In reviewing the shortstop prospects throughout minor league baseball I found it to be more difficult to narrow down a list of 15 than I did with the other positions I've ranked thus far. I think this position has both depth and star power and as I mentioned in my second baseman rankings, many of the players on this list will have MLB careers as second basemen. There were a lot of guys that I had to leave off the list that I can see having very significant careers and others that might rank in the top 5 on this list as early as next season.
Bats - Throws - Height - Weight - D.O.B.
1. Alcides Escobar - R-R - 6'1 185 - MIL - 12.16.86. A master defenseman with plus range, soft hands and a good arm, the Escobar era in Milwaukee begins now with the departure of J.J. Hardy. While his glove has always been his calling card, Escobar's offense has improved steadily over the past several years. In a brief stint in Milwaukee last season he posted a .304/.333/.368 line in 125 ABs. He stole a total of 48 bases last season with 25 doubles and 5 HR. He doesn't walk enough (6.6%) for a man of his speed and lack of power, but he also makes pretty consistent contact evidenced by his 15.1 K%.
2. Starlin Castro - R-R- 6'1 175 - CHC - 2.24.90. While not quite the defender that Escobar is, Castro is still a plus defender and has more pop to his bat. Castro's line between two levels (.299/.342./392) in 2009 won't blow you away but he was the youngest player in the High A Florida State League and in the AA Southern League and still merged to stand out being named the best defensive shortstop in the former. He has a slight hitch in his swing where he drops then raises his hands instead of loading them back that will need to be corrected, but it's not alarming. He stole 28 bases last season but was caught 11 times. Like Escobar, he doesn't walk as much as he should. He should go back to AA to begin the year.
3. Jose Iglesias - R-R- 5'11 175 - BOS - 1.5.90. The 2nd most hyped Cuban defector to sign in the past year behind Aroldis Chapman, Iglesias is quickly growing a legendary reputation for his glove work. Signed to a 4 year - $8.25MM contract, he got his first taste of pro ball at the Arizona Fall League. Although he's just 20 years old there is no question that Iglesias will remain at SS as he progresses and he should be a gold glove caliber player when he arrives in the major leagues. At the plate he has a very short and compact line drive stroke. At this point the major question mark for me will be his selectivity at the plate. Just as it's an adjustment for Cuban pitchers to recognize that hitters don't chase as many balls out of the zone in this country, Cuban hitters must make the same adjustment by not swinging at bad balls. He could start in AA and I'm anxious to start watching his box scores to see if he's drawing walks.
4. Jiovanni Mier - R-R - 6'2 175 - HOU - 8.26.90. Mier and Mychal Givens were regarded as the clear top two prep shortstops in the 2009 draft. Houston selected Mier in the 1st round, signed him quickly and Jio started backing up his reputation up at the pro level. Mier showed power, patience, speed and defensive ability in his debut. He smacked 7 HR and posted a .484 SLG. He walked 13.1% of the time and he stole 10 bags. He'll get his first taste of full season ball in the Low A South Atlantic League and could advance quickly.
5. Grant Green - R-R - 6'3 170 - OAK - 9.27.87. The University of Southern California product was regarded as the second best position player (behind Dustin Ackley) in the draft heading into the 2009 college season, but he may have been looking ahead and his stock dropped significantly during a disappointing first half of the season. He would later recover and Oakland used the 13th pick on him and signed him to an above slot $2.75MM bonus. At the plate he has good balance and a simple compact stroke that should lead to above average power numbers. While he doesn't project to be a gold glover at shortstop, he should be able to remain at the position long term.
6. Devaris Gordon - L-R - 5'11 150 - LAD - 4.22.88. The son of MLB pitcher Tom "Flash" Gordon, the younger Gordon might earn the same nickname but for his foot speed rather than his fastball. He stole 73 bases last season in the Low A Midwest League where he was the co-MVP. Despite his MLB bloodlines, Gordon didn't play baseball until his senior year in HS, so his game needs years of refinement. He's a good contact hitter though he's too much of a slapper and he also doesn't walk as much as he should. He's posted very high BABIP numbers over the past two seasons (.368 and .357) but that's not too unusual for a ground ball hitter with his speed. I expect the infield hits and batting average to decrease as he progresses and faces better pitching and defense. He could put up another good offensive season for Inland Empire in the High A California League.
7. Miguel Sano - R-R - 6'3 195 - MIN - 5.11.93. Sano was rated as the top prospect on the international amateur market last summer and was paid like it too, signing with the Twins for $3.15MM. It's doubtful he'll stick at SS, but he has the arm strength and raw power to move to 3B or RF. At just 16 he'll continue to get bigger and while that will prove to be his demise at short, it will likely improve his already high ceiling power potential.
8. Derrik Gibson - R-R- 6'1 170 - BOS - 12.5.89. Gibson was a 2nd round pick out of HS in 2008 and while I don't think he'll stick at SS (especially with Jose Iglesias now in the organization) he's being ranked as one. With patience at he plate and speed, Gibson looks like a true leadoff hitter. He maintained a BB% of at least 12.4% in his three minor league stops, and had 0.93 BB/K ratio last season while stealing 28 bases. He's yet to hit his first professional HR and he doesn't project to develop much power as he matures.
9. Chase D'Arnaud - R-R- 6'1 175 - PIT - 1.21.87. Chase's brother Travis ranked 12th on my Top 15 Catchers List and like his brother, he doesn't possess much power. I do like his approach though as he walks at an above average rate and he walks nearly has much as he strikes out. Defensively, D'Arnaud holds his own, being voted as the best defensive shortstop in the Carolina League by the league's managers.
10. Wilmer Flores - R-R - 6'3 175 - NYM - 8.6.91. When reading about Mets prospects, you see a similar phrase in many scouting reports. Because they're aggressive with signing teenagers in the international signing period and with promoting them later, you often see, "he was the youngest player in his league last year." It was true of blue chip pitcher Jenrry Mejia, and with outfielder Fernando Martinez. Unless you've seen these guys with your own eyes and I haven't, it makes it difficult to evaluate them because their stats are usually just OK while they try to hold their own against older competition. Flores is no exception being the youngest player in the Low A South Atlantic League last year. Flores won't be a shortstop much longer and a move to third base is probable. He flashed power in 2008 but hit just 3 HR and slugged a weak .332 last season.
11. Danny Espinosa - B-R - 6'0 190 - WAS - 4.25.87. While he won't come close to matching other former Dirtbag shortstops Troy Tulowitzki or Evan Longoria, Espinosa is a legit prospect in his own right. He boasts an above average walk rate but he also has a red flag in his 27.2 K%. He did hit 18 HR and stole 29 bases and plays a good shortstop. He's a good bet to have an MLB career, and his contact issues will dictate whether it will be as an everyday player or as a utility guy.
12. Reid Brignac - L-R - 6'3 180 - TB - 1.16.86. Once considered a prolific offensive prospect, Brignac has been rated as the top defensive shortstop in each of the past two seasons by the managers of the International League while his bat seems to have regressed slightly. His plate discipline is below average and he no longer appears to have the plus power that he showed in 2006 when he hit 24 HR and slugged .557 in the California League. With no openings in the Tampa Bay lineup, he may make the team as a bench contributor.
13. Tim Beckham - R-R - 6'0 190 - TB - 1.27.90. The first overall pick in the 2008 draft, ahead of Pedro Alverez, Buster Posey, and Gordon Beckham, Tim was expected to remain at shortstop. A thick lower half and poor footwork, however, have spurred rumblings that a move to 3B or OF is possible. A move off of shortstop would severely damage Beckham's prospect status, as his bat was simply not advanced enough to warrant the top overall pick if he were a high school 3B or LF. At the plate he showed some power, hitting 33 doubles and 5 HR last season while stealing 13 bases. The 116 K's compared to just 34 BB's is a concern and he'll need to cut down on that difference in the High A Florida State League to rebuild his reputation.
14. Mychal Givens - R-R - 6'1 190 - BAL - 5.13.90. A 2nd round prep pick out of baseball rich Tampa FL, Givens signed late so there was less opportunity for him to show what kind of player he's going to be. Givens was a 2-way player in HS and pitched in the mid 90s so his arm at SS is plus-plus. He's not perceived to be as polished defensively as Jiovanni Mier and I simply don't know enough about him as a hitter to know where he might need improvement. I don't see any major flaws with his swing in this small sample.
15. Hak-Ju Lee - L-R- 6'2 170 - CHC - 11.4.90. An international signee from Korea in 2008, Lee is impressive in several facets of his game. He flashed speed (25 SB), patience (10.2 BB%), batting average (.330) in his professional debut last season. It wasn't all roses, as he committed 27 errors in just 68 games and he has not shown much power. He'll get his first taste of full season ball this season in the Low A Midwest League in 2010.
Sleeper - Ivan DeJesus Jr. - R-R - 5'11 190 - LAD - 5.1.87. I don't understand why DeJesus doesn't get more love. His dad was an MLB shortstop, and he plays like the son of an MLB veteran. He missed most of last season with a broken leg and while he's good enough defensively to stay at SS, there's already talk of him moving to 2B so he can play along side Devaris Gordon in Los Angeles when they both arrive. I love his plate discipline. In his last 3 full seasons, he walked at least 11% of the time while posting a BB/K ratio near 1.00 and stealing double digit bases. I think he's a good bet to become an MLB regular.
Overrated - Carlos Triunfel - R-R - 5'11 205 - SEA - 2.27.90. While Tim Beckham received some strong consideration for this spot, I think he deserves a spot on the back end of my top 15 while Triunfel does not. Another member of this list to receive a seven figure bonus as an international signee, this time from 2006. He's been disappointing as a professional - refusing to take walks, battling issues with his weight, and having a perceived poor attitude. He does possess a strong arm that will give him options defensively but a move to second base will most likely be the first move. A broken leg held him to just 42 AB's last season. While he's still just 20, he has plenty time to restore his blue chip prospect status, but I'm betting against it.