Editor’s note: Couch Side is very pleased to bring back its annual MLB preseason position power rankings. This year, we will offer two positions every Wednesday and Friday. Each blog ranks the top 10 players at each position and is written by some of Couch Side’s best bloggers. The following is part five of what will be a 12-part series. Enjoy!
BY BRANDON J. SMITH, Couchsideshow.com senior blogger
Shortstop is a fun position to rank because of the defensive importance, as well as trying to figure out where an aging superstar like Jeter or a defensive wizard like Brendan Ryan would place.
I’m going to use the Bill James defensive spectrum in order to highlight the importance of the position from a defensive standpoint.
[ – – 1B – LF – RF – 3B – CF – 2B – SS – C – – ]
The furthest right you are on the spectrum determines the significance of the defensive contributions required. Shortstop is second to catcher according to this theory, where first basemen are appropriately listed on the opposite end. It’s not hard to stick a big guy with minimal athleticism over at first and let him hit his 30+ home runs (think Prince Fielder).
When it comes to evaluating right now, we have to consider all the usual factors: age, health, ballpark, peripherals, and occasionally shoddy defensive metrics. Derek Jeter has never been regarded in the saber metric community as a great defensive shortstop, but mainstream apologists and fans will insist that despite coming off an ankle surgery, and at 38, won’t be a complete liability. It remains to be seen if it will be or not, but its one component of evaluating shortstops that is a constant discussion amongst writers and fans.
Here are my 10-1 shortstops:
10. Erick Aybar (2012 stats .290/.324/.416, 8 HR, 45 RBI, 20-4 SB/CS, 4 WAR) – You have to respect Aybar for being potentially the most valuable shortstop last season via Wins Above Replacement.
9. Alcides Escobar (2012 stats .293/.331/.390, 5 HR, 52 RBI, 35-5 SB/CS, 3.2 WAR) – Escobar might be the rangiest SS in all of baseball, his stolen bases will add some nice fantasy value if he can hit for average.
8. Jimmy Rollins (2012 stats .250/.316/.427, 23 HR, 68 RBI, 30-5 SB/CS, 2.3 WAR) – The veteran Rollins can still hit for some pop and be a factor on the base paths.
7. Ian Desmond (2012 stats .292/.335/.511, 25 HR, 72 RBI, 21-6 SB/CS, 3.2 WAR) – He likely won’t slug .500 this year, but regression shouldn’t kill his stock completely.
6. Asdrubal Cabrera (2012 stats .270/.338/.423, 16 HR, 68 RBI, 9-4 SB/CS, 3 WAR) – The projection model ZiPS has Cabrera finishing with similar results to last season (17 HR, 72 RBI).
5. Andrelton Simmons (2012 stats .289/.335/.416, 3 HR, 16 RBI, 1-0 SB/CS, 2.8 WAR)
The sheer enormity of the potential defensive value makes me optimistic about Simmons as a top shortstop going forward. Is there risk in putting him this high? Sure, especially since I’m basing this off of 49 games played last year and rookie struggles are likely to occur. Taking these defensive metrics with a grain of salt, but Simmons was +19 according to Defensive Runs Saved and +10.4 in Ultimate Zone Rating. He looked like he had fantastic range and ability with the eye test as well. Hitting leadoff in the Braves lineup is going to be a decent experiment as well if he can keep up his .350 OBP ability that he showed in the minors. I’m betting high on Simmons regardless of the risk.
Now, a defensive prospect isn’t exactly the most exciting thing in the world. However, Braves fans should be excited about what’s in store when it comes to Simmons. The 22-year-old Curacao native will surely razzle and dazzle with his leather better than any Braves shortstop in club history if his bat can keep up with his talented glove, which will be a must if he wishes to stay in the big leagues. Simmons definetely has age on his side. That means his abilities in the batter’s box will improve in time. And if those skills develop as quickly as his defensive ones have in such a short period of time, Simmons just may be the next Ozzie Smith or Derek Jeter type of player.
At this point, you might be thinking I’m making a huge jump with that prediction and you might be right. However, I have to believe in this guy after what his glove showed us in the Minor Leagues. Instead of struggling as he made his way up the ranks, Simmons’ defense only got better. In just a handful of games at the rookie-league level, he honed a .974 fielding percentage. Once Simmons had a full season of minor league ball under his belt in Single-A Lynchburg, he digressed slightly, securing a .958 fielding percentage, but the best was yet to come. This season, Simmons made waves throughout Atlanta’s organzation and even challenged recently demoted shortstop Tyler Pastornicky for the big league gig as the Braves’ every day shortstop. And although Simmons didn’t win the job, he didn’t stay in the minors for long. Maybe that’s because he was phenomenal in the filed for Double-A Mississippi where committed just four errors in 46 games while holding down a .983 fielding percentage. Can you say big league ready? (more…)