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Today we round out the infield in the State of the Farm series by looking at the shortstop position. The Cincinnati Reds find themselves in a strange situation where they have two guys who seem to have laid claim to the position at the big league level. Zack Cozart has never really hit in his career, but got out to an outstanding start before cooling off as the season wore on, but still had the best offensive season of his career before suffering a season ending knee injury in June. The Reds then brought up Eugenio Suarez from Triple-A and all he did was hit .280/.315/.446 as a 23-year-old. Where the Reds eventually go with shortstop is still a bit unknown, but there is no immediate need for someone to jump to the big leagues and fill a need at the position in either scenario.
Triple-A Louisville saw a collection of veterans get the bulk of the starts at shortstop after Eugenio Suarez was promoted to the Reds with Kristopher Negron and Hernan Iribarren starting 77 games at the position.
Down in Pensacola the position was split mostly between Zach Vincej and Juan Perez with Alex Blandino getting most of the starts at the end of the season (24 games at shortstop). Blandino is clearly the best prospect among that group, but I’ve listed him with the second basemen as that appears to be his future position.
Zach Vincej is a quality defender at the position where he’s a more of a glove-first guy. The 24-year-old had an up-and-down season offensively as he struggled in April, June and August, but hit quite well in both May and July. His bat doesn’t project much, but he can play defense and he makes plenty of contact, giving him a possible utility role in the future.
Vincej shared the shortstop duties with 23-year-old Juan Perez. Perez spent most of his season in Pensacola, but also saw time in Louisville for 97 plate appearances. He struggled at both stops at the plate, but did hit better in Pensacola where he posted a .236/.304/.338 line. His defense is fringy at the shortstop position, but he does enough that he can handle the position at this point.
Alex Blandino spent much April through June as the Daytona shortstop, but once July rolled around the team made the move to put Carlton Daal at the position moving forward. He played there until he was hit by a pitch in late August and had his season cut short. Like Vincej, he had an up-and-down season at the plate, hitting well in May, June and August, but struggled mightily in April and July. He’s a contact oriented hitter without much current power, but if he learns to pull the ball more often he could begin to show at least a tiny bit of extra-base power. Defensively he’s solid with some range and good arm strength.
Dayton saw a large majority of the playing time at shortstop go to Luis Gonzalez. The 20-year-old struggled at the plate, hitting .245/.270/.306 with 14 walks and 82 strikeouts in 124 games. He was perhaps pushed up a level higher than he was ready for due to injuries in spring training forcing the Reds hand at the position. His bat simply wasn’t ready, but he’s got some offensive tools to work with. His bat is quick and he’s got a little bit of speed. Defensively though is where he shines. While he’s still a bit raw in the field, he made 43 errors on the season, he still posted a .935 fielding percentage due the amount of plays he did make. He’s got all of the tools you want to see from a defensive player, but he’s going to need some time to turn those tools into skills.
The reason that Luis Gonzalez likely started his season in Dayton is because Cory Thompson was injured in spring training and missed the first half of the season. When he came back in July he joined Dayton and took over the duties at second base, but he can handle shortstop. He’s got plenty of range and a good arm to work with at the position. Offensively though, he struggled. He hit just .196/.262/.299 as he struggled with plate discipline, limiting his offensive tools. The 20-year-old has time on his side, and there’s some upside on both sides of the ball for him, but he’s got work to do.
Billings saw 3rd round draft pick Blake Trahan get a majority of the starts at shortstop, but Hector Vargas and Mitch Piatnick both got double digit starts at the position as well. Trahan started 44 games for the Mustangs (and another 11 with Daytona as he filled in for the injured Carlton Daal over the final two weeks) and hit well, posting a .312/.400/.403 line with more walks than strikeouts. There’s not much power in his game, and he’s a fringy defender at shortstop, so a move to the other side of the bag may be in his future. His approach at the plate is interesting though, as a high contact hitter who also draws walks.
Both Hector Vargas and Mitch Piatnik fall into the category where they are probably future second basemen, but can handle shortstop for the time being. Both played the 2015 season as 20-year-olds, but Vargas held his own as a hitter far better than Piatnik did. Vargas posted a .296/.306/.414 line in 52 games with just 16 strikeouts. He made a ton of contact, striking out just 8.1% of the time he stepped to the plate, but he also drew just three walks on the season. Piatnik played a little bit of everywhere up the middle, also seeing time in center and at second. He struggled to hit in his debut, posting a .210/.265/.258 line.
In Arizona there were several players who saw action at shortstop, including three teenagers. 19-year-old Alberti Chavez saw a majority of the time at the position. He would hit .276/.321/.370 on the season in 44 games, mostly with Arizona but also seeing time in three games with Dayton to end the season. Blake Butler hit well for the AZL Reds, posting a .319/.350/.472 line in 45 games and spending 17 games at shortstop, the most of any position he played. He profiles more as a possibly utility player with the ability to move around the field than a pure shortstop.
19-year-old Alejo Lopez was a late round signing, drafted in the 27th round but was viewed as a top 10 round pick coming into the draft. He’s defensively oriented, but had a good debut in a limited sample size, hitting .419/.526/.484 with five walks and no strikeouts in 12 games played. 17-year-old Nadir Ljatifi only appeared in eight games, but the German performed well at the plate in his professional debut, posting an .859 OPS in 19 plate appearances.
There is some depth at the position, at least in terms of sheer number of players. Several of the guys even have some upside to work with, but no one stands out as a premium prospect at the position and the two guys with the most tools are very raw and still several years away at best.
Top Shortstop Tools
There aren’t really any big offensive tools among this group. Mitch Piatnik has plus speed to work with, which is the best rated offensive tool among the group. Defensively though, Luis Gonzalez stands out. He’s got big range and a big time arm. He’s still pretty raw defensively, but he makes plays that no one else in the system comes close to making.