Today we continue to take a look at some of the minors’ biggest and brightest prospects ready to jump out on the national stage next season. Having already looked at five impact first basemen, second basemen and third basemen, we turn our attention to the shortstops.
There are some big shoes to fill. Shortstop has become one of the more exciting young positions in the game with the emergence of Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor and even the little we saw of Dansby Swanson this season. Who is the next in line?
Remember, this isn’t a ranking or list of best shortstop prospects. You won’t see Brendan Rodgers because as long as Trevor Story is healthy, the Rockies are pretty set up the middle and can allow Rodgers another season of maturity. You also won’t see Amed Rosario, because even if the veterans at the big league level go down with injury, Gavin Cecchini is likely next in line. Nor will you see the New York Yankees dynamic duo of Gleyber Torres or Jorge Mateo, who are both a little bit away, despite Torres absolutely sizzling in the desert out in the Arizona Fall League. And you won’t see the aforementioned Swanson. Yes, by MLB’s statistical standards, he will still be a “rookie” in 2017, but there is no question that Swanson is the everyday shortstop for the Braves and he already showed his impact in their remarkable 20-10 September run.
J.P. Crawford, Philadelphia Phillies
This is a no-brainer. Some see Crawford as the best prospect in the game, while everyone else has him in their top-five. Philadelphia is going through a major youth movement, and J.P. Crawford is poised to become the face of an exciting young infield.
The left-handed-hitting 21-year-old shortstop struggled in his 2016 Triple-A debut, slashing .244/.328/.318 while posting the lowest OPS of his career (.647). Still, he was amongst the youngest in the league and has an advanced feel at the plate (he has struck out 243 times and walked 232 over the course of his career) that you can tell he will hit. He won’t get you much in the home run department, but has nice gap power. He also has the defense to stick at shortstop and will anchor the position for many years to come in Philly.
He had offseason knee surgery, but it was seemingly a clean-up procedure. Freddy Galvis has manned the position admirably and the Phillies will have to ponder if re-signing Galvis is in their best interests or if it is simply Crawford’s time. Having Galvis on board allows the Phillies to hold Crawford back until May or even June if they’d like, but a hot spring training could see the Crawford Era begin on Opening Day.
Willy Adames, Tampa Bay Rays
No, Adames has never seen a Triple-A pitch, but that doesn’t matter much in this era of baseball. He will surely start the season in Durham, but likely end the year as Tampa’s shortstop.
When Matt Duffy went down with his Achilles injury, the Rays picked up Alexei Ramirez when the Padres dropped him this past September and that’s really the only competition they have on the roster at short for Duffy. Brad Miller could see a move should the Rays get aggressive with Casey Gillaspie (which they should), but he won’t likely wind up at short. If Duffy is healthy and ready to go, the job is his… for the time being. Being a jack-of-all-trades himself, it doesn’t necessarily mean Adames doesn’t see some playing time in 2017.
Adames held his own in his first season in Double-A. He combines nice home run pop — a 10-to-15 home run threat — with gap power — 31 doubles in 2016 — as well as good enough speed to register six triples and ten stolen bases. He does strike out a bit for a light hitter (121 last year) but he walks a ton (74) allowing him to post high on-base percentages annually as evidenced by his .366 career OBP. This past season also saw his second-highest OPS of his career, sitting at .802.
Now 21, the Rays don’t need to open the season with Adames on their roster, but this is a team in flux. They are always willing to let the youth take the reigns and should Adames continue to play as he has in Durham, then he will likely be Tampa bound sooner than later.
Tyler Smith, Seattle Mariners
Smith isn’t atop any prospect lists, but Ketel Marte isn’t atop many people’s elite shortstop lists, either. He is also a jack of all trades, who plays solid defense at second base as well as the hot corner. That alone could get the 25-year-old a bunch of playing time in 2017.
Smith was a four-year starter at Oregon State and converted his success into an eighth-round selection by the Mariners in the 2013 MLB Draft. He doesn’t have a lot of power (just 20 home runs in his career) but he has always proven to be a tough out. He handles the strike zone well, makes solid contact, and has the ability to find the gaps (averaging 22 doubles a year the past three seasons).
Don’t expect Smith to be in the Rookie of the Year conversation next November, but he is the exact kind of utility player that impacts playoff-bound teams. The Mariners have been on the cusp the last few seasons; players like Smith could get them over the hump.
To see who else rounds out the Top 5, head on over to Today’s Knuckleball for my full feature by clicking on the link below:
MiLB: Five impact shortstops for 2017