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April 18, 2013

Prospects Will Break Your Heart

Checking in On: Shortstops, Part 2

by Jason Parks


In part one of the series, we checked in on the pure shortstops in the minors, the players who stand above the rest with the leather and project to stay at position all the way up the chain. The criterion for inclusion in this particular series was a placement on the Baseball Prospectus 101, a team top 10 list, or a mention as an “On the Rise” candidate for the individual team prospect ranking series, so the pool of talent is by no means the entire ocean. By breaking down these featured prospects, the goal is to highlight the extreme depth at the position in the minors, while also shedding some light on the early season developments of the talent in question.

Part 2 will focus on the players housed in the tier below the pure leather wizards in the minors, but ones who still have the quality to stick around at the position despite some whispers to the contrary. It needs to be remembered just how difficult it is to profile as a shortstop at the highest level, as only a select few can stand above the crowded field of highly skilled individuals and wear the badge of the position. The “Pure Enough” tier features prospects known more for their offensive potential than their defensive heroics, but we shouldn’t be too quick to dismiss their skill at the position just because the profile lacks the cloak of the magus. These combo prospects have some of the highest ceilings in the minors, with impact potential bats and the actions and arms to make plays at a premium position on the diamond.

The Pure-Enough Shortstops

Javier Baez (Cubs)
Placement on BP 101
: 20
Current Level: High-A Daytona
2013 Sample: .207/.242/.483 (13 games; 58 at-bats)
Notes: You can make the case that Baez has the highest offensive ceiling of any shortstop prospect in the game, thanks in large part to his elite bat speed. Baez generates silly amounts of torque in his setup and swing, which can make a baseball have a sad if he finds a way to put the barrel on it. The biggest hurdle has been an immature approach to hitting, which is a very see-ball, hit-ball mentality, and Baez often sees the ball and attempts to hit the ball when he shouldn’t. So far in 2013, the 20-year-old prospect is continuing to show an aggressive approach at the plate, expanding the zone and giving pitchers a roadmap for his exploitation. If he can work himself into better counts and not forecast the fastball timing in his swing, he should find more contact, which would let his near-elite raw power find its way into game action with more consistency. On the defensive side of things, Baez is better than people realize, with whispers of an eventual move to the hot corner but more than enough talent to handle the demands of shortstop; his arm is strong enough to play anywhere on the diamond and the hands are soft and the actions fluid. The range isn’t special, and as he continues to physically mature and add muscle mass, he is a good candidate to lose some lateral quickness and overall speed. He could emerge as a Gold Glove-caliber third baseman thanks to the arm and glove, but if the range holds, he can stick around at shortstop for the foreseeable future.

Addison Russell (Athletics)
Placement on BP 101:
22
Current Level: High-A Stockton
2013 Sample: .190/.292/.286 (5 Games, 21 at-bats)
Notes: Russell’s a stud, with the potential for a 6 hit tool and 6 power if everything clicks. Coming into his professional career, there were big question marks about his defensive skill set, with a thicker build raising some red flags about range and fluidity of actions at shortstop. But Russell arrived on the scene with a better body than people expected and better all-around chops at the position, not only giving hope that he could stave off a positional switch in the minors, but changing his projection at the position as well. They way it looks right now, Russell is a shortstop and is going to stay a shortstop, with enough arm and glove-work to handle the position. It’s not always silky smooth and easy, but its not awkward and clumsy either, as there is feel involved and a strong work ethic to improve. If the bat does what the bat is projected to do, Russell could develop into one of the top prospects in the game.

Carlos Correa (Astros)
Placement on BP 101:
26
Current Level: Low-A Quad Cities
2013 Sample: .250/.415/.438 (8 games; 32 at-bats)
Notes: With early coverage being the way it is, not many of my industry sources have been able to put eyes on Correa in his full-season debut. I was on a call about another player when a scout asked me if I had anything good on Correa. He scouted the kid as an amateur and loved him, and had just recently put eyes on him for the first time since he was drafted 1:1 by the Astros last June. While slobbering all over the kid, the scout suggested that Correa’s “Presence Factor” was off the charts, which I quickly told him I was going to steal for my own use on Baseball Prospectus. Presence factor is an ideal way to describe Correa, who might be only 18, but who carries himself like a seasoned veteran, both in terms of in-game approach and work ethic. The raw tools are all there to develop into a superstar talent, with better-than-you-think defensive chops at shortstop and big raw power, but the glue that will hold the monster together is makeup, and Correa wears his like a number on his back. You don’t have to be a scout to sit in the stands and recognize that something separates Correa from the majority of players on the field. While it’s clear that he’s a raw talent with rough edges and several developmental obstacles to overcome, it’s also clear that there is something special about the prospect. Presence Factor: Special.

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