Saturday, January 29, 2011

Experts rate leatherbound Sox prospect as best in the system

This week we were inundated with Minor League Baseball experts, pundits and prognosticators stepping up with their annual pre-season player rankings. Jonathan Mayo introduced his Top 50 Prospects via a 90-minute special on the MLB Network. Baseball America’s annual bible, the “Prospect Handbook”, has been shipped and received by the masses. ESPN’s Keith Law one-upped Mayo by dropping his Top 100 Prospects List and Baseball Prospectus’ Kevin Goldstein released his Top 11 Red Sox Prospects for his weekly Future Shock column.

The one thing that we learned from all of this, in the wake of the departure of former top organizational prospect Casey Kelly, is that the Boston Red Sox best crop on the farm is now, unequivocally shortstop Jose Iglesias.

Law (#45) and Mayo (#42) both list Iglesias as one of the 50 best players in the minors right now. Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus both have Iglesias as the #1 prospect for the Red Sox.

Now granted, we should take these overall rankings with a grain of salt because they are, in fact, just one person’s thoughts on who they think is best. But there should be no denying that Iglesias is indeed a real-deal prospect and head and shoulders above the rest in the Sox organization (you can argue for the Kalishes and Navas of the world, but they used up their prospect/rookie status last year in the bigs...and Anthony Renaudo, although very good, has yet to pitch in pro ball).

I was lucky enough to catch Iglesias a couple of times last season in both Portland and Lowell and what these “experts” write is dead on. His glove work is a thing of beauty and he possesses all of the fielding skills to be a future Gold Glove candidate. He is an exciting player to watch in the field and makes things look effortless at times, turning an out-of-range grounder into a routine play.

He hits the ball well and is improving at the plate, has great bat speed and he makes solid contact on the ball. However, he is far from a power guy (0 homers in 261 at-bats) and projects to be somewhere in the 7th, 8th or 9th slot in a big league lineup. His 57/15 Ks-to-walk ratio will definitely need some work too, but patience usually comes with experience of which Iglesias only had only 70 total games played between Portland and Lowell in 2010.

He has drawn comparisons to Orlando Cabrera and Hanley Ramirez and I think that he may fall somewhere in between. He obviously will never have the pop that Hanley does, but can certainly contribute more offensively than Cabrera provided he puts in the work.

Iglesias should be a fan favorite down in Pawtucket this season and may even warrant a September call-up should all go well. He had a few injury issues in 2010 but came back strong and even put in some time in the Arizona Fall League after the regular season ended.

With his $6+ million dollar signing bonus serving as the highest paid to any player in the organization’s history, there is no doubt that the Sox are banking on Iglesias as their starting shortstop. In the meantime, Marco Scutaro will keep things warm for him and we’ll all get to enjoy watching him blossom on the farm.

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