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.”
Even though the season is young and has yet to offer much in the way of a blossom or a wilt, let’s check in on the 2013 class of shortstops in the minors, putting them in purity tiers designed to highlight the likelihood of defensive sustainability at the position, ranging from the purest in the field to those who might be hard pressed to stick at the position at the highest level. For this particular article, let’s keep the bulk of the focus on the top-tier talent, but add scouting notes on a few of the lesser names in the class who have a chance to make waves this season.
The Pure Shortstops
Jurickson Profar (Rangers)
Placement on BP 101: 1
Current level: Triple-A Round Rock
2013 Sample: .222.400/.259 (8 games; 27 at-bats)
Notes: The consensus top prospect in the game, Profar failed to crack the Opening Day 25, but the roster crunch had more to do with a surplus of bodies than with Profar’s readiness for the challenge. With Elvis penciled in as the starting shortstop for the next decade, Profar’s likely home will be at second, but not because of any defensive limitations he might have; Profar’s slick in the field, with a very good glove, a very strong arm, and a flair for making the difficult play. He will still make the casual error, and his decision making often has a stronger tether to the dramatic than to fundamentals, but he makes plays. The stick can separate him from others in the class, because he could end up with a well above average hit tool coupled with at least average power, making him a force on both sides of the ball. He’s off to an odd start in Triple-A, with a lot of walks but not a lot of quality contact, especially from the left side of the plate. It’s only a matter of time before Profar finds his way to the major-league level, but unless he is offered up in a trade, he won’t be making his bones as a shortstop for the Rangers.
Francisco Lindor (Indians)
Placement on BP 101: 10
Current Level: High-A Carolina
2013 Sample: .333/.429/.472 (10 games; 36 at-bats)
Notes: It was during the fall instructional league in 2011, not long after Lindor signed and managed to play a few games in the New York-Penn League, that I first put eyes on him. I was in Goodyear, standing with my face folded into the fence surrounding the field, watching this 17-year-old shortstop showcase talents that were far more developed than his age might suggest. The following day, I was sharing the experience with a member of another team’s front office, waxing poetic about his glove and his approach and his superman qualities, which I think I amended to include a cape and spandex and perhaps the ability to heal the sick. The money quote that followed form the industry source burrowed its way into my head, ringing at the same volume 18 months later. “Lindor is going to play shortstop at the major-league level for 15 years. He might not be a glory guy, but you can have the lineups printed up in advance with his name on them.” You aren’t going to hear this about many players in the minors, and the qualities that prompted such a statement are already evident in his lower-level game. In a small sample, the now 19-year-old is hitting for average, showing a very mature approach at the plate, and flashing the type of leather that will play all the way up the chain. He’s a special talent despite the fact that his numbers might fall short of that distinction. The number on his back, as he trots out to a premium position in the Indians org for the foreseeable future, is the number that matters the most.
Adalberto Mondesi (Royals)
Placement on BP 101: 58
Current Level: Low-A Lexington
Notes: While he won’t be confused for an elite defender at the position, Mondesi does project to have a plus profile at shortstop, a rarity even among the most talented of players. The actions are smooth and the arm plenty strong, but his overall feel and instincts for the game are what push his skill set above most of his contemporaries. Despite only being 17, you can see that Mondesi has the ability to slow the game down, to play at an elevated level against elevated competition without losing his approach or his presence on the field. He’s still raw in all phases of the game, especially at the plate, where he shows the necessary instincts to hit but lacks the strength in the swing and experience to hit with much authority. He’s going to swing and miss a lot in these formidable developmental years, and when contact is made, it’s more likely to be soft than threatening, but it’s all going to be there in the end. The similarities to both Profar and Lindor can’t be discounted, as all three are switch-hitting shortstops with instincts feel for all phases of the game. It might take Mondesi a few years to reach a similar prospect tier, but the talent is there for such an eventuality.
Hak-Ju Lee (Rays)
Placement on BP 101: 75
Current Level: Triple-A Durham
2013 Sample: .412/.512/.647 (10 games; 34 at-bats)
Notes: Lee’s stock took a hit last season with a disappointing run at the plate in the Southern League, as he hit an empty .261 and looked overmatched against quality stuff. So far in 2013, the 22-year-old is hitting over .400 and showing impressive secondary skills, but the real Lee is probably closer to the 2012 version, a contact-oriented hitter who puts his legs into the equation and good ball/strike-recognition skills that allow for some on-base ability. What puts Lee on this tier is his overall defensive skill set, which is very fluid and easy, with soft hands, a strong arm, and excellent range. Being a plus-plus runner helps, but Lee shows an aptitude for the position and a quick first step and body control. As a player who profiles as an above average defender at the highest level, any impact with the bat will be gravy, and if Lee can make quality contact against quality pitching, use his legs to put pressure on the defense, and work some walks, he has a chance to reach a first-division ceiling.
Luis Sardinas (Rangers)
Placement on BP 101: 86
Current Level: High-A Myrtle Beach
Notes: A true Venezuelan shortstop, Sardinas has even louder tools than his fellow July 2nd and organizational mate Jurickson Profar. He hasn’t been very lucky on the health front, losing valuable developmental time thanks to multiple shoulder injuries, but when he’s on the field, he has the skills to stand out; the defense profiles as an easy 6 at the highest level, with big range, a strong arm, and the type of actions that stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the best in the minors. His body is skinny and not particular strong, which can leave his loose, easy swing a bit empty, but he shows contact ability and the wheels to help that play up. This is a big if, but if Sardinas can stay healthy and manage to add some weight and strength to his wiry frame, the bat could make some noise and push him up prospect lists, giving Texas a valuable trade chip going forward.
Outside the top 101
Jose Iglesias (Red Sox)
Placement on Red Sox Top Ten: 9
Current Level: Triple-A Pawtucket
2013 Sample: .143/.294/.357 (4 games; 14 at-bats)
Notes: Iglesias raked out of the gate for the Sox, with nine hits in his first 20 at-bats, but soon found himself back in Triple-A with the arrival of Stephen Drew on the major-league scene. Iglesias sits atop this list when it comes to defensive wizardry, with a glove that some scouts don’t hesitate to put an 80 grade on. The bat is his biggest weakness, and one of the reasons he found himself on the outside of the top 101 prospects in the game. This guy doesn’t have to do much at the plate to have value, and if he can find his stroke in Pawtucket and keep his focus despite a yo-yo developmental journey since signing in 2009, he will get another chance to prove his mettle at the highest level. Defense isn’t the same draw as power or speed, but I’d pay twice the price of admission just to watch Iglesias take infield.
Didi Gregorius (DBacks)
Placement on DBacks Top Ten: 5
Current Level: Triple-A Reno
2013 Sample: .423/.464/.731 (6 games; 26 at-bats)
Notes: The prospect return in the Trevor Bauer trade, Gregorius arrived on the scene as a well known defensive player, but questions about the bat have prevented him from emerging as a top prospect. First of all, his real name is Mariekson Julius Gregorius, which is a plus-plus name and it makes me want to see him succeed. More importantly, the 23-year-old can really pick it at shortstop, with an above average glove and a plus-plus hose for an arm. Opinions vary on his offensive potential, with some saying his solid-average hit tool will play up even higher thanks to the speed and he could be a .280-plus hitter, while others think he will struggle against velocity and fall short of what could make him an everyday player. The 2013 sample is tiny, and the environment he’s playing could balloon the numbers and disguise the faults, so it will be important to measure Gregorius’s progress once he returns to the major-league level.
Jonathan Villar (Astros)
Placement on Astros Top Ten: 6
Current Level: Triple-A Oklahoma City
Notes: Villar has loud tools and a respectable ceiling because of those loud tools, but the utility of those tools is another story. Villar is a player who rarely puts everything together on a given night, either flashing the leather or forcing the arm, or showing off a nice swing only to lose his approach, or succumbing to his emotions and taking himself out of the focus of the game. The hit tool is below average and unlikely to have impact, but with plus defensive tools and easy plus run, Villar could have some value, especially on a team short on talent at the position. But the woes of 2012 have carried over to 2013, as Villar is dead weight at the plate and getting absolutely punished by right-handed pitching. As a floor Villar projected as a utility man, but that floor has the potential to rot away if the bat can’t show any signs of life.
Jose Peraza (Braves)
Placement on Braves Top Ten: 7
Current Level: Low-A Rome
Notes: If you notice, when I speak of Venezuelan shortstops, I do so with reverence and respect, as the country has a knack for growing impressive leather wizards. Peraza is another in a long line of slick defenders from the area, possessing the kind of skills that have impact potential at the highest level. The arm is an easy 6 and possibly a 7, with the glove and range both projecting at the plus level. The bat has some promise, with a short to-the-ball swing built for contact, although it’s underdeveloped when compared the defensive chops and likely to stay in the backseat during the developmental journey. Peraza made the jump to full-season ball to start the 2013 season, and I’m going to assume he will be over his head on the offensive side of the ball for the majority of it. He’s soon to turn 19 and the Braves are in a good position to allow him the time to develop, even if that means he spends several years in the lower minors. The glove, the arm, and the speed make this kid an interesting prospect, and down the line the bat has a chance to make him a very legit player. It’s very early in the process, but the reports on the defensive chops are very good and despite not hitting much in his first two weeks of action, his approach is keeping him in counts and giving him opportunities to reach base.