It seems like top up-the-middle prospects like Francisco Lindor don’t come around very often. It seems like you can’t get enough shortstop prospects, especially if you run the Cubs. It seems like a building team like the Indians shouldn’t trade their top prospect. It seems like a team like that should hold on to their prospects like they were precious baubles to be hoarded in dark places.
Maybe all of that is wrong. Maybe the Indians should trade Francisco Lindor.
First up, are shortstop prospects in the top 100 any rarer than other positions? No. Actually, once you remove pitchers and outfielders, there have been more shortstops in Baseball America’s top 100 than any other position since 2000. 130 of them. The multiple eligibilities of many prospects does confound things, but you’d have to count every “slash-third-baseman” as an actual third baseman in order to find an equal among the positions. And there were only 297 outfield-only prospects, so it seems legitimate: we love shortstop prospects.
Should we? By bust rate, only second base produces worst outcomes than shortstop. As recently as 2011, 69.3% of top 100 shortstop prospects had bust, a full ten percent worse than the number of top third baseman that failed to become more than one-win major leaguers. Perhaps it’s because we dream so heavy on their shoulders, and put so many shortstops on our lists, but it really looks like it’s the iffiest position on the diamond when it comes to prospects.
The reason this is even a question is Jose Ramirez. Ramirez has played regularly since the Indians sent Asdrubal Cabrera to the Nationals, and has opened some eyes. Sure, his .256/.298/.339 slash line and resulting weighted offense (82 wRC+) doesn’t look great at first glance, but there are reasons to find him intriguing nonetheless.
For one, once placed in the context of his peers at his position, Ramirez isn’t as offensively anemic as it may first appear. Shortstops this year have only collectively managed a .250/.306/.362 line (86 wRC+). Suddenly, his bat is passable.
His glove is getting rave reviews. The small-sample defensive numbers have him as a plus-20 shortstop in just under 350 innings, elite numbers despite the short sample. Manager Terry Francona has praised his active defense, and even when admitting that he perhaps doesn’t have the best arm, the manager has been near effusive with his regular comments on the player.
“I don’t think we were surprised,” Indians manager Terry Francona said of Ramirez’s play. “I just think that when people in our industry look at somebody and don’t see maybe a big arm, they immediately go, ‘Second base.’ Well, his range is tremendous and he moves his feet really well and he’s got a good clock.
That’s all eye-test and small samples. Francisco Lindor’s defense has no qualifiers, not according to the scouting reports. Our JD Sussman called him “one of the Minor Leagues’ best defenders” last year. That part isn’t in question.
The bat on Lindor, though? Take a look at the current projections from Dan Szymborski’s ZiPs system for the two players in question.
Huh. Jose Ramirez might have a better bat than the top prospect coming up behind him. He has the love of his manager already. The defensive stats love him so far, and a query for ‘Jose Ramirez defense’ on MLB.com’s video search tool provides a nice return, even ones with good range:
Of course there are reasons to keep the top prospect. Szymborski’s peak projection for Lindor (.256/.316/.401 with a 103 wRC+) might be better than Ramirez can put up. We have to assume Lindor’s defense is superior to what Ramirez would put up at short, even if Lindor’s defense is a complete unknown at the big league level and Ramirez’s only slightly less so. You could move Ramirez to second and push Jason Kipnis (a -6 defensive second baseman) to the outfield, and you’d keep everyone under team control. These are all good reasons, and they make it likely that Lindor will remain an Indian next year.
But if the Indians are looking to get more offense at a different position, or perhaps a starter with the upside to push the rest of the rotation down a spot, they may want to think about trading Francisco Lindor. His bust rate is still high, they may have a replacement on hand, and there’s nothing that gets us (and other teams) as hot as a top-100 shortstop prospect.
That much we know, paradoxically, from the sheer number of shortstops we designate with that label.
With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.