Phillies: Looking ahead at Shortstop in 2012 and beyond

Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins

Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins

With many of the team’s key players such as Howard, Utley, Halladay and Lee locked up to long term contracts, the core of the team will generally remain the same for a few more years. Some players have certainly changed over the years, Pat Burrell has become Raul Ibanez and Jayson Werth has become, well, somebody, but since 2007, five of the eight position players have remained the same.

Come 2012, another one of those five could be gone, and of course that’s Jimmy Rollins. By the time this season ends, he’ll have played over 11 seasons with the Phillies, his entire career. His plate approach, comments about the fans and hustle have been much debated, but his defense, power and leadership have not. The stretch from 2007-08 is probably the best two years of his career with over 40 home runs, nearly 90 steals and a .836 OPS in addition to winning an MVP, silver slugger, two gold gloves and of course a World Series.

Since then, he hasn’t been the same. His OPS is down to .714 from 2009-2011, he has fewer steals, and he’s been hitting for less power. He was hampered by injuries in 2010 and could only play 88 games, but at 32 years old and over 1500 games under his belt, the possibility certainly remains that he’s on the decline. 2011 has been a bit of a bounceback season for him though. He’s walking more than ever and seeing more pitches per plate appearance than he ever has, but his power remains at 2010 levels. So far, this season has been an improvement compared to 2009 and 2010, but will it continue? Either way, Ruben Amaro Jr. will have a tough choice to make. If not Rollins, where could the next shortstop come from?

In the organization

I’ll briefly touch on most of the players that have played at least one out at shortstop in the organization so far this season. Of course, most of these will never make the majors, and a lot certainly won’t be ready for 2012, but this will just show the organizational depth at the position.

Michael Martinez, MLB- A rule 5 pick from the Washington organization, Martinez made the club out of spring training, taking advantage of Chase Utley’s injury and a lack of infield depth in the organization. He’s pretty athletic and has the ability to play multiple positions, but at 28 years old and only 135 AB above the AA level prior to this season, he has little to no upside. He wasn’t a very good hitter in the minors, and he certainly hasn’t been with the Phillies so far. I expect he’ll be waived when Utley comes back and offered back to Washington.

Brian Bocock, AAA- After suffering a wrist injury in spring training, Bocock just recently returned to game action. It’s like he never missed any time as he was able to immediately continue his minor league career of not being able to hit. In 2008, thanks to an injury to Omar Vizquel, he was actually the Giants’ Opening Day shortstop for some reason. He plays very good defense, and even though shortstop is traditionally a defensive position, players with a minor league OPS barely over .600 don’t have major league careers very often. He’s on the 40 man roster for now, but it probably won’t be long until he’s replaced. I doubt he’ll be claimed on waivers again.

Kevin Frandsen, AAA- Frandsen has bounced around a few organizations in recent years, starting with San Francisco and making stops in Anaheim, Boston and San Diego before being acquired by the Phillies prior to the 2011 season. He’s always been a good minor league hitter, but in brief stints as a major league utility player, he’s never been able to stick, primarily at 2B and 3B. He was hitting well again with the Iron Pigs, but he was recently suspended 50 games under baseball’s PED policy.

Freddy Galvis, AA- Galvis is the best shortstop prospect in the system, but that’s not saying much. Right now, he’s probably still a long shot to be an every day starter, and it’s extremely unlikely that it could be as soon as 2012. So far, this is by far his best offensive season, but with a .674 OPS, he still needs to do a lot of development at the plate. Of course, defense is his game, and he’s probably one of the top three defensive shortstops in the minors. Out of all the players in the organization, he’s the one worth keeping an eye on. He’s never going to hit for any power and probably won’t walk much, but if he can at least hit singles consistently, he can possibly increase his ceiling from a glove-only utility player to potential every day player.

Fidel Hernandez, AA- Hernandez is another all glove player, and he’s destined to top out as a minor league utilityman. He became a staple in the Clearwater lineup, spending parts in four seasons with the Threshers. He’s not playing every day in Reading, and right now he’s setting career highs in all three slash stats, BA/OBP/SLG. Of course, that’s not saying much because his career OBP is under .300, and his career OPS is barely over .600. There really isn’t much to see here. At 25 years old, Hernandez just hasn’t made much progress in his career.

Troy Hanzawa, high-A- At 25 years old and still with Clearwater, Hanzawa is probably running out of time in the Phillies organization. This is his second year as the Threshers’ shortstop, and so far he’s hitting worse than last year, which is quite difficult to do. In fact, his OPS has gone down every season since the Phillies chose him in the 16th round of the 2008 draft. He’s a good defensive player, but he’s not quite as good as Galvis. Then again, not many are. His upside is limited.

Alan Schoenberger, high-A- Schoenberger’s pro debut in 2007 wasn’t anything to write home about. He played only six games, but he didn’t hit well and managed to make eight errors at shortstop. In 2008, he was back with the rookie league Phillies where he managed to only commit nine errors in 32 games, but he still didn’t hit. Fast forward to 2011, and after being perfectly average coming off the bench for Lakewood in 2010, he finds himself in a utility role with Clearwater. He’s settled in mainly at second base now.

Matt Payton, high-A- After not playing very well for the GCL Phillies last year, Payton remained in extended spring training until the beginning of May.  Since then, he’s only played in three games for Clearwater.

Edgar Duran, low-A- He only has a .662 OPS with Lakewood, but that’s still over 100 points higher than his career high.  Right now at the plate, he’s pretty much only a singles hitter with no patience and no power, so there’s a lot to work on before he’s on anyone’s radar.  At 20 years old and in the South Atlantic League, the Phillies obviously see something in him.  He hasn’t played a position besides shortstop since arriving in the US.

Carlos Perdomo, low-A- Perdomo is another young player for the low-A level but being used in a utility role means he probably doesn’t have much of a future.  He’s more of a 2B/3B player, but he’s been able to fill in at SS throughout his career.  He doesn’t walk at all, but he has nice bat control and doesn’t strike out either. 

In the lower minors, there isn’t much to get excited about yet.  Stephen Malcolm will probably be Williamsport’s shortstop.  He was the team’s 8th round pick out of a junior college last year, and he’s another player that can field well but not hit yet.  They also have a handful of recent Latin American signings including Nerio Rios who played for the GCL Phillies last year, and Anderson Gonzalez who they signed in August last season.

Out of the organization

I’m not going to touch on free agent options or current ML starters to trade for here but take a look at some prospects that might change organizations at some point due to being blocked.  Working out trades can be very difficult as the other team needs to match up with the Phillies, so it’s extremely likely that nothing ever happens. 

Eduardo Nunez, NYY/MLB- Right now, Nunez is in the majors as the Yankees’ extra infielder, but that’s a bit of a waste considering scouts believe he can be a solid, every day ML shortstop.  Unless Derek Jeter finally moves to center field which has been speculated on by fans for a while due to his lackluster defense, Nunez could be in his late 20’s before he ever gets a chance with the Yankees. Nunez will only be a bottom of the lineup hitter, but he has a good arm, nice range, and he can steal bases.

Eduardo Escobar, CHW/AAA- Escobar had a breakout season in 2010, posting an OPS over .700 at two levels combined, and then going to the AFL and having a great fall.  Like Nunez, he won’t reach the majors with his bat, but he can play nice defense.  His 2011 has been a bit of a step back at the plate, and it’s possible he’s become too pull-happy, one of his weaknesses.  In the majors, he’s blocked by Alexei Ramirez who just signed a contract extension through 2015 this winter.  He’s also a very good defender, and even though he’s played other positions in the past, the White Sox might not want to move him back off short.

Osvaldo Martinez, FLA/AAA- Martinez is the least talented of the three, and he’s also the least likely to be able to play at shortstop in the majors.  He has a good arm, but his range may come up a little short at the ML level.  He’s supposed to make good contact, but he’s off to an awful start in AAA New Orleans with a .190 average and .475 OPS.  Now that Chris Coghlan is playing CF, it’s going to be harder for them to move Hanley Ramirez to a different position, so Martinez may be the one that has to move, but his bat doesn’t really profile at any other position.

There are plenty of other shortstop prospects in the minors, but for various reasons, they’ll be difficult to acquire due to their organization having a lot invested in them or have flaws and won’t necessarily be an upgrade.  Adeiny Hechavarria may be blocked by Yunel Escobar at the moment, but Toronto paid a huge bonus to get him, and they wouldn’t part with him very easily.  Drew Cumberland may be blocked by Jason Bartlett at the moment, but he has serious injury problems and never seems to be healthy.

In general, it seems like shortstop play is down in the majors and minors.  There are a lot of flawed players in the league, but 30 players need to start at the position, and that’s why Miguel Tejada and and Brendan Ryan get opportunities.  Looking at the Baseball America top 100 prospects list, there are 12 players currently playing shortstop.  I think it’s fair to put shortstop prospects in three groups, those that have the complete package to play the position in the majors, those whose offense leaves them a little short of reaching the majors, and those who may not be able to play the defense required of ML shortstops.  Here are the guys in the BA top 100 and what group I think they fit in.  It’s certainly easy to argue a bunch of them.

(Well-rounded) Manny Machado (BAL), Jose Iglesias (BOS), Jurickson Profar (TEX), Hak-Ju Lee (TB), Jonathan Villar (HOU)

(Potentially lacking offense) Dee Gordon (LA)

(Potentially lacking defense) Billy Hamilton (CIN), Christian Colon (KC), Nick Franklin (SEA), Jean Segura* (ANA), Wilmer Flores (NYM), Miguel Sano (MIN), Grant Green (OAK)

The first group features a top three pick (Machado), three pretty highly touted international signings (Iglesias, Profar and Lee), and Villar is probably the easiest to argue out of that group.  In fact, it’s possible to argue that Villar belongs in all three groups.  The point is, these guys are tough to come by.  Players could drop out of this group, and they could work their way into this group too, but these are the best of the best.

The second group might look a bit lacking with one player, but there’s a reason for that.  It’s rare for players that can’t really hit in the minors to be considered top prospects, and there are plenty of minor league shortstops that can play great defense and just can’t hit.  Some would say Iglesias belongs here, and if they were top 100 prospects, Freddy Galvis, Ehire Adrianza (SF) and the aforementioned Hechavarria would be here too.

The third group is so valuable because players that can hit well and stick at shortstop are incredibly valuable.  Right now, they all lack a critical element to playing SS defensively, whether it be an inadequate arm or range.  It’s possible that they develop the lacking part of the game, but sometimes that doesn’t happen.  As Hanley Ramirez and Derek Jeter (in his prime) show, teams can put up with bad defense at shortstop if the player hits, and that’s possible for players in this group too. 

Amateur players

We’ve looked at players that are already playing professionally, but what about high school, college and Latin American players that haven’t been drafted or signed into organizations yet?  It won’t be easy there either.

Awhile back, I made a spreadsheet looking at where starting shortstops in baseball came from.  I looked at the years 2006-2010, but there aren’t 150 different entries because many of those players started all or at least multiple seasons in that timespan.  I sorted them by where they were taken in the draft in the following categories: Picks 1-15, picks 16-30, supplemental round (any pick after #30 that was still in the first round,) rounds 2-5, rounds 6-10, rounds 11-20 and rounds 21-50, and I also had a column for international signings because they’re not drafted. 

The Phillies’ first pick in 2011 will be in the supplemental round, and if recent history continues, that won’t be the pick to get a shortstop; no starting shortstop from 2006-10 was drafted in the supplemental round.  11 starting shortstops were drafted in rounds 2-5, and three of them became All-Stars (Rollins, J.J. Hardy and Michael Young).  After the 5th round, only three other shortstops were all stars at some point in their career, Jack Wilson, David Eckstein and Jason Bartlett.  Obviously All-Star games aren’t a great measure to determine player value, and teams don’t need All-Stars at every position.  Finding every day shortstops is hard enough, much less developing an All-Star.

A surprising thing I noticed when making this spreadsheet is the quality of Latin shortstops.  27 starting shortstops from 06-10 signed as international free agents, and nearly 41% of them have been All-Stars at some point.  What’s the reason for this?  Many speculate that the reason is a lack of focus on the fundamentals in America, particularly defensively.  It’s been said that defensive instruction in high school and college is declining, and if players aren’t working to improve in the field, they’re not going to be capable of playing defensive demanding positions as a professional.

Whatever the reason, teams will pay a premium for the positions up the middle, so the top talent can be hard to come by.  Teams will reach for those guys in the draft and probably overpay in signing bonuses to get these guys, and that makes things difficult for the Phillies for a couple reasons.  The top up the middle talent will be long gone by their first pick, and anyone left will be a project or difficult to sign.  The Phillies certainly love some projects in the draft, so we’ll see what happens.

It’s the same thing in the international market.  Every player is a project because they can sign at age 16, younger than all draft picks, and the top talent signs for big bucks.  The international market is getting more and more competitive, and it’s hard to land the best players.  In the draft and internationally, the Phillies haven’t always been willing to pay top dollar for the best amateur players available.  Without getting into a cheap or not debate because they clearly haven’t been on the ML roster, sometimes teams need to take a plunge and go overslot or pay a 7-figure bonus to improve the farm system.

To wrap this up and make it relevant to Rollins again, it’s become clear that there aren’t easy answers.  Rollins is certainly an imperfect player, but finding quality shortstops isn’t easy to do.  The Phillies are fortunate to have drafted him, developed him into the player he is because teams would love to have a shortstop with the career he’s had.  Replacing him from inside the organization would be tough to do with a lack of great or ready internal options.  The trade market is always difficult, and anyone drafted or signed this year is a long way away from being ready. 

As frustrating as he can be, it’s certainly possible that Rollins’ Phillies career is not over.

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Scott Grauer writes for PSC and Bus Leagues Baseball – check him out!  Scott also regularly updates the PSC Minor League Thread with player stats, game results, and more…

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