Elite shortstops have long been one of the rarest and most valuable commodities in baseball. During the mid-90s, the game saw an exciting influx of high quality shortstops. Between 1994 and 1997, Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Nomar Garciaparra, and Miguel Tejada each made his Major League debut. Today, the only remaining vestige of that spike in talent is a 40-year-old A-Rod relegated to DH duties.
However, as one wave of talent dissipates, another has begun to gather. Looking across the league today, the game is simply flush with elite-level shortstop production. While it remains to be seen if this current crop can rival its predecessor, the future of the position is certainly bright thanks to guys like these:
Carlos Correa (HOU):
Some pundits actually criticized the Astros when they made Carlos Correa, a 17-year-old shortstop from Puerto Rico, the number one overall pick in the 2012 draft. With the two highest rated prospects, Stanford righty Mark Appel and prep outfielder Byron Buxton, both expected to command hefty signing bonuses, Houston’s decision to go with Correa was immediately deemed a cost-cutting move. And, indeed, Correa did sign for well below slot (taking $4.8M of the recommended $7.2M) while Buxton (drafted second overall) commanded $6M from the Twins and Appel (taken eighth) failed to sign with Pittsburgh. However, four years later, it certainly seems that the Astros made the right choice.
After rocketing through the Astros’ farm system, Correa broke into the majors in early June of last year and never looked back. Over the remainder of the season, the young shortstop delivered an impressive .279/.345/.512 line over 432 PA, finishing with 3.3 fWAR. At 6’4’’, 215lb, he displayed excellent power for his position, tallying 22 homeruns and a .233 ISO. Throw in 14 SB plus passable up-the-middle defense and it is easy to see why the BWAA awarded Correa AL ROY honors. Though his numbers have leveled off a bit during his sophomore campaign, he remains on pace for a 20/20 season with a real shot at reaching 25+ homeruns. Still just 21-years-old, Correa should serve as a franchise cornerstone in Houston for years to come.
Francisco Lindor (CLE):
Despite Correa’s strong 2015 season, Cleveland’s Francisco Lindor came close to snagging the AL ROY award for himself (he received 13 first place votes to Correa’s 17). A switch-hitting, slick-fielding shortstop, Lindor profiled as a high-floor guy thanks to his glove and speed. Since being drafted in 2011, he has maintained his trademark defense while making tremendous strides at the plate. After advancing quickly through the Indians organization, Lindor made his debut less than a week after Correa in mid-2015.
That season, over the course of 438 PA, the former first rounder compiled a slash line of .313/.353/.482 with 12 HR, 12 SB, and outstanding defense. By the end of the year he had accrued an impressive 4.6 fWAR. In 2016, his hot hitting has continued. Currently, he is on pace to go 20/20 with a .300 BA and elite defense (both UZR and DRS love his glove work). Still just 22-years-old, the Indians’ budding star has proven himself capable of contributing to every facet of the game. His diverse and impressive skill set has lead to some, including ESPN’s Jim Bowden, to compare the young shortstop to Hall of Famer Barry Larkin.
Corey Seager (LOS):
Another former first round pick (18th overall in 2012), the Dodgers’ Corey Seager recently joined his older brother Kyle (a third baseman for the Mariners) at the Major League level. Prior to the 2015 season, the younger Seager had established himself as a consensus top 10 prospect with the potential to become an offensive force at shortstop. After dominating minor league pitching, Seager made his Major League debut during September call-ups in late 2015 and immediately went on a tear. Over 113 PA he slashed an obscene .337/.425/.561, good for a 175 wRC+ and 1.5 fWAR.
While his numbers have come back to earth a bit (a 175 wRC+ would be the sixth highest of all-time for a shortstop), Seager is still destroying baseballs. Thus far in 2016, the 22-year-old has compiled a .289/.348/.519 line (134 wRC+), is on pace for 30+ homeruns, and has managed to improve every month. In fact, his numbers for June are somehow on par with his otherworldly performance from the end of 2015. To top it off, Seager has provided above-average defense. Additionally, even with the plate appearances he logged last season, he retained rookie status, virtually guaranteeing him NL ROY honors this season. It seems the Dodgers have a franchise cornerstone up the middle.
Xander Bogaerts (BOS):
Aruban shortstop Xander Bogaerts has lifted the hopes of the Boston faithful ever since signing with the organization back in 2009. Never known for his defense, he drew rave reviews for his bat. After destroying the minor leagues and getting a 50 PA trial run in 2013, Bogaerts registered his first full big league season in 2014. Unfortunately, that year would include some growing pains. Over the course of 594 PA, he limped to a .240/.297/.362 line while providing subpar defense at short. By the end of the season he had accrued a measly 0.3 fWAR, leading some to doubt his ability to succeed at the highest level.
However, the following season, Bogaerts laid those doubts to rest, turning potential into production. The sophomore adopted a contact-heavy approach and saw amazing dividends. Though his ISO dropped from .123 to .101, his slash line jumped to a fantastic .320/.355/.421. As an added bonus, his defense improved, actually becoming an asset. He finished the season with a much-improved mark of 4.3 fWAR. This season, his impressive offensive output has continued. Currently the owner of an elite .351/.402/.514 batting line, Bogaerts seems to have finally put everything together. His power is returning a bit, his defense continues to improve, and he’s lowered his K% even further. With another high-level season under his belt, it appears that Bogaerts’ rookie struggles were just a blip on an otherwise impressive resume.
Manny Machado (BAL):
Though he has primarily played third base at the Major League level, Oriole stud Manny Machado is a shortstop by trade and will likely see increased time there in the future. Still just 23-years-old, Machado already has a pair of six win seasons under his belt, topping out at 6.8 fWAR last season. After posting an excellent .286/.359/.502 line with 35 HR, 20 SB, and elite defense, Machado is poised to log an even stronger year in 2016. While his speed numbers have disappeared (no stolen bases in 2016 so far), the former number three overall pick has slashed .317/.380/.605 while playing more innings at short than third. His .288 ISO ranks sixth in the baseball and his 3.8 fWAR is good for fifth in the league.
Though his lengthy MLB resume may suggest otherwise, Baltimore’s superstar is the same age as Bogaerts and only two years older than Seager. Machado does walk less than your typical slugger (8.7 BB%), but his elite contact skills more than make up for it. While Mike Trout and Bryce Harper have received more attention, Machado’s combination of youth, top shelf offensive production, and above-average defense at a premium position place him among the best players in all of baseball.
Knocking on the Door:
In addition to the five guys above, a number of promising shortstops are currently biding their time in the minors.
Trea Turner (WAS): Acquired from the Padres in the three-team deal that netted San Diego Wil Myers, Nationals shortstop Trea Turner has made quite the impression since arriving in Washington. Expected to join the big league lineup anytime now, Turner has an above average bat, good speed, and gap power. (#9 Prospect on MLB.com)
Orlando Arcia (MIL): An elite defensive prospect, Orlando Arcia should have a career in the MLB based on his glove alone. Recently, his bat has started to catch up. As a 20-year-old in Double-A, Arcia lead his league in both batting average and doubles. With Jean Segura traded to Arizona, Arcia should see time in Milwaukee this season. (#4 Prospect on MLB.com)
J.P. Crawford (PHI): Like Arcia, J.P. Crawford has excellent defensive abilities and has played well for his age. While he hasn’t hit for much power, Crawford is on track to have a second consecutive season with more walks than strikeouts. His advanced hitting approach coupled with a strong glove should make Crawford a mainstay in Philadelphia sooner rather than later. (#3 Prospect on MLB.com)
Alex Bregman (HOU): Currently blocked by Carlos Correa, 2015 number two pick Alex Bregman still may force his way into the Houston lineup. Currently slashing .302/.411/.568 with 14 homers at AA Corpus Christi, Bregman appears ready for the show. With Correa and star second baseman Jose Altuve both entrenched, the Astros may have to get creative with their defensive positioning. For what it’s worth, Correa’s size may eventually push him over to third, opening the door for Bregman to take over at short. (#18 Prospect on MLB.com)
Dansby Swanson/Ozzie Albies (ATL): The two highest rated position prospects in the loaded Atlanta farm system, Dansby Swanson and Ozzie Albies are both fairing well in the high minors this season. Swanson, the 2015 number one overall pick, was an advanced college bat and could soon be an all-around contributor in the vein of Derek Jeter. Albies, an international signee out of Curacao, is currently playing in AAA Gwinnett as a 19-year-old. A switch hitter with above average speed and defense, Albies managed to hit over .300 from both sides of the plate last season. (Swanson – #6 Prospect on MLB.com; Albies – #25 Prospect on MLB.com)
Brendan Rodgers (#10, COL), Franklin Barreto (#19, OAK), and Gleyber Torres (#24, CHI) are other SS prospects currently ranked among the top 25 on MLB.com.
By my count, no less than half the league has a favorable shortstop situation. Even the extensive list above leaves out Trevor Story (a rookie on pace for nearly 40 homers), Addison Russell (an important starter on the best team in baseball), Andrelton Simmons (literally the best defensive player I’ve ever watched – Ozzie was before my time), and others.
Inevitably, some of these guys will decline, the injury bug will strike, a prospect or two won’t pan out, and multiple will move to other positions. Still, this is an amazing time for shortstops and should be an exciting few years of high quality production up the middle. I look forward, decades from now, to reminiscing about the great shortstop boon of the mid-2010s. Enjoy it people, a glut of talent like this doesn’t happen all the time.
(All statistics obtained from either FanGraphs or Baseball-Reference and are accurate as of 6/24/2016)