Next stop on our NL East positional rankings: Shortstop
- Adeiny Hechavarria – Marlins – 2016 WAR: 0.4
Hechavarria, to the surprise of many, enters his 5th season as the Marlins full-time shortstop. The soon to be 28 year old out of Cuba has been the resident SS since Jose Reyes left town after that really, really weird 2012 season/fire sale/dumpster fire in South Florida. Hechavarria came over in a trade with Toronto, coincidentally the deal that shipped Reyes and others out of Miami, and immediately filled that starting role. Best known at the time for his defense, Hechavarria slashed at a low rate of .227/.267/.298 over his first full season while playing poorly in the field. Many fans and even the Marlins top brass had praised the defensive efforts of their new shortstop that year, mainly due to some flashy plays and good effort on occasion. However, the numbers told a very different story. For every highlight reel play you could find from Hechavarria, there was a play with bad angles, late first steps, or challenges getting the ball out of the glove.
With his first full season behind him, Hechavarria was much improved at the plate in 2014, but the defense was still below average, at least according to his DRS of -3 and UZR of -8.8. The .276/.308/.356 slashline, the slight dip in K%, and an improvement of almost 30 points in his wRC+ gave Marlins fans hope that their young shortstop was going to be the answer up the middle for the Marlins next post-season run.
After making significant improvements at the plate in 2014, Hechavarria put it all together for his best year as a big leaguer in 2015, only to fall off in 2016. The defense has improved as he has posted his first positive UZR and DRS in 2015 and 2016. Hechavarria’s value all comes down to whether or not he can piece it together. He has proven he can hit .280 and be a plus defender, he just hasn’t proven it in back to back years.
- Freddy Galvis / J.P. Crawford – Phillies – 2016 WAR: 2.4 (Galvis)
J.P. Crawford is knocking on the door in Philly and while he may not be the shortstop on opening day, I don’t think we will make it too far into 2017 before he takes over. (Shout out to my buddy Philly Erik who has confirmed my thoughts on this) Galvis is a fine defensive player, but his low average and brutal OBP will not have him in the starting role for long. He hit a sneaky 20 HR’s last year, who didn’t though, with a low isolated power rate at .158 and a K% of 21.8%. Long story short, Galvis is fine, but the guy the Phillies have coming up is good. J.P. Crawford has been on top of the Phillies prospect list pretty much since the year after he was drafted. A minor league career .278 hitter, Crawford has proven that he will be able to stick at shortstop which should give Phillies fans even more hope as they look to come out of the rebuild soon. Crawford is an on-base machine who has only 11 fewer walks than strikeouts over his MiLB career.
- Asdrubal Cabrera – Mets – 2016 WAR: 3.0
Cabrera really saw a dip in production after this second all star appearance in 2012. He would go on to hit .242 in ‘13, .241 in ‘14, .265 in ‘15, before joining the Mets for a decent season in 2016 where he got his WAR over 3 for the first time since 2011. A career high in slugging and isolated power led to 23 HR’s for Cabrera in 2016, but posting his second highest wOBA and tying a career high in wRC+ is really what contributed to his improved WAR. After all, who didn’t hit 20 HR’s last year, right? While Cabrera seemed to have found his swing again last season, at least pieces of it, the most interesting aspect of his 2016 campaign was his defense. While still not a positive number, (I type this part with the slightest of smirks) he posted a career best UZR at -4.2. Still not having very good range, it has, surprisingly, only gotten better as he has aged. It is worth mentioning that he also put up his best Fld% of his career. If Cabrera can remain a 3 WAR player with a good enough bat and provide the solid and slightly improved defense he did last year, nothing spectacular, that could go a long way towards the Mets being in the hunt for the division come September.
- Dansby Swanson – Braves – 2016 WAR: 0.8
One thing about Atlanta sports fans, especially Braves fans, is they always think they have the next saving grace coming into town, Dansby Swanson is no exception. After an outstanding debut in 2016, Swanson confirmed the one thing all Braves fans, and the front office, were hoping for, he is the centerpiece of the rebuild and the future of the team. He is going to take Atlanta to the promised land!…. At least for now… We should keep in mind the same thing was said about Jeff Francouer, then Jason Heyward, then Freddie Freeman. But I digress. I admit I am biased, this is my blog and most of the people reading it are Braves fans so I can be, but Swanson has progressed at a rapid pace and has kept building and building year after year. An outstanding high school career in Georgia led to a College World Series championship at Vanderbilt which led to a first overall draft selection, then came a pinpointed trade by the Braves to make him the centerpiece for the overhaul of a franchise, then a brief yet outstanding minor league career turned into a memorable big league cameo in 2016 which, in my prediction will turn into a rookie of the year award in 2017. Jeez this guy has accomplished a lot for a 23 year old… In all seriousness, Swanson is exactly what the Braves need, an outstanding and well-rounded baseball player. They don’t need a guy who is good at one thing and bad at another, they need some stability around Freeman, Julio Teheran, and now hopefully Ender Inciarte. Swanson is what you call a high floor, high ceiling prospect. The sky is the limit for him, but even if he does not meet all of these wild expectations people have for him, it would be a major surprise if he is not a top 6 or 7 shortstop year in and year out.
- Trea Turner – Nationals – 2016 WAR: 3.3
As much as I love Dansby Swanson, I can’t sit here and tell you Trea Turner at shortstop does not get me excited. The 2016 NL Rookie of the Year runner up, only due to the fact that he had half the plate appearances of Corey Seager, is going to be the most exciting player to watch in baseball this year. Him next to Daniel Murphy automatically gives the Nationals the best middle infield in baseball, in my opinion. Where do I start with this guy? I guess we will have to start with his speed. When I say speed I don’t mean he can steal bases, which he can; 33 in just 73 games to be exact, I mean he has a quick first step out of the box, on the basepaths, and in the field as well. If a ball finds a gap it is almost guaranteed to be a triple. He had 8 triples last season which was only three behind league leaders Cesar Hernandez and and Chris Owings, but Turner did it in just 73 games! That is unbelievable. So, we covered the speed, but how he is at the plate? All of that speed doesn’t matter if he doesn’t put the ball in play or get on base. His .342/.370/.567 slash line, .225 ISO, .395 wOBA, and 147 wRC+ should put most of those questions to rest. If his 324 plate appearances in the bigs last year are not a big enough sample size for you, you need to look up his minor league numbers, they are even better. Turner has consistently raked at the plate in every level. Seeing his return to shortstop this season will be a big storyline. He is an elite level athlete who should essentially be a vacuum cleaner for baseballs up the middle. If he can put up positive numbers in the field, I think we have a future MVP candidate on our hands.
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