PAWTUCKET – The Red Sox view Jose Iglesias as someone too valuable to languish on the bench as a backup, absorbing the big-league atmosphere. Serving as the everyday shortstop in Pawtucket is where the consensus top prospect in the farm system belongs at the moment.
Ever cognizant of his situation, Iglesias did not reveal any disconcert upon being asked about returning to Triple-A after acquiring his first taste of big-league baseball earlier this month. The Cuban defector appeared in six games with the Red Sox, going hitless in four at-bats. Facts and figures like the eight wins Boston achieved in the 10 games Iglesias inhabited the same clubhouse as Adrian Gonzalez and David Ortiz are nice mementos, but now it’s back to living up to all the advanced billing that goes with the territory of being a prized farmhand.
More importantly, Iglesias has returned to a baseball port-of-call where he no longer has to check the lineup card. His development – on hold not so long ago – can resume.
“I feel very happy, given my age, that I was able to play in the big leagues,” said Iglesias, at 21 the youngest player on the Pawtucket roster. “Back in (the minors), playing every day … I think that’s what I need, learning a little at a time.”
What Iglesias requires is at-bats, lots of them. Rare is the player who gets promoted to the majors with just 348 minor-league at-bats under his belt. That was the amount Iglesias owned on May 8, the day Boston summoned him.
One school of thought stresses that a minor leaguer needs to accumulate roughly 700-1,000 at-bats before soundly projecting what kind of success is in store. That’s why the jury is still out on Iglesias from an offensive standpoint. He’s still finding out what works and what doesn’t while facing advanced level pitching. Those who interact with him on a daily basis know that.
“Without a doubt he needs to play. He needs to get out there and continue developing his skills and game awareness,” said PawSox manager Arnie Beyeler. “He needs to see pitches and get at-bats. It’s tough to evaluate him at this level, which is why it’s important for him to catch up and make up at-bats.”
The first step in creating extra turns for Iglesias is already underway as Thursday marked the fourth straight game Beyeler penciled the prized shortstop’s name in the No. 2 hole. Like anything at this point, it’s about introducing and exposing Iglesias to a new set of challenges – that of serving as a table setter for the heart of the lineup. Certainly it’s a major step up from where Iglesias was hitting prior to his call-up, being slotted in either the eighth or ninth spots.
The results may not be there – Iglesias has just one hit in 16 trips as Pawtucket’s newly appointed No. 2 hitter – but that’s not the only means Beyeler uses when evaluating. In fact, Beyeler hinted the interaction Iglesias had with patient hitters such as Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia and Gonzalez could prove just as beneficial as making sure the youngster received one or two extra at-bats during a game.
“Maybe that experience was good for him in terms of seeing what goes on at the next level,” said Beyeler.
“The guys were always telling me to be prepared,” Iglesias said. “They all made sure I felt comfortable.”
The fact Iglesias owns a .248 on-base percentage and is slugging at a .223 clip through 31 games with the PawSox suggests the area where he needs to make the most strides in.
“My first goal is to be healthy and play the game every day. Everything will come with time,” said Iglesias, speaking as if he knows what his prophecy with the Red Sox entails. “Baseball is all I know. I’ve been playing since I was six years old and I don’t know anything else. I feel comfortable every time I go out there.”
The book on him is that defensively, at minimum, Iglesias could hold down the fort in the major leagues right now. He might be the best defensive shortstop in the minor leagues – perhaps in any organization. From a hitter’s standpoint the Red Sox recognize that Iglesias is still evolving, hence why they felt he stood to lose more by serving as a backup infielder rather than if he was honing his craft in Pawtucket.
“Anything he gives us offensively is a bonus, but that’s got to change in a year or two when he gets some experience and his feet wet,” Beyeler said. “You expect him to make the adjustment and produce, but he’s stepped back from being up [in Boston] and gotten right after it.”