Dave D'Onofrio's Sox Beat: Iglesias believes in himself
WHEN Jose Iglesias laced a liner off the left-field wall, a single that signified his third hit of Tuesday night, his batting average spiked to .438 for the season. Of course, that mark must be considered in context considering he'd had just 112 major-league at-bats in 2013, though the sample size had at least grown big enough that the rookie could've gone 0-for his next 84 and still been hitting .250 — which would certainly be an acceptable offensive standard given the wizardry of his glove work.
But as far as what the Red Sox can expect moving forward, the important part of Iglesias' sizzling start isn't what it'll mean as far as where his stats eventually wind up. It's the confidence he's accrued along the way. It's the potentially sustainable self-belief that comes by way of his validating all the work he did to his improve himself as a hitter, both technically and in terms of his approach, after struggling to establish his bat as anything near big-league ready over his first three pro seasons. And it's the possibility that he was incapable of reaching his ceiling at this level until he proved that he truly belonged.
That process began this winter, when he went to Arizona with Dustin Pedroia, the second baseman who has been something of a mentor for Iglesias since he joined the organization, and who invited his fellow infielder to work with him during the offseason — on aspects of the game both physical and mental.
"I went to Arizona, spent time with him talking about baseball, talking about discipline at the plate," Iglesias said. "Talked about not just on the field stuff, off the field, too. Be consistent, prepare your body, eat healthy, get some rest. Little things that help when you're playing."
For help at the plate, in particular, he turned to Leo Posada, who is a fellow Cuban, a former big-league outfielder, and an uncle of ex-Yankee catcher Jorge Posada. Now 77 years old, he helped Iglesias identify necessary adjustments to his stance, his grip, and his swing in general. And though Iglesias has continued that work with Sox' hitting coach Greg Colbrunn and assistant Victor Rodriguez, he still talks on a near-daily basis with Posada, who watches every game from his home in Miami and always makes sure to encourage his 23-year-old pupil.
"He's a very positive person," Iglesias said, "and if he sees something he always lets me know."
He's seen a lot of good from Iglesias, whose numbers are buoyed by 15 infield hits and a .490 average on balls in play, but who is hitting line drives with greater regularity and striking out significantly less. That's part of the reason he'd reached base in 27 straight games entering Wednesday afternoon, and was baseball's leading hitter since May 24 — though those feats also speak to the way Iglesias has adjusted to enemy adjustments.
He started to notice he was being pitched differently when the Rangers came to Fenway earlier this month, but he says he's simply stuck to his plan and stayed consistent, and accordingly PITCH f/x data reveals traits of a maturing hitter. He's seeing slightly fewer fastballs than he had previously, but he's swinging at fewer pitches outside the strike zone, he's swinging at fewer pitches in general, and he's swinging and missing less often.
As a result, he's seeing more pitches every time he steps to into the box, is striking out almost half as often as he did in the majors last year, is walking at a higher rate than he has at any level above Single-A, and maybe most indicative of his growth is that before Wednesday he was hitting .385 (25-for-65) with two strikes in the count. Last year he was 2-for-39 with one walk in such situations.
"I used to be kind of afraid of hitting with two strikes. Not no more," he said. "I think that's big. Knowing the strike zone and being disciplined about it I think has helped me so far."
"He's getting himself in good position to not only stay balanced, but to increase bat speed. A consistent approach at the plate, and he's seeing the ball very well," manager John Farrell said. "(It's) confidence. A belief in himself."
By Tuesday, Farrell's confidence had grown to the point Will Middlebrooks was demoted and Iglesias was installed as the Sox' everyday third baseman. Two months ago he'd never played a game at the position, had "never thought about playing third in my life," and as of this week still had never heard of legendary hot-corner holder Brooks Robinson — but the organization initially had him practice there as a means of making him more versatile in order to use his elite glove.
Now they're leaving him there in part because they can't take his bat out of the lineup.
"It's been real impressive what he's done," pitcher Ryan Dempster said. "There have been times when people have said, 'Oh, it's a soft .400.' Is there such a thing? I'm trying to figure that out. It's still .430 he's hitting, and he's driving the ball, too. ... It's good to see the success he has and you just kind of ride it for as long as it lasts."Mike Napoli doesn't think that'll be soon. "We don't expect him to stop," the first baseman said.
And if Iglesias' confidence remains at a point where he believes the same himself, he just may not.
Victoria Arlen, a Paralympic swimmer from Exeter who won gold in the 100-meter freestyle at last year's London games, delivered a ceremonial first pitch prior to Wednesday's game. She received a Special Recognition Award at The Leaders banquet this year, and in August will compete in the International Paralympic Committee Swimming World Championships in Montreal.
Dave D'Onofrio covers the Red Sox for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.