Out of all the positions so far, ranking the shortstops in the AL East has been the most difficult, even more so than 2B.
There is a four-time All-Star, one of the best short stops in baseball history, one of the top prospects who will play in the majors in 2014, one of the best power-hitting shortstops in the game today who also is quite talented with the glove, and a player who remains an enigma.
So trying to rank this bunch isn’t easy, but these rankings are based on what you can expect in 2014, and will be ranked accordingly.
1. Toronto Blue Jays
Jose Reyes is a four-time All-Star and is considered one of the best shortstops in the game. A career .292 hitter, Reyes has all tools. He is a good hitter for average, with power numbers typical for a shortstop. Although not the greatest fielder as far as fielding percentage, Reyes has great range. His 2013 season was diminished due to injuries, playing in only 93 games. A solid contributor all around, Reyes takes the top billing at the position.
Izturis appears he will be the Jays utilityman at this point, with Orioles’ killer Munenori Kawasaki likely being sent to Triple-A. Kawasaki saw most of his playing time last year when Reyes was hurt, and the Jays will be counting on a healthy Jose Reyes in 2014.
2. Baltimore Orioles
J.J. Hardy takes the second spot in the AL East shortstop rankings. J.J. is one of the top power hitting shortstops in the game, averaging 26 homers a season while an Orioles. His average is atypically low for a shortstop, a .256 hitter during his three year tenure as an O. However, the Orioles will gladly take the power numbers and the great fielding that comes from Hardy. Hardy has been a Gold Glover each of the last two seasons, has great range and does not commit many errors.
Casilla and Flaherty are both battling for the second base position, one that certainly heated up the first week of camp (I’ll have more on that in another post). Flaherty will likely make the team, so if he is not the starting second basemen, he likely will be the utilityman. Gonzalez also could make the team, but it would like mean the O’s break camp with several injuries, something the team hopes to avoid.
New York Yankees
This is a hard ranking. Despite being an Orioles fan, I have the utmost respect for what Derek Jeter has accomplished on the baseball field. However, 13-time All-Star Mr. November is now 39 years old, and doesn’t have much playing time left on his body. He has already announced he will retire at the end of the season. So what Jeter will we see during his final year? Will it be the man who played in 159 games in 2012, and led the majors in hits, hit 15 home runs, had a .316 batting average and was an All-Star and Silver Slugger? Or will be the player’s whose body started breaking down in 2013, playing only 17 games and hitting .190. I think all baseball fans want Jeter to have a successful season, but to expect the numbers from 2012 would be absurd. If he can stay healthy, Jeter will be a solid contributor to the Yankees. But like so many of the players in the Yankee infield (Brian Roberts, Mark Teixeira) that is a big if.
Ryan and his sterling defense will be the backup, although both he and Nunez could see a lot of time at other positions depending on injuries and performance. Another thing to watch for is that Jeter makes a lot of starts at DH, and these two split time at shortstop.
4. Tampa Bay Rays
Yunel Escobar was once a top prospect with the Atlanta Braves, before being traded to the Blue Jays, who then shipped him to the Marlins in exchange for Jose Reyes in that blockbuster deal. The Marlins flipped him to the Rays, where he started 149 games as the everyday shortstop in 2013. Escobar is never going to hit home runs, but his average is never going to be high either. However, the Rays are more than willing to live with that, as he fits the theme of their offense. Get on base and make things happen. With a .350 on-base percentage for his career, Escobar has a propensity to do just that. In addition, 2013 was arguably his best season with the glove as well. Escobar is a solid player, and the Rays will take that every day from their shortstop.
Zobrist of course will be playing all over the field, and former Yankee Jayson Nix also was invited to Spring Training. Forsythe is listed on the depth charts as the utilityman, but you have to think with Zobrist able to fill that role and star in it, that Escobar may not have a true backup.
5. Boston Red Sox
If you were upset that I have Jeter ranked third, you might be appalled that Xander Bogaerts is ranked last out of the five AL East shortstops. I’ll be honest, I’m excited to watch the kid play. The 21-year-old from Aruba played in 18 regular season games in 2013, hitting .250 and being a defensive whiz. He had much better numbers in the postseason, playing in 12 games, including all six of the World Series games, where he showed just how much potential he has. But the questions remain about how good of a hitter Bogaerts can be? His defense is stellar, but in a division with Jose Reyes, J.J. Hardy, Derek Jeter/Brendan Ryan and Yunel Escobar, everyone else knows how to field their position too. The expectations are through the roof. He is classified as a complete player, a natural hitter and a guy who has some pop in his bat. But at 21, in his first full major league season, is he ready to handle the position? The Red Sox hope so, because as you can see, they have only possible utilityman Herrera backing him up.
Come June, these rankings could be vastly different. Bogaerts might quickly rise to the top, while Jeter struggles to stay healthy. This position is arguably the deepest in the division, and makes for interesting debate. How do you think they should be ranked?