By Rob Leibowitz
Once again we continue our look at the Impact Prospects for 2013! This week: a detailed look at the field of shortstops.
Jurickson Profar is widely considered one of, if not the, best hitting prospects in all of baseball as of this moment. As a 19-year-old (and he does not turn 20 for another 2 days), Profar hit 15 home runs and stole 16 bases while displaying the plate discipline of a skilled veteran with a 12% walk rate and 14% strikeout rate. I failed to mention that defensively, Profar should be able to stick at shortstop long-term too.
Lee has speed
The Rangers are well-stocked in the middle infield with Elvis Andrus and Ian Kinsler. Even though Profar may actually be given a shot at earning a slot on the opening day roster, the Rangers have zero reason to rush him and the most likely outcome has Profar beginning 2013 in Triple-A and possibly spending substantial time there, barring injuries at the MLB level. Profar looks like a .300 hitter in waiting given good power and speed skills and may have a few 20-20 seasons in him too.
The Marlins acquired the defensively skillful Adeiny Hechavarria in the Jose Reyes mega-blockbuster deal and plan to install him as their starting shortstop immediately. His glove should keep him there for the time being, but it remains to be seen whether his bat is capable of keeping him a starter. The righty is not without tools and has enough speed, if his technique improves, to reach double digits in steals, and he has doubles power with high single-digits-home-run potential. The righty is pretty aggressive at the plate and makes only fair contact. I sense he ends up a .260s to .270s hitter and, like many shortstops, more valuable for real baseball purposes than fantasy ones.
Hak-Ju Lee was at the top of most AL-only leaguers' prospect lists in 2012. Instead, the former Cub never made it past Double-A while showing little skill development. On the good side, Lee is an above-average runner with 30+ SB potential and is a well above-average defender. On the downside, Lee's once lauded plate discipline has not held up at Double-A, with Lee making contact less often and failing to hit for average or get on base with the frequency expected of him. The Rays have Yunel Escobar in as a stopgap, so Lee will have plenty of time to work on his game at Triple-A and may not join the Rays until late in the season.
The Red Sox have gone the stop gap route as well by signing Stephen Drew to a one-year contract with Jose Iglesias and Xander Bogaerts waiting in the wings. Iglesias is Rey Ordonez. The righty is tremendous in the field, but is otherwise a groundball-hitting, weak contact hitter with average wheels and will probably struggle to hit .250 in the Majors.
Enter Bogaerts. As a 19-year-old, Bogaerts has already made it to Double-A and tapped into his power with 20 home runs between two levels. At this point, the youngster gets favorable reviews for his defense at shortstop, despite his size (6-foot-3), and he will stay there for now. Bogaerts combines power and a fairly advanced approach for someone his age, but strikes out a bit too often for a righty. I currently see Bogaerts as a .280 to .290s hitter with 25+ HR potential. If he can stay at shortstop long-term, he'll be something truly special. How soon he is in the Majors will depend on Stephen Drew and whether Bogaerts continues to tear apart minor league pitching at his current pace. Right now, I see him as more of a September call-up, though that could easily be accelerated given what is blocking his path.
The Mariners are another team stocked with shortstops and the only stopgap in this situation is Brendan Ryan. Nick Franklin is likely an average at best defensive shortstop and may end up at second base long-term. While the nearly 22-year-old needs a few more months in Triple-A, the switch hitter has shown double-digits power and stolen base potential as well as a rather disciplined approach that should allow him to hit .280 or better in the Majors. Not a star, but could be a starter for a long time.
Brad Miller, 23, has no Triple-A experience but is the better defensive shortstop range and glove-wise of the two, but he is prone to more throwing errors. The lefty is a rather refined hitter with good on-base skills and double-digits HR and stolen base potential. I have a hard time deciding which of the two will have the better career, which one the Mariners will keep at short and who will be moved to second base. My money is on Miller at short and I suspect that should Dustin Ackley fail to produce again, Franklin and Miller could be the double-play combination by late this season and heading into 2014.
Jonathan Villar has excellent tools with double-digit power potential, 30+ stolen base potential, and the range and arm to stick at shortstop. However, Villar is rather error-prone in the field and despite walking 9% of the time in 2012, the switch-hitter is actually a rather aggressive hitter who strikes out too often given his modest power potential. The Astros will start with Tyler Greene as their everyday shortstop, so there may be an opportunity for Villar to emerge before Carlos Correa charges through their system. Villar may have difficulty hitting .240 in the Majors but should provide some speed and pop and perhaps more if he can tone his aggressiveness down a bit.
Possible MLB Phase/Auction Selections:
Adeiny Hechavarria, Jurickson Profar
Possible Minor League Draft Phase Selections:
Xander Bogaerts, Nick Franklin, Hak-Ju Lee, Brad Miller, Jonathan Villar
Possible In-Season Pick-Ups:
Tim Beckham, Christian Colon, Greg Garcia, Didi Gregorius, Jose Iglesias, Ryan Jackson, Carlos Triunfel, Zach Walters
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