If there was any position that took a beating last season it was the shortstop position. However, the top of the list offers hope for just about any team out there. Ian Desmond managed to flip the board so to speak as he went from someone that flirted with being a trailer to someone that topped the list. Of course, the following list will probably be more recognized for who is missing than who is there.
1) Ian Desmond– Washington Nationals
It’s always amazing to see what happens when a young team with talent becomes a very good young team. Each timeline is different and that various timelines are what makes the game exciting to watch. The Nationals had great pitching to be sure, but a large part of their success came with the coming of age of several players. Desmond was seriously below average as recently as 2011, but 2012 turned that all around. Normally, he wouldn’t be the best shortstop in the game, but 2012 was a perfect storm.
2) Erick Aybar– Los Angeles Angels
Aybar is clearly not the second best shortstop in baseball, but he was a year ago. That’s what happens when several shortstops are either hurt or have down seasons. His performance is also proof positive that the Angels were plenty good last season. Both the Angels and the Rays were really good, but the American League was loaded with talent last season.
3) Jed Lowrie– Houston Astros
The Astros probably missed their window of opportunity to get maximum value for Lowrie. It isn’t so much that he outperformed himself, but that the rest of the shortstop universe was down. Lowrie usually will be close to the bottom of the top ten or near the top of the next tier. That’s decent enough, but it’s not enough to build a franchise around or good enough to get prospects to build around.
4) Jimmy Rollins– Philadelphia Phillies
Rollins got a long-term extension before the season and it seemed like a bad idea even when he was producing these kinds of numbers. His fielding is clearly declining and his offense is no longer special. The saving grace for Rollins is that he is still an elite base runner. Yet, as he enters his early to mid thirties one has to wonder how long that will last.
5) Elvis Andrus– Texas Rangers
The Rangers are at a fork in the road. Elvis Andrus is an elite defensive shortstop and a weapon on the basepaths, but when you distill the effects of a favorable home ballpark you get a below average offensive player. Do the Rangers continue to go with someone that might be average offensively but superior defensively or do they roll the dice on Jurickson Profar (one of the top shortstop prospects in baseball)? They could deal either as the front liner in a package for Justin Upton, but once they make that decision they can’t go back.
6) Asdrubal Cabrera– Cleveland Indians
There were numerous pundits that thought that Cabrera should have been the Gold Glove winner in 2011. Thank God that didn’t happen. There is a difference between making difficult plays look ordinary and making ordinary plays look difficult. Cabrera fits into the second category, but there is no denying his hitting ability. Like many in Cleveland last season, he wasn’t as good as was thought to be.
7) Jose Reyes– Miami Marlins
Reyes is the perfect embodiment of the difference between athletic skills and actual performance. He looks like he should be a Gold Glove quality shortstop. He’s fast, quick, has a good arm and appears as if he should have good range. Unfortunately, the instincts needed to be a great base runner and hitter are not the same the instincts needed in the field. So, Reyes might be good overall, but he is not the 100 million dollar player the Marlins thought he was.
8) Starlin Castro– Chicago Cubs
Castro is similar to Reyes in the fact that he is overrated, but he is overrated for a different reason. He actually improved a lot defensively, but offensively is just not as good as people think. I wrote last season that Carlos Pena was actually better offensively and people laughed. That is because they are too committed to batting average as the most important statistic. Castro hasn’t mastered stealing first base, so he is still limited offensively.
9) Jamey Carroll– Minnesota Twins
Everyone notice that Carroll’s TRI score is exactly the same as Starlin Castro. This is why I picked Carroll pretty high on my preseason list for shortstops. He will now play second base, but the value is still there because of the superior fielding. He should be slightly better offensively this season as well.
10) Brandon Crawford– San Francisco Giants
Crawford grew enough as a hitter in 2012 to be passable. That is all the Giants needed from him to get them to the World Series. Before he came along the Giants were going with the likes of Miguel Tejada and Ryan Theriot. Crawford might not be a long-term solution given his lack of offense, but he should be good for a few good seasons.