Yunel Escobar: Ranking the Infielder Among AL East Shortstops
While each team will likely implement some sort of platoon strategy to kick off the season, the inside track for the starting jobs belong to Mike Aviles and Sean Rodriguez, respectively.
If those two can cinch up starting roles, the AL East will see J.J. Hardy (Baltimore), Mike Aviles (Boston), Derek Jeter (New York), Sean Rodriguez (Tampa Bay) and Yunel Escobar (Toronto) take the field for their clubs on opening day.
Here, we will conduct a comparative analysis of the starting five to see which squads hold a positional advantage over their AL East competitors at shortstop.
The Blue Jays representative, Yunel Escobar, is looking to climb the ranks after a successful 2011 campaign.
5: Sean Rodriguez, Tampa Bay Rays
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Rodriguez may have to share the starting role with teammate Reid Brignac, but his former status as a prospect gives him the inside track to start on opening day.
Rodriguez does a decent Ben Zobrist mimicry by moving all over the field on defense, putting in a decent effort wherever he ends up.
That said, his play with the glove was underwhelming at short last season.
Rodriguez is a career .229 hitter with limited power. His best trait at the dish is his discipline, which allowed him to put up a .323 OBP in spite of a .223 AVG last season.
2012 will be the Ray's last chance to tap into the potential that skipper Joe Maddon insists he has.
For now, however, he begins 2012 in the cellar as the Al East's least valuable shortstop.
4: Mike Aviles, Boston Red Sox
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The Red Sox basically gave away Marco Scutaro for cap space this offseason, believing that Aviles could fill the role with a little help from Nick Punto.
In fairness, Aviles played well for the Sox in 38 games last year after coming over from Kansas City in a midseason swap.
The former Royal hit .317 with Boston last year.
All told, Aviles' numbers aren't bad at the plate. He has a career .288 AVG with the type of power you'd expect from a shortstop.
He is versatile in the field, playing second, third and short, but he doesn't blow anyone away with his arm and glove.
Aviles will enter the 2012 season as the Red Sox starting shortstop, but he trails three divisional competitors in terms of effectiveness.
3: Derek Jeter, New York Yankees
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A couple of years back, it would have been unthinkable to have Jeter anywhere but No. 1.
Entering 2012, however, the decision to place him third is not a difficult one.
After a slow start to the 2011 season, Jeter put in a solid second half.
He finished the year with a .297 AVG, .355 OBP, six home runs and 16 stolen bases.
Jeter, widely renowned for his defensive excellence, was underwhelming in the field in 2011, though he was certainly not a liability.
However, it is reasonable to expect the degeneration of his defensive skills to continue in 2012.
The Yankees legend enters the summer as the AL East's third-best shortstop.
2: Yunel Escobar, Toronto Blue Jays
A 2010 midseason acquisition of Toronto, Escobar paid dividends for the team by putting in a terrific 2011 campaign.
Escobar hit .290, maintained a .369 OBP and hit 11 home runs.
The Cuban shortstop is an above-average fielder who falls short of the elite level, but he is an asset on defense.
Escobar dealt with some nagging injuries last year and will hope to avoid spending time on the DL in 2012.
He enters the season as the division's second-best shortstop.
1: J.J. Hardy, Baltimore Orioles
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Hardy squeaks past Jeter and Escobar to earn the top spot thanks to his tremendous power.
The Oriole cracked 30 round-trippers in 2011 and maintained a slugging percentage of .491.
In addition to his power, Hardy handles the bat well—he hit at a .269 clip in 2011.
Defensively, Hardy is underrated. He had an unnoticed .990 FLD% last year and boasts a .980 career mark that bests both Jeter's and Escobar's.
The biggest challenge Hardy has faced as a professional ballplayer is staying healthy. He has only managed to play in more than 146 games one time in his seven-year career, and that came back in 2007.
Hardy enters 2012 as the division's best shortstop, but he will have to avoid a lengthy stint on the DL if he hopes to maintain that position.
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