By this point, Jose Iglesias has firmly established his reputation as being among the best fielders in the game at shortstop, but over the last month he has put together one of the best offensive streaks of his three-year career with the Red Sox.
He signed in September 2009 after defecting from Cuba, and it was clear even as a 19-year-old seeing his first action in the Arizona Fall League that year that his incredible defensive skills would carry him to the major leagues in some fashion. What has been less clear is exactly how well his bat would develop. The last month has provided some hope that he will reach his offensive potential and not be an all-glove, no-bat type player.
“He's been getting good pitches to hit, getting into good counts, and really putting good at-bats together,” said Pawtucket manager Arnie Beyeler.
After a slow start to the season at the plate, Iglesias has raised his batting average to .269 on the season through Saturday. In the month of May, he is batting .341 to go along with 4 stolen bases. Both Iglesias and Beyeler credited focusing on doing the little things for his success.
“He's been moving runners, bunting,” said Beyeler. “He's just been kind of playing his game. When he gets away from that it's not good for him. But he's done a good job over the last few weeks just playing his game.”
“I've been able to stay positive,” said Iglesias. “Just trying to slow down a little bit at the plate. Know myself a little better. Move the runner and try to do my job.”
Over this recent time period, he has also driven the ball as well as at any other point in his career. Scouting reports have always pointed to his plus bat speed and quick wrists as potential factors that could allow him to be a good hitter for average as he develops in his career. Power is not expected to be a big part of his game, but in the last month he has four extra-base hits, including his second career home run.
“He has a little more confidence at the plate,” said Beyeler. “He's able to get deeper into counts and he's starting to drive the ball better. He's getting into more hitter's counts where he can just sort of load up and drive the ball so that backs guys up and opens the field for him.”
Getting deeper into counts is also a positive sign. He has been overaggressive at times in his young career. He has four walks versus five strikeouts in May, and while that is an improvement on the 36-to-117 career walk-to-strikeout ratio he carried into the 2012 season, he still has work to do in terms of plate discipline.
“Yeah, of course,” Iglesias responded when asked if being patient is a key need for him. “Just being more disciplined at the plate and looking for a pitch I can drive gap to gap.”
Part of his struggles at the plate early in his minor league career, especially last year when he batted .235 at Triple-A, can be attributed to being several years younger than the pitchers he faced most nights. The average age for pitchers in the International League over the last five seasons was 26.7, and 27.1 for batters, whereas Iglesias turned 22 a couple months before his second go-round in Triple-A began this March. With his glove being so advanced, it's been impossible for the team to hold him back at a lower level. This has made it necessary for him to learn some finer points of hitting on the fly.
This season, Iglesias feels much more comfortable, saying, “There's no question. I've been around this league last year. Every year when you try to get better it's easier. It's more comfortable now that I know this league.”
His efforts to develop the basics, like finding a batting stance he is comfortable with, have contributed to his struggles in the past. It was well-reported this spring that after spending an offseason training with Alex Rodriguez, Iglesias began to emulate his batting stance, then later did the same thing with Albert Pujols' stance. Iglesias is obviously not that type of slugger, but is now finding what works for him.
“That's in the past,” he said of imitating major leaguers' stances. “That's over and the most important thing is that I know myself and learn myself. I'm back to something I'm comfortable with.”
It seems every time you see him man short he finds a way to make a spectacular, highlight-reel grab. Thursday's game was no exception, as he made a fully extended diving play to his left to stab a line drive at the shoe tops that was headed up the middle to end the first inning. His skill is even evident on the routine plays -- for example, he so quickly fielded and started a 6-4-3 double play at the game on Friday night that one scout in the stands remarked in amazement that it didn’t look like the ball had even touched Iglesias’s glove.
Though defense is a major strength for him, Iglesias didn't hesitate when asked if he was still working to make improvements on that side of the ball.
“I try to get better every single day,” he said. “I try to know the hitters the better. I come early every day to put myself in a position to get better.”
Iglesias has spent time on the disabled list the last two seasons. He said he feels as healthy as ever now, and that's been a big factor in getting into a groove at the plate and the field. Right now, receiving a call-up to Boston is not on his mind. He knows if he works his time will come.
“I just try to do my job,” he said. “Come here and do my job. I can't control what happens. The only thing I can control is being ready and doing my part to help this team win in any way I can.”
If he keeps hitting like he has recently, the Red Sox may be forced to find a way to get him in the starting lineup in Boston.