by Rob Leibowitz
Shortstop offers some of the more exciting young players in the game like Jurickson Profar, Manny Machado, and Xander Bogaerts. While I fully encourage you to select players like these in keeper leagues (particularly Profar), there is little chance these players will help you in 2012 unless you intend to utilize them as trade bait. That's not necessarily a bad idea as a player like a Profar alone could potentially get you the key pieces you need to win your league, but if you are looking towards players who can help you this season and/or who will be targeted by players looking for players to help them in 2013, then we must consider our impact prospects for 2012.
Atlanta's Tyler Pastornicky may have an impact in 2012, entering spring training with the Braves' shortstop job as his to lose. The 22-year-old is what I call a utilitarian player. He plays solid defense, has a well disciplined, contact-hitting approach at the plate, and has some tools in the speed department, when combined with his aforementioned contact-making ways, could let him hit for average at the MLB level. Pastornicky is a possible .280/20+ steal guy as soon as this year, but it will be interesting to see whether MLB-level pitchers are able to overpower the rookie over the long haul. That will be the true test as to whether Pastornicky is a starter or useful utility guy in the long run.
The Reds handed Zack Cozart the starting shortstop job last season until he went down with an elbow injury to his non-throwing elbow (Tommy John surgery). Cozart remains a fairly aggressive right-handed hitter who makes good contact, has some power potential (mid-teens per season home run level) and plays solid defense, though I would probably ignore his 17 home run output of 2010 given a fairly consistently low (just over 30%) fly-ball rate over his minor league career. Cozart has shown some modest platoon splits and is more effective against left-handed pitching and that could hold back his batting average ability. Right now a .260-.270 batting average with 10 to 15 homers while perhaps cracking double digits in steals should be about what to expect in a typical season from him.
Don't see it? Iglesias
The Phillies' Freddy Galvis may have been in line for more playing time if Jimmy Rollins had not re-signed, but about the best he can hope for now is a utility/back-up gig. His glove at least should allow him to make the majors. A switch-hitter, Galvis has little power, but is more of a make contact and use his foot-speed type anyway. If he gets playing time, it will be due to injury and the speed may worth looking into as a short-term pick-up. Right now I think he's a utility man long-term.
Despite a contact rate of over 90% in 568 plate appearances, Kansas City's Christian Colon still managed just a .257/.325/.342 line in Double-A Northwest Arkansas. I am actually cautiously optimistic as Colon did, once upon a time, have some power and is a former first-round pick. His .271 BABIP suggests some batting average upside and the 22-year-old does have a decent enough glove to stay at shortstop. Most likely Colon is a utility player, but in 2012 he is still a prospect who will be advancing to Triple-A. It may be his last chance with such status, but Colon has enough tools to be worth watching.
The Rays have a pair of shortstops in the upper levels of their system. Tim Beckham will begin the year where he finished in Triple-A Durham as will Hak-Ju Lee, but in Double-A Montgomery. Beckham was a number one overall pick but he simply has not developed as promised, paving the way for Lee long-term. Beckham is still a superior athlete, but the results are not showing up as his plate discipline has yet to develop, nor has he shown a great deal of power, and his defense remains raw and inconsistent. Beckham turned 22 in late January, so quite frankly there is still plenty of time here, but I am suspecting that if Beckham does blossom into a future MLB starter, it may be in another organization.
Lee, meanwhile, will not turn 22 until November. He does not have Beckham's ceiling, but is a more refined product who makes a fair amount of contact. Lee struggled in his late season, 24 game sample at Double-A, but at 20 years old, was relatively young for the level. The youngster shows good selectivity, and has above average speed, stealing at least 25 bags every season to date including 33 last year. He is not going to astonish anyone with his power, but this lefty could be someone who can be of value at the MLB level due to his contact/speed profile.
Minnesota's Brian Dozier is a bit more of an offensive shortstop and maybe able to play the position at the major league level but second base is probably a better fit. The Twins had him play at High-A and Double-A ball last year and he topped .300 at both levels while hitting 9 homers and stealing 24 bags. Dozier is also a rather good contact hitter (85% at Double-A being a decline for him) and a patient hitter at that, drawing double-digit walks throughout the lower minors. Keep in mind that Dozier has been consistently old for his level and he will turn 25 in May. This screams "in need of a challenge." It would a shame to see the Twins have him start the year off in Double-A again especially when you consider the Twins' mediocre to poor production from their middle infield as it currently stands.
The Angels' Andrew Romine probably will not challenge Erick Aybar too much for playing time, but he is a well above average defender with a good combination of speed and patience. In his first exposure to Triple-A, however, pitchers handled him better; cutting his ability to make contact, and the lack of pop in Romine's bat was notable too. He too looks like a utility infielder, but perhaps if the 26-year-old can rediscover his earlier contact-making skills, he could be of some use for fantasy players in deep-league formats.
Seattle's Carlos Triunfel falls into the Tim Beckham category of high-end tools, unfulfilled potential, and frustration. He is, however, coming off a season where he ended up in Triple-A Tacoma and did not embarrass himself, hitting .279 and was just 21 while he did it. Triunfel no longer appears to be much of a speed threat, but does have a fair amount of power potential. The number one thing holding Triunfel back is his over aggressiveness at the plate and he perhaps needs to be convinced to be more selective, swinging at strikes, making harder contact on his pitch. Triunfel should get at least a cup of coffee later this year.
Triunfel, however, does have some competition. On his heels is fellow Mariners prospect Nicholas Franklin who recently ascended to Double-A at just 20 years of age. In 2010, Franklin was a 20-20 man in low-A ball, but spent most of the second half of 2011 on the disabled list after being struck In the jaw with a bat and a nasty bout with food poisoning. He lost a good deal of his strength and his numbers certainly showed it. Still, Franklin features an interesting package of power, modest speed, and patience. He also showed some signs of improving his contact at two levels last year and with it, his ability to hit for average. I expect him to begin 2012 in Double-A, but a rebound/full-strength season could have him on the fast track to at least a cup of coffee.
I am tempted to place Boston's Jose Iglesias on the roster-filler list, but there is still some hope that he will improve his game and become an everyday player. His glove certainly fits that bill and Iglesias does have 20+ stolen base potential, but he has marginal power and is overly aggressive at the plate. Unless something really clicks, I just don't see it.
Colorado's Hector Gomez falls into the good tools, so-so execution category. He earns praise for his defense, his speed, and even his power from the position, after hitting a career high 14 home runs. His approach at the plate, however, is a disaster. He managed just a .235/.272 line while striking out more than a fifth of a time as a right-handed hitter. He will advance to Triple-A this season and will likely spend most of the season there as he is blocked by a player by the name of Troy Tulowitzki. The acquisition of Marcos Scutaro also added some stability finally to second base for the Rockies, for at least one year, so a few short stays may be all he has to hope for in 2012.
The Cardinals re-signed Rafael Furcal for two years so shortstop is blocked at the moment, nevertheless, Ryan Jackson will advance to Triple-A after a respectable, though not overwhelming, .278/.334/.415 effort in Double-A. In the lower levels of the minors and in this past year's Arizona Fall League, Jackson has shown more impressive plate discipline, particularly in terms of his patience. Maintaining those elevated levels can only help to add to his batting average and value. While Jackson hit 11 homers last year, he is more of a high single digits per season home run type. Given Furcal's recent injury history, Jackson could be up several times this season and could lay claim to the starting job on a more permanent basis in 2013.
Pittsburgh brought in Clint Barmes and has Chase D'Arnaud at shortstop with Neil Walker at second, so the Pirates seem fairly well set up the middle, at least for now. Jordy Mercer, however, may force his way into a big league spot. The 25-year-old will move to second base in the long run and may be best suited to a utility role, but at least is capable of providing some power off the bench (19 HRs last year). Upon reaching Triple-A, his contact rates fell over 6% to 83% and he hit just .239, so it remains to be seen how well he can hit right-handed pitching at the upper levels. Mercer is probably a utility guy, but possibly one with some value in NL only leagues.
Tools alert! Jonathan Villar is a bright spot in the Astros organization, but he is certainly high risk/high reward. At 20 years of age he advanced all the way to Double-A Corpus Christi, flashing a very good glove, as well as his plus speed and a bit of pop. He also struck out 100 times. His overall 2011 numbers included 156 strikeouts, 14 homers, and 34 steals. Offensive tools like this from the shortstop position are of course extremely desirable for the fantasy player, but it looks like the Astros are being a bit too aggressive with his promotions and Villar needs quite a bit more time refining his game. But he is a switch hitter and definitely has youth on his side.
Some other rookie shortstops you may see this season, though they have little upside beyond that of utility players or Triple-A roster filler include Peter Kozma, Yamaico Navarro, Osvaldo Martinez, Juan Diaz, Pedro Florimon Jr., Eduardo Escobar and Darwin Perez. While I do not necessarily endorse the use of these players, they may be of some use as place-holders in deep leagues.
Possible MLB Phase Draft/Auction Sections:
Tyler Pastornicky, Zack Cozart
Possible Minor League Draft Phase Selections:
Tim Beckham, Hak-Ju Lee, Brian Dozier, Nicholas Franklin, Carlos Triunfel, Ryan Jackson, Jonathan Villar
Possible In-Season FAAB Pick-Ups:
Jordy Mercer, Christian Colon, Andrew Romine, Osvaldo Martinez, Freddy Galvis, Yamaico Navarro, Hector Gomez, Jose Iglesias
If there are shortstops who were not included in this piece who you would like me to discuss, feel free to comment below or post to the Mastersball.com forums.