Predicting MLB's Next Tidal Wave of Great Young Shortstops
Over the last 20 years, as teams have become more advanced and sophisticated with their drafting (and international signing) strategy and player development, a trend has emerged where there’s always a host of high-upside prospects at one premium position.
This has been especially true for shortstops, as there have been two distinct waves of prospects since the 1994 season to arrive in the major leagues and, more importantly, blossom into generational superstars.
The trend began with Alex Rodriguez’s rapid ascent to the major leagues in 1994, marking the arrival of the first of what would be five elite shortstop prospects.
In 1995, Derek Jeter made his debut with Yankees, which was followed by arrivals of Nomar Garciaparra (Red Sox) and Edgar Renteria (Marlins) in 1996. Miguel Tejada reached the major leagues in 1997, which marked the end of an influx of immensely talented prospects.
It wasn’t until nearly a decade later that a new wave of highly touted shortstop prospects ascended upon the major leagues, inevitably drawing comparisons to their trailblazing predecessors.
Hanley Ramirez was the first to debut, reaching the majors in 2005 with the Red Sox but appearing in only two games before headlining an offseason trade to the Marlins for Josh Beckett.
Troy Tulowitzki was the next to arrive in 2006, and Jose Reyes capped the movement with his debut in 2007.
And as tradition now suggests, there should be another wave of highly promising shortstop prospects arriving over the next three seasons.
Well, in case you may not have noticed, it’s already begun.
Jurickson Profar, Texas Rangers
Ranked as the No. 1 prospect in Prospect Pipeline’s Midseason Top 50 Prospects, Profar has vastly improved this season as a 19-year-old in Double-A.
The switch-hitter has plus bat speed from both sides of the plate, as well as a compact, fluid stroke. As the 5’11”, 165-pounder gets stronger, his power may exceed expectations. And considering both his advanced plate discipline and excellent hand-eye coordination, Profar should always hit for average.
While he’s technically an above-average runner, Profar’s instincts and quickness make him a dynamic player. He’s not an aggressive base-stealer, but he knows how to pick his spots and read pitchers.
A high-energy defensive shortstop, Profar has plus range with natural actions through the baseball. His soft hands facilitate a smooth transfer-and-release, and he possesses an absolute gun across the diamond.
A September call-up, Profar announced his arrival with an impressive home run in his first big league at-bat, though he’s only received looks every fifth game overall. With Elvis Andrus signed through the 2013 season, it’ll be interesting to see how they handle the game’s top prospect next season.
Basically, he's ready when the Rangers are.
Francisco Lindor, Cleveland Indians
The No. 8 overall selection in the 2011 draft, Lindor was regarded as the top shortstop in the entire draft class. In his first professional season, the 18-year-old switch-hitter has only validated that notion by thriving in the Midwest League.
As evidenced by his 78 strikeouts compared to 61 walks this past season, Lindor has advanced plate discipline from both sides. At 5’11”, 175 pounds, he may develop average power as he matures, but he’s more likely to hit for a high average. Considering his age, Lindor’s on-base skills are already developed beyond his years, and he’s proven to be an adept base-stealer.
However, offensive production is merely a bonus with Lindor, as he’s an elite defender capable of winning awards at the highest level; he gets great reads and showcases plus range in all directions, and he doesn’t hesitate to show off his strong arm. Basically, he makes the plays that 18-year-olds just aren't supposed to make.
Lindor will move up the ladder faster than the average prep shortstop, and he could reach the major leagues at some point during the 2014 season.
Xander Bogaerts, Boston Red Sox
Signed by the Red Sox out of Aruba in 2009, Bogaerts made a name for himself in his 2010 stateside debut by launching 16 home runs for Low-A Greenville. At 6’3”, 195 pounds, the 19-year-old has plus raw and quick wrists that generate backspin carry to all fields. His plate discipline continues to improve, though he’s still prone to chasing breaking balls out of the zone.
The ongoing debate is whether Bogaerts will be able to remain at shortstop, as he’s expected to lose a few steps as he fills out due to a thick lower half. Regardless, he has relatively soft hands and a strong arm, and he'll continue to be developed as a shortstop by the Red Sox.
Due to his lofty bat path, Bogaerts posted a 9.6-percent line-drive rate this season, which ranks in the lower-tier among minor league hitters. He was undoubtedly aided by a .353 batting average on balls in play, so it’ll be interesting to see how he handles a full season at Double-A in 2013.
Seeing as how he posted a .948 OPS this season in 23 games at Double-A, the Red Sox will likely remain aggressive with his development, meaning that Bogaerts could arrive as early as late-2013.
Alen Hanson, Pittsburgh Pirates
Despite possessing a 5’11”, 152-pound frame, Alen Hanson is an impressive athlete with wiry strength and a projectable overall skill set. Defensively, his quick feet and an instinctual first step result in above-average range, especially to his glove side. His arm is a tick below average, but it's sufficient to remain at shortstop for the time being.
A switch-hitter, Hanson employs an aggressive approach and showcases excellent bat speed from both sides of the plate. And don’t let his size fool you; the 19-year-old amassed 62 extra-base hits this season at Low-A West Virginia. He’s aggressive on the base paths with above-average to plus speed, but he's still a raw base-stealer.
Without a legitimate shortstop prospect ahead of him in the Pirates system, Hanson could move quickly with a strong 2013 campaign.
Trevor Story, Colorado Rockies
Ranked as the No. 49 prospect in Prospect Pipeline’s Midseason Top 50 Prospects, Story drives the ball from line to line thanks to raw power and a mature approach. Still only 19 years old, the right-handed hitter possesses a consistent and direct bat path that should yield above-average power as he continues to add strength.
At 6’1”, 175 pounds, he has a projectable frame and should retain enough athleticism and mobility to stick at shortstop. Even though Story’s only a slightly above-average runner with corresponding range, he possesses excellent instincts and smooth actions. His strong arm is more than enough for the position as well.
After posting a .799 OPS last season in 47 games for rookie-level Casper in the Pioneer League, he excelled following a jump to Low-A in 2012.
Playing 85 of his 122 games at shortstop, Story batted .277/.367/.505 with 43 doubles, six triples, 18 home runs, 15 stolen bases and 60 walks, but he did fan 121 times in 477 at-bats. However, the strikeouts should start to decrease as he continues to gain experience.
Depending on Troy Tulowitzki’s health and limitations over the upcoming seasons, Story could conceivably reach the major leagues by the 2015 season.
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