The best Shortstop in the American League
Derek Jeter and Elvis Andrus will represent the American League in the all-star game among shortstops. That’s pretty cool, I guess. But who is the best shortstop in the American League today? And is he going to represent the AL in the all star game anytime soon?
Jeter is starting the all-star game carrying a .304/.351/.408 batting line, which is actually really good. With the exception of Jeter’s MVP caliber 2009 season, this is really who “mid-thirties Derek Jeter” has been for the last five years. The problem now is on defense. It’s fair to surmise that Derek Jeter has worked incredibly hard on his defense in order to be a better shortstop throughout his thirties than his twenties. But this year, we’ve reached the point where Jeter isn’t physically able to handle the position anymore. It’s not a conditioning issue, clearly: Jeter is himself at the plate this season.
Jeter’s run at shortstop for the last seventeen years may turn into one of the biggest stories of the offseason for the Yankees. It’s not clear where he will move to if the Yankees acquire a better defensive shortstop in the offseason, but Alex Rodriguez is getting very close to “full time DH” territory, and at that point, the natural move for Jeter might simply be a couple steps to the right.
Either way, when the Yankees move Jeter, that’s going to end his all-star candidacy at short. There are three obvious picks to take his place before we get to prospect types like Francisco Lindor and Jurickson Profar.
Asdrubal Cabrera is a gold glove winning shortstop who is more similar to Jeter than different because defensive numbers have shown that Cabrera has not been a good defensive player throughout his 20’s. There isn’t a debate though that Asdrubal Cabrera is a really fantastic hitter, regardless of his position. Beyond that, since Jason Kipnis has locked down the second base job in Cleveland for the forseeable future, Cabrera is going to become the most attractive trade piece for the Indians as Francisco Lindor progresses through the system. In fact, Cabrera is one of the most likely options to eventually replace Derek Jeter at shortstop for the Yankees via trade, although Lindor is not likely to see the majors in the 2013 season.
Cabrera is probably the top shortstop in the American League right now, however, there are two players who come with higher upside who are younger than Asdrubal Cabrera.
Escobar has been a sensational defensive player for the Royals since coming over in the December 2010 Zack Greinke trade, but this year he’s added a bat to go with that glove. Escobar always hit in the minor leagues and was a prospect of great stature in the Brewers system before struggling in the full time role in 2010. Moving to the American League in 2011 made things even more difficult, though he showed some life with the bat during the summer last year after the Royals demonstrated great patience with him throughout the spring.
Alcides Escobar is now a .309/.352/.413 hitter up to the minute. He’s still striking out a lot more than he walks (whereas someone like Asdrubal Cabrera is essentially one to one), and is a much better earlier in the account than he his when he sees a bunch of pitches, which has been a formula that has made him a poor hitter in the clutch this year. But the bat is real, and he looks like a legitimate top of the order hitter for the Royals with about five gold gloves in his future. The only problem is everything I’ve said about Escobar is true of another American League player about two years younger.
Andrus leads all AL shortstops in fWAR with 2.7 prior to the all-star break. He has combined consistently effective defense with a developing bat. Andrus isn’t quite as effective with the bat this season as Escobar has been for the Royals and he is never going to be in the same class as Cabrera, but Andrus could easily have a Jeterian-like career for the Rangers. He’s that young and that good. There’s just one thing about that.
I think the 23 year old Andrus is the best shortstop in the American League right now, and the only threat to that title is a guy in his own system by the name of Jurickson Profar.