The Twins next shortstop should be...
by, 07-02-2013 at 02:52 PM (794 Views)
With all the talk of late as to who might be our "shortstop of the future", one thought keeps popping back into my head. It's a thought that probably has about as much chance of happening as my winning the lottery twice in my lifetime (and since I haven't won it once yet, unfortunately...) but I can't shake it. Thinking about it a little more has caused me to think about a few other things, like what you want in a shortstop, not just who should be playing the position.
I'll start with the ridiculous notion first, so everyone can laugh and skip on to the more useful information located elsewhere on the site. Our shortstop of the future should be: Miguel Sano.
First off, where this idea comes from: A quote from Terry Ryan. I don't feel like digging up the exact quote at the moment, but I don't think it's so controversial that anybody is going to challenge it. Essentially it was a quote from Ryan about Sano saying in effect, "he still thinks he should be playing shortstop." And that part of me that wonders about things like this got rolling. Actually that wasn't exactly the foundation for the idea, as I've wondered a bit about moving shortstops to third base previously, but this finally made me interested enough to formalize ideas worthy of putting down in print.
A positional glance at what the Twins have coming up through the farm shows a large number of extremeley intriguing prospects, covering most every position except shortstop. Yes, we do have a few names attached to the position, but none of them are making the kind of noise many of our other positional prospects are. Niko Goodrum may have the highest ceiling of the group, but he's more raw athleticism than polished product at the moment. Jorge Polanco looks to be a decent hitter, but may not have the arm you'd want to be the full-time shortstop. Levi Michael was once listed as the best defensive infielder the Twins have (BaseballAmerica.com: Prospects: Rankings: Organization Top 10 Prospects: 2013 Minnesota Twins Top 10 Prospects), but his hitting has never been very impressive nor consistent. Danny Santana has shown flashes of talent but not much consistency. James Beresford is great defensively but has no power to speak of. Any of them might be fine, but none seems to have "future All-Star" vibes.
We have more potentially great outfielders than we know what to do with. 2B has Eddie Rosario looking the part, and Polanco profiles a little better there than SS. 1B has Kennys Vargas and Dalton Hicks in addition to being a potential fallback for hitters who struggle in the field. Catcher has Josmil Pinto currently ripping up his league and Joe Mauer should still have a few more good years in him. Sano currently plays 3B, as does Travis Harrison and now Amaurys Minier, all looking to be plus (likely even better) bats.
So, we have a potential surplus of really good bats at 3B. How did that happen? Because we decided that Miguel Sano was going to outgrow the SS position. I couldn't help looking at that and thinking, "Why?" I'll grant that he is going to be a big man, that's obvious. What is it about being large that inherently means he should move to a new position before even getting to try, though?
Cal Ripken played the position at a solidly-built 6'4". Alex Rodriguez was a much better defensive shortstop at a muscular 6'3" than Derek Jeter but Jeter got to keep his spot anyway, moving A-Rod to 3rd. Heck, Jeter (6'3") has always been more "shortstop who can hit" than good defender, undeserved gold glove awards aside. Troy Tulowitzki is listed at 6'3", 215 lbs. Why could they do it but others can't? When I think about traits you want in a SS or 3B, a strong arm is obvious, and is possessed by Sano already. In fact he's believed to have an incredible arm, easily good enough for either position. That's part of why Cal Ripken could play the position, he could play a half-step deeper and gun people out anyway. Couldn't Miguel Sano do that as well?
Okay, what other traits do you want in your SS? Range, quickness, agility? Well, the range thing is hard to quantify as I'm not a professional scout, nor am I even an amateur scout who watches Sano play. I just read about him on the internet. Judging range gets back to the notion of arm strength somewhat, though. The deeper you play, the more range you have, you get that extra fraction of a second to move to the ball by playing deeper. Quickness? Again, I'm not a professional scout, but I can read boxscores to see that Sano hits triples and steals bases. He's not the second coming of Jim Thome. Agility? Sure, a big guy is going to suffer in that category, but the SS is rarely going to make acrobatic plays to convert double plays, that falls more on the 2B to make the crazy turn-and-throws as they come across the bag and have to throw back to first. And how many people really want to go full out in a takeout slide at a big guy who might take their head off with a throw?
With 3B it seems to me like the primary trait you want after arm strength (maybe even before) is fast reflexes. You're closer to the plate, the ball is usually hit a touch harder as it's being pulled more (by righties), the ball just gets on you much faster at third than at short. So to be good at 3rd, you want someone with fast reflexes. Wouldn't you want to determine what kind of reflexes someone has first before making that switch? It's easy to say, "well, he could manage shortstop where only the best fielders can play, he can manage 3rd," but is that really true? What if the guy managed short by having good positioning and a strong arm, not by having lightning reflexes? And wouldn't a large frame be just as likely to struggle with the fast reflexes needed to play 3rd as they would to have the range needed to play short? Sure, with a strong arm, he can play deeper to give himself more time, but that's exactly what he'd be doing to play short, too.
I find myself wondering if it isn't an issue where the positional bias is actually working incorrectly. Shortstop is considered the most important defensive position, arguably catcher might be as well but it's a lot harder to judge than shortstop. And because of that tons of light-hitting slick-fielding players over the years have manned the position to allow for their glove to at least be viable on the field. Thus somehow all these little guys who've played short because it was the only position they could play and not be a complete liability may have skewed the notion of how big you can be to successfully play shortstop. Somehow we've got the notion that "shortstops have always been small so you have to be small to play shortstop" stuck into our thinking, overlooking the possibility that it might not necessarily be the case.
Magic Johnson was a point guard at 6'9" because he was a great passer and ballhandler. LeBron James can guard other teams' point guards because he's a great athlete and can use his size to give himself a cushion smaller players can't, not because he's the same size as other point guards. Sometimes guys just do things a little differently and their size makes them look a little out-of-the-norm. That doesn't mean they can't do it, just that somebody let their talent and athleticism determine what they could do, not making an arbitrary decision that their size meant they should do something else.
Do I truly believe he could play an adequate shortstop in the major leagues? Actually, I kind of do. I don't necessarily think he'd be a gold-glover, and might in fact be a little below average. But I think his bat would be so plus-plus-plus for the position that it would be worth it. Especially as it would mean Travis Harrison or Amaurys Minier might have a position to move into when they're ready as they look to potentially be much better hitters than anything we'll produce to fill our shortstop hole. What if he keeps growing to be 270 lbs. you ask? Well, what if getting to play the position he wants to play leads to him working on his conditioning more than playing a position where he can just get big and not worry about the consequences, meaning he would have prolonged his career by a few years if he'd stuck at short? I don't have these answers, but I like thinking about it and going , "what if?"
Imagine that lineup:
CF - Buxton
2B - Rosario
C - Mauer
SS/3B - Sano
LF - Arcia
1B - Vargas
3B/SS - Harrison or Florimon
DH - Pinto/D.Hicks/Walker
RF - A.Hicks/Kepler
Doesn't the thought of Travis Harrison (or eventually Amaurys Minier) sound better than the next Pedro Florimon? How bad would Sano's defense at short have to be for you to not want to trade Harrison's bat for Florimon's? And what if he could actually play it well due to the cannon he has for an arm?
Well, there you have it. The reason I read about baseball on the internet instead of working in baseball. As is my wont, I've rambled on longer than necessary. I've already acknowledged this is never going to happen, but I think it's a fun idea regardless. That lineup just makes me drool if Sano could put up his presumed monster line from short instead of 3rd.