Looking at the top shortstop prospects who are likely to remain prospects but unlikely to remain shortstops.
In the first two installments of this series, we took a detailed look at the progress of the top shortstops in the minors; specifically, the shortstops who either possessed the pure skill to stick at the position all the way up the chain or possessed enough of that desired purity to make an interesting argument for their long-term projection at the position. For the third and final section, we will take a closer look at the shortstops who feature a less-than-pure skill set and will most likely be playing another position at the highest level.
It needs to be said that not all shortstops are created equal, and just because there is a 6 next to your name on the lineup doesn’t mean you possess the aforementioned pure defensive qualities of the players evaluated in previous articles. Organizational need and passable [read: suspect but playable] skills can often win the day, and without trusted eyes on the prize, a good bat can often influence how we view a good glove. It’s realistic to assume that a few prospects featured in this part of the series might end up playing some shortstop at the major-league level, and suggesting otherwise isn’t an assault on their status; rather, projecting a player to stay at the position at the highest level is highly uncommon, which should elevate those in that category without diminishing those who fall a little short. These are the prospects for whom industry opinion reaches volumes louder than a whisper when it comes to their ultimate defensive roles.
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Looking at the early-season returns on shortstops who might stick at the position.
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.
Looking at the early-season performances at one of the minors' deepest positions.
While it’s premature to suggest the 2013 crop of minor-league shortstops will usher in a Golden Era for the position, the class of talent might be the deepest at the position we’ve seen in a long time. Heading into the season, 13 shortstops cracked the Baseball Prospectus 101, including seven within the top 35. Going even deeper, more than 25 shortstops were included on individual teams’ top 10 lists, with several more featured as “On the Rise” candidates for the season.
Unlike in previous seasons, the current class is lousy with legitimacy, meaning the bulk of the crop has a good chance to remain at the position going forward. Just looking back a few seasons, some of the 101-worthy shortstop prospects included names likes Grant Green, and Wilmer Flores, and Christian Colon, and Miguel Sano, guys who aren’t what I would consider pure shortstops, or even worthy of the distinction “pure enough.”
Bubba Starling has started slow. Is there legitimate cause for concern?
Throughout the 2013 season, we will be providing updates on the developmental ups and downs of the top prospects in the game, with a heavy focus on scouting reports and, when applicable, eyewitness takes. Knowing why a prospect is thriving, surviving, or dying is more important than just providing you with the status, free from explanation. With an unbalanced playing field in unbalanced environments, players will rise and fall for a variety of reasons, and cutting away the costume that can obscure the realities of a situation is the task we will willingly burden ourselves with.
As the minor-league season starts to find its legs, our eyes turn to daily box scores and Twitter blasts, hoping to see the stars of tomorrow flashing that promise on the smaller stages of today. We look for patterns in order to establish momentum or regression, and we cross our fingers that the slow starts are merely small sample sizes playing the villain and the fast starts are not only sustainable but the opening salvo of a monumental climb up the prospect ranks and the corporate ladder.
As is customary, I recently returned from a lengthy spring training odyssey and sat down for a lengthy online chat, where hours rolled into hours and the questions flowed forth in a never-ending supply. Aside from the backfield games in March, the post-spring training chat is my favorite part of the process, a detox of sorts from the grind of camp. My latest installment ran a robust eight hours and featured over 300 answers, although at least a quarter of the responses were sententious at best and esoteric to a fault at worst. But when it comes to the baseball opinions, I tried to answer with thought and honesty, and I stand by the statements on their merits, without a hedge or a statesman-like wiggle to avoid accountability in the face of ignorance or mistake.
It’s easy to let your fingers do the work of your lips, spouting off rhymes without much reason in an environment where failed prophecies hide in the shadows and successful prognostications get to live on the mantle in the family room for all guests to admire. If you are going to champion your scouting wins, it’s equally important to stand next to your scouting loses, and I’d rather present a responsible product that I take ownership of than play politician in order to maintain a high-gloss on an expert badge this particular platform pins to my chest. I don’t mind being wrong. I expect to be wrong. But I want to learn from those mistakes and misjudgments, and I don’t find much comfort in the binary outcomes of the process.
It's a rare player indeed who could make the jump Jose Fernandez made. Jason asks front office executives which ones could handle it next year.
While it might seem silly to speculate about possible 2014 assignments, the unexpected promotion of 20-year-old Jose Fernandez to the major leagues took my mind down a curious path. It’s not every day that a prospect ascends to the highest level without first making a stop in the upper minors, especially when the prospect is only two years removed from high school. It has to start with the opportunity, as unexpected injuries and limited options put the Marlins in a personnel quandary, a situation so distressed that a pitcher with only 11 starts at the High-A level was a reasonable choice to secure a spot in the rotation. What I find more interesting is not the decision itself, but the individual characteristics of the pitcher who made such a decision plausible in the first place.
The jump from the High-A level to the Double-A level is considered the second-largest talent jump in the minors, second only to the jump from Triple-A to the majors, and Fernandez is being asked to make both jumps at the same time. This is a monumental challenge that few prospects in the game could manage, both on a physical level (talent) and an emotional level (makeup). Fernandez has both, with room to spare, which isn’t to suggest his refinement level is up to major-league standards or that the decision to promote him so aggressively should be shielded from criticism; rather, Fernandez possesses the necessary characteristics to make such a leap justifiable, at least from a scouting perspective, and that puts him in elite company in that regard.
Closing out the spring with scouting reports from the minor-league camps.
What started on February 22nd just ended on April 1st, as I enjoyed the comforts of my own bed for the first time in five weeks and I ordered a pizza that didn’t come with the assembly-line accoutrements of crushed peppers in a package or a clever banana pepper with insignificant aromatic function. With workouts, day games on multiple fields, and the occasional night game, finding the time while camp is in session to properly document the day’s events is a futile challenge. With the luxury of time and energy back on my side, it's time to deliver the remaining backfield notes, limited in narrative but meaty with in-person scouting meat. Jason Cole and I not only put eyes on some of the top prospects in Arizona, we were also fortunate to have front row seats to several breakout performances from under-the-radar prospects, players on the fringe of ubiquitous prospect glory who no doubt will be household names when camp starts next year. Here we go:
In the unexpected event of witnessing magic, please keep a tether to your breath and a shot of Fernet on the ready. It’s important to be alert when it happens. I think I saw it happen last fall; my mind is a mess from failures of the past and the sunshine, but I’d wager that I saw it happen last fall. I was freshly sad and sampled, covered in an emotional fur that resembled actual fur because my tears had long dried up and turned into hair and like Velcro I attracted debris and I bathed in a river to avoid humiliation. Sad eyes searching for a prize, and I found it on a field, with direct heat cooking me from the outside in. I turned to a friend and asked if he believed in enchantment. He said she was never coming back.
I think it happened on a numbered field in front of a small number of people, hats over all the heads to protect them from the seductive nature of prospect sorcery. I acquiesce to all charms and attentions, and I rarely wear hats because it can temper the effect, and when you are lost, it’s important not to temper the effect. He was playing shortstop--a precocious study—and I was playing the wishful thinker. The name on the jersey suggested we pay attention regardless of action and I did with ardent intent; although, names are just names and magic is best delivered by moves and not by patronymic means, or by other forms of surface heredity. But I was paying attention, and the son of Raul Mondesi started sawing a woman in half in between the left-side bases, much to the delight of this audience of one.