Shortstop is the last infield position remaining in our depth chart preview (links to the others at the bottom). It’s perhaps the most intriguing spot for the Yankees this year and beyond, simply because there hasn’t been a need to worry about it since 1996. Why? Well, in case you hadn’t heard, Derek Jeter retired. Lame joke, I know, so let’s just move on to the depth chart.
Starter: Didi Gregorius
No pressure, Didi. You’re only taking over for Derek Jeter. Well, a depleted Derek Jeter, that is. Although there’ll certainly be a storyline regarding how Gregorius handles replacing the Captain, he actually doesn’t need to do too much to be an upgrade over the Jeter of the past couple of seasons. Not to pile on Jeter, but he was a negative both at the plate and in the field last season. Didi is definitely a positive with the glove, and his bat will hopefully be tolerable.
ZiPS believes the soon-to-be 25 year-old is in for a 1.6 WAR campaign, much in thanks to above average defense. His bat isn’t anticipated to be great (.251/.307/.369) in 539 trips to the plate. However, that would actually be right in line with the league average mark for shortstops last season: .251/.306/.363. Steamer is a tad more pessimistic, with a .241/.302/.357 forecast. But really, both projections are so close to your average hitting shortstop, that the Yankees should be fine here, especially considering that Gregorius’ glovework is well-regarded.
There was some banter that Gregorius, a left-handed hitter, could play in a platoon with Brendan Ryan. Didi has been historically awful against southpaws, but it’s kind of silly to think that Ryan would be a significant boost to the lineup against left-handed pitchers. I hope the Yankees at least give Gregorius a shot against lefties to open the season. The only way to find out if Gregorius can improve against same-siders is if he gets more opportunities. Of course, there might be a point where it’s no longer tolerable, but I also don’t see how the Yankees benefit in the near or long-term by playing Ryan.
Backup: Brendan Ryan, Stephen Drew
Because Ryan is already slated to be the utility infielder, I wrote about him as the backup in our second base preview:
Ryan is the favorite to win the utility role out of Spring Training given his veteran status, but there’s a chance the Yankees try to pass him through waivers and send him to Triple-A. He’s got $3M guaranteed through 2016 (if you assume his club option is declined and Ryan subsequently exercises his player option), which isn’t a lot of money, but I don’t think a team would claim a replacement level player like Ryan at that cost. Ryan probably wouldn’t elect free agency after clearing waivers because he’d be forfeiting money he couldn’t get elsewhere. The point is that the Yankees aren’t necessarily locked in to Ryan as the backup, should someone like Jose Pirela prove to be more valuable in the Bronx than Scranton. Ryan’s a defensive wizard, but he really might be a wasted roster spot because (1) the Yankees don’t really need a defensive replacement with a diamond consisting of Chase Headley, Didi Gregorius, Stephen Drew, and Mark Teixeira, and (2) he should never, ever, ever hit.
Drew can also serve as the reserve shortstop, although he’s expected to break camp as the starting second baseman. For more about Drew, again turn to the look at the organization’s second basemen.
On the fringe: Cito Culver, Ali Castillo
You really have to squint to see Culver as a prospect — even a fringy one. Widely regarded as an over-draft when the Yankees selected him with the 32nd overall pick in 2010, Culver hasn’t done anything to quell the naysayers. He hit a putrid .220/.298/.303 with Tampa last year, although he is supposed to be decent defensively. Chris ranked him the Yankees’ 55th best prospect, and his KATOH projection is 0.8 WAR through age 28 (he’s 22). Pretty fringy, indeed.
Castillo is in the same boat as Culver, although he was never given the stock that someone selected in the first-round or paid a large bonus is. Castillo, 25, was one level above Culver last year, batting .254/.318/.327 with Double-A Trenton. Our 95th best Yankees’ prospect, KATOH foresees 0.5 WAR through age-28.
The future: Didi Gregorius
In addition to being the shortstop of the present, Gregorius is the de facto shortstop of the future. The Yankees hold his rights through 2019, and will give him every chance to be the man at the position in 2015. The Yankees do have some shortstop prospects, but they are so far down the minor league ladder that I’m hesitant to call any one of them the shortstop of the future — even the touted Jorge Mateo.
Farther away: Jorge Mateo, Tyler Wade, Angel Aguilar, Abiatal Avelino, Hyo-Joon Park, Wilkerman Garcia, Diego Castillo, Yonauris Rodriguez, Thairo Estrada
Yep, that’s nine guys for this category. Of course, the Yankees will be lucky if one or two of them does anything significant at the big league level, let alone make it, so don’t take this as the Yankees being extremely deep at the position. All are definitely prospects, though, as Kiley McDaniel mentioned everyone except Estrada in his Yankees’ prospect write-up (a must read).
I’ll focus mostly on Mateo, because McDaniel ranked him the Yankees 5th best prospect (50 future value), while Chris’ list had him one notch above. We can’t gather much from Mateo’s statistics last season, as he only played 15 games because of injury (hence no KATOH projection). However, McDaniel’s report is glowing. Mateo’s as fast as they come, with the highest grade possible on his speed: 80. Kiley also places above average future grades on his defense, meaning he should stick at the position. Moreover, he sees Mateo’s bat being pretty good, with an upside for .285/.350/.440 and 12-15 homers. That’s pretty exciting, so why isn’t he in the previous category? Because the 19 year-old still hasn’t played above rookie ball. He’s expected to open 2015 with Single-A Charleston, according to McDaniel.
The rest of the group varies in potential. Wade (20 years-old), Aguilar (19), and Avelino (nearing 20) all received 40 FV grades from McDaniel, while the rest of the class was only included in Kiley’s “Others of Note” category (aside from Estrada, who was not discussed all together). Chris ranked Wade, Aguilar, and Avelino 21st, 26th, and 31st respectively. KATOH follows the same ordering, with 3.9, 3.5, and 3.0 WAR projected through age 28 for the three.
Park, Garcia, Castillo, Rodriguez, and Estrada ranked 47th, 51st, 61st, 72nd, 91st in Chris’ list, respectively. I won’t bore you with the details of each player because they are so far from the big league radar. If you really want to delve in to each player’s profile, take a look at McDaniel’s article, linked in the first paragraph of this category.