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The Quixotic Search for a Shortstop


Will d'Arnaud be the Pirates' shortstop in 2012?

At the major league level, the Pirates are displaying a glimmer of hope for the long-suffering fans.  The “Core Four” of Andrew McCutchen, Jose Tabata, Neil Walker, and Pedro Alvarez are off to good starts in their careers and have started off 2011 fairly well.  Most observers of the team would agree, though, that the Pirates most pressing needs are starting pitching and shortstop.

Shortstop is a notoriously difficult position to fill, as it is the most demanding from a defensive position and is home to many “great glove/no hit” types.  It is a very rare bird that can field their position and contribute offensively.  For this reason, many teams covet their shortstop stock greatly and are hesitant to part with any potential asset.  But let’s look around the minors for players that may project to be better both offensively and defensively than the Pirates leading in-house contender at shortstop, Chase d’Arnaud.

Our starting point is the Baseball America Top 100 prospects list.  This aggregate list plucks prospects from all 30 teams at all the various positions.  On this list, Baseball America lists 14 prospects that at least have some possibility of playing shortstop.  The following are those players with their Top 100 ranking in parentheses:

  • Manny Machado, BAL (14)
  • Dee Gordon, LAD (26)
  • Billy Hamilton, CIN (50)
  • Christian Colon, KC (51)
  • Jose Iglesias, BOS (52)
  • Nick Franklin, SEA (53)
  • Wilmer Flores, NYM (59)
  • Miguel Sano, MIN (60)
  • Grant Green, OAK (63)
  • Danny Espinosa, WAS (66)
  • Jurickson Profar, TEX (74)
  • Brent Morel, CWS (85)
  • Hak Ju Lee, TB (92)
  • Jonathan Villar (94)

Of these 14 players, I only see 9 with some hope of sticking at SS long-term (Machado, Gordon, Hamilton, Iglesias, Franklin, Espinosa, Profar, Lee, and Villar).  Espinosa is playing 2B in the majors with Washington and I’ll cover him separately in a follow-up article.  Morel is playing 3B in the majors with the White Sox and I’ve ruled him out.

Whittling down the 9 remaining candidates from the Top 100, I only see 4 potential candidates who may be potentially available AND have progressed enough to get a feel for their game.

  • Dee Gordon, LAD (23 in 2011, AAA in 2011) – Gordon is still pretty raw in some aspects of the game, but projects to be above-average defensively due to his range and be a threat on the base paths with his speed (53 SB’s in 2010).  He doesn’t walk much, so his potential as a leadoff man may be limited, but he could still use his speed as a 2-hole hitter.  He may be wasted in the 8-hole.  The Dodgers’ GM, Ned Coletti, is not afraid to deal and the Pirates have procured some talent recently from them(McDonald, Lambo, Morris).
  • Nick Franklin, SEA (20, A+) – Franklin had one of the finest seasons for a teenager in the Midwest League’s history in 2010, as he compiled a .281/.351/.485 triple slash line (836 OPS)  with 23 HR’s and 25 SB’s.  He did strike out over 20% of the time and his defensive range only grades out as average.  However, Seattle may decide to try and squeeze some contention years out while King Felix is still around and may not want to wait 3 years for Franklin to develop further.  Although it is a longshot, perhaps the right major league or near-major league player could convince them to include Franklin in the deal.
  • Hak-Ju Lee, TB (20, A+) – Lee has already been traded once, as he was part of the package that Chicago sent to Tampa Bay in the Matt Garza deal.  Lee is described by Baseball America as having quick reactions and good range to both sides.  He has plus-plus speed and walks at a decent rate of 10% to profile as a possible leadoff hitter.  He has next to no home run power, so it may be leadoff or the 8-hole for Lee if he were in the National League.  The Rays are notoriously difficult to trade with when it comes to their prospects, as they hoard them to provide low-cost alternatives to their major league team once their players become expensive.  It would be difficult to procure Lee from Tampa Bay.
  • Jonathan Villar, HOU (20, A+) – Like Lee, Villar is no stranger to changing teams.  Villar was part of the package that sent Roy Oswalt to the Phillies last year.  Of the four that I have winnowed from the Top 100, Villar has the least developed offensive game.  He has little extra-base power, but has leadoff type speed.  However, his poor walk rate portends a spot next to the pitcher in the batting order.  Of the four, though, he seems to have the most highly rated glove and is a future Gold Glove candidate potentially.  Houston just got him, but they are also balancing playing time for Jio Mier, as well.  Villar is primarily on this list due to the unpredictable nature of Ed Wade, Houston’s GM.  If the right type of deal is dangled, you never know what Wade will toss in to the mix.

Three of the other guys on this list (Machado, Profar, and Hamilton) are too young to be properly judged as none were in full-season ball at all in 2010.  Iglesias is the heir apparent at shortstop in Boston, as they committed an $8.25M major league contract to the Cuban defector in 2008.  I will cover Espinosa in the second part of this article where I look at trade targets that are already in the majors.

But what about minor leaguers not in the Top 100, but still good enough to be in their team’s individual Baseball America Top 10’s?  After combing through the lists, I found 18 additional candidates to examine:

  • Matt Lipka (#6 for ATL)
  • Osvaldo Martinez (#5 for FLA)
  • Zack Cozart (#8 for CIN)
  • Jio Mier (#5 for HOU)
  • Scooter Gennett (#4 for MIL)
  • Chris Owings (#4 for ARI)
  • Hector Gomez (#10 for COL)
  • Drew Cumberland (#9 for SD)
  • Ehire Adrianza (#5 for SF) and Brandon Crawford (#6 for SF)
  • Mychal Givens (#7 for BAL) and Jonathan Schoop (#10 for BAL)
  • Eduardo Nunez (#8 for NYY)
  • Eduardo Escobar (#5 for CWS)
  • Tony Wolters (#8 for CLE)
  • Yordy Cabrera (#8 for OAK)
  • Marcus Littlewood (#8 for SEA)
  • Luis Sardinas (#8 for TEX)

After looking over the profiles of these guys in the Top 10 writeups, I see 3 players that seem to project out higher potentially than what Chase d’Arnaud may with the Pirates.

  • Zack Cozart, CIN (25 in 2011, AAA in 2011) – Cozart has the capability and actions to stay at shortstop long term, plus he exhibits a nice amount of power for a middle infielder (17 HR’s in 2010, with .161 isolated slugging percentage).  Cozart also stole 30 bases, so he’s no 3-toed sloth once he reaches base.  Cozart has had some low batting averages over the years (.255 in 2010), so he may be susceptible to contact problems in the majors.  He is currently blocked by Paul Janish of the Reds.  If the Reds are making another run and need a piece at the trade deadline, Cozart may be someone to target.
  • Chris Owings, ARI (19, A+) – Owings is a 2009 draftee, but he has already displayed enough range, arm, and quickness to assure scouts he could play shortstop in the majors.  In 2010, he hit .298/.323/.447 as an 18 year old in the difficult Midwest League.  He doesn’t have a lot of speed on the bases (1 SB), but at the very least could equal d’Arnaud’s offensive production with slightly better defense potentially.  If Arizona hangs onto Drew after his option year in 2013, Owings could be expendable.
  • Hector Gomez, COL (23, AA) – Gomez has range off the charts and an extremely strong arm.  What has held him back has been his health.  Gomez has dealt with a wide range of issues in his career, with 2007 being the only year in his career he has played close to a full season of games.  The only reasons he is considered here are his prodigious tools and the blockade at shortstop by Troy Tulowitzki.  Gomez will either need to switch to 2B or switch teams to play in the majors.  He seems to me to be very available in a trade scenario.

By looking at all of the potential shortstops that may be better than d’Arnaud, it becomes very apparent how few available options there may be in a trade.  Part two of this article will look at some young shortstops in the majors and some mid-career veterans who may be targeted in trades.

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