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March 30, 2012 at 7:35 AM

2012 Prospect Previews: Jose Iglesias and Ryan Lavarnway

Jose Iglesias
Position: Shortstop
2011 Teams: Pawtucket Red Sox/Boston Red Sox
2012 Projected Team: Pawtucket Red Sox/Boston Red Sox
Opening Day Age: 22

A natural shortstop, Iglesias makes things in the field look easy. His defensive package is highlighted by his extremely quick hands, graceful footwork, and outstanding instincts. Iglesias smoothly uses his hands to pick grounders with his glove or adjust quickly to bouncers with tough hops. He transfers the ball with lightening speed from his glove to throwing hand. His anticipation and vision of the ball allows him to react instantly at the crack of the bat. Iglesias moves fluidly to both his left and right, with his range grading as well above-average. There are not many balls hit out his way that he cannot reach. With excellent balance and strong agility, he keeps his body under control when making plays on the run or off-balance throws with his plus, accurate arm. Iglesias is presently major league ready defensively and projects as an elite defender at the shortstop position. Offensively, he utilizes a compact, low maintenance swing. He generates plus batspeed by firing his wrists to drive the head of the bat to the point of contact. Iglesias hits fastballs well, especially on the inner third. He pulls his hands in quickly to clear out heaters in this area and hits the ball the hardest when pulling line drives from the left-center field gap to the left field corner. Iglesias has the hit tool to produce batting averages in the .280s at the big league level in his peak seasons. He projects as a major league regular on a first division team, who hits ninth in the lineup.

Development Needs: Iglesias’ approach and pitch recognition need considerable improvement if he is to develop into more than a below-average hitter at the major league level. While he made strides with his pitch selection and shrinking down his strike zone last season, he tends to consistently look for fastballs on the inner third. This leaves him vulnerable to offerings away, especially breaking balls. Iglesias is often frozen by curveballs or sliders on the outer third because his eyes are not covering the plate. His hips open early, which causes him to pull off the ball when he tries to attack them. Iglesias gets into patterns of guessing in counts due to his lack of trust in picking up the spin of the ball and over-commits his weight onto his front foot. This leaves his hands too far forward during his swing. Iglesias controls the bat well, but is reduced to lunging or reaching for secondary offerings to put them weakly into play. He must learn to stay back on the ball in order to barrel these pitches up more consistently. With home run power that projects in the low single digits, Iglesias needs to focus more on using the whole field to produce consistent line drives as well. He is capable of driving balls to right field and has improved using his hands to hit to the opposite field, but does not look to do so often enough. Iglesias is likely to be inconsistent offensively at the major league level in his early career, hitting in the .230s-.240s with little extra base power.

2012 Outlook: After competing for the starting shortstop position with the big club in spring training, Iglesias was recently optioned to Triple-A. This will provide him a chance to continue to work on his offense and build his level of experience. Iglesias does not have to contribute strong offensive production due to his defense, but must show he is beginning to come up to speed against the advanced pitching of the International League and is less over-matched than last season. It would be ideal for him to ramp up into facing major league pitching this season. Iglesias will likely be asked to move runners along, drop down bunts, and most importantly have meaningful plate appearances when called back up. His work during his time with Pawtucket is important to make as smooth a transition as possible. I see Iglesias spending two to three months in Triple-A before he begins to push the issue of getting a shot as the starter with the big club. The defensive value is going to be hard to keep off the roster, even if the offense is still lagging behind. In a perfect world, there are no bumps in the road, but expect Iglesias to be a hitter that takes time to learn at the big league level. His contributions this season will rest with shoring up the left-side of the infield’s defense and beginning to put a firm hold on the starting job for seasons to come.

Ryan Lavarnway
Position: Catcher
2011 Teams: Portland Sea Dogs/Pawtucket Red Sox/Boston Red Sox
2012 Projected Team: Pawtucket Red Sox/Boston Red Sox
Opening Day Age: 24

Well-filled out and strong, Lavarnway is an imposing hitter in the batter’s box. He patiently grinds through plate appearances to pick out pitches he can drive. Lavarnway is comfortable taking strikes or letting pitches pass that he is not looking for in hitter’s counts. He will take walks and also force pitchers to pile up pitches against him. Although possessing a long swing and lacking elite batspeed, he is quick with his trigger and explodes quickly with his hands when getting started. He creates strong leverage to bring the bat on an upward path through the hitting zone to produce flyballs with carry. Lavarnway is adept at hitting mistakes, especially out and over the plate where he can extend his powerful arms. He makes opposing pitches consistently pay for missing their spots. His power projects as solid-average-to-better at the major league level. Lavarnway will also cut his swing down when behind in the count and look to work to the opposite field when necessary. He shows his best power from center to left field, but can drive offerings on a line to right field. He is capable of maintaining a batting average in the .270s during his peak seasons. Lavarnway is a tireless worker and has put a lot of time into improving his defense behind the plate. Extremely rough two seasons ago, he has become more fluid and firm behind the dish when receiving pitches. He moves easier from side-to-side and has become less tangled when throwing as well. Lavarnway has the type of makeup to fully maximize his skills. He projects as a part-time catcher and designated hitter at the major league level, who hits fifth or sixth in a lineup.

Development Needs: Lavarnway’s defense is still on the limited side. He has made considerable improvement, but can still be rigid and stiff behind the plate. He struggles with breaking balls in the dirt, often boxing them around rather than controlling them. Lacking quick feet, he at times looks stuck in the mud and can go through stretches of fighting things behind the dish. Lavarnway can be slow coming out of his crouch when throwing, which slows him down and takes away from his solid-average arm. He also needs work with the positioning of his glove to set up correctly so pitchers have a target for throwing strikes. Lavarnway’s hand tends to drift off the plate or he stabs at offerings, giving the home plate umpire less of a look at pitches. His defense may never progress beyond fringe-average-to-average, but his offense can carry the glove. However, Lavarnway has some holes in his swing that can be exposed by big league pitching and there are adjustments at the plate to be made. Given the nature of his swing, he presently has a tough time getting good wood on offerings running in on him. Since he likes to get big extension to drive pitches, harder two-seam fastballs from right-handed pitchers tie him up. He can also be beat with elevated fastballs above the belt on the inner third or up-and-away. Lavarnway is likely to strike out over 100 times a year as a hitter for power, but needs to work to expand the spots he does his damage against to be more than a mistake hitter against mediocre major league pitching. Improvement pulling his hands inside the ball when facing harder throwing pitchers is an important adjustment that will allow him to make consistent contact.

2012 Outlook: Lavarnway has done everything asked from him during spring training, but is ticketed for Triple-A to continue to work on pushing his defense to be adequate at the major league level. Being able to catch everyday with Pawtucket is necessary to give him every chance to maximize his defensive development. I see little offensive resistance for Lavarnway as his bat is at the stage where the next test lies with facing major league pitching on a consistent basis. His time in Triple-A will keep him sharp and also allow him to ramp up before a potential major league call. Lavarnway is first in line should there be an injury to the catching corps or a need arises with the designated hitter position during the season. It is tough to foresee how the composition of the roster will shakeout over the course of the season, but at some point it is highly likely Lavarnway finds himself with the big club. The biggest focus is on the progression of his defense in 2012. There may come a point when his bat will be too hard to keep off the roster and his defense simply is what it is. Lavarnway is seemingly pushing hard for a shot in 2012 and could end up seeing himself in the mix during the stretch run of the season.

Chris Mellen is Director of Scouting for SoxProspects.com. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisMellen