And With the Third Pick.... Part Three: the Shortstops

It may shock some of you to hear it, but the Orioles, like most teams in baseball, could use an upgrade at shortstop.  Over the years, this has gotten a lot of attention here and wherever people talk about the O's.  Part of this has to do with Cesar Izturis' inability with the bat.  Part of it has to do with the Hall of Famer in pinstripes who has been beating us for the past fifteen years.  Part of it has to do with the memories of the long nightmare of the 2008 Orioles.  But most of all, it is because many of us grew up with a legend at short, and his absence is glaring to fans like me who grew up with Cal Ripken.

There are two shortstops in the 2010 draft class who are projected to be top 15 picks - prep Manny Machado and Cal State Fullerton's Christian Colon.  The pair are a study in contrasts - the tools-laden high schooler without overwhelming present skills, and the highly skilled (with the performance to back it up) polished college product who continues to outperform his tools and divide scouts on his ultimate potential.

Here's John Sickels on Machado:

Machado has emerged as the top overall player in the high school class, growing from 6-2, 180 to 6-3, 190 over the last 12 months. Scouts are impressed with his glove and he has the range and hands to be a top-flight defensive shortstop. His arm is okay but is very accurate and has a quick release, so it shouldn't be a problem at higher levels. There were some questions about his bat pre-season, but he's shown much better offensive potential this year with a swing that should provide a high batting average with at least decent power as he matures. Pure running speed is his only average tool. Signed with Florida International University, Machado is now aligned with Scott Boras and may be a difficult sign. On talent alone, he would fit perfectly with the Orioles at number three or the Royals at number four.

And here's John on Colon:

The 6-1, 190 pound Colon may be the first four-year college hitter drafted. After a slow start, he's now hitting .325/.432/.618,  knocking 11 homers along with 24 walks and just 10 strikeouts in 157 at-bats, giving him more offensive potential than most middle infielders. I love the BB/K ratio. His range and hands work well at shortstop, but his arm isn't exceptional and some scouts see him more as a second baseman long-term. My own view is that he should be able to remain at short, enhancing his value. His work ethic and makeup are also considered excellent. Colon is a Scott Boras guy, but his overall potential should still get him into the Top Ten picks.

There is, as you can see, a good chance that Machado and Colon may be the top offensive players selected who are not Bryce Harper.  Considering the scarcity of top shortstops, the Orioles' organizational needs, and the fact that both are true candidates for the top half of the first round, both are probably being strongly considered by Joe Jordan, Andy MacPhail, and the rest of the Warehouse's braintrust.  On tools, clearly Machado holds some advantage.  But there is a wrinkle in making a decision on that alone - Colon has consistently outperformed his tools to a degree that demands attention.

But instead of rehashing the tools vs. skills debate, I thought it might be interesting instead to look at the recent history of the draft to see what it can tell us.  Since 2001, 32 players have been drafted as shortstops in the first round of the draft.

2009

12th Overall - Grant Green, college:  Green was the anti-Colon; loads of tools, but poor performance and makeup concerns.  Green fell to the A's, held out until the signing deadline but didn't require a massive bonus, and is currently hitting .285./.319/.380 for High A Stockton with two home runs and ten errors in the field while showing strong range.

21st Overall - Jiovanni Mier, High School:  Meir was the clear leader of a weaker prep shortstop class, drawing comps to Nomar Garciaparra.  Mier signed quickly and had a great performance in the rookie level Appy league, posting an OPS of .864 in 51 games, sending him soaring up prospect lists.  Promoted to the Sally League this year, Mier has been very disappointing, putting up a line of .191/.311/.245.  Obviously this is not what the Astros were looking for from Mier, but what remains encouraging is that his control of the strike zone has remained present.  As a 19 year old in the Sally, Mier's rough start doesn't overwhelm his strong performance from 2009 and he remains a good prospect.

27th Overall - Nick Franklin, High School:  Franklin was considered something of a signability pick at the time, with the Mariners holding so many picks in the top 100.  He still didn't sign early, and only got into 16 pro games in 2009, posting an OPS of .830 in 16 games.  Promoted to the Midwest league, early on in 2010 Franklin has been raking, to the tune of .328/.361/.576 with five home runs.  That kind of power from anyone in the middle infield will draw attention, but Franklin is still pretty raw, as his 7 walks to 25 strikeouts in 133 plate appearances will attest.

2008

1st Overall - Tim Beckham, High School:  Beckham was something of an odd first overall pick, in a class that was considered quite strong but didn't have any single player who stood out.  Beckham was considered a true five tool player who was likely to stick at short, but was also someone who had problems that needed to be addressed in his fundamentals and mechanics.  While no one felt at the time that Beckham was an overdraft at #1 overall, a lot of questions were asked as to whether the Rays chose to pass up prospects like Pedro Alvarez (who went #2 overall) due to cost factors and the presence of Evan Longoria at third.  Beckham has struggled so far in the minors, with a .685 career OPS.  He has started out poorly once again this season, batting .147/.247/.293 for A+ Charlotte.

8th Overall - Gordon Beckham, College:  The other Beckham of 2008 had a profile much like Colon's coming out of school, another player without a ton in the way of tools but very impressive on-field performance.  Beckham flew through the minors, with an OPS of .894 across low A, AA, and AAA in 59 games before making it to the majors.  He moved to third base when promoted in 2009, and managed an OPS of .808 in 103 games and was fourth in the Rookie of the Year voting.  In 2010, Beckham shifted to second base, and has been ice cold with the bat so far, hitting .193/.305/.257.  However, his plate discipline has actually improved, and his BABIP is .240, so Beckham still looks like he has a lot of the promise he showed last season.

22nd Overall - Reese Havens, College:  Havens, a solid hitter with outstanding plate discipline, wasn't really considered likely to stick at short in the pros; his lack of range led most to believe he'd end up at 2nd or 3rd.  He has pretty much lived up to his billing so far, with a career minor league OBP of .357 and OPS of .796 and borderline defense at short.  In his nine defensive starts in 2010, Havens has played second base, where his range plays better.

24th Overall - Anthony Hewitt, High School:  Hewitt, a raw toolsy athlete, was never considered to have a future at short when he was drafted, and has never played there in the minors.  A third baseman his first two seasons, this year the Phillies moved Hewitt to the outfield.  Hasn't hit much either.

29th Overall - Lonnie Chisenhall, Community College:  Chisenhall was a wild card entering into the 2008 draft, having been expelled from USC after being arrested on burglary and grand larceny charges.  Chisenhall quickly was moved by the Indians to third base, where two consecutive seasons of 20+ home runs have made him a fixture on top prospect lists.  Off to a brutal start in early 2010.

30th Overall - Casey Kelly, High School - Drafted more for his promise on the mound than at short, Kelly has stopped playing the field entirely this season and is now one of the top pitching prospects in baseball.

2007

2nd Overall - Mike Moustakas, High School - Moustakas was never really much of a bet to stick at short, but the Royals gave it a shot for a season and a half before moving him to third base.  Moustakaas had been disappointing the last two seasons, showing power but little else in both levels of A ball.  He's been on fire early this season though in his first shot at AA, with an OPS of 1.265 and six home runs in 18 games.

16th Overall - Kevin Ahrens, High School - Ahrens was expected to move to third, and after half a season in the minors, he did.  Ahrens was also expected to hit.  That part didn't turn out as expected.

18th Overall - Peter Kozma, High School - Considered to be very sound with strong intangibles and a good bat but without much projection, Kozma has been pretty much a disaster.  He has a career minor league OPS of .667 and has yet to play above AA. 

In 2006, no shortstops were selected in the first round.

2005

1st Overall - Justin Upton, High School - Upton has lived up to his first overall selection, but never played a single game at any infield position.

7th Overall - Troy Tulowitzki, College - Tulo is one of the biggest stars in the majors currently.  Tulowitzki was widely compared to Bobby Crosby, his predecessor at short for Long Beach St. who went on to win rookie of the year with the A's before being undone by injuries.

17th Overall - C.J. Henry, High School - A toolsy two-sport star in high school, Henry is one of the more notorious first round busts in recent history.  The Yankees gave up on him quickly, sending him to the Phillies in the Bobby Abreu deal as soon as he was eligible to be traded.  Out of baseball now, Henry drew A-Rod comps as a high schooler but was considered raw.

21st Overall - Cliff Pennington, College - Pennington, a pesky hitter who got more results than he should have based on his tools and drew raves for his makeup, is now the starting shortstop for the A's after having had his development delayed by injuries.  He hasn't set the world on fire as a prospect or as a major leaguer, but a major league OPS+ of 96 in 129 games and OPS+  numbers over 100 in 2009 and so far in 2010 suggest that he's starting to live up to his draft reputation.

30th Overall - Tyler Greene, College - Greene drew Jeter comps as a good athlete with soft hands and a short, fluid swing.  Mishandled a bit by the Cards (he has played a full season at a single minor league level only once in five seasons), Greene had a .851 OPS in AAA in 2009 and may finally be living up to his potential, but is blocked by Brendan Ryan at the big league level, which has led to the Cards developing him into a utility infielder.

Obviously, the sample size of shortstops selected in the first round in recent years is small, and few of these players are really similar to Machado or Colon.  But while the sample size of recent history is small, some trends are clear.  College shortstops are a lot more likely to contribute in the majors then high school shortstops are.  The majority of high school shortstops change positions, and a large number of them fail to capitalize on their tools.  Meanwhile, not only do the college shortstops taken in the first round have several who have shown impact talent at the major league level, but most have enjoyed elevated prospect status.  As trading assets, they are probably the equal even from the low minors of the rawer, more toolsy prospects who will pay off bigger if they turn out.

Most alarming is not merely the bust rate of prep shortstops, but how rarely they manage to reach the fullness of their potential.  The last prep shortstop selected in the first round who went on to make an All-Star game appearance at short was Alex Rodriguez, part of the draft of 1993.  Before A-Rod came Jeter in the class of 92.  Before Jeter was Royce Clayton, a prep shortstop taken 15th overall in 1988, and while Clayton made an All-Star team, he is no one's idea of an impact player.

My analysis and instincts tell me that while Machado has a higher ceiling than Colon, he is far less likely to reach it or even end up as a successful major leaguer.  Colon, on the other hand, not only seems like a good bet to reach or exceed what is currently considered to be his potential, but also seems like a player who is very unlikely not to turn out to be a useful major league player.  That said, both are elite prospects who would be excellent additions to the Orioles' system and are in consideration for the third overall pick.

What do you think?

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