Yesterday at ESPN, Christina Kahrl asked if Jose Iglesias would be the next Rey Ordonez. Ordonez, if you recall, was a no-hit, all-glove shortstop who came to the majors in 1996 at the age of 25, and retired as a career .246/.289/.310 hitter in 2004 at the age of 33. It's a legitimate question, given Iglesias' career to this point, making it a scary one that merits attention.
Ordonez is one of the worst hitters to ever compile 3,000 plate appearances. His career started a few years before the major offensive outburst affectionately referred to by some as the "steroid era," and shuttered around the same time that era in baseball's history came to a close. Ordonez's career line looks horrific by today's standards -- imagine how awful he was during the time of the game's most inflated offensive environment.
You don't have to imagine, thanks to Baseball-Reference:
Ordonez's career OPS+ was 41 percent worse than average, and the seventh-worst all-time among players with at least 3,000 career plate appearances. Considering the Cuban import hit .257/.290/.344 in the minors, we shouldn't be that surprised by struggles in the more difficult majors.
But that glove! There was a reason the Mets kept putting him out there despite at-bats that violated decency laws.
The talk about Iglesias is that his glove -- and the rest of the Red Sox offense -- will carry his bat in the majors. To his credit, he has had some success in the minors: .295/.339/.379 in Low-A Lowell as a 20-year-old is by no means bad for a shortstop of that age, and his .285/.315/.357 line the same year in Double-A Portland is mostly impressive due to the fact it was his age-20 season, he barely had any professional time under his belt, and he was dealing with injuries. I'm not sure just words can describe how difficult it is to be 20 years old, in Double-A, and adapting culturally all at the same time.
The Red Sox threw him up to Triple-A before he had fully mastered Double-A, though, and Iglesias struggled. He hit just .235/.285/.269 over 387 plate appearances, deflating the hopes of those who thought he would be ready to take over as the team's shortstop by 2012. The fact he even hit that well is, in some weird way, a success. That kind of definition-stretching likely won't be as acceptable the second time around, though.
He has shown some ability with the bat, at least. Not to be a legitimate hitter or anything, but enough to succeed as a defense-first shortstop slotted ninth in an otherwise strong lineup. That's all he needs to do to make it with the Red Sox, as his glove will take care of the rest. He needs more time at Triple-A, but even his second half showed some progress: he drew nine walks over his final 37 games after picking up just 12 in his first 64, and as stated before, the Red Sox believe he is slowly figuring things out.
He's never going to be a great hitter, but his minor league career to this point (and youth) tell us he's not likely to be in danger of becoming the next Ordonez. He might not even be the next Adam Everett, the former Red Sox farmhand who, while not in the bottom 10 like Ordonez, had a 66 OPS+ over 3,070 career plate appearances. Iglesias will never be good with the bat, by any means, but with his glove, "tolerable" is certainly a possibility.
Current Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine's had a distaste for Ordonez's bat back in his days as Mets' manager:
Ordonez has won three consecutive Gold Gloves -- and two consecutive titles in a dubious offensive category. In 1998 and '99, Ordonez had the lowest on-base average plus slugging percentage in the National League. In essence, he does not get on base much and has almost no pop.
''I don't like to throw numbers out there, but they sure in heck can't be where they are now,'' said Mets Manager Bobby Valentine, after the Mets' 7-3 exhibition victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers at Thomas J. White Stadium today. ''That's not productive. The only number that is really acceptable is R.B.I.'s, and that has to do with men on base.''
If Valentine's line of reasoning is still in that realm, Iglesias will have to do better before he can make an impact in Boston. Iglesias won't be able to take advantage of hitting in front of the pitcher like Ordonez, so he'll have to be capable of producing at least replacement level production offensively. Ordonez did remain the Mets' starting shortstop throughout his time there, so it's not as if Valentine pushed him out, but he's seen this movie before, and likely won't want to rush into what he fears is its sequel.
Iglesias' glove is as good as you have heard, though, so if he can just avoid the negative offensive value of a Rey Ordonez, he'll have a productive major league career. The Mike Aviles and Nick Punto combination will give him at least one more year to figure things out in Pawtucket, and if he's not ready, both will still be around in 2013. The Red Sox don't need to rush him, even if his glove is major-league ready, and his youth and their roster construction allows them to be patient with what little bat he can develop. It's not just Valentine who is thankful for that situation.