Casey Kelly, Jose Iglesias Shine in AFL
By Brian Phair
For anyone with intimate knowledge of the Boston Red Sox organization, you know that developing young talent is extremely important to the future success of the franchise. You would also know that the Red Sox have a handful of young players that have been on the rise over the last year+. Two of those guys, P Casey Kelly and SS Jose Iglesias, excelled in the Arizona Fall League (AFL) this past month and according to Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com, Kelly ranked 9th and Iglesias ranked 10th as the overall best prospects in the AFL this year. The top 20 list that came out on Friday is no stranger to Red Sox prospects and if you have been following both Kelly and Iglesias for any period of time, their names being on that list is no shock, but it begs the question, when will we see these guys in the majors?
Last Spring Training, Casey Kelly burst onto the scene with a series of strong outings, raising the volume on chatter that he might end up on the big league club sooner than expected. What slowed Kelly’s progress down? The Sox didn’t decide whether he should play the field or pitch until March. He is a versatile talent who could likely excel in either role (SS or P), but once he began to show his true pitching ability, the Sox never looked back. Kelly began and ended the 2010 season in AA with the Portland Sea Dogs, struggling a bit at times in his 21 starts. Kelly finished with a 3-5 record and a 5.31 era in 95 innings, but made great strides in his development, throwing a career high 81 K’s in 95 innings. The more Kelly pitches, the stronger he will become, so he decided to get some extra reps in during this Fall. Thanks to a late-season lat injury, Kelly had a brief stint in the AFL, but threw 16 innings over 4 outings, and finished with a 1-0 record and a 6.75 era.
Although Kelly allowed more earned runs that the Sox would like, the minor leagues and the AFL are not about stats, they are about development. Scouts across baseball have been impressed with this young kid’s composure and stuff on the mound and part of the reason his era has been high is because he is lacking experience in pressure situations. Kelly has excellent command and composure, but when he tries to increase his velocity in tight spots, he loses some control and has a tendency to give up more hits and runs. Overall, Kelly has a low 90’s fastball, a hard 12-6 curveball, and a nice change (SoxProspects.com), which would be a strong addition to either the Sox rotation or bullpen in the majors.
The other Sox prospect ranked in the top 10 of the AFL was Jose Iglesias. I have made no bones about it, I think this kid is the future at shortstop for the Sox. He has an unbelievable defensive awareness for someone at age 20 and has a quick bat. Since coming over from Cuban before last season, Iglesias has played 70 games in the Sox system and hit .295 with 20 rbis and no home runs. He has showed signs of brilliance in the batter’s box, but struck out 57 times as compared to 15 walks last season. A ratio he needs to improve upon and with more experience, will likely get smarter and more patient at the plate. Iglesias hit .269 for Peoria in the AFL this past month, driving in 8 runs and piling up 18 hits in 16 games.
Theo intentionally signed Marco Scutaro to a 2 year deal with the hope that one of the Sox prospects at shortstop would be ready to be the everyday starter by 2012. With Jed Lowrie healthy and Jose Iglesias improving daily, Theo may choose to go with the talent he has developed after next season, rather than spend money in the free agent market to bring someone in with more experience. Another year of the minors under Iglesias’ belt and hopefully a healthy, full year for Lowrie, and the Sox will be in business. The advantage that Iglesias has at the moment, is his strong defensive ability, which is something that has cursed Sox shortstops since 2004. The position has become a revolving door, so it would be nice to stop that trend with some young talent.
Both Kelly and Iglesias are likely still a year away from making a serious impact at the major league level, but their development is right on schedule. They will get to play everyday in either AA Portland or AAA Pawtucket and condition themselves to play a full season, which can be one of the harder transitions in sports. If the Sox end up in another injury situation in 2011, I wouldn’t be surprised to see these guys make an appearance in the bigs, but Theo and the player development staff want these guys to play everyday and continue to improve with each outing, so sitting on the bench in the majors would be a mistake. The stronger the Sox system, the stronger the future, so the front office is pretty excited about their potential stars of the future.