Posada comes down the line with the speed and dexterity of a one legged sloth on hallucinogens so in this instance that would not be a problem.  He stepped back, tagged second instead of Rodriguez who was trying to induce a chase, and almost casually flipped to first to get Posada by five steps. That one play encapsulated the abilities I’ve read about: excellent range, a strong arm, quick feet, decisive and smart.

What will make Iglesias an All Star or break him as the second coming of Rey Ordonez will be his hitting.  During Friday’s game Iglesias had two singles and a walk in four plate appearances.  Both his hits were ground balls and while neither was particularly cheap, it would have been nice to see him barrel one up.  The walk was a four pitch job hatchet job by a suddenly struggling 20 year old Manny Banuelos.  Credit Iglesias for not bailing Banuelos out of his self created rut, but even then its only partial credit.  It was an effective if not awe-inspiring day at the plate, but then I wasn’t going to learn much about Iglesias as a hitter last Friday anyway.  As a 21 year old ticketed for AA, that chapter is yet to be written.  You can close the book on his fielding though, because Jose Iglesias can pick it and impressively so.

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Roger March 12, 2011 at 12:36 am

No mention of that great diving play to his left? Covered a ton of ground, dove, got up quickly, and made a spinning off-balance throw that was still strong and accurate.

http://mlb.mlb.com/video/play.jsp?content_id=13146315

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Matt March 12, 2011 at 12:57 am

I think I was out getting beer when that happened. Thanks for the link though. If the point wasn’t made before it is now.

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blmeanie March 12, 2011 at 8:22 am

thanks for the post on Iglesias. Great defense is exciting to watch. If he can hit at all it will be a long fun career to watch.

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BigNachos March 13, 2011 at 9:57 am

Iglesias reminds me a lot of Alex Gonzalez as a shortstop, in that he’s very smooth and graceful and flashy, but with only average running speed he won’t be the rangiest shortstop. Like Gonzo, he’ll likely be a very good shortstop but a bit overrated as he’ll appear better than he actually is. He’ll be fun to watch for sure though.

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Matt March 13, 2011 at 10:38 am

Straight out speed is a component of good shortstop play, but I would say its secondary to quickness and general reaction time.

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Josh Amaral March 13, 2011 at 11:38 am

I think the idea that Gonzalez didn’t have top-of-the-line range because he wasn’t fast is incorrect. His defensive metrics don’t seem to think so anyway. Perhaps he covered more ground simply by reading the play and reacting quicker.

Regardless, I think Iglesias is a few notches faster than Gonzalez. Then again, I’m sure Gonzalez had more spring in his step at 21 too.

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BigNachos March 14, 2011 at 7:45 am

Gonzo’s defensive metrics have always been a bit below his defensive reputation. For example, I believe UZR is the most favorable of his defense, and his career UZR/150 is 7.4. That’s above average but somewhat less than the best shortstops.

Other metrics, like FRAA, have him almost exactly average for his career.

That’s why I think his defense has always been a little overrated, and Iglesias will likely be as well.

Quickness and speed are intrinsically related. In fact, I’d define quickness as a function of speed and footwork. While footwork can help overcome a lack of speed, he’ll never be Ozzie Smith without it.

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Matt March 14, 2011 at 9:46 am

I’m not sure how good a comp Gonzalez is for Iglesias. For one, Gonzalez has a thicker frame, allowing him to hit for more power.

Lastly, I have to disagree with you that speed and quickness are intrinsic to each other. It is entirely possible to have one and not the other. In fact, that’s always been the complaint about Ellsbury’s (not to bring him into this) defense. His straight line speed makes up for his lack of a first step (quickness). Conversely, the primary skill for playing a good third base aside from arm strength is quickness. Adrian Beltre is a prime example. Not that he’s slow, but he’s probably has about average to slightly above average speed. It is his incredible first step (and ability to read the ball off the bat) that make him such a great third baseman.

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BigNachos March 14, 2011 at 11:29 am

Sure, Gonzo is thicker now (5’11″, 215 lbs) but the 1999 Marlins roster listed him at 170 lbs at age 23.

Iglesias is listed at 5’11″, 175 lbs currently.

Matt March 14, 2011 at 11:47 am

True enough. Still, I’m not sure the fact that they play the same position and were similarly sized at some point makes the argument. In search of more clarification I looked up Iglesias’ ten comparable players according to BP but I’ve never heard of any of them. I imagine its because Iglesias hasn’t played in the majors yet, so PECOTA is providing a list of minor leaguers. B-R is similarly unhelpful for probably the same reason. This is probably a good question for Kevin Goldstein or someone of his ilk.

BigNachos March 14, 2011 at 12:30 pm

I’m sure the lack of data on Iglesias (~50 games at AA, plus Cuban league data that lacks well defined translations) would make coming up comparables hazy at best.

I was just comparing his fielding to Alex Gonzalez’s–overall, they aren’t very comparable. Gonzo was a much better hitting prospect with plus power for a middle infielder. His offensive career has actually been a bit of a disappointment, as I recall him being compared to Miguel Tejada as a prospect.

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