I have less of a feel for this shortstop group than I do any other collection of position players. Delvin Perez has separated himself from the rest, but I’m not sure any other infielder has a definitive claim on the second spot right now. This puts us right around where we were last June when Brendan Rodgers was a clear number one with the field left to duke it out for second.
One of the few things I’m sure about with this is class is that it’s loaded with prospects who have the glove to stick at short. Perez leads the way as a no-doubt shortstop who might just be able to hit his way into the top half of the first round. I’d like to see (and hear) more about his bat, but the glove (range, footwork, release, instincts, everything), arm strength, athleticism, and speed add up a potential first round prospect. If that feels like me hedging a bit, you’re exactly right. Teams have and will continue to fall in love with his glove, but the all-mighty bat still lords above every other tool. In some ways, he reminds me of a bigger version of Jalen Miller from last year. He won’t fall as far as Miller (95th overall pick), but if we could all agree that mid-third is his draft floor then I’d feel a lot better about myself.
The Miller half-comp splits the difference (as a prospect, not as a pro) between two other recent comps for Perez that I see: Francisco Lindor and Oscar Mercado. Long-time readers might remember that I was driving the Mercado bandwagon back in the November before his draft year…
I’m on board with the Mercado as Elvis Andrus 2.0 comps and was out ahead of the “hey, he’s ahead of where Francisco Lindor was at the same stage just a few years ago” talk, so, yeah, you could say I’m a pretty big fan. That came out way smarmier than I would have liked – I’m sorry. The big thing to watch with Mercado this spring will be how he physically looks at the plate; with added strength he could be a serious contender for the top five or so picks, but many of the veteran evaluators who have seen him question whether or not he has the frame to support any additional bulk. Everything else about his game is above-average or better: swing, arm strength, speed, range, hands, release, pitch recognition, instincts.
I bet big on his bat coming around and lost. Mercado went from fifth on my very first board (ten months ahead of the draft, but it still counts) to 81st on the final version to the 57th overall pick of the draft in June. He’s the cautionary tale (for now) of what a young plus glove at shortstop with a questionable bat can turn out to be. On the flip side, there’s Francisco Lindor…
Lindor’s defensive skills really are exemplary and there is no doubt that he’ll stick at shortstop through his first big league contract (at least). As for time/age, well, consider this a preemptive plea in the event Lindor struggles at the plate next season: the guy will be playing his entire first full pro season at just eighteen years old. For reference’s sake, Jimmy Rollins, the player I compared Lindor’s upside to leading up to the draft, played his entire Age-18 season at Low-A in the South Atlantic League and hit .270/.330/.370 in 624 plate appearances. A year like that wouldn’t be a shocker unless he goes all Jurickson Profar, a name Baseball Prospectus’ Jason Parks recently evoked after watching Lindor, on the low minors. Either way, I’m much happier with this pick now than I would have been a few months ago. Cleveland saw the opportunity to land a superstar talent at a premium defensive position and went for it, high risk and all.
That pick (and I really shouldn’t say just the pick itself: all of the subsequent development credited to both the individual player and the team should be noted as well) has obviously gone about as well as humanly possible. It’s like the total opposite of what happened to Mercado! Lindor is already a star and looks to be one of the game’s best shortstops for years to come. I’m not ready to hang that kind of outcome on Perez, but I think it’s at least within the realm of realistic paths. I’d say not quite Lindor (15th ranked prospect by me), not quite Mercado (81st), and something more like Miller (46th) is my most honest take on how I generally view Perez at this precise point in time. As the Mercado example shows, drastic change can never be ruled out.
Now we’re back to figuring out who falls behind Perez on the shortstop pecking order. It only makes sense to look first to guys who appear to be safe bets to remain shortstops for the foreseeable future. Grant Bodison might have a claim for most talented all-around shortstop in this class. He’s a little bit older than his peers, so some teams might ding him (fairly, I’d say) for that. Still, he’s a big talent who can really run, throw, and work deep counts. He joins guys like Grae Kessinger, Nolan Williams, and David Hamilton as sure-fire shortstops defensively. I’d put those three in a pile of prospects that I look forward to learning more about this spring. All have been really divisive prospects in my talks with smarter people around the game. You might have one that you really, really like and one that you don’t see as an everyday player, but few I’ve checked in with have said that they are on the fence about many of these guys just yet. It’s love or hate right now, though always with the caveat that “it’s too early.” Kessinger and Hamilton in particular have stood out as being players who elicit strong opinions, good and not so good, from those who have seen them often.
Of course, for all I said about these shortstops being so good because they’ll stick at shortstop, here are a few guys I really like that are far from locks to stick at the six-spot professionally.
I probably like Jaxon Williams more than most. He gets my annual Roman Quinn comp (Alonzo Jones got the honor last year) for his intriguing defensive tools (love him in CF, optimistic about him at short), plus athleticism, and sneaky pop packed into a 5-9, 160 pound frame.
Nicholas Quintana is another prospect who might be better off playing anywhere in the infield (2B, 3B, maybe even C) away from shortstop over the long haul. For now I’ll be stubborn and stick with him as a legitimate shortstop prospect. I understand the concerns about how his average at best foot speed and good but not great athleticism, so I’m banking on superior instincts, positioning, and an arm that allows him to play a bit deeper than most to let me stick for a while. In other words, I’m going into the spring thinking of him as a shortstop and will have to be convinced otherwise by his play to make the switch. The bat plays just about anywhere for me right now, so the further to the right of the defensive spectrum he can handle, the better. Yes, I had to look up if the spectrum goes left to right or right to left.
Lightning round because this has already run longer than any piece on high school players has any right to in December. I’m a huge fan of Gavin Lux and think he could wind up in the first round conversation come June. The fact that he might wind up going behind both Ben Rortvedt and Nate Brown (all Wisconsin prep players) is a beautiful thing for the future of baseball in this country. Hudson Sanchez is another favorite and I’m intrigued to see if he’s still got any significant growing left in him; if so, he might be one of those players who can hang at short, but winds up so close to what we envision the ideal third baseman to be that there’s really no other option but to play him at the hot corner in pro ball. Have to appease the Baseball Gods, after all. Francisco Thomas looks great from what I’ve seen, but don’t sleep on fellow Puerto Rican prospect Jose Miranda. Miranda’s slighter with a bit more projection, but both are really good. Those two guys and Perez and Alexis Torres…love this class out of Puerto Rico this year.
The list begins to break down the further you go – it’s just a collection of talented players at that point with little to no ranking logic behind it – so don’t take the placement of Cayman Richardson, Carter Aldrete, Will Brooks, DeShawn Lookout, and Tyler Fitzgerald as anything but placeholders as we all find out more about each guy this spring. The fact that I could see any of those names ending up as a top five shortstop in this class by June should tell you all you need to know about the depth and quality of this year’s class.
SS Delvin Perez (International Baseball Academy, Puerto Rico)
SS/2B Gavin Lux (Indian Trail Academy, Wisconsin)
SS/CF Jaxon Williams (BF Terry HS, Texas)
SS/2B Nicholas Quintana (Arbor View HS, Nevada)
SS Grant Bodison (Mauldin HS, South Carolina)
SS Grae Kessinger (Oxford HS, Mississippi)
SS Nolan Williams (Home School, Kansas)
SS David Hamilton (San Marcos HS, Texas)
SS/3B Hudson Sanchez (Southlake Carroll HS, Texas)
SS Jose Miranda (PR Baseball Academy, Puerto Rico)
SS Francisco Thomas (Osceloa HS, Puerto Rico)
SS Hunter Lessard (Sunrise Mountain HS, Arizona)
SS Cam Shepherd (Peachtree Ridge HS, Georgia)
SS Zachary Watson (West Ouachita HS, Louisiana)
SS Jeremy Houston (Mt Carmel HS, Illinois)
SS/2B Alexis Torres (PR Baseball Academy, Puerto Rico)
SS Cayman Richardson (Hanover HS, Virginia)
SS Austyn Tengan (Cypress HS, California)
SS Carter Aldrete (Montery HS, California)
SS Branden Fryman (Tate HS, Florida)
SS/RHP Daniel Martinez (Kennedy HS, California)
SS Aaron Schunk (The Lovett School, Georgia)
SS Brady Whalen (Union HS, Washington)
SS Cameron Cannon (Mountain Ridge HS, Arizona)
SS Austin Masel (Belmont Hill HS, Massachusetts)
SS/2B Will Brooks (Madison Central HS, Mississippi)
SS/OF DeShawn Lookout (Westmoore HS, Oklahoma)
SS Brandon Chinea (Florida Christian HS, Florida)
SS/2B Jakob Newton (Oakville Trafalgar SS, Ontario)
SS Brian Rey (Deltona HS, Florida)
SS Kevin Welsh (Northern Burlington HS, New Jersey)
SS Tyler Fitzgerald (Rochester HS, Illinois)
SS/RHP Quincy McAfee (Westside HS, Texas)
SS Duncan Pence (Farragut HS, Tennessee)
SS Samad Taylor (Corona HS, California)
SS/3B Josh Hollifield (Weddington HS, North Carolina)
SS Nicholas Novak (Stillwater HS, Minnesota)
SS/OF Jaylon McLaughlin (Santa Monica HS, California)
SS Mitchell Golden (Marietta HS, Georgia)
SS Nick Derr (Sarasota Community HS, Florida)
SS Sal Gozzo (Sheehan HS, Connecticut)
SS Matthew Rule (Kearney HS, Missouri)
SS Brandon Hauswald (University School of Jackson, Tennessee)
SS Ryan Layne (West Jessamine HS, Kentucky)
SS Kevin Rolon (PR Baseball Academy, Puerto Rico)