AL Central Rundown: Shortstop
Image courtesy of © Pool Photo-USA TODAY SportsThe Rundown
Outside of the Twins, the state of shortstop in the American League Central doesn’t look good for 2021. That said, four of the five shortstops are 27 or younger and are still looking to develop into better assets for their respective clubs and could brighten the outlook in the years to come.
While the Twins are waiting on the arrival of former first overall pick, Royce Lewis, they will employ arguably the game's greatest defensive shortstop in its history. Although he’s below average offensively, he’ll actually also rank as one of the top options within the division making him the best shortstop in the division. Before we dive in too deep there, let’s take a look at what the rest of the division has to offer at the six.
The Tigers will hand over the starting shortstop gig to their former 11th rated prospect who finished fourth in Rookie of the Year voting last season. Willi Castro had a very nice rookie season in 2020 while splitting time with Niko Goodrum at short as he slashed .349/.381/.550 with a wRC+ of 150 and accumulating 1.3 fWAR, although his BABIP (.448) and Savant profile (below) show us that these numbers probably aren’t sustainable.
Based on his minor league numbers and scouting report, he figures to be a solid everyday player for years to come, but is only 23-years old so I wouldn’t be surprised to see quite a bit of regression in 2021 with a bigger sample size of opportunities.
We are well into the destruction of the Cleveland roster as Francisco Lindor was dealt to the New York Mets leaving only Jose Ramirez looking around wondering when his time will come. Along with a few prospects, Lindor’s replacement at the position was included in the deal in what will be a significant downgrade. Amed Rosario, who somehow is only 25-years-old, brings a career slash line of .268/.302/.403 and a walk rate of just 4.3-percent. For reference, Miguel Sano’s career walk rate is almost triple that mark, although Rosario doesn’t strikeout nearly as often. Twins pitchers will be busier worry about Eddie Rosario more than Amed Rosario.
On top of his below average hitting, he’s not going to wow you in the field either as he’s accrued -35 defensive runs saved in over 3,000 innings at short while saving negative six outs above average over the last two seasons. Lindor is a very good defender so Rosario will be a definite downgrade on the defensive side of the ball as well.
Chicago White Sox
After winning the batting title in 2019, most assumed there would be some regression in 2020 as a BABIP of .399 and a poor hard hit rate isn’t really sustainable. Although he didn’t win the batting in 2020, he basically repeated the same numbers with a .383 BABIP, .322 batting average, and poor hard hit rates. With xBA’s of .296 and .293 in each of the last two seasons, I would still bet on some regression but as you can tell by his xBA’s he is a solid hitter.
Like Rosario, his walk rate and defense are both pretty poor which will limit his ceiling as a star...especially if he sees that regression on the offensive side. Specifically, he struggles with balls in the hole between short and third where he has an estimated success rate of 69-percent, according to Savant, which is considerably less than any other location. What I found odd is the changes in his average starting position throughout his career.
As you can see, over the course of his career he has shifted closer to 2nd base which is the opposite of the adjustment I’d think he’d make, especially with Yoán Moncada at third. The Twins hitters will be able to take advantage of the left side of the infield which will likely be the case for years to come.
Kansas City Royals
Adalberto Mondesi enters his third season as the full-time shortstop for the Royals where he would have been considered the best defensive shortstop in the division before the Twins added Simmons. His defense is his calling card as he boasts a career batting average of .251 and, stop me if you’ve heard this before, an awful walk rate which tanks his on base percentage. The scouting report on Mondesi likely reads, don’t give him anything to hit and he’ll still swing.
He’s a speedster, finishing in the 98th percentile of sprint speed, which helps him defensively but also at the plate where he has the ninth most bunt hits of players with at least 650 at-bats over the last two years despite having 50 or more fewer at bats than the eight in front of him. Thanks to the next guy on this list, the Twins infield defense should be able to limit his knack to get on base while keeping the ball in the infield.
At 31-years old Simmons is the elder statesman of the group and the departure of Lindor makes him the best all-around shortstop in the division. It’s been well documented that defense is Simmons’ calling card (check here, here, here, and/or here), so let's take a look at what he brings offensively.
As you saw above the offensive side of his game isn’t much to write home about, but he is a respectable enough hitter as he’s only had one season with an OPS below .660. He doesn’t offer much for power has he’s ranked in the bottom five-percent of the league in xSLG in each of the last two seasons, but he’s one of the best in the league in putting the ball in play and is considered “below average” at drawing walks...an improvement over all the other shortstops in the division.
Opposing pitchers throw more than a quarter of their pitches low and away as he has a batting average of .211 combined in those corner four zones.
On the other hand, his strength is pitches on the inner half of the plate which explains his tendency to pull the ball or hit back up the middle. In a division that is full of suspect defense at short, his tendencies at the plate may result in an improved offensive performance in 2021.
Detroit Tigers: D+
ZiPS projects Castro to accrue 2.2 WAR in 2021 with an OPS .759, but I think he’ll face added regression in 2021 and still needs a few more years of experience to become a more reliable asset for the Tigers. For me, his age is what gives him the slight edge over Rosario in the competition for worst shortstop in the division.
Although Rosario is only 25-years-old, he’s had enough experience in the bigs to know what to expect out of him. He’ll give you a little bit of batting average and power but not much else on either side of the ball. ZiPS has him at an OPS of .748, which he did eclipse in 2019, but that was when the ball was alive more than ever...I don’t expect a repeat in 2021.
Chicago White Sox: B+
Anderson has his faults, but you can’t deny his knack for getting hits and providing a little power in the southside of Chicago. Although I think regression is inevitable, ZiPS projects him for a .793 OPS in 2021 which would likely be the best in the division at the position.
Kansas City Royals: C+
Like Rosario, I think Mondesi is what he is at this point. He’s a solid yet unspectacular everyday player who will hit .250 and be a threat on the basepaths with his speed. He’ll be an above average defender which is what will likely keep him in the lineup on nearly a daily basis.
Minnesota Twins: A
I’m sure some were thinking an A+ here, but I can’t get past Simmons offensive limitations. Honestly, his historic defensive ability is what put him at an A instead of an A-. Either way, the Twins have the best shortstop in the division.
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