In part five of my positional rankings, I round out the infield by previewing the shortstops in the American League East. As is always the case, this list is subject to change should an injury occur, or should the incumbent player(s) be unseated.
The position of shortstop has always been a strong one in the AL East. From Cal Ripken, Jr., Nomar Garciaparra, and Derek Jeter in the 80s, 90s, and early 2000s to Xander Bogaerts, Troy Tulowitzki, and J.J. Hardy today, there have been numerous All-Star appearances, world championships, and MVP-caliber seasons.
One of the most polarizing positions in baseball, a team’s shortstop is the captain of the infield. But who, in 2017, is the best of the best at the shortstop position in the AL East? Ask, and ye shall receive.
1. Xander Bogaerts – Boston Red Sox
2016: .294/.356/.446, 21 HR, 89 RBI
The choice here was obvious. Bogaerts is the premier shortstop in the American League East, and is coming off back-to-back seasons in which he has averaged 194 H, 14 HR, 85 RBI, 100 R, and a .356 OBP. He has won the AL Silver Slugger for the shortstop position each of the last two seasons, and in 2016 made his first All-Star appearance, earning the starting nod in the process.
At the age of 24, Bogaerts is the youngest shortstop in the division and should only get better as his career progresses, which is good news for the Red Sox, and bad news for the rest of the division.
2. Troy Tulowitzki – Toronto Blue Jays
2016: .254/.318/.443, 24 HR, 79 RBI
It wasn’t that long ago that Tulowitzki could have been considered the best shortstop in the game, not just within the division. The 2007 runner up for National League Rookie of the Year, Tulo has made six All-Star teams while winning two Gold Gloves and two Silver Slugger awards. His 162-game average is Hall of Fame worthy, averaging 29 HR and 100 RBI to go along with a .292 career average.
The problem is, Tulo has never played 162 games in a season. In fact, he has only played 140+ games in a season three times in his 11-year career. Add to that the fact that his .254 BA in 2016 was the lowest of his career, and it’s not hard to see why he has slipped out of the top spot.
But the fact remains, when healthy, Troy Tulowitzki is as dangerous and well-rounded a shortstop as there is in the game, and with the lineup hitting around him, he could rebound very nicely in 2017.
3. Didi Gregorius – New York Yankees
2016: .276/.304/.447, 20 HR, 70 RBI
Much like his teammate Starlin Castro, Didi Gregorious notched his first 20-homer season in 2016, providing punch to the Yankees lineup from an unexpected source. The thing to like most about Gregorius is that he can be counted on to be in the lineup and on the field just about every night, averaging 154 games in his two seasons in New York. His range at shortstop is fantastic as he gets to balls that most other shortstops do not, and his consistency is a plus; just look at his nearly identical home and road splits.
At just 27-years-old, his stock appears to be on the rise. The Yankees have themselves a very nice player in Gregorius, and his middle-of-the-pack ranking could improve with a similar season in 2017.
4. J.J. Hardy – Baltimore Orioles
2016: .269/.309/.407, 9 HR, 48 RBI
In his first three seasons in Baltimore, Hardy rediscovered his All-Star form from his days in Milwaukee, averaging 26 HR and 75 RBI per year. But then Hardy’s back started flaring up, sapping the power out of his swing, and he has averaged just nine HR and 46 RBI over the last three years.
That said, Hardy is a veteran presence for the Orioles, and he catches everything hit to him. His glove is fundamentally sound, but never flashy, though his arm is average at best these days. At 34-years-old, Hardy is a shell of the player he once was, and his time in Baltimore is most likely coming to an end after 2017.
5. Matt Duffy – Tampa Bay Rays
2016: .258/.310/.357, 5 HR, 28 RBI
Duffy burst onto the scene in 2015, slashing .295/.334/.428 with 12 HR and 77 RBI, while also going 12-12 in SB on his way to a runner-up finish in the NL Rookie of the Year voting. However, lingering Achilles pain caused a down-tick in his production in 2016, ultimately leading to season-ending surgery in early September. Couple that with the fact that Duffy, exclusively a third basemen before being traded to Tampa Bay, is still learning how to play shortstop at the Major League level, and it’s not so hard to justify the low ranking.
If Duffy returns to his rookie form, he will surely move up this list. But until then, much like the team he plays for, he’s last in the division.
1. Brad Miller – Tampa Bay Rays*
2016: .243/.304/.382, 30 HR, 81 RBI
2. Brock Holt – Boston Red Sox
2016: .255/.322/.383, 7 HR, 34 RBI
3. Darwin Barney – Toronto Blue Jays
2016: .269/.322/.373, 4 HR, 19 RBI
4. Ronald Torreyes – New York Yankees
2016: .258/.305/.374, 1 HR, 12 RBI
5. Ryan Flaherty – Baltimore Orioles
2016: .217/.291/.318, 3 HR, 15 RBI
*Team’s second baseman
That does it for the shortstops in the AL East. As always, this list is up for debate, and is just one man’s opinion, nothing more. Up next, I move to the outfield, ranking the left fielders within the division.