The shortstop position has evolved over the years. It used to be a glove-first position that had very little offensive value on the field.
Think back to the 1950s and 60s ... who’s the best offensive shortstop you can remember (or look up, because I’m sure not all of you were around to see these guys live)? Probably Ernie Banks, right? He played (mostly) shortstop through the 1961 season. In his nine seasons as a shortstop, Banks hit .290/.353/.552 with a 133 wRC+ and averaged 33 home runs per season. Those numbers would definitely play in today’s game, regardless of how good or bad his defense was.
In the next couple decades, you had players like Barry Larkin, Cal Ripken, Ozzie Smith, Alan Trammell and Robin Yount all make their marks at shortstop, though, Smith was the only one who was known more for his glove than his bat. Then things changed in the 90s with the likes of Nomar Garciaparra, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez. Jeter and Rodriguez were good defensively early in their careers, but all three were really known for their bats. Thus, the shortstop revolution was in full swing.
Now, many of top shortstops of the last decade have been, mostly, bat-first guys — Xander Bogaerts, Carlos Correa, Hanley Ramírez, Corey Seager, Troy Tulowitzki. Correa, Seager and Tulo all are capable defenders, but none of them have the offense and defense like Francisco Lindor. And none of them can touch Andrelton Simmons, defensively.
That brings me to the Dodgers. Remember when people were lauding the Dodgers’ catching depth? Well, folks still are, but it might be time for them to do that about the Dodgers’ shortstop pipeline.
They have an embarrassment of riches at shortstop. It’s impressive seeing as it’s difficult to find and develop MLB-capable shortstops. It’s the most difficult non-catcher position to play on the field for a reason.
They have Seager in the majors, but they also have Enrique Hernández and Chris Taylor — both of whom could be starting shortstops for a number of teams in the majors. And we’ve all heard about Gavin Lux, who’s literally hitting everything in sight since his promotion to Triple-A. Another prospect who might be part of the swing-change crew is 24-year-old Zach McKinstry, who has seen his offensive production jump substantially. He could be more of a utility guy, but he has logged almost 300 innings at short in the minors this season. Errol Robinson is also with Oklahoma City, but he’s not nearly the offensive threat as some of the other shortstop prospects in the system.
The Dodgers also just promoted Jeter Downs to Double-A after a solid showing in High-A. The Drillers already had Omar Estevez on the roster. Now, he’s probably a second baseman at the next level, but he has handled himself adequately at shortstop over the last couple seasons.
Effectively taking Downs’ place with Rancho Cucamonga is 20-year-old Jacob Amaya, who is closer to the “old school” type of shortstop, but he does have some potential in his bat. Last year’s 10th-rounder Deacon Liput has also shown well at shortstop who is similar, offensively to Leonel Valera, 19. Valera has spent all season in Low-A and, while the numbers aren’t overwhelming, he’s plenty tooled up and could be a guy to watch in the coming seasons.
Going down the line, the Dodgers have 17-year-old Alex De Jesus, who was signed July 2, 2018, out of the Dominican Republic. He has shown very well in his debut season, making it stateside, which is pretty rare for a young J2 signee. The Dodgers’ top J2 signing three years ago was Albert Suarez, who is still just 19 and falls into the Amaya/Robinson category of shortstop, while Eddys Leonard, 18, also profiles as a bat-first shortstop.
All of these shortstops listed above (except McKinstry) cracked my preseason Top 100 prospects list. I know not all of them will have MLB careers, but it’s also realistic to see Lux, Downs, Estevez, Amaya, Valera and De Jesus coming up and being at least solid MLB contributors. Lux and Downs are the best of the lot by a decent margin, but the fact the Dodgers can go 10-deep on legitimate shortstop prospects says a lot about the org’s scouting and development mastery.
Keep this in mind in a year or two at the trade deadline when opposing teams are asking for shortstops instead of catchers because the Dodgers have a lot of quality players at the position.