(Blogathon ’16) Alex Skillin: Are we entering the Golden Age of Shortstops?

This guest-post is part of the 2016 Baseball Continuum Blogathon For Charity, benefiting the Roswell Park Alliance Foundation. The Roswell Park Alliance Foundation is the charitable arm of Roswell Park Cancer Institute and funds raised will be “put to immediate use to increase the pace from research trials into improved clinical care, to ensure state-of-the-art facilities, and to help improve the quality of life for patients and their families.” Please donate through the Blogathon’s GoFundMe page. Also, please note that the opinions and statements of the writer are not necessarily those of the Baseball Continuum or it’s webmaster.

Few positions on a baseball diamond come with as much acclaim and scrutiny as shortstop. The shortstop is the so-called “captain of the infield,” a performer whose glove does much of the talking, and, from little league all the way up to the pros, often the best player on the team.

That hasn’t been the case in the majors of late. In fact, the shortstop position has been in a sorry state for some time, especially at the plate. In 2014, MLB shortstops hit a collective .251/.306/.363, and while some of that can be attributed to the decline in offense throughout the league, the days of shortstops starring with the glove and the bat felt like a distant memory. Nearly 15 years after Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Nomar Garciaparra formed an exciting, young triumvirate, the bar for sticking at the position had sunk very low.

Yet this past season provided reason to believe that the state of the shortstop in MLB is primed to improve considerably. The impressive debuts of rookie Carlos Correa and Francisco Lindor and the rise of Xander Bogaerts gives the league three young shortstops who look likely to excel for quite some time. Indeed, Correa, Lindor and Bogaerts conjure up recollections of that Jeter, A-Rod and Nomar trio, and their budding potential could make shortstop a position filled with promise once again.

Correa might just have the brightest future of the bunch after enjoying one of the more impressive rookie debuts in recent memory. In 99 games, Correa batted .279/.345/.512 with 22 home runs, and his call-up to the majors in June bolstered the Astros’ playoff push. That he turned 21 years old in September makes his inaugural campaign all the more remarkable. Just over three years after graduating high school and being taken with the No. 1 overall pick, Correa helped lead Houston to the brink of an ALCS berth before the Royals and their #devilmagic intervened.

Considering his performance at such a young age, Correa should have a few more chances to carry the Astros deep into October. One can only imagine what he’ll do over a full season in 2016.

Lindor’s glove had long been praised down in the minors, and given his extended status as one of the game’s top prospects, Cleveland fans had long-awaited his arrival. That day came on June 14 (he debuted less than a week after Correa), but the most surprising part of Lindor’s rookie year was his production in the batter’s box. The Puerto Rican native hit .313/.353/.482 with 38 extra-base hits over 438 plate appearances, and less surprisingly, his defense proved as stellar as expected. Lindor’s all-around play helped the Indians turn their season around and nearly claim a Wild Card berth.

Despite playing in just 99 games, he finished with the second-highest fWAR among shortstops in baseball at 4.6. If he can show his offensive output was no fluke, Lindor’s future potential looks even better than expected.

A relative veteran compared to Correa and Lindor, Bogaerts finally began fulfilling that long-hyped promise in 2015. After struggling in his first full season, Bogaerts bounced back to bat .320/.355/.421 this past year and finished third in the major leagues in hits with 196. Even more encouragingly, the 23-year-old improved mightily on defense and now looks likely to stick at the position for years to come.

That’s good news for the Red Sox and the shortstop position as a whole. For despite his meager home-run totals in 2015, Bogaerts, like Correa, has the chance to hit for the type of middle-of-the-order power rarely seen in shortstops.

There are plenty of other young shortstops to get excited about too, of course. Addison Russell held his own for the Cubs at the age of 21, and Corey Seager earned a starting job after the Dodgers called him up late in the season. Down in the minors, moreover, some of the game’s top prospects look set to follow in the footsteps of Correa, Lindor and Bogaerts. Players like J.P. Crawford, Orlando Arcia, Tim Anderson and Raul Mondesi Jr., among others, could soon become household names and indicate the position won’t be lacking for young talent in the coming years.

And all the different places these players come from demonstrate how much the game has grown over the past couple decades. Both Correa and Lindor were born and raised in Puerto Rico before being selected in the draft, while the Red Sox signed Bogaerts out of Aruba. Crawford, Seager and Anderson all grew up in the U.S., but Arcia and Mondesi Jr. were both signed as international free agents out of Venezuela and the Dominican Republic respectively.

That’s a wide swath of talent teams now have access to, and it’s beginning to pay dividends for the shortstop position and MLB as a whole. Given all the talented prospects that debuted in the majors last season, the rise of so many precocious shortstops is likely no coincidence. In a league now filled with promising, young stars, no position may have a brighter future than shortstop.

Alex Skillin writes about baseball for The Hardball Times and the Red Sox at Over the Monster and BP Boston. His work has previously appeared at SB Nation, Sports on Earth, The Classical, Beyond the Box Score and in The Hardball Times Annual. You can follow him on Twitter at @AlexSkillin.

This guest-post has been part of the 2016 Baseball Continuum Blogathon For Charity, benefiting the Roswell Park Alliance Foundation. The Roswell Park Alliance Foundation is the charitable arm of Roswell Park Cancer Institute and funds raised will be “put to immediate use to increase the pace from research trials into improved clinical care, to ensure state-of-the-art facilities, and to help improve the quality of life for patients and their families.” Please donate through the Blogathon’s GoFundMe page. Also, please note that the opinions and statements of the writer were not necessarily those of the Baseball Continuum or it’s webmaster.

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One thought on “(Blogathon ’16) Alex Skillin: Are we entering the Golden Age of Shortstops?

  1. Pingback: Every Piece from the 2016 Blogathon | The Baseball Continuum

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