Jose Iglesias handling pressure of being top Red Sox prospect, despite struggles in Triple-A
Published: Monday, July 11, 2011, 12:25 PM Updated: Monday, July 11, 2011, 5:22 PM
PAWTUCKET, R.I. – Down Interstate 95, not quite removed from the long shadows cast by Fenway Park, the crown jewel of the Boston Red Sox's minor league system stands in the clubhouse at McCoy Stadium, the home of the Triple-A Pawtucket Red Sox.
Jose Iglesias doesn't look like much. His faux-hawk, slender build and youthful features look as if they belong in a college dorm room, not adorning the man christened the savior of Boston's middle infield.
Admittedly, his season hasn't gone as planned. Once on the fast track, the 21-year-old has stalled in his first season in Triple A. But if the expectations placed on his slender shoulders are at all suffocating, he's doing a tremendous job of concealing his gasps.
The shortstop smiles easily and can often be heard laughing throughout the clubhouse as he bounces from one group to the next. When he slows down long enough to join a game of cards, he pops up every few minutes to steal a bite of food from a clubhouse attendant's Styrofoam container whenever his back is turned.
"It's baseball, man," Iglesias said before a recent game. "Baseball is supposed to be fun and that's all I'm worried about doing right now."
When the Red Sox inked shortstop Marco Scutaro to a two-year deal prior to the 2010 season, they did so with the hope that the wiry kid from Cuba they had just signed would be ready to anchor the position when Scutaro’s contract expired.
His glove is already there. Many believe that Iglesias will immediately become one of the best defensive shortstops in baseball the day he arrives in Boston.
Unfortunately, his bat hasn't traveled the same trajectory, leading some talent evaluators to predict that Iglesias is now two years away – up from predictions of one – from being serviceable in Boston.
He lacks power, having collected only four extra-base hits over 229 at-bats before heading to the disabled list with a concussion last week (he is said to be doing fine), and doesn't have enough speed to leg out infield singles, leading to a .227 average.
Using the minor league equivalency calculator to see how his numbers would translate to Boston, it's predicted that Iglesias would be hitting just .219/.253/.236 at the major-league level.
"Everyone knows the things he can do in the field. You don't see many players come through here that can do what he does," one scout said. "He just has so much to do on the other side.
"His recognition needs some work and he has zero – I mean no – power. Right now, he's a guy that hurts your lineup. You can't hide someone like that."
Iglesias, who defected during a trip to Canada three years ago this month, isn't bothered by his lack of production.
He believes that he'll eventually start hitting the way he did in Portland last season, where he posted a .285 average despite being limited to 57 games with a hand injury, and recently tweaked his swing in an attempt to help him achieve that goal.
"It's just something with his setup. He wasn't in a good position to take an aggressive swing on the ball," Boston general manager Theo Epstein said recently on WEEI. "So they've been working with him. They've made an adjustment, and I think he feels a lot better at the plate right now."
This approach doesn't have him leaping over buildings, but two of his four doubles have come over his last ten games. It's nothing to celebrate, but at least it's progress.
"I just have to get at-bats and work to be better than I was yesterday," Iglesias said. "Learn from my failures and not get down."
Even with the new midseason reports, it hasn't necessarily changed how the Red Sox view Iglesias. Last month, they gave him his first taste of the Bigs when Scutaro went down with an oblique strain.
He went 0 for 4 at the plate, but the promotion was more about giving him a chance to breathe in the air than providing him with a legitimate shot to earn a roster spot.
The atmosphere in Boston rubbed off on him.
Realistically, Iglesias knows that there's a lot of work to be done before his nameplate becomes a permanent fixture above a Fenway locker, but that hasn't stopped him from checking off each passing day.
"It was great," Iglesias said. "Learning from those guys, being around those guys. It's where I want to be. I just have to keep trying to get better and they'll come get me when they think I'm ready."
In the meantime, folks in Pawtucket better protect their dinners. You never know who might be coming in with a plastic fork.