MLB Spring Training 2017: The Top 10 Shortstops to Watch

Rick Weiner@RickWeinerNYFeatured ColumnistJanuary 13, 2017

MLB Spring Training 2017: The Top 10 Shortstops to Watch

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    Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

    Few positions in baseball have seen as big an influx of high-upside young talent in recent years as shortstop. From Carlos Correa to Francisco Lindor to Corey Seager, the position is well stocked with young stars who are poised to dominate the game for years to come.

    Believe it or not, the pipeline is far from dry, as some young shortstops are poised to make their impact felt during the 2017 season. Of course, the veterans who stand in their way will have something to say about that, as they're not going to give up their everyday jobs willingly.

    Keep in mind that this isn't a list or ranking of the best shortstops in baseball—that'll come as we get closer to Opening Day. Rather, this is a look at those who, for a variety of reasons, carry some of the most compelling storylines into spring training.

    The list that follows includes players working their way back from injuries and the youngsters mentioned above, both those on the way and those looking to take the next step in their development, as well as former stars hoping to hang around for another season.

                       

    Previous entries in our "Spring Training 10 to Watch" series: Catchers, First Basemen, Second Basemen

Tim Anderson, Chicago White Sox

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    Ron Vesely/Getty Images
    LevelPABA/OBP/SLGHXBH (HR)RBIRSB
    AAA256.304/.325/.4097516 (4)203911-of-15
    MLB431.283/.306/.43211637 (9)305710-of-12

                    

    Player Outlook

    Carlos Rodon was the first big piece of Chicago's rebuilding efforts to arrive in the majors. Tim Anderson was the second. The 23-year-old shortstop didn't disappoint, putting up solid numbers and flashing an excellent glove that reaffirmed the premise that he'd be a focal point of the team's future success.

    But there's plenty of room for improvement, especially when he's at the plate. Anderson drew only 13 walks while striking out 117 times.

    In his first chance to face big league pitching on a regular basis, that he still managed to post quality numbers is encouraging.

    But he needs to improve his plate discipline—a 3.0 percent walk rate and 27.1 percent strikeout rate don't lend themselves to long-term success at any level of the game. While he's not in danger of losing his grip on the starting job in Chicago, Anderson must show that he's made some adjustments this spring.

Orlando Arcia, Milwaukee Brewers

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    Dylan Buell/Getty Images
    LevelPABA/OBP/SLGHXBH (HR)RBIRSB
    AAA440.267/.320/.40310833 (8)535915-of-23
    MLB216.219/.273/.3584417 (4)17218-of-8

                          

    Player Outlook

    While Milwaukee manager Craig Counsell hoped Orlando Arcia's arrival in early August would give his team a "shot in the arm," as he told MLB.com's Adam McCalvy, the Brewers promoted their top prospect with 2017 in mind.

    "The thinking is it's time to get him started," Counsell said. "We've still got [58] games left, a good chunk of the season left, where we're hopeful that it gives him good experience going into next year."

    While the 22-year-old had his moments, his first taste of the big leagues was an overall struggle, especially at the plate. Of the 44 rookies who made at least 200 plate appearances in 2016, Arcia's .631 OPS ranked 37th.

    Arcia is a huge part of the team's long-term vision, and it'd be rash to make any judgments about his abilities based on two months in the majors. That said, the Brewers aren't expected to contend in 2017, and Arcia has work to do.

    If he still looks overmatched at the plate in spring training, it's not out of the question that the Brewers might have him start the season back in Triple-A. Jonathan Villar can slide over to shortstop from second base, while Scooter Gennett can reclaim his spot at the keystone until Arcia is ready to stick for good.

Franklin Barreto, Oakland A's

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    Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images
    LevelPABA/OBP/SLGHXBH (HR)RBIRSB
    AA/AAA525.284/.342/.42213640 (11)536530-of-47

                                   

    Player Outlook

    One of the two remaining players from the trade that sent Josh Donaldson from Oakland to Toronto in 2014 (Kendall Graveman is the other), Franklin Barreto isn't going to crack the A's Opening Day roster. At some point this spring, he'll be assigned to Triple-A.

    But there's little doubt the 20-year-old will make his major league debut for the A's in 2017. The question is, will he be a shortstop when he does? Marcus Semien remains entrenched at the position, and Barreto's arm strength isn't his strongest tool.

    It'll be telling how the A's deploy the youngster during spring training. Will he play shortstop or second base? He manned the keystone at Double-A in 33 games last season and saw action there during the Arizona Fall League as well.

    Should the A's decide to shift him to second base, it could accelerate his arrival in the big leagues. Incumbent Jed Lowrie doesn't represent much of an obstacle, and Barreto's upside is far greater than that of Chad Pinder or Joey Wendle, the team's other options at the keystone.

J.P. Crawford, Philadelphia Phillies

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    Justin K. Aller/Getty Images
    LevelPABA/OBP/SLGH XBH (HR)RBIRSB
    AA/AAA551.250/.349/.33911827 (7)436312-of-19

                                    

    Player Outlook

    A quick look at J.P. Crawford's numbers from last season might lead you to believe the Phillies have soured on the idea that Crawford remains the team's "shortstop of the future."

    But as general manager Matt Klentak explained to CSNPhilly.com's Jim Salisbury in September, that couldn't be further from the truth:

    We challenged him this year. Even a 21-year-old at Double A [is young] but certainly Triple A is aggressive. I think he's proven at both levels that he still has the ability to control the strike zone as well as anybody in our organization and probably the best in minor league baseball. I think his defense has taken a step forward. He's still 21 years old. He still needs to get stronger. He still has some things he needs to work on.

    Klentak isn't exaggerating when he talks up Crawford's plate discipline: He's drawn nearly as many walks (232) as he's rung up strikeouts (243) over parts of four minor league seasons. And his defense is on the elite side with a strong, accurate throwing arm and excellent range.

    No matter what Crawford does this spring, he's not going to break camp with the Phillies. Barring injury, Freddy Galvis will be the team's Opening Day shortstop. How Crawford performs this spring, however, will serve as an indication of just how long it'll be before he pushes Galvis into a utility role.

Zack Cozart, Cincinnati Reds

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    Matt Hazlett/Getty Images
    LevelPABA/OBP/SLGHXBH (HR)RBIRSB
    MLB508.252/.308/.42511746 (16)50674-of-5

                    

    Player Outlook

    You could argue Jose Peraza is the shortstop to watch in spring training for Cincinnati, but we'll focus on the established veteran, Zack Cozart. After all, it's Cozart who blocks Peraza's path to regular playing time—and as long as he's still on the roster, Peraza's opportunities will be limited.

    It's not as if the Reds didn't try to clear a path for Peraza. They nearly traded Cozart to Seattle at the non-waiver trade deadline, per Bob Dutton of the News Tribune. The Reds peddled both he and Brandon Phillips at the winter meetings to no avail, according to Zach Buchanan of the Cincinnati Enquirer.

    Cozart, who has never made more than $3 million in a season, isn't a huge financial burden as he enters his final year of arbitration eligibility. While the 31-year-old has struggled to stay healthy in the past, he's provided solid defense at a premium position and unexpected pop when in the lineup.

    He still represents a substantial value to a team in need of a shortstop. Should another club lose its starter to injury this spring, expect the Reds to push hard for it to take Cozart off their hands.

Jimmy Rollins, San Francisco Giants

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    Mike McGinnis/Getty Images
    LevelPABA/OBP/SLGHXBH (HR)RBIRSB
    MLB166.221/.295/.3293311 (2)8255-of-7

                                     

    Player Outlook

    Jimmy Rollins isn't looking for individual glory. He's not chasing career milestones. All he wants to do, as he told Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal shortly after signing a minor league deal with the San Francisco Giants, is win another World Series:

    I do want to win again. [Continuing to play] has a lot to do with that. I always jokingly say to guys I played with and went on and got that second ring — Shane (Victorino), Pat Burrell, Hunter Pence … me, Chase (Utley) and Ryan (Howard) are left with one. It's like, "You know what? I need to get somewhere where I can help win another championship. That's my main goal."

    One of the premier shortstops of his generation and a former National League MVP (2007), the 38-year-old Rollins found himself without a team well before last year's All-Star break rolled around, having been designated for assignment and then released by the Chicago White Sox in mid-June.

    He could be searching for a new team far earlier this time around. Given his age and lack of production last season, Rollins has to be considered the underdog in a spring training competition with Ehire Adrianza and Kelby Tomlinson to serve as the Giants' utility infielder.

    That's only more reason to watch Rollins when he does take the field this spring—it might be the last time he ever does.

Jose Rondon, San Diego Padres

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    Andy Hayt/Getty Images
    LevelPABA/OBP/SLGHXBH (HR)RBIRSB
    AA/AAA491.283/.309/.38612933 (6)535313-of-18
    MLB26.120/.154/.12030 (0)110-of-0

                                  

    Player Outlook

    When Jose Rondon made the jump from Double-A to the big leagues last season, San Diego manager Andy Green made it clear he wasn't here to stay.

    "This isn't necessarily the dawn of the Jose Rondon era, but it is an opportunity to get on the baseball field and he's in the big leagues," Green told reporters. "Whatever he takes from the opportunity and runs with it, it will be beneficial for his future and for us as a team."

    Rondon appeared to build upon what he learned during his short stay with the Padres, finishing the season strong by hitting .300 with a .692 OPS over 24 games in his first taste of Triple-A. As the Padres rebuild, odds are Rondon will start the season back in Triple-A.

    Then again, maybe he won't.

    Luis Sardinas, currently penciled in as the team's starting shortstop, hit a respectable .287 with a .770 OPS over 34 games for San Diego last season. But his career numbers—a .237 batting average and .593 OPS—suggest that may have been more of an aberration than the norm for the 23-year-old.

    Rondon could play his way into the Opening Day job with a strong showing in spring training. While he may not have as high a ceiling as the likes of Carlos Correa and Francisco Lindor, he's a well-rounded player with a high floor—certainly greater than Sardinas'.

    Should Rondon fall short of doing so, how he looks this spring will give us a good idea of just how far off he is from mounting a challenge for the job.

Jean Segura, Seattle Mariners

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    Dylan Buell/Getty Images

    2016 Stats

    LevelPABA/OBP/SLGHXBH (HR)RBIRSB
    MLB694.319/.368/.49920368 (20)6410233-of-43

                                  

    Player Outlook

    Of all the trades Jerry Dipoto has made since taking over as Seattle's GM, none has been bigger than the five-player swap he worked out with Arizona just before Thanksgiving, a deal that centered on former prized pitching prospect Taijuan Walker and infielder Jean Segura.

    Now with his fourth organization since 2012, Segura exceeded expectations with the Diamondbacks, leading the National League in hits while putting up 20 home runs and 30 stolen bases. Only three other players put together a 20-30 season last year: Jose Altuve, Paul Goldschmidt and Mike Trout.

    The pressure is on Segura to prove that wasn't a fluke—that he is one of the game's elite infielders, capable of putting up such impressive numbers on a yearly basis. While Walker had been a disappointment thus far, he was still thought to have a bright future on the mound.

    While we know better than to read too much into exhibition numbers, Segura needs a strong showing this spring. The last thing he wants to do is get off to a slow start with a new team that is desperate to end baseball's longest playoff drought.

Trevor Story, Colorado Rockies

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    Rob Leiter/Getty Images

    2016 Stats

    LevelPABA/OBP/SLGH XBH (HR)RBIRSB
    MLB415.272/.341/.56710152 (27)72678-of-13

                       

    Player Outlook

    A torn thumb ligament bought Trevor Story's storybook rookie season to a premature end, dashing what little hope Colorado's shortstop may have had to challenge Los Angeles' Corey Seager for National League Rookie of the Year.

    Before being lost to injury, Story broke the National League record for home runs by a rookie shortstop, a record previously held by former Rockies All-Star Troy Tulowitzki. While he was a legitimate prospect, Story shocked the baseball world with his performance.

    All eyes will be on the 24-year-old this spring for multiple reasons.

    Can he still swing the bat with the kind of authority he showed last season, or has the injury altered his grip or swing? Is he still the team's shortstop of the present—and future? Or was 2016 a fluke, leaving the door open for the team's top prospect (and fellow shortstop) Brendan Rodgers?

    As long as he's healthy, expect Story to pick up where he left off last season—and for trade chatter surrounding Rodgers to grow louder.

Dansby Swanson, Atlanta Braves

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    Kevin Liles/Getty Images
    LevelPABA/OBP/SLGH XBH (HR)RBIRSB
    A+/AA470.275/.362/.42611339 (9)556813-of-16
    MLB145.302/.361/.4423911 (3)17203-of-3

                  

    Player Outlook

    Whether due to the lopsided trade with which Atlanta acquired him, that he's the first top overall draft pick to be traded in his draft year or the way he performed in his first taste of the majors last season, Dansby Swanson was going to be the center of attention this spring.

    Now, we can add one more reason to that list: the inevitable (and unfair) comparison to New York Yankees legend (and eventual first-ballot Hall of Fame inductee) Derek Jeter, courtesy of MLB.com's Jim Callis:

    Like Jeter, Swanson should hit for a high average with moderate power (albeit good pop for a shortstop) and a decent amount of walks. He has similar quickness and should provide 20 or so steals per year. Swanson is a solid defender and likely a better shortstop than Jeter was, though he probably won't match The Captain's five Gold Glove Awards.

    Swanson's charisma is reminiscent of Jeter's as well. Relative to the market sizes, Swanson will become as big a star in his hometown as Jeter was in New York.

    That's not to say the comparison isn't accurate, but it raises expectations for a 22-year-old with 38 major league games under his belt to ridiculous proportions. Swanson has all the makings of a future star, and he may very well win the National League Rookie of the Year Award in 2017.

    But we should just let Dansby Swanson be the best Dansby Swanson he can be. Nothing more, nothing less.

                    

    Unless otherwise noted, all statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs. All contract information courtesy of Cot's Baseball Contracts (via Baseball Prospectus).