2021 Positional Power Rankings: Shortstop

This morning, Jay Jaffe surveyed the league’s catchers. Now, Ben Clemens offers an assessment of the game’s shortstops.

Shortstop is the position where power rankings feel most unfair. It’s absolutely loaded with talent, to the point where the 26th-ranked Athletics have the same WAR projection at shortstop (1.5 WAR) as the 15th-ranked Dodgers do in left field. It’s crowded at the top — Fernando Tatis Jr. is a phenomenal headliner, and you wouldn’t be wrong to call any of the top 10 players at the position a star.

You might wonder whether the depth of the position makes each individual shortstop less valuable. After all, it’s less valuable to upgrade from 1.5 to 4.5 WAR than it is to upgrade from 0 to 4.5. You’d be wrong, though. The high defensive demands on the position mean that displaced shortstops can handle second base or center field — they can handle third as well, but third base is similarly deep with athletic hitters. Additionally, every team wants more shortstops, so acquiring a new shortstop allows you to trade your old one — sometimes in the same transaction, as we saw when the Mets traded Amed Rosario and Andrés Giménez for Francisco Lindor this offseason. So if your team is low on these power rankings, don’t fret. Or, well, do fret, but it’s not the shortstop’s fault. Teams put a lot of their best players at short, which makes it a difficult place to measure up.

2021 Positional Power Rankings – SS
1. Padres
Fernando Tatis Jr. 665 .284 .363 .543 .375 30.4 1.5 -2.1 5.7
Ha-seong Kim 21 .260 .329 .418 .318 -0.1 -0.0 0.0 0.1
Jake Cronenworth 14 .267 .337 .399 .317 -0.1 -0.0 0.0 0.1
Total 700 .283 .362 .536 .373 30.3 1.5 -2.0 5.8

Were you expecting someone else? Tatis has gone from exciting prospect to galactic star over the past two years, and he stands at the top of an impressive group of shortstops heading into the year. This projection has two interesting parts. First, we think he’ll be a below-average defensive shortstop. That’s hardly a shock, given the way projections work; he wasn’t great in 2019, and 2020 was very short. Given his meteoric rise everywhere else, though, I wouldn’t bet against further defensive improvement. Betting against Tatis on anything has been bad business.

The other notable part of this projection is his playing time. Injuries slowed him in 2019, but he played the whole season in 2020, and if he can keep that up, these projections are, if anything, conservative. ZiPS thinks he’s on a Hall of Fame trajectory despite availability concerns; if he turns out to be durable as well, his already-high ceiling can only go up.

If he does miss time, San Diego has excellent depth behind him. Kim and Cronenworth are fighting for the second base spot, but whoever loses that battle will be a great backup option. High ceiling, enviable floor: San Diego has the best shortstop situation in baseball — at least, pending an injury diagnosis, as Tatis appeared to hurt his left shoulder yesterday and will be evaluated by a trainer today, though the San Diego Union Tribune’s Kevin Acee reported that a source close to Tatis indicated “he is fine.”

2. Dodgers
Corey Seager 644 .291 .358 .524 .367 25.8 0.9 -0.1 5.3
Chris Taylor 21 .250 .328 .433 .323 0.0 0.0 -0.1 0.1
Gavin Lux 21 .255 .320 .448 .323 0.1 -0.0 -0.1 0.1
Omar Estévez 14 .228 .279 .353 .271 -0.6 -0.0 -0.0 -0.0
Total 700 .288 .355 .515 .362 25.3 0.9 -0.3 5.4

I’ll admit it: I was surprised to see Seager here. I shouldn’t be, not after his beast-like 2020 season, but the specter of his lost 2018 still lingers. When he’s healthy, though, Seager has been incredible; he’s a career .295/.362/.500 hitter who plays shortstop adequately well. There probably aren’t Gold Gloves in his future, but he’s hardly a butcher in the field.

At 6-foot-4, he doesn’t fit the archetypical shortstop mold, and he may end up moving to third base, but he can hang there for now, and other than Tatis and glove-deficient Gleyber Torres, no shortstop is in the same area code as Seager with their bat. This kind of hitting out of a premium defensive position is good enough for the second-best shortstop projection.

Taylor projects as the Dodgers’ primary backup at four positions (SS, 2B, LF, CF), which will require careful juggling to make rest schedules work. He’s a nice piece as a super-sub, and he’s coming off of a 132 wRC+ season, but the fewer games he plays at short, the better the Dodgers’ fortunes will be.

I’m nitpicking. Los Angeles’s situation is an enviable one. When your competition is Tatis, though, small flaws can keep you off of the top spot. There’s no shame in second.

3. Mets
Francisco Lindor 679 .267 .338 .490 .343 14.3 0.6 7.2 5.0
Luis Guillorme 14 .253 .334 .346 .300 -0.2 -0.0 0.0 0.0
Jonathan Villar 7 .241 .310 .376 .295 -0.1 0.0 -0.0 0.0
Total 700 .267 .337 .486 .342 13.9 0.6 7.1 5.0

Lindor’s bat has been so good — he’s a career .285/.346/.488 hitter, with a 118 wRC+ — that it’s tempting to think of him as just another member of the shortstop offensive explosion. But that’s only until you watch him field. If it weren’t for the existence of Andrelton Simmons, Lindor would be the best defender in the game in his career so far.

In New York, he’ll get plenty of chances to show off that glove. The Mets staff induces plenty of grounders, and the rest of the infield is sketchy; bringing in an anchor at short could pay huge dividends there after years of porous defense.

Of course, as I mentioned at the top, he hits well too, which is why the Mets place third in these rankings. He’s also shockingly durable; a 654-PA 2019 represents his lightest full-season workload. A durable defensive wizard who hits like a corner outfielder? Shortstops are all great these days, but Lindor is one of a kind.

The Mets traded their top two shortstops to acquire him, which does leave the depth chart rather bare. Villar doesn’t have the glove for the position, and if our projections pan out, he doesn’t have the bat for it either. Guillorme fits the utility infielder mold better, and if Lindor misses an extended stretch, he’ll likely fill in, but for the Mets’ sake, it hopefully won’t come to that.

4. Astros
Carlos Correa 651 .270 .349 .481 .347 17.3 0.6 -0.5 4.6
Aledmys Díaz 28 .256 .307 .436 .312 -0.1 -0.0 -0.1 0.1
Alex Bregman 21 .278 .389 .519 .381 1.2 -0.0 -0.0 0.2
Total 700 .269 .348 .480 .347 18.4 0.5 -0.6 4.9

Correa had a rough season last year, but since his 2015 debut, he’s been one of the best shortstops in the game when healthy. That “when” is doing a lot of work, though, because he’s only eclipsed 600 plate appearances in a season once. It’s not one injury in particular — he’s had back issues from time to time, but also fractured a rib getting a massage. Hey, rich people problems, right?

The silver lining to his 98 wRC+? He played a full season, and most of his decline can be explained by a spike in grounders and pop ups. That’s still bad! But it feels more like a blip than a deterioration in core skills, and 2020 was a season full of blips. If you want to ascribe his decline to the Astros cheating scandal or to a lack of in-game video, go nuts, but there’s no evidence that was the case, and plenty of players had strangely bad 2020s.

If Correa misses time, the Astros have two backup plans. Díaz is a solid utility infielder who can hit and handle short in a pinch. Bregman filled in for Correa in 2019, but unless it’s a long absence, the team will likely leave him at third and fill in from elsewhere in the depth chart. It never hurts to have an MVP-caliber third baseman who can pick up slack at the hardest defensive position, though.

5. Blue Jays
Bo Bichette 644 .283 .333 .489 .343 11.5 0.9 0.8 4.2
Marcus Semien 35 .259 .336 .451 .333 0.3 0.0 0.1 0.2
Santiago Espinal 14 .249 .297 .351 .280 -0.5 -0.0 0.1 0.0
Kevin Smith 7 .215 .261 .381 .271 -0.3 0.0 0.0 0.0
Total 700 .280 .332 .484 .340 11.0 0.9 1.1 4.4

When Bichette isn’t busy starring in a Disney+ miniseries (had to get one Boba Fett joke in, I’m sorry!), he’ll be part of one of the premium middle infield duos in the game. Does he have the glove to stick at short long-term? I have no idea! UZR and OAA think he went from bad to good in 2020, while DRS thinks he went from good to neutral. It’s too soon to tell, particularly given that he missed a month with a sprained knee last year.

Whatever you think of his glove, there’s no doubt that he can hit. He doesn’t walk much, but he makes plentiful loud contact, and valuable contact to boot; he’s a line drive machine, and Statcast thinks he deserved his spectacular .352 BABIP in 2020. Balls in play might be mostly random, but smashing them on a line is a good way to fight the randomness and get on base — and frequently not just on first base, either.

Semien, an MVP candidate at shortstop in 2019, will fill in on days where Bichette rests. He’s more steady than explosive, 2019 excluded. He’ll get most of his playing time at second base, but shifting him over to the more demanding position as needed is a luxury few teams share. Espinal and Smith are mere fill-ins, with the star duo the attraction here.

6. Nationals
Trea Turner 658 .291 .354 .494 .356 14.9 4.3 -3.4 4.3
Carter Kieboom 28 .247 .339 .381 .313 -0.4 -0.0 -0.0 0.1
Luis García 7 .266 .295 .377 .287 -0.3 -0.0 -0.0 0.0
Jordy Mercer 7 .239 .299 .362 .283 -0.3 -0.0 -0.1 -0.0
Total 700 .288 .352 .488 .352 13.9 4.3 -3.5 4.4

2020 might be a turning point in Turner’s career. He’d been more talented than productive, showing flashes in every offensive category, but never all at once. Last year, he made plate discipline gains — fewer swings at borderline pitches, more at meatballs — that unlocked his raw power while limiting strikeouts. He probably won’t hit .335 again, but with his speed, he’ll continue to turn grounders into base hits at a borderline preposterous rate, and he terrorizes pitchers when he reaches base.

His defense is more of a question mark, and there’s a reason the Nationals tried him at center field when he came up. He’s hardly a disaster, though — even the most pessimistic account of his glove pegs him as slightly below average. That’s a small price to pay for his bat and speed, and if he can keep any of his plate discipline and power gains, he’ll be cracking the top five on this list in no time.

Kieboom will be the everyday third baseman, but he played all over the infield in the minors. García will be a platoon second baseman. Mercer probably won’t make the Opening Day roster. None of that should matter, though. This is Turner’s spot, and he’s gone from a tantalizing pile of tools to one of the best shortstops in baseball.

7. Yankees
Gleyber Torres 637 .278 .357 .511 .362 22.0 -0.2 -7.5 4.2
Tyler Wade 35 .228 .300 .345 .280 -1.3 0.1 -0.0 0.0
Thairo Estrada 21 .234 .279 .358 .273 -0.9 0.0 -0.0 0.0
Gio Urshela 7 .277 .328 .442 .325 0.0 -0.0 0.0 0.0
Total 700 .274 .352 .497 .355 19.8 -0.2 -7.5 4.3

Torres brings you all the bat you can handle. He’s right up there with Tatis and Seager, but he’d be more at home at a less demanding defensive position. The Yankees are picking between bad defensive options, though; DJ LeMahieu and Urshela are ensconced at second and third, and Torres needs to be in the lineup somewhere.

Whatever his limitations, he’ll pay the Bombers back on the offensive side. Shortstops with career .271/.340/.493 lines don’t grow on trees, and we’re projecting him to be better than that this year. He showed admirable growth in his patience last year, cutting his chase rate by 10 percentage points. That led to a career-best 13.8% walk rate and a career-low 17.5% strikeout rate.

His results on contact were lackluster, but the top end didn’t change; he had basically the same hard-hit rate and maximum exit velocity, but fell short in barrel rate. Given that he only put 108 balls in play, I’m willing to give him a break there. When he put the ball in the air, he hit it hard just as frequently. In 2018, he hit 22.3% of his air balls over 100 mph. In 2019, that ticked up to 24%, then back down to 22.2% in ’20. That sounds like constant contact quality to me, even if he didn’t have the results to show for it.

8. Red Sox
Xander Bogaerts 644 .284 .358 .495 .357 15.6 1.7 -4.6 4.1
Enrique Hernández 28 .247 .320 .440 .320 -0.2 0.0 -0.1 0.1
Christian Arroyo 14 .260 .315 .432 .315 -0.2 -0.0 -0.0 0.0
Marwin Gonzalez 14 .258 .326 .422 .318 -0.1 -0.0 0.0 0.0
Total 700 .282 .355 .490 .354 15.1 1.6 -4.7 4.3

X is gonna give it to you — as long as what you want is a heaping helping of doubles off the Green Monster. His evolution as a hitter has been all about selective aggression, and he doubled down on it in 2020, upping his zone swing percentage by eight percentage points while chasing less frequently than ever.

That sterling approach and his solid combination of bat-to-ball skill and power give him an absurdly high offensive floor for a shortstop. Two or three things would have to change at once for him to be a below-average hitter, and that seems vanishingly unlikely. He’s signed through 2026, but he has an opt out after the ’22 season, and if he keeps hitting like this, he’ll very likely exercise it.

On another team, Bogaerts would likely play third base, but Rafael Devers occupies that spot here. That exposes Bogaerts’ greatest weakness — he’s sure-handed, but doesn’t have the requisite range to handle the most difficult defensive position. I’m nitpicking — he’s still a 4 WAR shortstop, and those don’t grow on trees. But given how crowded the position is at the top, these little factors are the differentiators.

Behind Bogaerts, the Sox have a pile of utility infielders. Gonzalez and Hernández are famous for their multi-position availability, but neither are a natural fit at short. Arroyo is more of a second baseman. The more the Red Sox can get out of Bogaerts, even accounting for his defense, the better.

9. Rockies
Trevor Story 658 .274 .344 .525 .360 7.0 1.9 2.4 3.8
Brendan Rodgers 28 .262 .311 .431 .313 -0.8 -0.0 0.1 0.0
Garrett Hampson 14 .255 .313 .391 .301 -0.6 0.0 -0.0 0.0
Total 700 .273 .342 .519 .357 5.6 1.9 2.5 3.9

Despite their best efforts, the Rockies haven’t shed all their good players. Story is a new-age shortstop on offense; he’s more slug than on-base, though he’s made great strides when it comes to limiting strikeouts in recent years. It’s not just a Coors effect, though; he’s put up strong park-adjusted power numbers year after year.

That power and Story’s 6-foot-2 frame would lead you to believe that he’s a shift-enabled shortstop, only out there because of advances in defensive positioning. That couldn’t be further from the truth; he’s shown above-average range, a strong arm, and excellent hands. He’s been one of the most consistent shortstop defenders since reaching the majors in 2016.

This year will present a new defensive challenge: playing shortstop without the security blanket of Nolan Arenado at third base. Arenado covered so much ground that Story could change his positioning to account for that, and he’ll need to adjust to a mere mortal at the hot corner this year. The results of that remain to be seen, but there’s no reason to think Story will be anything less than his productive self again this year.

When Story rests, two former top prospects will man the position. Rodgers and Hampson are the favorites when Story inevitably leaves, though they’re playing second and third now. Both are post-hype sleepers, and if one pans out, the Rockies might have a good left side of the infield next year even after losing Arenado and Story.

10. Twins
Andrelton Simmons 581 .277 .328 .393 .309 -7.4 0.8 9.5 2.9
Jorge Polanco 91 .274 .334 .436 .326 0.2 -0.0 -0.4 0.4
Luis Arraez 21 .311 .370 .410 .337 0.2 -0.0 -0.0 0.1
Nick Gordon 7 .250 .297 .366 .284 -0.2 0.0 0.0 0.0
Total 700 .278 .329 .399 .312 -7.2 0.7 9.1 3.4

Simmons is the best defensive shortstop since Ozzie Smith, though he’s now past the peak of his defensive prowess. Like Smith, he’s gotten progressively better on offense as his career wears on, embracing his contact-happy profile to become one of the most strikeout-averse hitters in the game, though that approach limits his walks and extra-base power.

In Minnesota, he’ll be a welcome defensive upgrade; Polanco has consistently graded out as one of the worst defenders at the position, and sliding him down to second base shores up the middle infield considerably — at least when the team doesn’t force Arraez’s plus bat into the lineup. Even if they choose to do that, though, the added defensive versatility will let Simmons get rest while a bona fide starter — Polanco — mans the position. Three middle infielders for two spots is an enviable situation.

If there’s something to worry about with Simmons, it’s age. He’s been in slow decline there over the last two years, hurt mostly by declining range, hardly a shock in his 30s. This isn’t to say that he’s cooked, or that his defensive decline will continue, but there’s a reason he signed a one-year contract rather than a long-term deal. I like what the Twins did in signing Simmons, but if I were them, I would have done it with the full knowledge that there’s some chance it pans out poorly.

11. Cardinals
Paul DeJong 644 .247 .320 .440 .321 -0.2 -0.3 3.9 3.0
Edmundo Sosa 28 .243 .284 .364 .276 -1.1 -0.0 0.0 0.0
Tommy Edman 21 .263 .314 .398 .304 -0.3 0.0 0.1 0.1
Kramer Robertson 7 .221 .305 .317 .276 -0.3 -0.0 -0.0 -0.0
Total 700 .247 .319 .435 .319 -1.9 -0.3 4.0 3.1

DeJong might be the least-heralded star in the game. It depends on how you define star, of course, but he’s averaged 3.8 WAR per 600 plate appearances in his career, All-Star level production. That’s more than Torres and basically even with Bogaerts, both of whom are far more widely known.

The reason DeJong doesn’t get more credit for it is because his value feels more ephemeral. Lots of it is tied up in his glove, startling for someone who didn’t even play short in college. His offense is forgettably average; his plate discipline has improved over the years at the same time that his power has declined, leaving him with the same end product even as the components change.

An abysmal offensive 2020 is a warning sign, but DeJong contracted COVID-19 and then spent the remainder of the season playing double-headers. He also maintained reasonable barrel and hard-hit rates, though he’s taking elevate and celebrate to an extreme; he hit only 27.4% grounders last year, which doesn’t feel sustainable long-term.

If the contact quality doesn’t bounce back, his offensive production won’t be pretty, but the defense should make the total package work. Sosa and Edman, both of whom can handle shortstop defensively, make for a fine backup crew. The Cardinals look set at shortstop, even if they don’t get there in an exciting way.

12. Angels
José Iglesias 560 .285 .320 .414 .311 -5.0 0.0 3.0 2.3
David Fletcher 70 .279 .333 .385 .310 -0.7 -0.0 0.3 0.3
Franklin Barreto 35 .223 .281 .409 .291 -0.9 0.0 -0.0 0.1
Luis Rengifo 35 .235 .317 .361 .295 -0.8 -0.1 -0.0 0.1
Total 700 .279 .319 .408 .309 -7.4 -0.0 3.3 2.7

Iglesias was a perfect trade target for the Angels after Simmons left in free agency. He won’t repeat his career 2020 at the plate — .373/.400/.556 is wild, even in 150 plate appearances — but he’s made a career out of hitting just well enough to keep his slick glove in the lineup.

How much he’ll play this year is an open question, because he spent most of last year injured, to the point where Baltimore put him at DH (!?!) for 14 games. That raises the specter of injury-related ineffectiveness, but when he played last year, he was stellar; Statcast graded him as the best defender in the majors.

I don’t think he’ll be a great hitter this year, but if he gets anywhere near average, he’s a valuable player. If he’s limited by injury, Fletcher is an excellent backup plan; he’s a sterling defender at second with excellent on-base skills. He’ll mostly play second this year, but with Rengifo and Barreto around, the team has multiple viable infield configurations. The fate of the Angels doesn’t rest on Iglesias, but his signing was a savvy way to patch a hole and add stability to a stars-and-scrubs lineup.

13. Phillies
Didi Gregorius 581 .267 .318 .465 .325 -0.8 0.0 -0.2 2.3
Jean Segura 98 .279 .330 .420 .318 -0.7 0.1 0.0 0.4
Brad Miller 14 .224 .320 .438 .319 -0.1 -0.0 -0.1 0.0
C.J. Chatham 7 .247 .280 .339 .265 -0.4 -0.0 0.0 -0.0
Total 700 .267 .320 .457 .323 -2.0 0.1 -0.2 2.7

Average shortstop defense! League-average offense! The Gregorius experience is more fun when punched up with exclamation marks, but he’s secretly a great barometer for how stacked the position is these days.

That player — a decent hitter who can handle the toughest non-catcher defensive position — is meaningfully better than average. The Phillies will also get 98 PA worth of Segura, who fits the same general mold. Somehow, that’s only good enough for 13th in the league, even with 2.7 WAR, because shortstop is stacked.

That doesn’t make Gregorius any less valuable, and the Phillies desperately need him in their lineup. Long-shot contenders in the NL East, they need health and performance across the board, but Gregorius allows them to deploy Scott Kingery as a super-sub and injury fill-in across the diamond.

The Phillies shouldn’t expect anything more, but Gregorius reined in his customary aggressive plate approach last year, and it paid dividends as pitchers fed him less junk. If he does that again, that’s pure upside — but even if he returns to his prior form, this spot feels about right.

14. Cubs
Javier Báez 665 .261 .301 .480 .322 -2.2 1.0 -0.2 2.6
Nico Hoerner 21 .269 .330 .389 .309 -0.3 -0.0 0.0 0.1
Ildemaro Vargas 7 .266 .303 .387 .294 -0.2 -0.0 -0.0 0.0
Eric Sogard 7 .244 .320 .348 .291 -0.2 -0.0 -0.0 0.0
Total 700 .261 .302 .475 .321 -2.9 0.9 -0.2 2.7

Far be it from me to question ZiPS and Steamer, but I don’t get Báez’s defensive projection. For me, he’s one of the best handful of defenders in the game, which would catapult the Cubs up this list. Defensive projections are notoriously finicky, but uh, have you seen Báez in the field?

As much as I think his defensive projection might be too low, however, there are certainly concerns about his bat. In 2020, he hit .203/.238/.360, good for a 57 wRC+. His absurdly swing-happy approach put pressure on his contact rate, and he set a new low for in-zone contact last year, resulting in a ghastly 19.1% swinging strike rate.

When you whiff that frequently, your entire offensive game pays a price. He struck out 31.9% of the time and walked only 3% of the time, and also ended up in tough counts frequently. No one hits well when behind in the count, but the problem was particularly acute for Báez.

Things won’t break that poorly this year; if nothing else, his contact quality was better than his results, even if the strikeouts and walks don’t change. Still, while it’s generally easy to ignore 2020 performances, Báez’s is worrisome, because it’s merely an acceleration of the worst trends in his game. When he’s on, he’s incredible, but it’s beginning to look like he may never maintain that fever pitch.

15. White Sox
Tim Anderson 665 .284 .315 .461 .325 2.7 1.7 -8.5 2.6
Danny Mendick 21 .239 .314 .373 .297 -0.4 -0.0 0.1 0.1
Leury García 14 .261 .298 .378 .289 -0.4 0.0 0.0 0.0
Total 700 .282 .314 .457 .324 1.9 1.7 -8.4 2.7

Boy, shortstops are good this year. Anderson has been awesome the past two seasons, to the point where his projections are now higher than his career numbers. He’s given a lot back on the defensive end, but when you hit .331/.357/.514, his slash line since the start of 2019, it hardly matters if you boot a few grounders. DRS and OAA even think he was above average in the field last year.

The reason Anderson isn’t higher on this list is that his success doesn’t look particularly sustainable. He’s built an empire out of extreme aggression and high BABIP; over the past two years, he has the third-highest swing rate in the game, and his contact rate over the same period is below average, because he swings hard.

That doesn’t sound like a .357 on-base hitter, but he really does rack up value when he puts the ball in play; he both hits a lot of barrels and a lot of grounders, a hard mix to achieve. The barrels are doubles and homers, but the grounders are sneaky valuable as well; he has an extremely low pull rate on his grounders, which makes them more likely to find a hole. He hit .337 on them last year, a top-20 rate in the game, while finishing in the top 10 in groundball rate.

Mendick’s utility infielder role will get him some reps when Anderson rests, but for the most part, this is the TA show, and the team will send him out there and hope for more projection-busting production.

16. Mariners
J.P. Crawford 651 .243 .334 .375 .309 -4.6 -0.1 0.6 2.5
Dylan Moore 28 .222 .302 .386 .295 -0.5 -0.0 -0.1 0.1
Donovan Walton 21 .235 .305 .343 .283 -0.6 -0.1 0.0 0.0
Total 700 .242 .331 .374 .307 -5.8 -0.1 0.6 2.6

Crawford hasn’t quite lived up to the prospect pedigree from his time in the Phillies system, but being Philadelphia’s next big hope is an impossible burden, and he’s chugging along perfectly well in Seattle, playing good defense and getting on base at an above-average clip. Crawford even took home a Gold Glove last season. His power still hasn’t developed, but that’s fine; a .335 on-base percentage and acceptable glove makes for a solid shortstop even with single-digit homers.

The Mariners aren’t quite ready to contend yet, but between Crawford’s age and years of service, he’ll likely be a member of their next contending team. That’s a success for them already, but there’s certainly scope for him to get even better. He has a mismatch between his maximum exit velocity (solid) and his barrel rate (awful) that suggests more power than he’s shown so far in the majors.

Even if he never taps into that thump, Crawford is a valuable player. The tantalizing power will keep fans and front offices salivating, but it’s really just a bonus. The Crawford that already exists will do just fine.

17. Rays
Willy Adames 567 .247 .319 .411 .311 -2.7 0.3 -0.5 2.2
Wander Franco 98 .253 .309 .388 .297 -1.7 -0.3 0.1 0.2
Joey Wendle 28 .257 .310 .381 .295 -0.5 0.0 0.1 0.1
Taylor Walls 7 .237 .300 .361 .285 -0.2 -0.0 0.1 0.0
Total 700 .248 .317 .406 .308 -5.2 -0.0 -0.3 2.6

Ooh, Wander Franco! Adames doesn’t deserve to get second billing here, but it’s hard when the top prospect in baseball is projected to take 100 plate appearances at your position. Franco’s projections aren’t great, but just the fact that he’ll be ready for the majors at 20 is enough to send imaginations into overdrive.

That’s only a small part of the Rays’ shortstop picture, though. Adames is the starter here, and while he’s been mentioned in trade talks, it’s not due to any shortcomings on his part. He had a career year in 2020, hitting .259/.332/.481 with eight home runs and 15 doubles, providing some needed offensive firepower for Tampa Bay before Randy Arozarena hit the majors and started crushing.

It wasn’t a particularly sustainable 124 wRC+, unfortunately; he struck out 36.1% of the time, and got to his offensive statistics only through a .388 BABIP. That explains our pessimism; free swingers with near-30% strikeout rates need to hit for mind-blowing power to excel, and Adames doesn’t fit that bill.

His defense won’t be a question; he’s somewhere between average and plus, depending on which system you listen to. He’s more rangy than sure-handed, and that speed translates well to the offensive side of the ball. He’s a solid baserunner, though not a base stealer, another tailwind to his value. Realistically, though, this is likely his last year as the Rays shortstop; Franco is coming, and we’re all waiting for him to arrive.

18. Royals
Adalberto Mondesi 637 .253 .292 .429 .302 -12.9 5.0 4.0 2.5
Nicky Lopez 42 .253 .315 .346 .289 -1.3 -0.1 0.3 0.1
Lucius Fox 14 .229 .301 .330 .276 -0.6 0.0 -0.0 0.0
Hanser Alberto 7 .289 .314 .403 .304 -0.1 -0.0 0.0 0.0
Total 700 .253 .294 .422 .301 -15.0 4.8 4.3 2.6

If steals are your thing, the Royals have you covered. Mondesi is the premier speed merchant in baseball; the only limit to his thievery is his inability to get on base. The .292 OBP projection you see up above would be an eight point improvement on his career line, and you can’t steal second if you don’t reach first, at least until Rob Manfred gets his hands on the major league rulebook.

Mondesi’s offensive problem is simple: he doesn’t make enough contact, so pitchers flood the zone to avoid putting him on base. That leads to huge swing rates — combine that with the aforementioned contact problems, and you get a career 19.6% swinging strike rate, second-worst in the majors behind only Jorge Alfaro.

When he does make contact, he’s totally fine. He has an average hard hit rate, average barrel rate, and hits enough opposite-field grounders to take advantage of his speed. But when you swing through one fifth of the pitches you see, average isn’t going to cut it.

He does enough on the defensive end that he’s an average player overall, but the whole package just feels like it should come out to more. And hey, if he makes more contact, it just might: you can’t teach speed, and no one has more of it than Mondesi (except you, Tim Locastro, but you don’t count here).

19. Marlins
Miguel Rojas 553 .270 .330 .384 .306 -6.1 -0.6 3.7 2.0
Jazz Chisholm 91 .205 .278 .376 .280 -3.1 -0.0 -0.2 0.1
Jon Berti 56 .241 .331 .350 .300 -0.9 0.3 0.2 0.2
Total 700 .260 .324 .380 .302 -10.2 -0.3 3.8 2.3

Rojas is an absolutely premium defender, the kind of shortstop you could watch all day if it weren’t for those pesky “day jobs” and “lack of day-long baseball games.” He’s the total defensive package — excellent range, split-second instincts, sure hands, and — well, okay, a roughly average throwing arm, but almost the total package.

If he could hit, he’d look like an All-Star, and he hit quite a bit in 2020, to the tune of a .304/.392/.496 slash line, good for a 142 wRC+. His estimable 12.6% strikeout rate was roughly in line with his career average, and he walked 11.2% of the time. That all sounds great, and it is. The true shocker was his .192 ISO, literally double his previous career best.

Yes, Rojas has no power. Even in 2020, he managed that ISO despite a this-is-not-a-misprint 0.9% barrel rate — one barrel in 107 batted balls. His offensive floor is quite high, due to both the lack of strikeouts and a career-long ability to hit line drives, but even our projected .113 ISO feels high to me, and at 32, that floor might not hold forever. Rojas is the modern-day incarnation of shortstops of old, and it’s a good reminder of the golden age of offense from defense-first positions we’re living in.

Oh, Jazz Chisholm is cool too! So is Jon Berti. The Marlins have a lot of fun players here, and even if they won’t be the best in baseball, they’ll be plenty fun.

20. Braves
Dansby Swanson 644 .250 .325 .419 .315 -8.0 1.2 0.0 2.0
Johan Camargo 42 .251 .308 .421 .308 -0.8 -0.0 0.0 0.1
Ehire Adrianza 14 .242 .311 .361 .290 -0.5 -0.0 -0.1 0.0
Total 700 .250 .324 .418 .314 -9.3 1.2 -0.1 2.1

This season will answer one of the great unknowns of the last five years of baseball: was Swanson’s hot-and-cold batting record proof that doppelgänger Charlie Culberson was actually at the plate for some of those at-bats? With Culberson now on the Rangers, Swanson will monopolize the meticulously-stubbled-handsome-frat-guy vibe.

Oh yeah — he also had a solid 2020 season, at least when he wasn’t being replaced by Culberson. He set a career high in each slash-line category (excluding his 145-PA 2016) on the way to a 116 wRC+. Why aren’t we higher on him? He struck out more, walked less, and set another career high — in swinging strike rate, unfortunately enough.

On the other hand, that extra swing-and-miss seemed to come from taking bigger hacks. He set a new high in barrel rate by a fair margin, and his 40.7% hard-hit rate (per Statcast) led to 15 doubles and 10 homers, both pro-rated career highs. You can strike out more often if you hit for more power, which appears to be the case here.

That doesn’t mean he’s going to repeat 2020 — his BABIP is likely to decline, and it would hardly be a shock if some of that newfound power was a mirage. But I think there’s upside here relative to our projections; Swanson’s 2020 might be hot air, but it might also be a talented hitter finding his groove. Also, I guess Camargo and Adrianza will play some short too, but this position is mostly about Swanson.

21. Diamondbacks
Nick Ahmed 644 .250 .311 .411 .306 -12.7 0.8 3.4 1.9
Ketel Marte 42 .287 .347 .475 .345 0.6 0.0 0.0 0.2
Andy Young 7 .232 .309 .414 .309 -0.1 -0.0 -0.0 0.0
Asdrúbal Cabrera 7 .254 .322 .432 .319 -0.1 -0.0 -0.1 0.0
Total 700 .252 .313 .415 .308 -12.3 0.8 3.3 2.1

Ahmed is an absolutely premium defender, the kind of shortstop you could watch all day if it weren’t for — wait, didn’t I use this introduction already? It’s true, though; all Ahmed does, year in and year out, is frustrate fantasy owners by playing enough defense to block superior bats.

That act will probably wear out eventually, in the same way everything eventually turns to dust, but Arizona doesn’t have anyone to push him for the position at the moment. Marte is a full-time starter elsewhere on the diamond, and Young and Cabrera can best be described as cover-your-eyes-and-pray defensively, so the spot is Ahmed’s until further notice.

On offense, you know how it goes, particularly this low in the power rankings. He doesn’t strike out a ton or walk that much, but the contact quality just isn’t there. The last season he barreled up 6% of his batted balls was never, and the last season he hit a ball 110 mph was also never. He also hits too many grounders — well, maybe too many at least, it’s not as though Ahmed fly balls are particularly dangerous — and pulls enough of them that he’s mostly giving opposing shortstops infield practice. His career .272 BABIP doesn’t look like a fluke. A glove-only shortstop is a perfectly nice piece, but the league has gotten so good that it’s only the 20th-best situation in the majors.

22. Tigers
Willi Castro 560 .271 .318 .428 .316 -4.5 -0.3 -2.1 1.8
Niko Goodrum 98 .227 .297 .387 .292 -2.8 0.2 -0.3 0.2
Zack Short 21 .214 .311 .356 .291 -0.6 -0.0 0.0 0.0
Jonathan Schoop 14 .261 .305 .460 .319 -0.1 0.0 -0.1 0.0
Isaac Paredes 7 .259 .321 .397 .308 -0.1 -0.0 0.0 0.0
Total 700 .263 .315 .420 .312 -8.1 -0.1 -2.4 2.1

The Tigers tried Goodrum out as a full-time shortstop last year, and while he was shockingly proficient defensively, his bat fell apart to the tune of a 38.5% strikeout rate. Still in rebuilding mode, they’ll give him more shots across the diamond, but Castro has a lock on shortstop now after a scintillating 140-PA stretch there to end the season.

He isn’t likely to duplicate a .448 BABIP again (okay, fine, it’s impossible), and the strikeout rate is certainly a concern, but it’s throw-spaghetti-at-the-wall time in Detroit, and you can’t know something won’t work until you try it. The odds are against his success, though; he swings so much — 10 percentage points more than league average — that he can’t walk much, and had never shown the ability to hit for power before his six bombs in 2020, which makes that particular skill unlikely to persist.

His calling card was supposed to be his glove, but he looked overmatched there last year. His blinding speed couldn’t counteract a scattershot arm, and his reads looked a beat slow. Scouts liked his defense in the minors, so this is more of a wait-and-see situation, but strangely enough, the most likely outcome for Castro in 2021 is poor offense with solid defense, the polar opposite of last season.

23. Reds
Eugenio Suárez 448 .244 .342 .486 .346 6.0 -1.0 -3.9 2.0
Kyle Farmer 126 .240 .294 .369 .284 -5.1 -0.1 -0.4 -0.0
Mike Freeman 56 .230 .300 .328 .274 -2.7 -0.1 0.1 -0.0
Alex Blandino 35 .207 .318 .327 .288 -1.3 -0.1 -0.3 -0.0
Dee Strange-Gordon 21 .267 .302 .342 .278 -1.0 0.0 -0.2 -0.0
Kyle Holder 14 .237 .290 .349 .275 -0.7 -0.0 0.0 -0.0
Total 700 .241 .327 .436 .323 -4.7 -1.2 -4.6 1.9

The Reds found a way to turn a dispiriting mix of has-beens and never-wases into a 2 WAR projection. How? It’s easy — just move your All-Star third baseman 30 feet to his left on defense. Suárez will probably never approach his 49 home run peak from 2019, but he doesn’t have to. His blend of power and patience easily makes up for the strikeouts, and though he managed only a 104 wRC+ in 2020, it was mostly due to his .214 BABIP. Under the hood, everything continues to look good; he recorded a career-best barrel rate and continued to lean into an elevate-and-celebrate mentality, exactly what you’re looking for from someone with Suárez’s skillset.

On defense… well, we have no idea. He last regularly played shortstop in 2015, and he was disastrous there, so Cincy moved him to third, where he’s been an average defender. He reported to training camp lighter and more agile, and the team really does have nothing behind him, so it’s as good of an idea as any, but seriously, I have no clue how it will work out. He could clank everything, or take to it swimmingly, and though the smart money is on a poor-but-not-unplayable glove, we’ll have to wait and see.

The Reds would project even better if Suárez got all the playing time, but he’ll still get plenty of reps at third, which leaves a league of unextraordinary gentlemen to pick up the slack behind him. Six other players will get some run, and honestly, they’re all kinda bad. Look closely, and you’ll notice negatives next to each of those 0.0 WAR projections. Whoops!

24. Cleveland
Andrés Giménez 504 .253 .310 .392 .300 -11.4 0.0 0.9 1.2
Amed Rosario 175 .281 .318 .428 .314 -1.9 0.1 -0.7 0.5
Yu Chang 14 .217 .288 .361 .279 -0.6 -0.0 0.0 0.0
Ernie Clement 7 .249 .294 .328 .270 -0.3 -0.0 0.0 0.0
Total 700 .259 .311 .400 .303 -14.2 0.1 0.2 1.8

If it’s good enough for the 2020 Mets, it’s good enough for me! That’s something that no one has ever said until now, but Cleveland will test the wisdom of those words in 2021. Giménez performed admirably in his 132-PA look last year, putting up a near-exact replica of his 2019 Double-A stats. That’s unlikely to happen again in 2021 — that’s not really how relative league difficulty works, and pitchers are likely to tee off on him in the strike zone given his lack of power. On the other hand, he’s already a plus defender, which should make up for some of that offensive deficiency.

Rosario will split time between the infield and outfield, but given his three-error debut out on the grass, it looks like he’s still more comfortable on the dirt. As our projections suggest, he’s likely a better player than Giménez right now. He does enough more with his bat, a brutal 2020 aside, to make up for his inconsistent defense. He has the tools to be a great defender, but hasn’t put them together yet, and he’s the rare player who doesn’t look particularly comfortable moving to his left — maybe second base is a more likely long-term home.

Rosario might also be out of the picture soon — he only has three years of team control remaining, a veritable grandpa given the way Cleveland operates. Chang would be next in line for reps if he leaves; a four-homer spring has renewed the buzz around the former top prospect after a few years of struggles.

25. Brewers
Luis Urías 392 .248 .333 .388 .312 -5.2 -0.5 0.8 1.2
Orlando Arcia 287 .252 .308 .391 .297 -7.6 0.1 0.7 0.5
Daniel Robertson 21 .237 .337 .353 .305 -0.4 -0.0 0.0 0.0
Total 700 .249 .323 .388 .306 -13.2 -0.4 1.6 1.8

Depth Charts might be down on Urías, but ZiPS mastermind Dan Szymborski isn’t. I’m with Dan; Urías’ persistently high OBP in the minors can’t be faked, and even though pitchers will flood the zone and dare him to beat them, his eye and feel to hit can make up for his lack of raw power. He’s not a natural shortstop, and he’ll get reps at second and third as well, but his athleticism will let him hang at tough defensive positions regardless.

Arcia will get the other half of the playing time unless one of the two convincingly wins the battle. Brewers fans have been waiting for his breakout for quite a while now, and he showed some flashes last year, improving his plate discipline and power on contact at the same time. He’s never going to be a slugger, but when your chase rate declines by five percentage points while your in-zone swing rate increases by four, it’s a lot easier to run into some good contact. It’s 189 plate appearances of adequacy weighed against 1,676 previous flailing ones, so I’m fine with the projection here, but if you want to dream big, I’m officially granting you a license.

26. Athletics
Elvis Andrus 602 .252 .298 .380 .289 -13.9 1.1 -2.6 1.2
Chad Pinder 63 .248 .309 .435 .313 -0.2 -0.1 -0.5 0.2
Vimael Machín 35 .243 .324 .347 .291 -0.8 -0.0 -0.1 0.1
Total 700 .251 .301 .383 .292 -14.8 1.0 -3.1 1.5

What, you were expecting an Elvis pun? Sadly, you have to finish in the top 25 of our power rankings to merit word play, and the A’s fall just short. Andrus was never a standout hitter, but as he’s lost foot speed, his grounder-oriented game has made him an offensive liability. He’s susceptible to sliders, and doesn’t do enough with fastballs to offset that deficiency, which leaves him behind in counts and facing nasty secondary stuff far too often. His excellent contact rate prevents a true implosion, but getting a bat on pitches isn’t the same thing as hitting them with authority, and a move to the Coliseum dims any hope for a power surge.

If our dire defensive projections come true, Pinder might take the position from him sooner rather than later. He’s nominally a utility player, but Oakland might let him fake shortstop with Matt Chapman around to minimize his liability. His bat far outstrips that of Andrus; he’s roughly average across the board, and his controlled aggression fits well with a sneaky-powerful bat. If he can’t hack it, it might be time to let a Machín do the work. Vimael is a hit-happy utility infielder who lacks the range for short but shows solid fielding instincts that could make him at least playable there, and if his bat takes a step forward, that’s a workable piece.

27. Giants
Brandon Crawford 553 .239 .308 .378 .291 -15.0 -1.1 1.2 0.9
Donovan Solano 140 .281 .320 .384 .302 -2.5 -0.2 -0.5 0.3
Mauricio Dubón 7 .264 .309 .391 .299 -0.1 -0.0 0.0 0.0
Total 700 .248 .310 .379 .293 -17.6 -1.3 0.7 1.2

If you exclude 2017, ’18, and ’19, Crawford is an above-average regular who sometimes approaches All-Star levels. Sadly, that’s not how this works, and though 2020 was a brief ray of light, the former defensive standout appears to have succumbed to the ravages of time. 34-year-old infielders don’t generally suddenly become power hitters, and that was the only thing keeping Crawford’s 2020 from being another disappointing year. Some of that likely stems from a friendlier home park, as Oracle Park played smaller than in past years due to some dimension changes, but the ceaseless passing of years looks likely to claim another victim from the Even Year Dynasty.

Solano isn’t exactly the next generation of infielders — he’s 33 — but he’s hitting .328/.362/.459 since moving to the Bay, and he’ll moonlight at shortstop when Tommy La Stella is handling second base, Solano’s primary position. Defense is a concern, as he was only average at the less demanding keystone, and quite frankly, I don’t believe in the bat either. A .403 BABIP is a key driver behind his enviable offensive line, and if you need a .400 BABIP to be 20% above average as a batter, the come-down to mere mortal luck will be brutal. Dubón is the fresh face here, but he’s also the team’s primary center fielder, so don’t expect to see much of him on the infield dirt.

28. Orioles
Freddy Galvis 553 .239 .294 .377 .287 -16.9 -0.5 -0.5 0.7
Richie Martin 91 .220 .277 .335 .264 -4.6 0.0 -0.2 -0.1
Pat Valaika 42 .249 .291 .440 .306 -0.6 -0.1 -0.1 0.1
Yolmer Sánchez 14 .248 .315 .366 .294 -0.3 -0.0 -0.0 0.0
Total 700 .237 .292 .376 .285 -22.4 -0.6 -0.8 0.8

Unhappy with José Iglesias’s offensive explosion in 2020, the Orioles shipped him out and replaced him with what they wanted all along; a no-hit, good-glove shortstop like Galvis. This is what below-average production at short looks like; not enough walks, not enough power, not enough defense to make up for the generally disappointing bat. He’s certainly better than a generic replacement player, but not by enough that the Orioles might accidentally win too many games, and the price is right at $1.5 million. Nothing wrong with that, at least from their perspective.

When Galvis isn’t providing his usual adequate glovework, onetime prospect Martin will live la vida shortstop (fine, some puns are okay, even this far down the list). He missed all of last year after breaking a bone in his wrist, and he was disastrous the year before, but there’s still some shine there; he acquitted himself well in Double-A in 2018 and plays acceptable defense — or at least he did until looking out of place in his 2019 train wreck. If he does get more time this year, his speed will be an asset; he swiped 10 bags in 2019 despite rarely being on base. The rest of the plate appearances are a guess. Valaika has a career 70 wRC+ but ZiPS projects him to be above average with the bat this year. Sánchez is a slick defender. Maybe one of them will pan out — Baltimore certainly hopes so.

29. Pirates
Kevin Newman 364 .268 .317 .373 .296 -9.0 -0.4 -1.9 0.4
Cole Tucker 245 .234 .296 .351 .279 -9.8 0.1 0.3 0.1
Erik González 77 .242 .279 .365 .272 -3.5 -0.1 -0.4 -0.1
Rodolfo Castro 14 .208 .253 .331 .248 -0.9 -0.0 -0.0 -0.0
Total 700 .252 .304 .364 .287 -23.3 -0.4 -2.0 0.4

Newman’s glove is a little light for the position; scouts never bought his defense in the minors, and he’s been somewhere between unplayable and super unplayable depending on which advanced defensive metric you trust. He spiked a nice batting line in 2019 courtesy of a power spree — 12 bombs and 20 doubles — but that was by a huge margin the most pop he’s ever shown, and it all disintegrated in an execrable 2020. He’s changing his batting stance this year in an attempt to be more direct to the ball, and there’s no reason for the Pirates not to see how it goes, but even in his best season, his barrel rate was a shocking 2.1%, so his ceiling remains quite low.

Tucker, who will take another chunk of the playing time, is Newman without the plate discipline on offense. His 6-foot-3 frame looks like it should translate to power, but it simply hasn’t. At only 24, there’s still time for that to happen, but it probably needs for him to be an average offensive player, because his pitch recognition remains sketchy. He draws rave reviews for his defense, so if he can get to that average offensive level, the Pirates might really have something here.

González was part of a three-way competition for shortstop reps this spring, but he appears to have faded slightly. Why, you ask? He’s basically the Tucker of Christmas future; now 29, he never grew into power on his 6-foot-3 frame, and his defense appears to be a hair worse. He’s never gotten a consistent chance to play, but a 68 wRC+ across five partial seasons is hardly forcing himself into Pittsburgh’s future plans.

30. Rangers
Isiah Kiner-Falefa 623 .258 .316 .359 .293 -22.9 0.3 -4.0 0.2
Anderson Tejeda 49 .233 .281 .399 .287 -2.1 -0.0 0.1 0.0
Charlie Culberson 28 .229 .278 .356 .270 -1.6 -0.0 0.1 -0.0
Total 700 .255 .312 .362 .292 -26.5 0.2 -3.8 0.2

Kiner-Falefa debuted in the majors as a catcher/third baseman after taking up the tools of ignorance in the minors (note: this line has been updated to more accurately reflect his position upon reaching the majors), and he’s only played 138 innings of shortstop in the bigs, which explains his miserable defensive projections. He’s been dazzling in a small sample, though, so there’s certainly plenty of room to the upside here; what the heck are projection systems supposed to do about a catcher trying to play shortstop other than shrug their shoulders?

On the other hand, we’ve got data on his bat, and that’s not a good thing. He’s unlikely to ever hit for power, so he needs to stick with his 2020 plan — attack in the zone early, and eschew the launch angle revolution in favor of peppering grounders across the diamond. He’s a true all-fields hitter, and freed of the grind of daily catching, he has the speed to turn those into singles. It’s not a sexy plan, but you can talk yourself into him being almost average, and for goodness’ sake, he’s a catcher! It’s very impressive.

If the Rangers want to get average production out of the spot, their best chance is in the reserves. That’s because Culberson is always a threat to pull a Parent Trap-style caper with Dansby Swanson, providing Texas with a former number one draft pick at a premium position. I’m not saying it’s likely, but it’s surely not impossible, if only because nothing is truly 0% likely to occur.

Ben is a writer at FanGraphs. He can be found on Twitter @_Ben_Clemens.

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3 years ago

I know this is nitpicky, but Kiner-Falefa isn’t a catcher playing shortstop, he was originally a (slick-fielding) shortstop that transitioned to catcher for about 2 years. Now he’s back to his original position after putting up an incredible defensive performance at 3B last year. I expect a positive result from him playing SS all year (although the bat is obviously questionable)

Eric Cox
3 years ago
Reply to  jbrynsvold

Exactly. While his offense is nothing to write home about, his defense has been consistently excellent. And he wasn’t exactly under the radar last year, winning the gold glove at 3rd. Even in a shortened season / small sample size, that’s hard to forget.