Shortstop prospects Tim Beckham, Adeiny Hechevarria, and Jose Iglesias (Photos by Christian Peterson, Al Messerschmidt, and J. Meric, Getty Images)
Tim Beckham vs. Adeiny Hechavarria vs. Jose Iglesias
As I work through the Top 20 lists and write comments for the book, the hardest decisions I have to make come down to players on the borderline between a Grade B- and a Grade C+. None of the grades are final until the book goes to press in early January, but the ones I struggle the most over are in that category. Three good examples are shortstop prospects Tim Beckham of Tampa Bay, Adeiny Hechavarria of Toronto, and Jose Iglesias of Boston.
Currently, I have Beckham and Hechavarria as C+s, and Iglesias as a B-, but that's not set in stone. I thought it might be useful to examine each player, looking at their backgrounds, scouting reports, statistics, and future progression, as I try to clarify this in my mind.
AGE and BACKGROUND:
Tim Beckham was born January 27, 1990, making him 22 years old entering the '12 season. A right-handed hitter, he is 6-0, 190 pounds. He was the first player picked in the 2008 draft, earning a bonus of $6,150,000.
Adeiny Hechavarria was born April 15, 1989, making him 23 years old for the 2012 season. A right-handed hitter, he is listed at 5-11, 180 pounds, although he looks a bit taller and bigger in person. He was signed out of Cuba in 2009, earning a signing bonus of $4,000,000 as part of a major league contract worth a total of $10,000,000.
Jose Iglesias was born January 5, 1990, making him 22 years old for 2012. A right-handed hitter, he is listed at 5-11, 175 pounds. He was signed out of Cuba in 2009 for a $6,250,000 bonus as part of a major league contract worth $8,250,000.
SUMMARY: All three players were big-bonus players who greatly impressed scouts as amateurs. Beckham and Iglesias were born in the same month and have an age advantage over Hechavarria.
Beckham was considered highly toolsy when drafted, but his reputation has declined. He's still considered to have raw power and good strength for his size as well as a strong throwing arm, but most scouts say he no longer has the range or hands to project as a regular shortstop and doesn't demonstrate the athleticism he did in high school. He has begun tapping into his power more effectively, but still struggles to control the strike zone. His running speed is now average although he's improved his ability to read pitchers and steal bases. I have seen Beckham in person and my observations confirmed the scouting reports.
Hechavarria was considered highly toolsy when signed, especially on defense, and still has that reputation. He has a strong throwing arm, soft hands, impressive range, and projects as an above-average-to-excellent defensive shortstop. With the bat, he has a touch of power and good bat speed, but his plate discipline is quite poor and he is frequently overmatched by pitchers who can change speeds. He got hot late in 2011 (more on that below) but opinions are mixed on its sustainability. His running speed is above average. I have seen him in person and my observations accorded with these reports.
Iglesias draws praise for his outstanding defense, with superior range, soft hands, and accurate and strong arm. He is already considered an excellent defensive shortstop of gold glove caliber. At the plate, he has a short, compact swing which the Red Sox say will produce a strong batting average, but which hasn't yet. He makes contact but is impatient, has very little power, and is unlikely to develop any. His running speed is a tick above average but he's not an aggressive stealer. I have seen him in person and my observations accorded with these reports.
SUMMARY: Beckham has the most power, Iglesias has the least, with Hechavarria in the middle. All three of them struggle to control the strike zone. Iglesias is an excellent defender and Hechavarria is almost as good, but Beckham doesn't have nearly as much range and projects more as a utility guy according to scouts. The best pure athlete is Hechavarria.
Beckham is a career .265/.331/.382 hitter through 427 minor league games, including a .275/.339/.395 mark in 107 Double-A games in the Southern League (OPS exactly league average), and a .255/.282/.462 mark in 24 games in the Triple-A International League (OPS +2 percent). The Triple-A sample size is miniscule, but is in line with his marks at lower levels. He has drawn 153 walks (8%) against 399 (21%) strikeouts in 1864 career plate appearances.
He has gradually improved his defensive reliability, lowering his error rate each year, but his range factors have been mediocre. Minor league range factors are problematic and must be taken with several grains of salt, but his marks are consistent and fit well with the scouting reports of mediocre range. His career range factor is 4.02 with a .941 fielding percentage. He has been young for his leagues.
Hechavarria is a career .255/.291/.362 hitter through 238 minor league games, including a .248/.286/.351 mark in 172 Double-A games in the Eastern League (OPS -13 percent), and a .389/.431/.537 mark in 25 games in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League (+20 percent). The Triple-A sample is very small and is much better than any hitting he had done previously. He has drawn 50 walks (5%) against 164 (16%) strikeouts in 1058 plate appearances.
Hechavarria lowered his error rate between 2010 and 2011. His range factor was very good in 2010 but below average in 2011. As stated above with Beckham, range factors can be distorted. His career fielding percentage is .966 with a career 4.14 range factor. He has been young for his leagues, although slightly older than Beckham and Iglesias.
Iglesias is a career .261/.308/.316 hitter in 171 games, including .285/.315/.357 in 57 Double-A games (OPS -8 percent) and .235/.285/.269 in 101 Triple-A games (OPS -24 percent). He has 35 walks (5%) against 115 strikeouts (17%) in 671 plate appearances.
Iglesias improved his error rate between 2010 and 2011. His range factor was below average in '10, but above average in '11. Again, I'm not sure that means a lot given the sample sizes and the problems with range factor, but I thought I would point it out. His career range factor is 4.14 with a .971 fielding percentage.
SUMMARY: Beckham draws the most walks and shows the most power, but also strikes out the most. Hechavarria and Iglesias have almost identical walk and strikeout rates. Although minor league defensive stats have problems, it is interesting that the numbers line up exactly with the reports: Iglesias and Hechavarria have better career range factors (both at 4.14) and fielding percentages than Beckham, with Iglesias being more reliable than Hechavarria.
So, putting it altogether, what do we find here?
Beckham and Iglesias are tied on the youth factor, with Hechavarria third. Hechavarria and Iglesias are better pure athletes than Beckham at this point. Beckham has the most power and draws the most walks, but he also strikes out the most. Iglesias has the best glove, both statistically and scouting-wise, with Hechavarria a close second and Beckham a clear third.
Currently I have them graded Iglesias B-, Hechavarria C+, Beckham C+. It is a definite balancing act. I went with the B- for Iglesias because he can stick at shortstop. I strongly considered it for Hechavarria because he can stick at short and I think he has the potential to hit better than he has so far. I may yet change his grade. I don't think Beckham will be a regular shortstop, but if he can handle second base and develop his hitting further, he could still end up as a decent regular, so he's a potential B- too.
I won't be making a final decision about any of this for another two weeks.