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Twins 2019 Position Analysis: Shortstop

This position has lived up to its name over the past 15 years, with the Twins fielding 12 different starters on Opening Day. Jorge Polanco might be making his own short stop there on the way to second base, but for now he profiles as an above-average contributor, waiting to be supplanted by one of the best prospects in baseball.
Image courtesy of Peter G. Aiken, USA Today
Projected Starter: Jorge Polanco
Likely Backup: Ehire Adrianza

Depth: Marwin Gonzalez, Ronald Torreyes, Nick Gordon
Prospects: Royce Lewis, Wander Javier, Gordon

THE GOOD

Lewis is already in Twins camp this spring, at age 19. You don't often see a teenager with a stall in the big-league clubhouse, but then, you don't often see a player like Royce Lewis. The top prospect and top asset in the organization is now well on his way, and has been a central attraction in Fort Myers, even if he's been unable to get rolling due to an oblique strain.

His fantastic 2018 campaign, which vaulted him to consensus Top 10 status on national prospect lists, featured an impressive showing at the plate, but perhaps more importantly it convinced just about everyone Lewis can stick at shortstop. He represents the franchise's best hope of halting the SS carousel and stabilizing the position for many years, but we'll have to wait a bit longer before the young phenom can realistically step in.

Until then, Polanco is here and he's not a half-bad placeholder. It's been quite a ride for him up to this point – from an MLB cup of coffee at age 20, to a strong rookie showing in the second half of 2016, to the Jekyll-and-Hyde season that followed, and then a PED suspension last spring. But through it all, he's shown enough to convince the Twins he's a piece worth building around.

His 50-game ban was a low point, but when he came back in July, Polanco looked like his usual self, producing from both sides of the plate. He finished strong with a .310/.361/.460 line in September, bolstering confidence that his bat will remain an asset even if (when) he has to move off short at some point.

Dating back to September of 2017, almost 80% of Polanco's starts have seen him slotted into the second, third or fourth spots in the batting order. This year he projects as the de facto leadoff man, which – like playing shortstop – isn't an ideal fit, but a workable one. Polanco hasn't shown especially strong patience or on-base skills, but he's a switch-hitter who puts the ball in play with enough speed and pop to be dangerous.

Minnesota's farm system is rich in quality depth at short. Lewis could arrive by next year, and Javier isn't far behind him. The 20-year-old is coming back after a lost year, and has the premier talent to rise quickly. Gordon still hasn't ruled himself out at the position either. In a couple of years, the Twins might face some decisions. The good kind.

THE BAD

Depending on which metrics or measures you want to trust, Polanco is either below-average defensively, or one of the very worst in the league at fielding the position. Out of 42 shortstops who have made 1000+ plate appearances since 2016, Polanco ranks 34th in Defensive Runs Saved (-10) and dead last in Ultimate Zone Rating (-18.5).

Although he alleviated some of the concerns surrounding his glove in 2017, they came rushing back to the surface last year, when his shaky defense blemished an otherwise fine performance. Polanco committed 13 errors in just 76 games at short, and his penchant for bouncing throws to first may bite him more often with Joe Mauer gone.

Shortstop is one of the toughest positions to harbor a subpar defender, because it is the essential crux of your defense. If Polanco goes the wrong way at all, it becomes a major issue. The Twins are already looking questionable in the run prevention department.

But unless things are rearranged elsewhere, there's not much to be done. Gonzalez can play short, but he's probably no better than Polanco there. Adrianza and Torreyes are improvements, but not to the extent you're gonna replace Polanco's vastly superior bat with either.

So for now, the plan is just to hope Polanco can get better. That's hardly unthinkable; he's only 25 and is said to have been heavily focused on his D. But if not, the Twins will have to deal with frequent misplays at a key spot until Lewis is ready.

THE BOTTOM LINE

The health of the shortstop position in general for this franchise is excellent. Lewis is the second-best shortstop prospect in the game according to MLB Pipeline, and many believe Javier will be mentioned in the same conversation a year from now.

Polanco wants to be a shortstop. For now, he is one. If he can make a few defensive strides, it'll allow the Twins to wait more comfortably as their prized young talents develop. Then again, it would also surprise no one if Lewis is forcing the issue sooner rather than later.


***


Twins 2019 Position Analysis: Catcher
Twins 2019 Position Analysis: First Base
Twins 2019 Position Analysis: Second Base
Twins 2019 Position Analysis: Third Base

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43 Comments

We are well positioned for the future, but not the present.Who besides Polanco is MLB ready now.Marwin is a great utility player and good at many positions, but he is not a MLB ss.  

    • dbminn likes this
I've been a follower, fan and believer in Polanco for some time now. He's been handled very oddly going back to the previous administration. Not sure how much blame Molitor gets for that. He burned options while barely playing, then was placed as the starting SS despite being moved off the position a good 50%+ off the spot.

But between his uneven 2017...no need to cover the death of his grandfather again...and his suspension to open 2018, we've seen the potential of the bat.

For haters of his defense, we've also seen solid play. Young, talented, athletic, couldn't he prove in 2019, a full season, that he's at least average at the spot?

I agree he's the best option to bat lead off, though I actually like him more in the 2 and 3 holes where Molitor usually had him. I find it interesting that Rocco has been putting Adrianza and Kepler in the #1 spot most games thus far.

Do I have to extol the virtues and values of Lewis here? I think not.

I wouldn't be a bit surprised if Javier does a "Kirilloff" and vault to the top off of various prospect lists this season.

This is a very nice problem to have!

Such a good problem, that even if Gordon adds a few pounds for thunder and endurance, the former top prospect could end up as trade potential or a very nice utility player.
    • tarheeltwinsfan, RaymondLuxuryYacht, ToddlerHarmon and 3 others like this

 

I've been a follower, fan and believer in Polanco for some time now. He's been handled very oddly going back to the previous administration. Not sure how much blame Molitor gets for that. He burned options while barely playing, then was placed as the starting SS despite being moved off the position a good 50%+ off the spot.

But between his uneven 2017...no need to cover the death of his grandfather again...and his suspension to open 2018, we've seen the potential of the bat.

For haters of his defense, we've also seen solid play. Young, talented, athletic, couldn't he prove in 2019, a full season, that he's at least average at the spot?

I agree he's the best option to bat lead off, though I actually like him more in the 2 and 3 holes where Molitor usually had him. I find it interesting that Rocco has been putting Adrianza and Kepler in the #1 spot most games thus far.

Do I have to extol the virtues and values of Lewis here? I think not.

I wouldn't be a bit surprised if Javier does a "Kirilloff" and vault to the top off of various prospect lists this season.

This is a very nice problem to have!

Such a good problem, that even if Gordon adds a few pounds for thunder and endurance, the former top prospect could end up as trade potential or a very nice utility player.

Or a nice 2B man for a few years.

    • Mike Sixel, DocBauer, Platoon and 1 other like this

We are well positioned for the future, but not the present.Who besides Polanco is MLB ready now.Marwin is a great utility player and good at many positions, but he is not a MLB ss.


Adrianza/González are good enough to hold down SS for a couple weeks of Polanco were to get hurt.
    • birdwatcher and wabene like this

Really enjoying all of these articles, Nick. 

 

I'm a big fan of Polanco with the bat. I think he's going to be an above average hitter for several years. Compact swing from both sides of the plate. Sneaky power - he could be good for 15+ HR this year. His fielding is another story. What's frustrating to me is his problems are solvable. His arm and quickness seem okay. He just makes mistakes. 

 

All, feel free to question my last paragraph, especially the defense. Just what I see from the cheap seats.

 

 

    • birdwatcher, Dantes929, LA VIkes Fan and 3 others like this

It's sad that Nick Gordon isn't considered at least the fill-in for Polanco if he has trouble fielding the SS position. Gordon spent a couple years being at or near the top of the Twins prospect list. Now, he really looks like an afterthought. Did he simply not grow enough physically?

Polanco could always hit, and likely always will. It's his tool. But if he doesn't start puttimg Some air under his throws to first base his error totals will increase dramatically. Our new first baseman (fill in the blank) will not be able to pick them like the previous occupant. Not even close!
    • Dantes929 likes this

Polanco plays a passable defensive SS so I'm not screaming for an upgrade. Love his bat and love his potential so I'm glad he plays for my team. 

 

However... there is something that I am miles from understanding. 

 

If Polanco was a 2B in AAA before being called up to be a SS in MLB. 

 

If Polanco has bottom of the pile defensive metrics at the SS position.

 

If Adrianza has better defensive metrics while also looking better at SS defensively. 

 

Why did Molitor or the collective group think conclude that Adrianza would be the guy who played OTHER positions when both were in the lineup?

 

 

 

 

    • tarheeltwinsfan, Platoon and Minny505 like this

I see Polanco in the #2 or #3 spot this year with Kepler in the lead off spot.

 

You know it is possible Lewis is the starting shortstop for just a year.There is a chance that Javier turns out to be as good as Lewis and the better defender.With his speed, Lewis could be moved to another position with Javier/Polanco up the middle.  

 

Not predicting this, rather waiting to see what type of year Javier has if he can finally stay healthy for an entire season.Wouldn't it be exciting to have two of the top young players in the league hitting the Twins roster within a half season of each other?

    • DocBauer, gman and wabene like this
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MMMordabito
Mar 06 2019 08:04 AM

Not predicting this, rather waiting to see what type of year Javier has if he can finally stay healthy for an entire season. Wouldn't it be exciting to have two of the top young players in the league hitting the Twins roster within a half season of each other?


This is what I love about this time of year. Just waiting to watch what potential can be realized with all these promising players. It's just so hard to see past the mountain at the end of the driveway right now (and to avoid getting clipped like Tom Smykowski).
    • rdehring likes this

It's sad that Nick Gordon isn't considered at least the fill-in for Polanco if he has trouble fielding the SS position. Gordon spent a couple years being at or near the top of the Twins prospect list. Now, he really looks like an afterthought. Did he simply not grow enough physically?


I could be wrong, but I don't think Gordon has much chance of being a SS in MLB. If he makes it, it'll be at second base.
    • jimbo92107 likes this

 

Polanco plays a passable defensive SS so I'm not screaming for an upgrade. Love his bat and love his potential so I'm glad he plays for my team. 

 

However... there is something that I am miles from understanding. 

 

If Polanco was a 2B in AAA before being called up to be a SS in MLB. 

 

If Polanco has bottom of the pile defensive metrics at the SS position.

 

If Adrianza has better defensive metrics while also looking better at SS defensively. 

 

Why did Molitor or the collective group think conclude that Adrianza would be the guy who played OTHER positions when both were in the lineup?

 

Probably because Molitor believed in starters playing a specific position and bench guys being the ones who moved around the diamond.

    • dbminn and wabene like this
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Aerodeliria
Mar 06 2019 09:20 AM
Agree on the bat vs. defense conundrum. Polanco has had some very big hits, especially in 2017, but he also bounced some throws when the game was on the line.
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Nick Nelson
Mar 06 2019 10:10 AM

 

Probably because Molitor believed in starters playing a specific position and bench guys being the ones who moved around the diamond.

Yep. Same reason Jake Cave mostly played CF last year with Buxton out and Kepler stayed in RF, despite being clearly superior to Cave in center.

    • Twins33, Danchat, JLease and 3 others like this

I wonder if the twins have had any thoughts into playing Nick Gordon some in the outfield.I just don't see where he is going to fit into the plans as a long term starter at either SS or 2B, with the other options discussed.If he was able to play both middle infield positions along with outfield he could make a possibly good utility player for us and that seems to have greater value these days than it has in the past.

    • Mike Sixel, DocBauer and Ben Noble like this

I am always an optimist at this time of year. However, when I break down this team, I see average to an extreme. At 1st base we have another hopeful that could turn out very well, could be a bust. No real confidence here. Average? At second we have another hopeful, decent defense, decent power, Average? At Short we have below average defense with a decent bat. Hopefully average? At third, who the hell knows. No confidence in Sano playing more than a half season due to injuries, and if he does get and stay healthy, will he hit and play average defense? Catcher is again average defense and average offense.Outfield defense looks well above average and slightly above average offensively depending on whether Buxton breaks out. And then there is the always below average pitching. I think at this point I am being optimistic looking for a .500 season. On the other hand, everything could fall into place with + seasons from all the new additions, + seasons from the average leftovers and an above average utility group, I could see us winning the weak Central division. All in all it should be an interesting season.

    • birdwatcher and Mike Sixel like this

Can / will Wander Javier play 3B at the MLB level in a few years?

 

Can / will Wander Javier play 3B at the MLB level in a few years?

That would be my hope.(Dream?Fantasy?)

 

Can / will Wander Javier play 3B at the MLB level in a few years?

I was thinking Lewis at 3rd, Javier at short and Polanco at 2nd with maybe Kiriloff at 1st.Granted that would be a waste of Lewis' athleticism.How about Buxton in left center, Lewis in right center, shift them according to who is up and go with a 5 man infield.

[quote name="Riverbrian" post="824544" timestamp="1551876419"]Polanco plays a passable defensive SS so I'm not screaming for an upgrade. Love his bat and love his potential so I'm glad he plays for my team.

However... there is something that I am miles from understanding.

If Polanco was a 2B in AAA before being called up to be a SS in MLB.

If Polanco has bottom of the pile defensive metrics at the SS position.

If Adrianza has better defensive metrics while also looking better at SS defensively.

Why did Molitor or the collective group think conclude that Adrianza would be the guy who played OTHER positions when both were in the lineup? >>>>>>>>>>>>>>Because Molitor had determined Polanco was a SS? Despite all visible and metrical evidence? Because allowing too many reps by an actual MLB ability SS would expose that fallacy? Because Molitor was never known for flexible thought processes? So many choices! :)
    • Mike Sixel, Riverbrian and wabene like this
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Nick Nelson
Mar 06 2019 12:29 PM

 

I was thinking Lewis at 3rd, Javier at short and Polanco at 2nd with maybe Kiriloff at 1st.Granted that would be a waste of Lewis' athleticism.How about Buxton in left center, Lewis in right center, shift them according to who is up and go with a 5 man infield.

I know things never work out this way, but imagining a scenario in a couple years where the Twins are trying to sort through Polanco, Lewis, Javier, Gordon, Kirilloff, Kepler, Rosario, Cave, Larnach, Rooker, and others between the IF and corner OF spots (plus DH) makes me kinda giddy. They've put themselves in great position, even with the inevitability that at least a few will fizzle out.  

    • birdwatcher, DocBauer, Platoon and 3 others like this

Gordon is 22 and played in AAA last year........I'm willing to give him more time to show what he is, or is not, still.....

 

Lewis is the SS by 2021, I'd guess. Polanco or someone else is at 2B at that point.

 

As for why they let Polanco play SS last year, and not Adrianza.....maybe they were actually investing playing time in the future! It is a nice fantasy of mine that bad teams do that......

    • HrbekRules likes this

 

It's sad that Nick Gordon isn't considered at least the fill-in for Polanco if he has trouble fielding the SS position. Gordon spent a couple years being at or near the top of the Twins prospect list. Now, he really looks like an afterthought. Did he simply not grow enough physically?

Because the internet has a 48-hour attention span.

 

I'm pretty sure nobody on the Twins has forgotten him.

    • birdwatcher likes this

 

I am always an optimist at this time of year. However, when I break down this team, I see average to an extreme. At 1st base we have another hopeful that could turn out very well, could be a bust. No real confidence here. Average? At second we have another hopeful, decent defense, decent power, Average? At Short we have below average defense with a decent bat. Hopefully average? At third, who the hell knows. No confidence in Sano playing more than a half season due to injuries, and if he does get and stay healthy, will he hit and play average defense? Catcher is again average defense and average offense.Outfield defense looks well above average and slightly above average offensively depending on whether Buxton breaks out. And then there is the always below average pitching. I think at this point I am being optimistic looking for a .500 season. On the other hand, everything could fall into place with + seasons from all the new additions, + seasons from the average leftovers and an above average utility group, I could see us winning the weak Central division. All in all it should be an interesting season.

First post? Welcome!

    • tarheeltwinsfan and Tomj14 like this
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tarheeltwinsfan
Mar 06 2019 02:12 PM

 

 Wouldn't it be exciting to have two of the top young players in the league hitting the Twins roster within a half season of each other?

Would you believe three?


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