Examining the A.L. East at Shortstop
by Cary Greene
January 19, 2022
My goal in this running series is to examine how each American League East Division rival has positioned their rosters up to this point in the offseason. Obviously, rosters aren’t fully sculpted yet, as the CBA lockout has put a deep-freeze on both free agent signings and trades. We will hopefully see a squall of activity once a new labor agreement is ratified by both the MLB Player’s Union and MLB Ownership. In my first three installments, I examined how each team is set at catcher, first base and second base. Here’s the summary:
In terms of which team in the division is projected to get the most pure production out of these three key positions combined, we’d easily rank Toronto on top, with the Rays firmly in second and the Yankees in third. The Rays have tons of depth at these three positions though, significantly more than other Division rivals. Brain Cashman’s Yankees spend two to three times what the Yankee’s Division rivals do at these positions and unfortunately, the Yankees lag behind substantially in anticipated production, up to this point in our review of the American League East.
Also of note, the Yankees trade value at these three positions is very low. Names like Gary Sanchez, Luke Voit and DJ LeMahieu aren’t desirable because each player is vastly overpaid based on how productive they are. Even Gleyber Torres’ trade value is at an all time low and that’s a shame, considering the Yankees still have three years of team control remaining.
Here’s a quick chart that summarizes everything we’ve looked at so far, from catching, to first base to second base:
Catcher, First Base, Second Base:
Today I’ll rank each team in the American League East, from best positioned to worst – at shortstop. Many team’s try to draft quality shortstops as this position, more than any other, is by far the most valuable position on the diamond. I’ve peered into each team’s projected 26 man rosters and I’ve scrutinized what kind of depth each Division rival has in their systems. The conclusion is as follows:
The Rays are by far the dominant AL East team at shortstop and it isn’t close. This is due to switch-hitting dreadnought, soon to be 21 year-old Wander Franco, who is one of the most absolutely valuable players in all of baseball. In a trade, Franco is more valuable than many team’s entire franchises. In November, the Rays extended Franco for 11 years and $182 million, plus they have a club option that if exercised, would make the total package 12 years and $223 million. Having a player that good, that young puts Tampa miles ahead at shortstop in the American League East.
However, that’s not all the Rays have at the position. Tampa has a seemingly infinite number of fast, young, slick fielding shortstops in their system. Most likely to contribute to the big-league team this coming season would be Taylor Walls and Vidal Brujan, but Tampa also has Greg Jones, Carlos Comenarez, Willy Vasquez and Carson Williams all turning heads in the minor leagues and they also notably just signed Miguel Tamares as one of the highlights of their recent and impressive 26-man International Amateur signings.
Most certainly, switch-hitting 25 year-old middle infielder Taylor Walls would find a spot on most rosters in the American League East and for good reason. In fact, he could even start for a team like the Orioles. Walls has excellent pitch recognition and has enough gap power to drive the ball on mistakes up in the zone, and he has solid hands and average range at shortstop. Many scouts see his athleticism and footwork as a better fit at second base, but his reads and anticipation could extend his time at short.
Widely regarded 24 year-old switch-hitting shortstop prospect Vidal Brujan is the other player who may help the Rays this season. Brujan is greased lightning, bringing his plus-plus speed to bare for the Rays, who love to pressure opposing defenses. Note in the chart below that all baserunning projections are based on anticipated number of plate appearances. Make no mistake, if Brujan is brought up due to injury or need and if the Rays decide to play him, he’s a flat out havoc-wreaker on the bases.
Without doubt, the next best positioned team in the Division are the Blue Jays, thanks to Yankee killer Bo Bichette, who is looking like he’s going to be a perennial All-Star caliber shortstop. Bichette is a savvy base runner, who stole 25 bags last year and this combines with his lightning quick hands, which allow him to hit not only for average, but for surprising power to all fields as well.
Bichette’s up the middle approach wreaks havoc on pitchers who struggle to game plan for him. Bichette put together 690 plate appearances for Toronto, who will only pay him $575,000 this season. Imagine having an All-Star shortstop for that bargain price? That’s what happens when a team’s scouting department identifies can’t miss uber prospects and then manages to draft and develop them. I hate to point it out, but the Yankees took Blake Rutherford 18th overall in the 2016 MLB Draft. NY then selected Nick Solak in the second round with the 62nd overall pick. Bichette was drafted four spots later as the Jays nabbed him with the 66th pick.
High-end talent is the name of the game for the Blue Jays at shortstop and the Blue Jays also feature two other very good shortstop prospects in their system. The first is 22-year-old Jordan Groshans, who is the Jay’s number three overall prospect, is moving steadily through the Blue Jay’s system and is due to start the season at Triple-A. Groshan’s raw tools are undeniable. His Scouting Grades are excellent:
Hit: 55 | Power: 55 | Run: 50 | Arm: 60 | Field: 50 | Overall: 55 r
Per mlbbaseball.com, Groshans has, “all the raw ingredients to become a plus hitter with plus game power. The ball jumps off his right-handed bat because he combines a balanced swing with plus bat speed and a knack for barreling the baseball. He consistently hits hard line drives with backspin carry to all fields, has no problem turning around quality velocity and employs an approach that’s advanced for his age. Groshans led all Blue Jays hitters at the alternate training site in home runs and should find even more power as he grows into his projectable 6-foot-3 frame. He’s athletic for his size, possessing average speed.”
More than likely, Groshans will wind up playing third base or first base when he reaches the majors. It will be a question of where Toronto will want to deploy a player who profiles as a middle of the order run producer.
Which brings us to the other high-end shortstop prospect in the Blue Jay’s system, 20 year-old Orelvis Martinez, who is the Blue Jays number two overall prospect and who will probably be starting the year in Double-A. Martinez has eye-popping tools, his Scouting Grades:
Hit: 55 | Power: 60 | Run: 50 | Arm: 60 | Field: 50 | Overall: 55
Martinez has drawn comparisons to Adrian Beltre physically. His powerful bat and imposing physique make him a candidate for third base or first base as well. With massive power potential and a strong hit-tool to go along with that power, Martinez will likely be a key prospect for Jays fans to keep an eye on.
Where art thou, New York Yankees? Fans might have thought the Yankee system, with it’s touted shortstop prospects, would be next. Alas, the Yankees are not next. We have to consider what each team will get in the coming season at the Major League level and then also factor in nearly ready prospects and even look at further off proppects when we consider which team’s are best positioned. We also have to look at payroll allocation and overall trade value that each team has.
There is little argument that the Red Sox are the next positioned team at shortstop, after all, Boston All-Star Xander Bogaerts is firmly under control. Chaim Bloom may be grumbling about having to pay Bogaerts $20 million per season, but hey, I have to ask: Isn’t he worth it? Yankee fans would probably love to have a guy like Bogaerts starting at shortstop and really, what’s not to like about a tremendously productive two way player at a premium position?
Probably the only other shortstop prospect in the entire Red Sox system worth getting excited about is 19 year-old phenom Marcelo Mayer, who is Boston’s number one overall prospect. Mayer is a long way from the Show, as he’ll be starting Low-A ball this coming season. A lot can happen with players this young, but the tools are terrific. His Scouting Grades are:
Hit: 60 | Power: 55 | Run: 45 | Arm: 60 | Field: 60 | Overall: 60
Mayer is a great fielding, great hitting prospect – a true shortstop prospect, one who is equally good on both sides of the ball. Mayer was considered by most baseball scouts to be the best hitter and the best defender in the class of 2021. How then, did Boston get such a talent with the 4th overall pick? Well, the Pirates signed a catcher they apparently liked better and then, Jack Lieter and Jobe Jackson – two pitchers – went next. The Yankees picked 20th in 2021, drafting a shortstop prospect themselves – Trey Sweeney.
Now for the Yankees, who are the fourth best positioned team at shortstop in the American League East. Brain Cashman must have a plan to address the gaping hole that exists for the Yankees at shortstop, but if there is one, the fanbase and the blogging community are unaware of it. As of the time of this article’s writing, Gio Urshela is set to start at shortstop for the vaunted Yankees. His backup appears to be Gleyber Torres or perhaps, newly acquired Jose Peraza.
Cashman is flexibly allocating $12.3 million to the shortstop position at this juncture and while it is true that Urshela can be an every day big league shortstop, he’s far more impactful at third base. The Yankees plan is to pursue short term options so clearly, Cashman is hoping the Yankees minor league system can help out in a big way at some point, in the fairly near future.
Barring a surprise big name signing, Yankee fans will likely be asked to buy into the fact that help is on the way and the Yankees can compete. I’ve heard a number of bloggers drop names like Andrelton Simmons – who is such a terrible offensive player at this point in his career that considering his declining defense, he’d represent a massive downgrade from Gio Urshela. I have to believe the Yankee front office knows this. What Cashman needs is a ready right now player, who is an upgrade from Urshela – not a downgrade!
Beginning the season at Triple-A Scranton will be the Yankees number three overall prospect, 21 year-old Oswald Peraza, who has done what many talented prospects fail to do. He’s not only stuck at the position he came up playing, but he hits enough to keep advancing and now, there’s only one more level to go for Peraza. Could Peraza impact the Yankees by the All-Star break this season? Yes, it’s entirely possible. Peraza was signed by the Yankees as an International Amateur in 2016.
Peraza’s Scouting Grades are:
Hit: 55 | Power: 50 | Run: 60 | Arm: 60 | Field: 60 | Overall: 55 – Peraza brings plus overall speed and fielding to the position. He’s not a demon on the base paths, but he can steal bases at an adequate rate without getting clipped too terribly much, thanks to decent overall instincts. It’s widely speculated that Peraza can stick at shortstop, the only issue in question at this point is how much will he progress at Triple-A this season and can the Yankees translate his potential to the major league level. The fielding is not the issue, it’s going to come down to his hitting approach.
Thus far, Peraza is showing very good plate discipline and the Yankees would dearly appreciate a good base runner who can actually get on base via any means necessary. Peraza has done this every step of the journey to date. Can he make the jump to the majors?
Slicing through the Yankee system with style is Anthony Volpe, who rates as the Yankees number one overall prospect. His performance last year was mind-blowing. Volpe pretty much hit the cover off the baseball last year in Low-A and High-A ball. This year, he begins the season at Double-A Somerset. His Scouting Grades show a profile of a player who can hit, but last season he exceeded his tools profile, which is:
Hit: 60 | Power: 50 | Run: 55 | Arm: 50 | Field: 55 | Overall: 55
Volpe mashed lower level pitching across both levels to the tune of a .293/.423/.604 slash line, on the way to posting a 1.027 OPS, which is otherworldly really. Is Volpe the real deal and can he stick at shortstop? Those are the million dollar questions. There are no guarantees in the game of baseball. From a trade value perspective, Volpe is the best shortstop prospect in the American League East. He’s a speedy player with quick reflexes and these tools are helping him make plays in the field so there is a belief among scouts that he has a shot of sticking as a shortstop. He’s not quite Oswald Peraza level defensively, but with his bat, he’s going to decide his fate.
It should be noted that the Yankees just signed this year’s number one overall International Amateur, Roderick Areas. How does Areas stack up as a prospect to players like Peraza and Volpe? Tools wise, Roderick’s Scouting Grades are:
Hit: 60 | Power: 55 | Run: 55 | Arm: 55 | Field: 55 | Overall: 55
From a tools perspective, Roderick is on the same level as Volpe, but he has more raw power. Scouts say he exhibits above-average bat-to-ball skills and strike zone awareness. Roderick possesses excellent plate discipline and he doesn’t swing and miss often. Speed wise and overall defensively, Peraza still has a slight edge on both Roderick and Volpe, but it’s clear that Roderick is a bonafide 5 tool player, the likes of which are a very rare find. For Roderick, the goal will be to develop like Oswald Peraza has. Roderick is a long, long ways away from the Show!
Once again bringing up the rear in the division, this time at shortstop, are the lowly Orioles. Baltimore GM Mike Alias has been doing a good job in the Draft and also with Signing International Amateurs. That said, pee-eew, the Orioles shortstop situation really stinks! Alias will need to do something after the CBA related labor freeze is over. Both he and Brian Cashman will be desperately hunting for shortstops.
There really isn’t a projected starter in the Orioles system, nor is there one on their roster. It would be unfathomable if Baltimore started ex-Yankee Jorge Mateo, but he is the most poised to contribute I suppose.
We have only one more infield position to evaluate, which is third base. Thus far, here is where each American League Rival stands:
The Yankees are every bit a fourth place team as things presently stand. Cashman has allocated $75.2 million and he can expect far inferior performance than what Division rivals who spend oodles less will be getting. The Yankee system appears to be far less valuable than Division rivals as well.
The Blue Jays are in firm control thus far, in terms of their infield plans. Tampa is a very solid second fiddle. The Red Sox look to be the clear cut third team in the division and Baltimore is still miles behind.
Fear not Yankee fans, we still have third base, all three outfield positions, bench strength, starting rotations and bullpens to examine.