Berroa had a solid 2003 season, but like much of that year, it was just a mirage. His production dropped off sharply and it turns out he was two years older than believed when he was traded to Kansas City from Oakland. That led to the need to make a change and the trade for Pena. After two years of decent defense but feeble offense, Pena was converted to pitcher. He’s now floating around the White Sox organization.
Dayton Moore inherited a rough shortstop situation. Scratch that. He inherited a complete black hole of a shortstop situation. The Royals got a good 2008 from Aviles, but he needed Tommy John surgery in 2009, prompting the Royals to trade for Yuniesky Betancourt. Before Aviles, the last decent shortstop the Royals had was Rey Sanchez, but you have to go back to 2001 to see him. After that, it went Neifi Perez to Berroa to Pena to Aviles to Betancourt before finally getting Alcides Escobar in the Zack Greinke trade.
In light of that, the Royals also had few shortstop prospects. Going back through Baseball America’s prospect rankings, projected lineups had the following players in at short:
- 2007 – projected Jeff Bianchi in 2010
- 2008 – projected Tony Pena in 2011
- 2009 – projected Mike Aviles in 2012
- 2010 – projected Bianchi in 2013
- 2011 – projected Christian Colon in 2014
Of course, the projection made in 2011 was done before the Royals got Escobar, but that demonstrates how barren shortstop talent was in the Royals organization. Bianchi was ranked as high as 11th in 2010 but he’s battled injuries throughout his minor league career. Older rankings listed Mike Moustakas as a shortstop (which he’d played in high school), but Baseball America was so confident in his ability to stay at that position that he was in projected future lineups as a right fielder.
It’s tough to find a good shortstop. If it was easy, everyone would do it.
In 2012, I found five players who played shortstop in 90% of their games, made 500 or more plate appearances and had an OPS+ above 100.
Some teams can find shortstops who can play the position but aren’t productive at the plate and that becomes acceptable. Like the catching position, defense is at a premium so finding anyone who can play there is enough for most teams. Finding someone who can produce at the plate is a bonus.
To do that, teams draft and scout players who play shortstop and hopefully can stay there. Most of the time, though, a player needs to move. Either they lose range as they get older, they fill out and aren’t as quick, they aren’t that good at the position, their arm is bad, or any number of reasons pop up that requires a move. Finding prospects who can play (and stay) at shortstop injects value into a farm system.
And faced with of that dearth of talent, Dayton Moore went out and got it.
The shortstop talent pool extends well beyond Escobar. Whereas before, you’d have to fudge the rankings to make Moustakas a shortstop prospect, now the Royals have two true shortstops in their Baseball America top 10 and five total in their top 22 according to the publication.
That’s light years from the situation Moore inherited. More importantly, most of those prospects figure to be players who can stick at shortstop or, at the very least, can be capable in utility roles to play shortstop part time. This provides value that could be used in the majors or can be turned into big trade value later on. Teams are always looking for shortstops. The Indians just got Trevor Bauer by finding a way to get the Reds to give up Didi Gregorius, one of their top shortstop prospects. Maybe you don’t like Bauer because of his attitude or the long-toss, but he can be a number one starter someday and those don’t grow on trees either. To trade a young, defensive-oriented shortstop for him (and in Cleveland’s case, not even one from their system) is a steal.
So who are these guys?
There’s an argument to be made that Mondesi, and not Bubba Starling, is the top non-pitching prospect in the Royals system. He turned 17 in July, a year after signing with the Royals out of the Dominican. He celebrated by hitting .290/.346/.386 in the upper levels of rookie ball for the Idaho Falls Chukars. He succeeded against players who were two or three years older and with more professional experience. He’s got pretty good pop already according to scouts and he’s only now starting to fill out. Oh, and he switch hits, too. Jason Parks raved about him the last time we had him on the Kansas City Baseball Vault. Mondesi has a good shot at being the top prospect in the system after this year.
Calixte is the other top 10 prospect in Baseball America’s rankings who plays shortstop. They say he has more power and contact ability than most shortstop prospects and after success in A ball in 2012 (at the age of 20) he has a good shot at Double A this year. He has the range, arm and hands to stay at shortstop and BA deemed him the closest shortstop prospect to the big leagues. Kevin Goldstein (when he was with Baseball Prospectus) said that watching Calixte field is what a big league shortstop looks like.
Colon is pegged as a SS/2B in Baseball America’s annual prospect book, but Bob Dutton has suggested (and J.J. Picollo has confirmed) that Colon is the likely player to step in if there’s a long-term injury to Alcides Escobar in 2013. BA doesn’t list him in the shortstop depth chart – instead putting him at the top of the second base chart – but Colon was drafted as a shortstop and figures to start in Triple A at that position while either Johnny Giavotella or Chris Getz play second in Omaha.
The Royals built up their depth of talent in the system by going after players that most teams assumed wouldn’t sign. Lopez is one of those players. In the 2011 draft, the Royals took him in the 16th round and gave him a $750,000 bonus to go pro instead of taking a scholarship to Miami. He’s small (5’8″ and 170) and reports are that he hasn’t hit well because “pitchers can knock the bat out of his hands” but BA predicts that if he can get stronger, he can play shortstop everyday.
Arteaga turned 19 a month ago after spending the last two seasons in rookie ball. After signing in 2010 out of Venezuela, he’s not considered to have the same upside as some, but could be the best fielder of the group. He’ll have to get on base to have value, but if he makes strides with the bat, he could surprise a lot of people.
Torres just turned 20 and has been in the Dominican Summer League and played last year in Arizona, so he’s slower to develop than some of these guys, but the report on him gives him a great approach and judgment of the strike zone. He doesn’t strike out much and is able to take a walk, so even if there isn’t much power, he could be effective in the field and possibly get on base, which is a good combo for a shortstop. He’ll probably be taking a backseat to the rest of the shortstop crew, but might also move to second base. Five years ago, though, he’d probably be right around Bianchi in the shortstop prospect depth chart though, and that’s a sign of immense progress.
I wasn’t kind to Dayton Moore the other day, but I do want to give him credit for what he’s done for the problem positions in the organization. Shortstop was as empty as it could be when he took over and now, there are half a dozen guys who could turn into valuable trade chips or possibly play at the big league level.
And that doesn’t even count Escobar.