Jose Iglesias defected from Cuba in 2009, and was subsequently signed off the international market by the Red Sox for the substantial signing bonus of six million dollars. Since signing that lucrative deal to join the organization, his permanent arrival in Boston has been anticipated by fans almost relentlessly. That was escalated upon his being ranked the 42nd best prospect in the game by Baseball America prior to the 2011 season. Unfortunately for him, his biggest fans and the organization, his bat has yet to develop along side his immaculate glove, and he's spent most of his time in the minors.
When referencing Iglesias' poor hitting performances, one of the most common rebuttals from his defenders is the fact that he is still just 23 years old. While that is certainly still young, and more growth is definitely still a possibility from the shortstop, it's not like he hasn't had his time to develop in Pawtucket. Spread across three seasons, Iglesias has played in 222 games against AAA competition and has accumulated in 1209 plate appearances. In that time, he's hit his way to a .244/.296/.292 line, just a .588 OPS. Whether you think he can improve upon that or not, one cannot deny that the sample size is significant enough to draw some conclusions from, and that he needs to improve pretty substantially to become a desirable hitter. Combine that with the fact that he's hit just .229/.292/.303 in 122 plate appearance at the major-league level, and it's a wonder that people were interested in starting him rather than bringing in Stephen Drew this season.
Now, in limited major-league action in 2013, he has performed quite well offensively. He's only been to the plate 42 times this season, but in that limited sample he is hitting .421/.452/.526, good for a 164 wRC+, and has been worth 0.6 fWAR already. Of course, this is not even close to sustainable, as is made evident by his .533 batting average on balls in play. That BABIP is especially unsustainable when you notice that only 7.5 percent of his batted balls have been line drives, and almost 17 percent have resulted in infield hits.
Despite all of this evidence, it is still time for him to stay in the majors permanently. One common belief that has surrounded Iglesias recently has been that he must play every day. The thing about that belief, though, is that it's only the case if you believe his bat will develop well enough to justify a starting role on a major-league roster. However, all of the available data, including the vaunted eye test, points to that not being the case. It seems the organization is even starting to come to that conclusion as he's started playing all around the infield as opposed to strictly shortstop.
When Will Middlebrooks comes back, Iglesias could very well be the one to be sent down. If it were me, though, I'd be done with Pedro Ciriaco. He is out of options, and will have to be put through waivers, but it is a risk worth taking. His performance at the plate has been terrible, and nothing that can't come close to being matched by Iglesias. Though he's walked in 11 percent of his plate appearances this season, that number will almost certainly come down as his career rate is at four percent. He has a respectable wRC+ of 93 over his career, but that is boosted by an inflated .352 BABIP, and comes almost entirely from his 272 plate appearances a season ago. Add into that the fact that he's played poor defense at all spots he's filled in for this year, and there's no real need for him at this point.
Photo Courtesy of Jared Wickerham
I made it clear above that I do not believe Iglesias' bat will never reach the caliber required to stick in a major-league lineup. The production needed to be a successful utility player, though, is much easier to reach, and is a mark that the 23 year old should be able to meet. When you add in the fact that he has an elite glove at shortstop, and is working to replicate that ability at third and second base, you get a more than capable utility man giving you offensive production around that of Ciriaco, with a far better glove.
The risk in this scenario, of course, is that another team will claim Ciriaco. This is a pretty decent possibility, given that he has performed in the past, and his versatility could be used by a number of teams. Even if he is claimed, though, the Red Sox have other options beyond him and Iglesias. Along with Joel Hanrahan, Boston also got utility man Brock Holt in their trade with Pittsburgh from this offseason, and he is likely next in line. There is also Brandon Snyder, who can play third base and outfield and has had a nice season down in Pawtucket this year. Old friend Drew Sutton was picked up on a minor-league deal, and has experience at almost every position on the diamond. In the latter part of the season, if the need arises, it's even possible that top-prospect Xander Bogaerts could prove ready to be pushed ahead of schedule and onto the major-league roster.
Jose Iglesias has been hyped up by prospect-lovers and media members since signing his lucrative deal back in 2009, and we've all been waiting for him to stick in the majors. Though it was hoped he'd be the shortstop of the future, prospects don't always work out as planned and new paths are formed for them. In this case, Iglesias' bat may never justify a full-time role on this team, but he could be a perfect fit to fill the Red Sox's need for a utility man.