Wednesday, February 16, 2011

MLB Network's Top 10: Shortstop

This is a continuation of a look at MLB Network's Top 10 by position.

Shortstop is one of the most difficult positions to rank heading into 2011. Many of the elite players at this position are coming off injuries, a down year or both. Jimmy Rollins has to be the most difficult player on the Phillies to rank, as he could fall anywhere from the top three to the middle of the pack. MLB Network placed him sixth, which is fair but honestly, no one knows what to expect from him this season.

10- Starlin Castro, Chicago Cubs
9- Marco Scutaro, Boston Red Sox
8- Stephen Drew- Arizona Diamondbacks
7- Alexei Ramirez, Chicago White Sox
6- Jimmy Rollins, PHILLIES
5- Elvis Andrus, Texas Rangers
4- Jose Reyes, New York Mets
3- Derek Jeter, New York Yankees
2- Troy Tulowitzki, Colorado Rockies
1- Hanley Ramirez, Florida Marlins

Where would the Marlins be without Ramirez to anchor that lineup? He's one of the elite players in the league and is a true five-tool player. His defense is much improved, although there is still room for improvement. Hanley is a superstar in every sense of the word though and easily takes the top spot.

Tulowitzki was the man last year. He set career highs in several categories despite playing in just 122 games: average (.315), OBP (.381), slugging percentage (.568), OPS (.949) and doubles (32). He would have shattered more career highs if he'd been healthy all year. A good player for years, Tulowitzki took it up a notch in 2010. If his performance was legit, he could give Ramirez a run for top shortstop entering 2012.

Jeter may have cracked the top three based on reputation. He's aging and declining and his range at short has diminished. He went through a messy contract dispute with the Bronx Bombers before settling because frankly, no one else would give him the kind of deal he was looking for. Jeter hit just .270 last season, his lowest average since he appeared in just 15 games as a rookie in 1995. His numbers in just about every category got worse. The Network may be expecting him to bounce back, but I'm not so sure. He's not getting any younger.

Reyes is difficult to rank because he struggles to stay on the field. When healthy and at his peak, Reyes is a dynamic player and a threat at the plate, on the bases and in the field. In 2007, he hit .280 with a remarkable 78 stolen bases. The following year he posted a .297 average with 56 steals. But in 2009, Reyes appeared in just 39 games. In 2010, he struggled with injuries again and wasn't quite as productive as his past seasons. If Reyes stays healthy, he's a threat to hit around .300, 14-17 home runs and steal 50-70 bases.

Andrus emerged in 2009 with Texas to solidify a shortstop position that's been in flux since the departure of Alex Rodriguez. He's had a solid two seasons for the Rangers, but he certainly hasn't yet reached the pinnacle of his potential. In his rookie season, Andrus hit .267 with six home runs, 40 RBI and 33 stolen bases. Last year, he hit .265 with no homers, 35 RBI and 32 steals. His fielding percentage is rather low at .972. There is also plenty of room for improvement at the plate; his average is low for a guy with little to no power. His ratio of 96 strikeouts and 64 walks last season is something he needs to work on, and a guy with such speed should have more than 15 doubles and three triples. It's a bit premature to put Andrus in the top five at this point, but he's more than capable of proving that he belongs there this season.

Rollins has had some trouble staying on the field since his MVP season of 2007. From 2001-2007, the lowest number of games Rollins appeared in during one season was 154. 2010 was his worst year, as he dealt with foot, calf and hamstring injuries throughout mostly the entire season, limiting him to just 88 games. J-Roll still plays gold glove defense up the middle, and can do it all at the plate but struggles with consistency. Due to his propensity to swing for the fences, many people don't like him batting out of the lead-off spot, but when he's swinging well, Rollins is the spark at the top of the lineup that the Phillies need. He's no longer an MVP candidate, but if Rollins can stay healthy in 2011, expect a spike in all offensive categories, particularly average and stolen bases.

Shortstop is a thin position throughout the league. A player like Scutaro, a solid player but a bit more of a utility man than a top ten performer, would not be able to crack this list at other, deeper positions.

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