Top 15 Shortstop Prospects

 

Shortstop is widely considered the premium position for prospects among everyday players. Several Major League players from all positions can trace their roots to shortstop. From Gary Sheffield and Matt Williams to Alfonso Soriano and Chipper Jones, many of the best players in the game were minor league shortstops who had little or zero playing time there as a big leaguer.

 

Shortstops who grow out of the position become third basemen (Jones) or outfielders (Miguel Cabrera, Wil Cordero). Others simply find that the high level of expectation for the position is too demanding for their abilities and are forced to move to second base (Soriano). Brian Roberts, D'Angelo Jimenez, Mark Loretta, Tony Womack, Omar Infante, Juan Uribe and Adam Kennedy were each 2004 regulars at second base who were originally minor league shortstops.

 

In fact, there are probably more players from this list of shortstops who will be quality major league second basemen than even among those from the Top 10 Second Base Prospects list (three of whom have already converted to second base from shortstop). The list of current major leaguers who were formerly shortstops would seem nearly endless if we were able to trace all of them back to their college or high school days. Many are weeded out. Only the best remain, which is what makes the ones who stay there all the more special.

 

Now that B. J. Upton has exhausted his rookie eligibility with 159 major league at-bats late last season, his claim for top shortstop prospect has been vacated and will be assumed by someone other than himself for the first time since he was drafted second overall in 2002.

 

At the time this list was published, the 2004 first-round selection of the Arizona Diamondbacks, Stephen Drew, had yet to sign. If Drew were to sign, as many expect him to do before the season begins, he would likely place somewhere in the area of 3rd to 5th on this list.

 

1. Hanley Ramirez -- Boston Red Sox

Age 2004 level at-bats ave 2b 3b hr bb so obp slg
21 AA 129 .310 7 2 5 10 26 .360 .512
A-high 239 .310 8 4 1 17 39 .364 .389

 

Since his 2002 debut in Rookie ball, Ramirez has made quite a reputation for himself. A lot of it for his skills on the field. Some of it for his immaturity and occasional nonchalant attitude. After receiving some disciplinary measures from the Red Sox organization a couple years ago, he seems to have settled down emotionally and gotten things on track. If he continues to grow up as a man, he should also grow into a tremendous ball player.

 

As a 19-year old getting a taste of the low-A South Atlantic League, HanRam got a dose of real life. In his previous short-season experiences he never hit as low as .340. In the SAL, he was humbled to a .275 average. But for a teenager against pitchers mostly 22-24 years of age, his season still showed promise.

 

When Hanley showed he could respond by again hitting well last year in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League, he was rewarded with a promotion to Double-A and he seemed to have started on the fast track to the major leagues.

 

The Red Sox signing of Edgar Renteria for the next four seasons certainly puts a damper on HanRam's likelihood of being Boston's shortstop of the future. The Renteria signing allows Ramirez more time to develop for a year or two in the high minors. However, it is likely that Ramirez will be ready for a shot at the big leagues by 2006 or 2007, only it won't be at shortstop. At least not for Boston. Whether Ramirez becomes trade bait or sees a position change is uncertain, but one of the two is quite likely, unless Red Sox management likes Ramirez' defense so much that they would be willing to move Renteria over to third base.

 

A very good athlete with a strong arm, any thought of a position change would probably involve sending Hanley to third base, where his quick bat speed allows him the power potential baseball executives desire from the position, or second base, where his range and defense would still be utilized in the middle infield.

 

Ramirez could start 2005 back in Double-A with a promotion to Triple-A waiting in the wings. Come July, if the Red Sox feel they are one big name starting pitcher away from making postseason noise, look for Ramirez to be involved in trade rumors.

2. Joel Guzman -- Los Angeles Dodgers

Age 2004 level at-bats ave 2b 3b hr bb so obp slg
20 AA 182 .280 11 3 9 13 44 .325 .522
A-high 329 .307 22 8 14 21 78 .349 .550

 

In Guzman's first full-season experience in 2003, he didn't hit very well at either low-A (.235/.263 OBP) or high-A (.246/.279 OBP). But he did that at only age 18. With a year under his belt, though still a teenager, Guzman showed progress in 2004, even having some success at Double-A.

 

His strikeout-to-walk ratio is still a concern, but he brings great power potential with his arsenal. The Dodgers need to be patient with him and let him develop, but to see his development flourish he will need better plate discipline.

 

At 6'4", Guzman is expected to grow out of the shortstop position as his body continues to fill out and get stronger. He's expected to move to third base, perhaps right field, but he's also likely to develop very good power as his body strengthens and matures.

 

Guzman should return to Double-A to start 2005, but it might be tempting for the Dodgers, who have been desperate for offense, to allow him the opportunity either later this year or next to fill the hole at third base caused by Adrian Beltre's departure. He would be better served, however, if he were let to develop in the minors until 2007.

 

3. J. J. Hardy -- Milwaukee Brewers

Age 2004 level at-bats ave 2b 3b hr bb so obp slg
22 AAA 101 .277 10 0 4 9 8 .330 .495

 

Last spring, it looked like a matter of time before Hardy would get the call up to be the Brewers' everyday shortstop. Then, after one month in Triple-A, his shoulder required surgery and 2004 was history. Hardy should get his shot again this year, perhaps even as soon as Opening Day.

 

Hardy doesn't quite possess the offensive punch of the others in the top 5 of this list, but one thing keeps him here and it's his ability to play the position. Hardy has good range and a strong arm. Though he won't "wow" anybody at the plate, he doesn't strike out much and he'll hit well enough with some pop in his bat that he'll be an offensive contribution.

 

When Hardy makes it into the Brewers lineup, he'll quickly become a fan favorite for his intense, gritty style of play. He should develop a reputation as a hardnosed "gamer." Hardy should be the first of the new, resurgent Brewers lineup, as others will be quickly following.

 

4. Chris Nelson -- Colorado Rockies

Age 2004 level at-bats ave 2b 3b hr bb so obp slg
19 Rookie 147 .347 6 3 4 20 42 .432 .510

 

Nelson entered the 2004 Draft regarded as the best overall talent among high school position players. He was even considered by some of the teams at the top of the draft, but eventually fell to the 9th position where the Rockies jumped on the opportunity.

 

Nelson's debut in the Pioneer League did not disappoint. He has a quick swing that generates plenty of power and can flat-out mash. He has good range at shortstop and a strong arm, though last year it was recovering from Tommy John surgery.

 

2005 will be the first substantial test for Nelson as he experiences his initial full season. Still a teenager, perhaps he'll be humbled by the more seasoned pitchers he will face. However, if he shows the ability to hit well this year, he may rise to the top of next year's list.

 

5. Sergio Santos -- Arizona Diamondbacks

Age 2004 level at-bats ave 2b 3b hr bb so obp slg
21 AA 347 .282 19 5 11 24 89 .332 .461

 

The Diamondbacks did not take a conservative approach with Santos in 2003, his first full season after being selected 27th overall in the 2002 Draft. Though less than a year removed from high school, Santos skipped low-A and was sent directly to the high-A California League where he hit .287/.368/.408. In July, he was promoted to Double-A (.255/.293/.365).

 

For 2004, Santos returned to Double-A and was a bit more prepared this time, though his strikeout-to-walk ratio regressed. Defensively, his greatest asset is his arm strength. If he is not able to stay at shortstop, third base and right field are likely homes. Regardless, he has enough power potential in his bat to play anywhere.

 

Santos should get a full year of seasoning in Triple-A in 2005, though it would be expected for him to make his major league debut before the end of the season.

 

6. Matt Tuiasosopo -- Seattle Mariners

Age 2004 level at-bats ave 2b 3b hr bb so obp slg
19 A-ss 101 .248 6 1 2 10 36 .336 .386
Rookie 68 .412 5 2 4 13 14 .528 .721

 

A potential first-round selection in last year's draft, Tuiasosopo's ability as a quarterback seemed to make him destined to attend the University of Washington on a football scholarship. Because of his football skills, his draft stock slipped and the Mariners took a shot on him in the 3rd round. Because the Mariners did not have a 1st or 2nd round pick, selections lost due to free agent compensation, they were able to throw that unused bonus money at Tuiasosopo, to sign him away from football, giving him money usually reserved for a top 10 overall selection.

 

As you would expect from a top quarterback recruit, Tuiasosopo has a strong arm and great athleticism. As he showed in Rookie League, he can also put up ridiculous offensive numbers. A promotion to the short-season A Northwest League brought his numbers back down to earth, but that was also against several players 2-5 years older than him.

 

Son of Manu and brother of Marques (both played in the NFL), Matt still has to work out some of the football in his background and concentrate on using baseball throwing techniques to be a quality defender. His 2005 should consist of a full season of low-A competition.

 

7. Aaron Hill -- Toronto Blue Jays

Age 2004 level at-bats ave 2b 3b hr bb so obp slg
23 AA 480 .279 26 2 11 63 61 .368 .410

 

Toronto's 2003 first-round pick out of Louisiana State University, Hill's approach at the plate was advanced enough that his first full season was in Double-A. He draws a lot of walks and adds a decent punch in his bat.

 

Hill has a strong arm but not a lot of range. Therefore, it may be more likely that he will play either second base or third base. Either way, he'll be a solid offensive performer and has the makeup to be successful.

 

8. Ian Kinsler -- Texas Rangers

Age 2004 level at-bats ave 2b 3b hr bb so obp slg
22 AA 277 .300 21 1 9 32 47 .400 .480
A-low 224 .402 30 1 11 25 36 .465 .692

 

Kinsler burst onto the scene in 2004. Drafted in the 17th round in 2003, he certainly didn't enter the system with a lot of hype. Shortly after signing, he performed adequately in short-season A ball. He made the natural progression to start 2004 in low-A ball. That's when things took off.

 

When the calendar turned June and Kinsler was still hitting .400, the Rangers knew it was time to offer him a challenge. They did so, not merely with a promotion but they skipped him a level and let him face more experienced pitchers in Double-A. Kinsler still hit .300. He gets on base in addition to adding some power as evidenced by his 73 extra-base hits.

 

Kinsler's defense is said to be solid, able to make all the routine plays and a position change is likely not in order. Kinsler should spend the next year or two in the high minors as he works to prove that his 2004 season was not an aberration.

9. Alberto Callaspo -- Anaheim Angels

Age 2004 level at-bats ave 2b 3b hr bb so obp slg
21 AA 550 .282 28 2 6 47 25 .336 .373

 

Callaspo was given the challenge of jumping high-A ball straight to Double-A. He responded admirably. Due to his tremendous bat control, he is very difficult to strike out. Formerly a second baseman, Callaspo not only performed well at the plate with the 2004 challenge of skipping a level, he also did it playing a more scrutinizing position. Callaspo's range is outstanding and he is a very good defender.

 

The Angels were desperate for a major league-ready shortstop, so they signed Orlando Cabrera. Before Cabrera's contract is fulfilled with the Angels, Callaspo and other shortstops in the system will be knocking down the door of opportunity.

10. Jason Bartlett -- Minnesota Twins

Age 2004 level at-bats ave 2b 3b hr bb so obp slg
25 Majors 12 .083 0 0 0 1 1 .154 .083
AAA 269 .331 15 7 3 33 37 .415 .472

 

Bartlett was possibly hours away from a major league call up in mid-2004 when Christian Guzman went on the DL. Within the next couple days, Bartlett got injured and his door of opportunity closed until he was awarded with a brief stint at the end of the season. 

 

Bartlett rarely strikes out and has few poor plate appearances. He doesn't possess a lot of power and won't ever be a terrifying threat at the plate, though he should be able to hold his own as a solid contributor. His defense is adequate enough the make the necessary plays.

 

The Twins signed Juan Castro to replace Guzman, who signed with the Nationals, but it's likely just a smokescreen. Castro is better fit for a utility role and Bartlett is ready for the everyday job. Even if he doesn't get the nod for opening day, he should be up by May or June to assume the starting position.

 

11. Russ Adams -- Toronto Blue Jays

Age 2004 level at-bats ave 2b 3b hr bb so obp slg
24 Majors 72 .306 2 1 4 5 5 .359 .528
AAA 483 .288 37 3 5 45 62 .351 .408

 

The Blue Jays' first round pick in 2002, Adams fits the role of a table setter. His plate discipline and bat control should allow him to hit a solid .270-.280 average though he won't contribute much power.

 

Adams' arm is not very strong and he will probably end up moving over to second base. He may be Toronto's starting shortstop to start 2005, but it's likely he'll ultimately shift to the other side of the bag and compete with Orlando Hudson for playing time unless one of the two is traded.

 

12. Erick Aybar -- Anaheim Angels

Age 2004 level at-bats ave 2b 3b hr bb so obp slg
21 A-high 573 .330 25 11 14 26 66 .370 .485

 

Aybar has hit over .300 at every level he's played. However, he has also shown the consistent inability to take a walk. Though he doesn't strike out a lot, his lack of patience at the plate could be his undoing at higher levels.

 

Aybar does have good power in his bat and his speed is evidenced by turning 11 triples and stealing 51 bases. He still needs to learn how to be a better base runner, though, as he was caught stealing 36 times.

 

He is a very good defender and will be challenged by more experienced pitchers at Double-A Arkansas in 2005.

 

13. Joaquin Arias -- Texas Rangers

Age 2004 level at-bats ave 2b 3b hr bb so obp slg
20 A-high 500 .300 20 8 4 31 53 .344 .396

 

Arias was involved in possibly the most significant trade in the history of baseball. No one knew Joaquin's name at the time, but he came to Texas with Soriano in exchange for Alex Rodriguez.

 

A flashy defender, Arias excels at all of the necessary defensive attributes. He could use drawing more walks, though he presents a promising offensive display. He'll start 2005 in Double-A where he'll see his first pitch as a former-teenager. If he continues to progress this year, it will be a no-brainer that he'll rise the chart for next year's list.

 

14. Tony Giarratano -- Detroit Tigers

Age 2004 level at-bats ave 2b 3b hr bb so obp slg
22 A-high 202 .376 11 0 5 16 38 .421 .505
A-low 165 .285 6 1 1 25 22 .383 .352

 

Giarratano burst onto the scene after his promotion to Lakeland. He has speed and is very good defensively. He needs to draw more walks than he did in the second half of last season because his power is limited. Therefore he needs to consistently get on base in order to be an effective member of the lineup.

 

He should spend the entire 2005 season in Double-A Erie. Perhaps for 2006 or 2007, the Tigers would consider moving Carlos Guillen to third base to fill their black hole there and let Giarratano play shortstop.

 

15. Clint Barmes -- Colorado Rockies

Age 2004 level at-bats ave 2b 3b hr bb so obp slg
26 Majors 71 .282 3 1 2 3 10 .320 .437
AAA 533 .328 42 2 16 28 61 .376 .505

 

Barmes is not as much a standout as he is steady, somewhat reminiscient of Bartlett. Of course, hitting in the thin air of Colorado should make Barmes look good, as it did in Triple-A Colorado Springs last season.

 

The Rockies are handing the shortstop position over to him in 2005. If he wants to excel offensively anywhere other than Coors Field, he'll need to dramatically improve his patience at the plate.

 

 

Honorable mention (in alphabetical order):

Matt Bush, San Diego Padres

Adam Jones, Seattle Mariners

Jose Lopez, Seattle Mariners

Omar Quintanilla, Oakland A's

Mike Rouse, Oakland A's

Tommy Whiteman, Houston Astros

Brandon Wood, Anaheim Angels

 

(who doesn't like more lists?)

 

Top 5 Most Likely to be Power-Hitting Run Producers

1. Joel Guzman

2. Matt Tuiasosopo

3. Hanley Ramirez

4. Sergio Santos

5. Chris Nelson

 

Top 5 Most Likely to Move to Another Position

1. Matt Tuiasosopo (of)

2. Joel Guzman (3b, rf)

3. Sergio Santos (3b, lf)

4. Russ Adams (2b)

5. Alberto Callaspo (2b)

 

Top 5 Most Likely to Remain at Shortstop

1. J. J. Hardy

2. Matt Bush

3. Jason Bartlett

4. Joaquin Arias

5. Ian Kinsler

 

 

Top prospects by position