Boston Red Sox: 10 Reasons Jose Iglesias Should Start at Shortstop
There is little doubt in the Boston Red Sox organization regarding who their shortstop of the future will be.
The 22-year-old, Cuban-born Jose Iglesias has entered his third year in the Red Sox organization looking to continue his rise through the minor league system, and perhaps, score a big league job when the team breaks camp. He has shown significant promise at the plate to go with his stellar play in the field, and were he on many other MLB teams he would have been named the starter already.
However, because of the Red Sox’s vast resources, Iglesias has competition for the shortstop job. Last year’s super-utility man Mike Aviles has had a solid spring, and as the Kansas City shortstop finished fourth in AL Rookie of the Year voting in 2008.
The competition between the two has been fierce, and though Iglesias has battled a groin injury recently, very even. The light-hitting Iglesias does not have Aviles’ ability at the plate, but the runs Iglesias’ glove saves certainly makes up the difference.
Manager Bobby Valentine yesterday said that “I think [Iglesias] can hit and hit on the major league level,” a ringing endorsement for a player whose biggest detractors constantly refer back to his struggles at the plate (.235 batting average, .554 OPS at Triple-A Pawtucket last year). Valentine’s word will be a huge factor in deciding where Iglesias starts the season, and he has given a clear indication of where he thinks that should be.
It seems in all likelihood that the competition for the starting shortstop job will come down to the final days of spring training. Here are 10 reasons why the Sox should just call it off now and give the job to Iglesias:
While baseball may not be the most physically demanding sport from day-to-day, the grind of a 162-game season can wear down a player. In the case of the Red Sox’s shortstop candidates, Aviles has been particularly susceptible to injury during his career, having never played over 110 games in a season.
At age 31, Aviles is unlikely to see any kind of improvement in his durability.
Iglesias, on the other hand, is just 22 and has never missed time due to injury. His age will help him manage the rigors of playing shortstop everyday, allowing him to maintain his outstanding defense and develop his offense during the long season.
Defensive Ability/Run Prevention
Perhaps the most unassailable argument for Iglesias is in regards to his defense. While Aviles has been a solid defensive shortstop, Iglesias is already a Gold Glove-caliber fielder before even starting his second major league game.
The decline in Aviles’ innings at shortstop (from 747.2 in 2008 down to 91.0 in 2011) only heighten the fact that Aviles is a player whose defensive limitations should prevent him from being an everyday player.
The Red Sox organization as a whole has preached run prevention over offense during the last several seasons. This would be a perfect opportunity for them to demonstrate just how seriously they believe in that idea.
Even though he has only been in camp for a couple weeks, Iglesias has already won over his teammates. In a postgame interview last week, Josh Beckett noted that Iglesias “is pretty sick” after Iglesias made several outstanding defensive plays.
Any kind of praise from Beckett should be taken seriously, given his curmudgeonly demeanor. Although the Sox players have also been quick to praise Aviles, it’s worth noting that they usually refer to his hitting. By his own admission, Aviles is “not…going to be a spectacular shortstop.”
With the pitching situation as tenuous as it is for the Sox this year, having that kind of defense behind them could be the difference in helping the staff gain confidence and win games.
Bobby Valentine is not shy with his opinions. His ability to be blunt can occasionally rub players the wrong way, but it also allows everyone to know exactly where a player stands in his eyes.
With Iglesias, Valentine has been fairly effusive in his praise of Iglesias’ defense, comparing him to former Mets Gold Glover Rey Ordonez early in spring training.
While he has not been as generous is praising Iglesias’ bat, Valentine seems to be coming around in this area as well. After a recent game against the Cardinals, Valentine commented that “[Iglesias’] rhythm is getting close to being decent.”
A backhanded compliment is still a compliment, and coming from Valentine it could indicate his growing opinion of Iglesias’ major league readiness.
Frees Up Aviles for Utility Role
After coming to the Red Sox last season, Aviles immediately became one of their most essential players. He hit .317 for the Sox while playing five different positions on the field, and provided solid defense at all of them. After spending this winter in the Puerto Rican league learning to play outfield, Aviles will have improved his ability to be a super-utility man even more.
With him as the everyday shortstop, the Sox lose this advantage. Having a player with Aviles’ versatility is a luxury few teams have. He can push starters at multiple positions for playing time, resulting in better performance by the entire team.
The Sox could struggle offensively this season at the corner outfield spots. With Aviles in the mix, they would get significantly better production out of these spots.
Red Sox management has made both a financial and baseball-related commitment to Iglesias, a Cuban defector. The four-year, $14.24 million contract the team handed Iglesias at age 18 was one of the largest they had ever given such an unknown entity, and they’ll be looking to see if that investment starts to pay dividends.
As for what they think of him as a player, CEO Larry Lucchino said last Tuesday in an interview with Boston radio station WEEI that there’s a “chance” Iglesias could be the Opening Day shortstop. While Lucchino did say this chance was “remote,” the fact that ownership is already openly discussing this possibility is an indication of just how seriously they are taking Iglesias’ excellent spring.
Good Lineup/Low Pressure
Offense has not been a problem for the Red Sox; apart from finishing ninth in the MLB in runs scored in 2006, they have not been below fourth in the league since 2002. Despite the potential for regression and injury, it should not be a problem this year. Their top five or six hitters (depending on your opinion of Carl Crawford) are perhaps the most formidable group in the game.
One of the chief benefits, then, of playing in such a lineup is the immense pressure this takes off the rest of the hitters. They see better pitches to hit and are less relied upon to put up big numbers.
What better circumstances, then, could there be for the offensively-challenged Iglesias to make his debut? He will be able to learn on the fly without the pressure of needing to produce, allowing him to make a smooth transition to the majors.
The Future Is Now
All MLB teams, regardless of their payroll, are constantly talking about the future. It helps fans imagine that no matter how the current season turns out, the next one is going to be even better.
The Red Sox, whose $170 million payroll makes it possible for this “future” to be every year, owe it to themselves and the fans to see what they have in Iglesias. Another year of minor league seasoning could potentially help him, but what good is he to the team if he hits .300 in Triple-A?
Iglesias is the best shortstop prospect the organization has had since Hanley Ramirez, another player who some thought was brought up too quickly. If they want to see if Iglesias is really the shortstop of the future, they need to give him a chance now.
It may come as a mild surprise, but Iglesias actually makes significantly more money than Aviles. Aviles will earn $1.2 million this season, while Iglesias will make just a shade over $2 million.
While money alone is not reason enough to play someone, it’s also worth noting that Iglesias only has one year left on his contract after this season. The Red Sox can preach patience with him, but the clock is ticking.
To decide whether they want to keep Iglesias beyond the 2013 season, the Sox need to see if he can play at the major league level.
Potential Transition Year for Team
The competition in the AL East this season is as challenging as it has ever been. Coupled with the improvement of the young Blue Jays, the continued presence of the Rays and Yankees will make every single game a challenge for the Red Sox.
While fans don’t want to hear this, it could be a year of transition in Boston. Older players such as Kevin Youkilis and David Ortiz could be on their way out, with young players like Iglesias, Ryan Lavarnway and Will Middlebrooks ready to take their place.
With a new manager setting new goals, this year is the perfect time for the Sox to give their younger players some seasoning. The growing pains these players may experience will only help them in the long run, positioning the Sox to win a championship within the next couple of seasons.