Rookie sensation Aledmys Diaz came out of nowhere to become the Cardinals’ shortstop of the present and future in 2016. How does he stack up against the other shortstops in the NL Central?
In an era of great, young shortstops, the Cards were lucky enough to have found their guy last season. While many of the premier shortstops play in the American League, the NL Central has its fair share of solid players capable of making significant offensive and defensive contributions. Let’s see how each of them stack up.
1. Chicago Cubs
It can’t be easy for Cardinals fans to see the Cubbies at the top of these lists day in and day out, but it’s hard not to acknowledge the impressive array of position players Chicago has amassed. Both Russell and Baez are young and relatively inexperienced, but they also have already proven themselves as bonafide major league stars.
Russell, like many shortstops around the league, has always been known as a glove-first, bat-second kind of player. He’s been exceptional defensively since breaking into the bigs in 2015, and there are signs that his bat will soon catch up. He already has a 20 home run season under his belt at the age of 22, and if he can cut down on his strikeouts, he should be able to get on base more often.
Baez was Joe Maddon’s Swiss Army Knife in 2016, being used at five different positions, including 24 games at short. With Ben Zobrist garnering the majority of starts at second, it’s likely that Baez will continue in this role, and will see a considerable amount of time as Russell’s understudy. He, too, is among the best defenders in the league, recently being awarded with the Fielding Bible award as the best multi-positional defender in 2016. Like Russell, he has struggled with high strikeout numbers at time, but his combination of power and speed is clear.
2. St. Louis Cardinals
Jhonny Peralta’s early season injury could have created a great deal of chaos at the shortstop position for the Cards, but Aledmys Diaz and Jedd Gyorko combined to excel in his place, and eventually relegate him to third base duties upon his return.
When Jhonny Peralta went down with a thumb injury early last season, Diaz, a relative unknown, stepped in and put on a show that gave the Cardinals organization great hope for the shortstop position going forward. He cracked 17 homers, batted .300, and put up an outstanding 132 wRC+ in a rookie campaign that many expect he’ll be easily able to replicate in 2017. Not known for his glove, Diaz was adequate at short, specifically excelling on converting routine plays into outs despite an inability to make the highlight reel.
Gyorko was an absolute powerhouse for St. Louis this season, coming out of nowhere to hit 30 home runs while splitting time between all four infield positions. He carried the Cardinals offense through long stretches of the summer, but is expected to regress after posting career highs in many statistical categories.
3. Cincinnati Reds
Cozart has always been a nice player for the Reds, but José Peraza’s emergence in 2016 was a welcome sight for a Reds team that has struggled to develop hitters recently.
Cozart doesn’t have one single tool that makes him stand out, but his consistency, both offensively and defensively, are valuable qualities for a Reds team that is in a time of transition. He’s established himself as a guy who will hit around .250 with double digit homers and be a plus defender at a premium position. His 50 defensive runs saved over the last five years is third best among all shortstops in that span.
Peraza doesn’t currently have a spot in Cincinnati’s Opening Day lineup, but he’s going to see his fair share of playing time. In just 72 games split at four different positions, Peraza announced himself as a big part of the Reds’ future plans hitting .324 and swiping 21 bags in limited action.
4. Milwaukee Brewers
For a team that is in full-on rebuilding mode, the Brewers are surely proud to lay claim to two young, high-ceiling shortstops. Orlando Arcia is as highly touted as they come, and Jonathan Villar showed in 2016 that he’s capable of manning short for a winning tema.
A former top prospect, Arcia’s transition to the MLB has been just that: a transition. In a short stint over the last two months of the regular season, Arcia slashed .219/.273/.358 with 4 HR and 8 SB. Arcia will head into the 2017 as the starting shortstop, but he’ll have to show some signs of progress to keep hold of that position.
Villar’s first season with Milwaukee went as well as anyone could have expected, as the switch-hitting Dominican native had a WAR of 3.0 in 156 games. Villar is a natural shortstop, but Arcia’s arrival slid him over to second at the end of last season, where he is expected to start the 2017 campaign.
5. Pittsburgh Pirates
For a team stocked with talented position players, shortstop seems to be one place Pittsburgh falls short. Jordy Mercer has been the Pirates starting shortstop for about four years now, and while he’s certainly a known quantity, he’s known to be a quantity a team likely wouldn’t prefer to have a short.
All of this isn’t to say that Mercer is a bad player, but rather simply average. He’s not overly adept with the bat or the glove, but he can be counted on to stay healthy for the most part. His wRC+ of 89 screams replacement-level player, while he’s been good for just -1 defensive runs saved.
Frazier, a rookie in 2016, was bounced all over the field in his inaugural season in the bigs. The lack of a set position didn’t seem to affect him much, as he posted an impressive line of .301/.356/.411 in 66 games as the Pirates’ utility man.
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