"The process, he's to the point now where I think he could compete at the plate in the big leagues. A year ago, he didn't. You saw that. He's at the point now where he understands what a good at-bat is. He looks at pitches. He's not afraid to hit with two strikes," said Beyeler. "A year ago, it was just, ‘Get me out of here. I'm hacking. I hope I hit one. I'm going to go sit down.' He didn't really understand the whole thing. He realized, ‘I'm overmatched up here.' Now he can put an at-bat together. He can battle you.
While this might sound odd to say about someone with the above line, in 2011, Iglesias posted a .235/.285/.269 line, with strikeouts in 15 percent of his plate appearances. In 2012, that number has shrunk to 12 percent, and with a very slight uptick from five to six percent walks to go with it. It's hard to call that progress in those numbers, but from a scouting perspective, there's been improvement.
"Iglesias has done a better job of working himself into fastball counts and shrinking down his strike zone," says Sox Prospects Director of Scouting, Chris Mellen. That sets him up for better hitter's counts, but he's still struggling when anything but a fastball is involved. "Iglesias still tends to struggle with secondary offerings, often bringing his hands too far forward along his body and opening with his hips early. While he does not swing and miss, the early shift in weight and lack of separation with his hands leads to weak contact in these instances."
Is someone like that ready for the majors, or is there more to learn at Triple-A?
Moving Iglesias to the majors now would utilize the same argument that saw him bumped to Triple-A to begin with: he's not going to learn anything else offensively unless he's challenged at the plate. His success in Double-A Portland as a 20-year-old is oftentimes ignored given his problems the last two seasons, but, for a 20-year-old shortstop, just out of Cuba, a .285/.315/.357 showing isn't awful. It was something to build on, but Boston felt Iglesias wouldn't do so with another year at Double-A, hence the aggressive promotion.
Iglesias has been slow to improve since then, but he can't improve upon what isn't thrown his way as a challenge. That seems to be the impetus behind stating he's ready to start learning in major-league at-bats now. "Iglesias is the type of player that is going to have to learn at the big-league level given where his defense is and the value it provides up-the-middle," states Mellen. "He is close to the stage where it is time to see what he can do offensively and evaluate the progress he can make to determine a commitment to him at the position in 2013."
That's where Iglesias stands: let's see what he can do, given time, in much the same way the Red Sox are currently doing with Ryan Lavarnway, who has entirely different concerns in his game, but concerns nonetheless. Iglesias might be light with the bat, as Mellen says and Beyeler implies with his select choice of positives, but what has Boston received this year from shortstop? Mike Aviles is league-average offensively for the position despite a .252/.283/.392 line. There's more power there than what Iglesias might offer even in his best year, but the young Cuban shortstop has a glove that even the surprisingly smooth Aviles can't touch.
The good news is that Iglesias doesn't let his play at the plate effect his work with the leather. Mellen claims that "over the last two seasons, when he has really been scuffling at the Triple-A level, the engagement level defensively has never taken a hit. Sometimes, that is not always the case as young players can let that affect them in the field and he plays a demanding position." It's no guarantee, but that means Red Sox fans -- and the Red Sox -- should expect Iglesias to be at his best in the field each day, regardless of how many breaking balls he's getting ahead of.
Is that enough to bring him up in September, with the intent to give him most of the at-bats? There's just the one way to answer this question, and it's of the trial-by-fire variety, much like his Triple-A stint in 2011. With multiple shortstops behind him in the system, and Mike Aviles the lone deterrent to a 2013 job, it sounds like it's time to see what Jose Iglesias can do in the majors. Even if the results don't end up being as lovely as his fielding.