Iglesias Gets The Call

by Matt on May 8, 2011

in Red Sox

photo courtesy of WEEI.com

I was lucky enough to attend Jacoby Ellsbury‘s first major league game. He came up from AAA on June 30, 2007. In the third inning he hit a normal grounder that Rangers’ shortstop Michael Young fielded and threw to first without incident. Ellsbury beat it out for his first big league hit. I remember thinking, ‘If everyone were that fast baseball would be broken.’

It can exciting when a top prospect comes up for the first time and fans can see part of the franchise’ future at the present hour. Today the excitement begins anew, or so it seems, as Marco Scutaro‘s as yet unnamed injury has brought top prospect Jose Iglesias up I-95 to Boston. As of this writing the nature of Scutaro’s injury has not been released but numerous reports are saying Scutaro will have to go on the Disabled List and Iglesias will be the player called up to take his place. The Red Sox likely would have called up Yamaico Navarro, who is hitting a very impressive .329/.436/.612 in AAA, instead, but he suffered an oblique strain last Tuesday and had to be placed on the disabled list.

What are the Sox getting in Iglesias? Start with the good. By all accounts, he is a stellar defender at shortstop. I recall Kevin Goldstein, Baseball Prospectus’ prospect guru, graded his defense as an 80 on the 20-80 scouting scale, but I can’t seem to find that in print anywhere. It may have happened on the BP Podcast. I did find an article where Mr. Goldstein calls Iglesias, “the best defensive player in the minors,” and that gets the point across just fine. I saw Iglesias play this past Spring Training (discussed here) and my non-scouting savvy eyes were very impressed. It’s fair to say we can expect well above average glove-work from Iglesias should he see the Fenway Park infield.

Hitting is another matter. Iglesias has spent this season in AAA with the Paw Sox, amassing 89 plate appearances in 24 games. During that time he has hit .253/.278/.253 with two walks. He has shown no power and, at least so far, very little patience. This jives with what BP’s PECOTA projection system predicts should he reach the majors this season: a line of .244/.282/.333. That more or less splits the difference between Iglesias’ time in AA where he hit .295/.339/.379 in 276 plate appearances and this season. We’re not talking about a player who is going to come in and light it up at the plate.

Iglesias is only 21 years old, so he is not a fully formed offensive product. Scouts expect him to improve at the plate going forward (though how much is certainly up for debate), and I’m certain the Red Sox will focus on improving his plate discipline. But given his size and swing, it’s exceedingly unlikely he’ll ever hit for much power. He has no extra base hits this season and has never hit a home run in 365 minor league plate appearances as a member of the Red Sox organization. What I’m saying: don’t hold your breath waiting for that Daniel Nava moment.

So, what are the Red Sox getting in Iglesias? A very good defensive shortstop who is still learning how (and when not) to swing the bat. It’s safe to say Iglesias, more than Ellsbury when I saw him in June of ’07, will need to develop more fully as a player. But that doesn’t mean he, like the June ’07 Ellsbury, can’t be a productive and exciting player to watch.

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

BigNachos May 8, 2011 at 6:48 pm

Incredibly, he also hit 0 homeruns in 314 AB’s in Cuba before he defected, according to his soxprospects.com page. He apparently did go deep a couple times in the AFL a couple years ago though, so there’s a tiny bit of evidence that he’s least capable of putting the ball over the fence.

I wonder if there’s any player in modern baseball history who has been able to put together a respectable career with such little power. Will it even be possible for him to break replacement level with that bat despite his glove work?

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Matt May 8, 2011 at 7:42 pm

As I noted in the article, he just turned 21 so he has time to fill out a bit. He’s never going to be a power hitter, that much is certain, so he will need to find a way to get on base. Pitchers will challenge him and he’s going to have to be able to turn fastballs around. If he can do that and maintain his current reported level of defense, he should be a good player.

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BigNachos May 9, 2011 at 6:23 am

You’re asking him to do things he’s shown any ability to do–get on base and hit fastballs with some sort of authority.

I guess the best comp for Iglesias’s ideal career path would be Ozzie Smith. Ozzie was similarly devoid of power (28 career HR in 19 seasons), but was otherwise an excellent batter. He had fantastic plate discipline with high walk rates (10% career) despite his lack of power, and extremely low strikeout rates (5.5% career). He was also a very fast runner, so he could add extra hits with his legs and also add value on the basepaths.

Still, despite all that, he was a below average offensive player (94 career wRC+), since it’s so hard to overcome that sort of lack of power. Combine slightly below average offense with the all-time greatest glove in baseball history, however, and you get a hall of famer.

Iglesias’s glove won’t approach Ozzie Smith’s, even if he’s the best of his generation. Compared to the Wizard, his walk rate (4.5% in minors) and strikeout rate (19.7%) are all backwards, and his foot speed is merely average. It’s pretty tough to see anything there to make a career out of, and he probably has an uphill climb at this point just to reach replacement level.

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Matt May 9, 2011 at 2:47 pm

Without power it is difficult to be any kind of plus offensive player. That is the problem Iglesias faces. But I don’t think it’s out of the question that he learns to hit more line drives and as he gets older develops some power. The ability to hit the ball into the gaps and to turn singles into doubles or doubles into triples would make him an average to above offensive player when coupled with some plate discipline.

I think when evaluating a player like Iglesias, one who has a limited track record, it’s important to take what scouts say into account. He’s too young and his experience level is too little to just look at his stats and say, “That won’t cut it.” That’s why I think his total package profiles as an above average player.

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Chip Buck May 9, 2011 at 6:23 am

Matt –

It’s always exciting to see a top prospect finally make it to the big leagues; especially one as highly touted as Iglesias. Still, as I mentioned in my article for Fire Brand this past Friday, I think both he and the Red Sox would be better served by allowing him to develop offensively for the rest of this season and all of 2012 while Lowrie soaks up the PAs. As brilliant as Iglesias is defensively, he won’t be able to produce enough with the glove to justify having his bat in the lineup. Furthermore, he’ll likely provide half of the value (if not less than half) of the value Lowrie would provide.

Obviously, the Sox probably would’ve preferred to leave Iglesias in AAA, but Navarro’s injury kept them from making that work. It’s too bad because a Navarro promotion would have allowed Iglesias to eat up all of the SS PAs at Pawtucket, while allowing the Sox to showcase Navarro (a player they have little room for) as a potential second or third prospect in a deal.

Great piece.

Chip

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BigNachos May 9, 2011 at 7:37 am

Call me crazy, but isn’t Navarro, with his rapidly developing plate discipline and power combined with his already strong defense, a better prospect than Iglesias at this point?

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Chip Buck May 9, 2011 at 10:17 am

Navarro’s certainly a prospect on the rise, and he’s certainly been hammering the ball so far this year. Still, I’m not sure we should get overly excited about him just yet. With only 101 PAs accumulated this year, we’re talking about a fairly small sample size (20% of his total PAs for the year), so it’s not like his performance thus far is in line with his true talent level. That’s not to say there aren’t reasons to be excited. Based on the stats and what I’ve read, it looks like he’s shown an improved approach at the plate; remaining more patient and showing more power. The only question I have is this: is his April performance a fluke? I tend to think it’s not a fluke, but I think he’ll hit closer to .285/.370/.470 this year.

The other issue with Navarro is that Lowrie and Iglesias already sit ahead of him on the depth chart at SS. Lowrie’s proven he can be an every day guy, and Iglesias has been touted as the SS of the future for a couple of years now. Furthermore, he’s moved from SS to 3B to make room for Iglesias, which says a lot about the pecking order. Biases like that can be difficult to overcome–even for the most objective people.

Navarro’s versatility helps in his favor. Obviously, he can play SS and 3B, but he also has experience at 2B. According to Soxprospects, they’re supposed to try him out in the OF this season. I’m not sure how that will work considering Kalish, Reddick, Nava, and Linares are already eating up PAs. It’s possible the Sox could be interested in trying him out as a super-utility guy in the Bill Hall mode? I’m not sure, but it could be a possibility.

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Rick Meegan May 9, 2011 at 8:27 am

Matt, I couldn’t agree more with you on the recent promotion of Jose Iglesias. I don’t think the Sox are doing him a favor by having him sit on the bench instead of gettign as many at bats in the minors as possible. http://bosoxinjection.com/2011/05/08/i-wont-be-attending-the-jose-iglesias-coming-out-party/

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Matt May 9, 2011 at 2:58 pm

It’s just a short term solution, Rick. I don’t expect it will last particularly long, as I imagine the Red Sox want Iglesias to soak up some at-bats in AAA too. Unfortunately, as long as Navarro and Scutaro remain out, there aren’t really other solutions available unless the Sox want to make a change to the 40 man roster, something I’m sure they’d like to avoid.

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Jim May 9, 2011 at 12:38 pm

Matt, good article as usual. I was surprised Iggy was called up till I saw that Navaro was on the DL and that neither Spears or Sutton was on the 40 man roster.
As exciting as it might be to have an outstanding defensive SS its difficult to see Iglesias progressing fast enough as a hitter to make it to Boston next year. If the Sox don’t pickup Scutaro’s option then Navaro, Sutton or Spears are the internal candidates to be part of the infield mix for the Sox next year.

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Matt May 9, 2011 at 2:56 pm

A full year of exposure to AAA pitching will go a ways towards enlightening us all as to Iglesias’ readiness for the majors. But ready or not, with Lowrie healthy, hitting and under contract for the next three (?) seasons, there isn’t a need to rush a 21 year old to the majors.

As for Scutaro, I don’t see the Sox picking up a $6 million option on a 36 year old shortstop. Scutaro has a player option for half that figure, which he may avail himself of. That I could see happening, but even if he exercises his option I don’t really expect him to be part of the 2012 Red Sox.

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