Down Red Sox way yesterday, manager Bobby Valentine pronounced tyro shortstop Jose Iglesias ready to play in the majors, but stopped short of saying he was going to make the team. According to Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe:
"I think [Iglesias] can hit and hit on the major league level. I don’t know if he can make this major league team and perform right now the way we need him to perform in this setting, in the group that we have.
Iglesias is a fascinating prospect in that his defensive reputation is off-the-charts good but his bat is suspect. Iglesias is a native of Cuba, and the temptation is to compare him to the Mets’ controversial shortstop of 1996 to 2002, Rey Ordonez. Ordonez hit .246/.289/.310, and the argument about him hinged on whether his great range made his terrible hitting more acceptable. The answer was often no.
That is an ill omen for Iglesias, who hit .235/.285/.269 at Triple-A Pawtucket last year. Now, you can offer some caveats: Iglesias is only 22, and he hit better than that at the lower levels. Still, even if you give him full credit for the potential to hit a few more singles, that doesn’t leave you with much to project beyond a No. 9 hitter—and a bad one at that.
His glove will allow him to play anyway, but when you look at the great shortstops and the estimated runs that they saved on the fielding job, it takes an extraordinary year with the glove to make up for a complete failure to hit.
Ordonez did it exactly once, in 1999. Part of the reason for that is that even if a player’s fielding ability is consistent—and if players are not consistent from year to year on hitting, pitching or baserunning, why should we assume that they don’t have good and bad years for fielding as well?—the distribution of batted balls is inconsistent.
Some years the shortstop, be he good or bad, will simply not receive enough balls, relatively speaking, to make enough great plays to balance out the weakness of his bat. This is doubly true in an age of strikeouts. Every time an infielder watches the batter walk back to the dugout having taken strike three, his defensive value to the team is decreased.
This is not necessarily a bad thing for the team, but it should alter how a team makes choices as to who to play. The Red Sox were third in the American League in pitcher strikeouts last year and should be in the same range this season.
That allows them to play Mike Aviles—an (at least theoretically) offense-first shortstop. They don’t really have a need for a glove-only player at the position. What they do need is a long-term solution at short, something that has eluded them since Nomar Garciaparra left town.
Unfortunately, the Garciaparra days are over, and Iglesias may be the best they can do at a time in which shortstops increasingly resemble Mark Belanger more than they do Alex Rodriguez.