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.
Trevor Story (Rockies)
Placement on BP 101: 34
Current Level: High-A Modesto
2013 Sample: .136/.255/.250 (12 games, 44 at-bats)
Notes: Baseball Prospectus ranked Story as the top prospect in the Rockies organization, and 34th overall in baseball, which is crazy praise given the depth of talent in the minors. Story stands out for me because of his offensive potential coupled with his ability to play shortstop, and the cocktail is made even more potent by an instinctual connection to the game. Story is a baseball player with baseball skills, and despite a slow start to the year, the promise remains. His swing features some miss and he has a tendency to drop the shoulder and load up for power, but he understands the strike zone and isn’t immune to taking a walk. He needs to improve against secondary stuff and his overall approach needs work, which means staying back on the ball, shortening the swing with two strikes and using more of an all-fields approach. On defense, Story isn’t Ozzie Smith, but he flashes fundamental skills and has a plus arm, and looks like a shortstop at the highest level. As a 20-year-old in an advanced league, Story is likely to struggle, especially if the menu calls for an abundance of breaking balls. But he has the skills and the instincts to adjust, and whatever stains happen to appear on the 2013 stat sheet won’t be permanent.
Chris Owings (DBacks)
Placement on BP 101: 81
Current Level: Triple-A Reno
2013 Sample: .391/.435/.563 (14 games; 64 at-bats)
Notes: Last season, Owings crushed in the California League and then struggled in his first taste of Double-A, the level that helps to separate the players from the pretenders in the minors. I fully expected Owings to return to the level in 2013 for offensive adjustment, but a jump to Triple-A was in the cards, and so far, Owings is playing up to the challenge. It’s a very hitter-friendly environment and the small sample is inflated even more as a result, but what matters is that Owings is putting good wood to the ball. It’s a gamer profile, with a solid-average skill set that can play up in game action, and Owings isn’t likely to develop into a star player at the highest level. But he can play shortstop, he fits the mold of a quality no. 2 hitter, with good situational skills and some pop, and he brings it night after night. With Gregorius ahead of him in the pecking order and limited experience in the upper minors, Owings isn’t likely to make a splash at the highest level in 2013. But if he keeps grinding and improving with the stick, he could force his way into the discussion for 2014.
Outside the 101
Orlando Calixte (Royals)
Placement on (updated) Royals Top 10: 9
Current Level: Double-A Northwest Arkansas
2013 Sample: .205/.279/.282 (10 games; 39 at-bats)
Notes: Calixte is far from a refined product, but the bat has juice in it and the defensive profile is at least a 5 with a chance to be a little more. Calixte has a plus arm, plus range, and enough playmaking electricity to show some flash, but the glove isn’t consistent and can play down from the raw grade. It’s hard to peg his exact potential because his performances often feature the schizophrenic characteristics of a much younger player, and its difficult to see what player is left standing at the top of the developmental arc. I really like the pop in the bat and he has the chops to stick at shortstop, so a little extra patience in the developmental ups and downs is required.
Orlando Arcia (Brewers)
Placement on Brewers Top 10: On the Rise
Current Level: Low-A Wisconsin
2013 Sample: .190/.205/.262 (10 games; 42 at-bats)
Notes: Recently profiled in a Monday Morning Ten Pack, Arcia turned heads this spring and brings a formidable skill set to the table. The 18-year-old is smooth in the field, with clean actions and a good arm, and at the plate, shows good hittability and command of the bat. He’s certainly not off to a roaring start in his full-season debut, but this is a kid who not only missed last season with a broken ankle but is making the jump from the Dominican Summer League all the way to full-season ball. To make matters even more complicated, Arcia is a Venezuelan kid with a professional resume limited to the Dominican Republic and the Brewers’ team complex in Arizona, and now he’s in an environment where playing under lights is the norm and snow accumulation can postpone games. Needless to say, Arcia has some adjustments to make, but the raw tools make him an interesting prospect, one who is on rise in the Brewers’ farm.
Eugenio Suarez (Tigers)
Placement on Tigers Top 10: 7
Current Level: High-A Lakeland
2013 Sample: .264/.333/.302 (13 games; 53 at-bats)
Notes: Suarez isn’t a flashy talent, utilizing a contact-heavy approach at the plate and workmanlike qualities in the field. The glove is solid-average to plus, and he makes the fundamental plays in a fundamental fashion. The arm and range aren’t special but they are effective, and Suarez should be able to play left-side defense for a very long time. The bat isn’t going to make him a name prospect, but he can put the bat on the ball and has an approach, so his profile can offer more than one dimension. In the end, he might be a better fit for a utility role rather than a major-league regular, but he has the type of skills that play at the highest level.
Deven Marrero (Red Sox)
Placement on Red Sox Top 10: On the Rise
Current Level: High-A Salem
2013 Sample: .286/.405/.457 (10 games; 35 at-bats)
Notes: Marrero is the rare college shortstop who projects to stay at the position at the highest level, with solid-average defensive tools across the board. He’s not an impact bat, but has some contact ability and doubles power, and he isn’t going to give away at-bats with an overly aggressive or careless approach. He looks good so far in High-A, doing his thing with the contact and approach and playing solid-average to plus defense, making all the plays that he can get to. It might only be a second-division profile, but legit shortstops with something to offer on offense will always have value.
Jose Vinicio (Red Sox)
Placement on Red Sox Top 10 List: On the Rise
Current Level: Low-A Greenville
2013 Sample: .263/.333/.368 (10 games; 38 at-bats)
Notes: The Red Sox gave Vinicio close to $2 million to sign back in 2009, mostly on the strength of his precocious defensive abilities and projection at the plate. The glove is pretty slick, with fluid actions and plus potential with more repetition, and the arm and range both grade out as solid-average or higher. At the plate, the 19-year-old can make contact and shows bat speed, so more pop is likely once the body gets stronger. In a return trip to the Sally League Vinicio is doing Vinicio-like things, struggling from the right side of the plate and being overly aggressive, but flashing leather and showing an impressive bat from the left side. The ceiling is high, but the floor is low, and this could go a number of different ways.
Yadiel Rivera (Brewers)
Placement on Brewers Top 10: On the Rise
Current Level: High-A Brevard
2013 Sample: .188/.204/.229 (13 games; 48 at-bats)
Notes: I was able to watch Rivera in action this spring, and I was quite impressed with his defensive skills and underwhelmed by his natural ability to hit. It’s always so confusing when a player with great hands in the field can’t display those hands at the plate, but Rivera didn’t control the bat very well and he couldn’t square up velocity, even when it was telegraphed and left out over the plate. The approach doesn’t help his cause, as he expands and chases, and has a tendency to swing and miss both in and out of the zone. As impressive as the glove is, and I would put a 6 on his future defensive profile, the hit tool might suppress any power potential that exists, and really limits the range of his prospect potential.
Eric Stamets (Angels)
Placement on Angels Top 10: 10
Current Level: High-A Inland Empire
2013 Sample: .245/.286/.302 (13 games; 53 at-bats)
Notes: A few scouts tried to make the case that Stamets belonged in the pure shortstop tier, and perhaps he does. The glove is above average, with soft hands and smooth actions. Everything is very easy, which points to the instincts at play, which also help the solid-average to plus glove/arm combo play up in game action. He’s an easy plus runner and perhaps a 7, which gives him range in the field and a catalytic dimension to his offensive game. He’s not a great hitter, and projecting the bat to a 5 might be optimistic. But he’s a mature defender with a lot of speed, and if he can just hit a little he can eventually carve out a career as a utility option.
Marco Hernandez (Cubs)
Placement on Cubs Top 10: On the Rise
Current Level: Low-A Kane County
2013 Sample: .200/.237/.257 (10 games; 35 at-bats)
Notes: On paper, it looks like a utility profile, with left-side chops and an iffy bat, but it’s too early to put Hernandez in that box. The swing is contact oriented but not empty, as he can drive the ball when he puts good wood to it. The biggest problem at the full-season level is that he’s not putting the barrel on the ball with any consistency, and when he does happen upon contact, its weak. He can makes his bones on his glove, as it profiles in the solid-average to plus range, and he shouldn’t have a problem sticking on the left side of the infield. But he will have to hit if he wants to advance as a prospect, and early reports from the full-season level aren’t very promising.
Part 3 up next