This was a remarkably difficult list to assemble if one accepts that compiling any sort of baseball related list can be difficult. It was difficult because there are many shortstops who cluster around a certain level of value and the one – the one – shortstop who stands above the rest is coming off an injury shortened season.
When crafting my lists of The Nine Best (insert position here) for 2013 I take a piece of paper and write players who I’m certain will be in the top nine in a left hand column and players who I’m considering in a right hand column. My left hand column started at just two names, which is quite low. I eventually decided on nine players for this list, because due to space restrictions on the internet, I can only fit nine names on my Nine Best lists. That said, I want to make it clear to you that I’m not so sure that there is a tremendous amount of difference between #5 on my list and #15 on my list. I’m pretty sure my top four belong on this list, but I really had to think about everyone else.
Like I said, for an activity that included thinking about baseball, this was tough.
Apologies to: Starlin Castro, Hanley Ramirez, Zack Cozart, and Aleixi Ramirez
9. Alcides Escobar (Royals)
Escobar enters his age 26 season in 2013 looking for a breakout. He has stolen more bases, hit for a higher average, gotten on base more, and slugged more in each of his three major league seasons, and if I was a betting man, I’d probably bet on him to take another step forward. While it’s usually not a good idea to look at a trend line and assume it will continue, a young athletic shortstop entering his peak seasons is as likely as anyone to keep it going. He’s already put up two 2+WAR season and he did so last year despite a poor UZR on defense. After watching him play 19 times against the Tiger last year and other times against other clubs, I have to say that I think he’s actually a pretty good defender and like him going into the season. There is a decent chance he’ll regress in 2013, but I’m putting my weight behind a breakout.
8. Derek Jeter (Yankees)
It’s likely that you’re familiar with this particular baseball player given that he plays for the New York Yankees, a baseball team that the national media likes to think is the only baseball team. And on the Yankees, Jeter is one of the more popular and revered players, making him all the more famous. As for his 2013 prospects, he’ll be coming back from a broken ankle suffered in Game 1 of the ALCS, but let’s face it, he hasn’t had good range in years, so it won’t really slow him down. While Jeter’s baserunning skill is fading and his defense is a liability, he’s still one of the better offensive shortstops in the game even at his advanced age. He’s a lock for the Hall of Fame and as long as he remains healthy, he should hit for a high average with moderate power. If he wasn’t being asked to play one of the tougher defensive positions, he’d be a top flight player, but with fading defensive skill, he sits at number eight.
7. Ian Desmond (Nationals)
So I’ll be honest, I have no idea what to make of Ian Desmond. No non-Ben Zobrist SS put up a higher WAR (5.4) in 2012, but it seemingly came out of nowhere. He walked no more than previous years and struck out no less. His BABIP ticked up a bit and UZR liked him better, but he also managed to hit for a lot higher average and more power. That’s generally a good sign, but it’s also a bit strange. He didn’t improve his approach at the plate and his BABIP didn’t shoot up, but he got a lot better. I’m generally favorable toward Desmond, but I just don’t know if we’re going to look back at last year as a fluke or not. I’m not quite ready to buy into him just year, but check back later in the season because he could make me a believer in no time.
6. Jimmy Rollins (Phillies)
Rollins is, I’m assuming, many things to many people, but one of the things is a talented baseball player. Twelve major league seasons into his career, he has had many excellent seasons and no poor ones. The worst thing you can say about him is that he hasn’t been perfectly healthy over the last couple of seasons. But when he’s been on the field, he’s produced well on both sides of the ball. At 34, he’s due to slow down, and he has already done so to some degree off his peak, but I don’t see any reason why he can’t continue to perform at a high level in 2013. After all, by WAR, only Ian Desmond had a better season at shortstop (remember, we never count Ben Zobrist because his position is ALL OF THEM).
5. J.J. Hardy (Orioles)
The Orioles’ shortstop does two things very well. He hits for power and plays great defense. His on base skills vary from year to year, but when you’re asking for a shortstop to do all three of those things well, you’re probably employing Troy Tulowitzki. I like Hardy to have another 20+HR season while playing great defense, which translates to fifth on this list.
4. Andrelton Simmons (Braves)
Simmons is just one of many (two) shortstops in my top four to have played less than fifty games in 2012. If we take his minor league numbers and short big league career and project him forward he seems capable of a .280ish batting average with a .330 or better on base percentage. With slightly useful extra base, but not homerun, power, this puts him in respectable but not top five range among shortstops. But if we take that offensive play and rubber cement him to a phenomenal defender, we get a great player. If Simmons plays a full season in 2013, his defensive numbers alone could push him to the top of this list. In one third of a season, he posted a 10.4 UZR. That is awesome for a full season. He could easily find himself in 3-4 WAR territory with a full season of at bats and defensive chances. I’m betting that he does.
3. Jose Reyes (Blue Jays)
When healthy, Reyes has been a consistent four win or better player in his career and he has the benefit this season of playing for a better team and in a much better ballpark for offense. If he’s moderately healthy, he should be right near the top like has in the past. The only gamble one makes when putting this kind of projection on Reyes is whether or not he will play a full season. I’m basically just guessing at his ability to stay off the DL, but that’s all you can ever do.
2. Elvis Andrus (Rangers)
When you’re 24 and already have four seasons under your belt, you are either Elvis Andrus or Rick Porcello, and given that this is a list of shortstops, I’m inclined to believe you are Elvis Andrus. Andrus hits for average, runs well, and plays great defense. He doesn’t hit for power, but nobody except Mike Trout is perfect. There’s no reason to think a healthy Andrus won’t follow up his back to back four win seasons with another one.
1. Troy Tulowitzki (Rockies)
If we could look into the future and see how many games Tulo plays in 2013, and if that number was a full season’s worth, there would be no need for further discussion. Tulowitzki is an elite defender who hits for power and gets on base. I didn’t even need to qualify those last two things with for a shortstop. He has 30+HR power and plays gold glove caliber shortstop. There is no question, when healthy, he is leaps and bounds ahead of the rest of the players on this list. The only concern is his health. In seasons in which he has played 120 or more games, he’s been a 5.6 WAR player or better. I’m putting my money on 140 games and a near MVP caliber season for Tulo.
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