MLB's Phenom Shortstop Revolution Is Only Just Beginning

Danny KnoblerMLB Lead WriterMarch 11, 2016

FILE - In this Oct. 12, 2015, file photo, Houston Astros' Carlos Correa (1) races to first base after an RBI hitting a single against the Kansas City Royals during Game 4 of baseball's American League Division Series in Houston. Correa was selected as the AL Rookie of the Year on Monday, Nov. 16, 2015. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan, File)
Pat Sullivan/Associated Press

The conversation began with Jorge Mateo, the 20-year-old shortstop Baseball America ranked as the best prospect in the New York Yankees' farm system.

"His speed is incredible, and he's good defensively," a veteran scout who follows the Yankees system said. "But you know, it feels like everyone has one. Right now, we might have the best group of young shortstops ever."

You know, he might be right.

Baseball America ranked Trea Turner of the Washington Nationals as the ninth-best prospect in the entire minor leagues—but only as the fourth-best shortstop. Corey Seager of the Los Angeles Dodgers topped the list, with J.P. Crawford of the Philadelphia Phillies sixth and Orlando Arcia of the Milwaukee Brewers eighth (Mateo was 26th).

Two incredibly talented 22-year-olds and an even more talented 21-year-old didn't make the list at all. You've got to be in the minor leagues to be considered a prospect, and Francisco Lindor, Addison Russell and Carlos Correa were all in the big leagues last year.

Correa and Lindor finished one-two in the American League Rookie of the Year voting, a first ever for shortstops. With Seager the preseason National League favorite for 2016, and with Turner, Crawford and Arcia all with some chance to make an impact, it's hardly crazy to think it could happen again.

There are more behind them.

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Corey Seager is just 21, but he's the Dodgers shortstop and the best prospect in baseball.
Corey Seager is just 21, but he's the Dodgers shortstop and the best prospect in baseball.Lenny Ignelzi/Associated Press/Associated Press/Associated Press

The first three players picked in the 2015 draft were all shortstops (Dansby Swanson, Alex Bregman and Brendan Rodgers), another first. Baseball America's team-by-team prospect rankings listed a shortstop atop the list for 11 of the 30 teams (and second for three other teams). At least six teams plan to open the 2016 season with a shortstop 23 or younger, and four others have one who could take the job at some point this year.

Twenty years ago, we debated Derek Jeter vs. Nomar Garciaparra vs. Alex Rodriguez. Now it could be Correa vs. Lindor vs. Seager vs. Xander Bogaerts vs. Crawford vs. Arcia vs. Swanson, the top overall pick last June and the prize the Atlanta Braves got for trading Shelby Miller to the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Why now?

Part of it is just the natural cycle of the game. Shortstops also claimed four of the top nine spots on the Baseball America prospect rankings in 1995 (Rodriguez, Chipper Jones, Jeter and Alex Gonzalez), but for four years from 2008-11, no shortstop was ranked among the game's top 15 prospects.

Part of it is that teams often draft high school and college shortstops knowing some will move to other positions. Jones made his big league debut as a shortstop but became an All-Star and likely Hall of Famer as a third baseman. Justin Upton, Manny Machado and Mike Moustakas were drafted as shortstops, too.

"Your athletes play shortstop," one American League executive said. "And as we move past the steroid era, the game is getting more athletic again."

Fair enough, but even before the steroid era, we never had a group of this many young shortstops this good all show up at about the same time.

Correa, as Jayson Stark of ESPN.com pointed out in a recent column, could make history by batting third at age 21. According to Stark, only Joe DiMaggio, Ken Griffey Jr., Al Kaline and Eddie Mathews batted third for 130 games in a season when they were 21 or younger, and only DiMaggio did it for a team that made it to the postseason.

All of those guys are in the Hall of Fame. None of them were shortstops.

Correa was hailed as the best shortstop in the American League soon after he debuted with the Houston Astros last June. By the end of the year, he wasn't even a clear pick as Rookie of the Year, with Lindor getting 13 of the 30 first-place votes.

In Philadelphia, J.P. Crawford is being compared to Larry Bowa, the franchise's all-time great shortstop.
In Philadelphia, J.P. Crawford is being compared to Larry Bowa, the franchise's all-time great shortstop.Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

A year later, guys like Seager and Crawford and Mateo and Turner are getting the spring training attention. And guys like Raul A. Mondesi, who pinch-hit for the Kansas City Royals in the World Series just a few months after his 20th birthday.

The Royals won that World Series with a pretty good young shortstop named Alcides Escobar. Or does Escobar, who turned 29 in December, even qualify as young?

For that matter, do Didi Gregorius, Jose Iglesias, Andrelton Simmons and Adeiny Hechavarria still qualify as young? All four will begin the 2016 season at age 26.

We should still be watching them for a few years to come, and we should still be watching Correa and Lindor for a lot of years to come. And Seager and Crawford and Turner.

"Don't forget Addison Russell," our AL executive helpfully added.

No, don't forget Addison Russell. But in what is quickly becoming baseball's golden era for shortstops, it's awfully hard to remember everyone.

Danny Knobler covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

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