Premium shortstops prepare to burst onto MLB scene
All-Star Futures Game puts Minor Leaguers Bogaerts, Lindor and Correa on display
Edgardo Alfonzo's role as World Team manager in Sunday's Sirius XM All-Star Futures Game was largely ceremonial and far from a stressful endeavor. But it did come with a couple headaches.
For one, Alfonzo had requested a pair of those Groucho Marx glasses to channel that memorable moment in Mets lore when Bobby Valentine returned to the dugout in disguise after an in-game ejection. Alas, nobody came through on that request.
And then, more importantly, there was that shortstop slot on the World roster and the frustration that, no matter how he doled out the innings, they would not be adequate enough to showcase the talents of Xander Bogaerts, Francisco Lindor and Carlos Correa. In fact, the World roster was so devastatingly deep at this particular position that the Cubs' highly touted Javier Baez was left on the outside looking in.
"So many talents," Alfonzo said, shaking his head. "We were discussing that [Saturday]: 'Who's going to start and how are we going to do it?' It's not easy, it's not easy."
It is, however, easy to enjoy the idea of a new wave of supreme shortstops arriving to the big leagues in sweet succession. And if you saw, say, Bogaerts' beautiful slide at home plate to avoid the tag and score in the fourth or Correa crushing a batting-practice fastball off the Citi Field second deck façade, you got the sense the position is going to be in good hands going forward.
Back in the '90s, Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Nomar Garciaparra followed the lead of Cal Ripken Jr. and completely -- unfairly -- recalibrated our offensive expectations for the men manning the game's most taxing and important defensive position.
In the years since, the stars at short have been either defensively deft or big of bat, but very rarely both. So you appreciate guys like Troy Tulowitzki or Jimmy Rollins or Jose Reyes, but you also understand how the wear and tear can serve to shorten their shelf lives.
While it's too early to know what the future holds for Bogaerts or Lindor or Correa or Addison Russell, who got the U.S. team's starting nod, no shortage of scouts will tell you their tools apply on both sides of the ball. What remains to be seen is how those tools apply as they ascend and whether they, as a group, can recalibrate our offensive expectations for the position yet again.
The 6-foot-3, 185-pound Bogaerts, who was recently promoted to Triple-A Pawtucket, is the one knocking on the door of the big leagues, and perhaps that's why Alfonzo ultimately decided to give him six innings in the field on this sun-splashed Sunday. There is curiosity, though, over whether Bogaerts' glove will stick at short or whether he'll one day have to shift to left field or third base.
As you might imagine, Bogaerts has his opinion on the matter.
"I'm a shortstop," he said. "I just keep working to stay at that position. I have to stay in shape, and I don't have a problem staying in shape. I like to run, I like to be active. I can't be lazy. That's why I don't have any weight problems. I like to be loose and move around. I've gotten stronger since I signed, but not fatter."
Bogaerts' strength gives him the ability to spray the ball to the gaps. Correa has similar strength, but it hasn't yet been as apparent in games in his first full professional season, as he's just 18 and still filling out his broad-shouldered, 6-foot-4 frame. The size and swing path indicate that the power will come, though, and, unlike with Bogaerts, there is little question Correa is going to provide that pop from a premium defensive position.
"I think shortstop is the best position you can play," Correa said. "You're involved in everything. You have to pay attention every single pitch. It's great to play that position and do everything on the field -- be a captain, be a leader. You have to have leadership if you're going to be a great shortstop. You have to take charge in the field."
Lindor, at 19, is already being hailed as a natural-born leader. And while his offensive skillset is more artistic in nature (you have to watch the switch-hitter work an opposing pitcher to truly appreciate what his bat brings to a lineup), he is so defensively gifted that most analysts (including MLB.com's Jonathan Mayo) rate him as the best overall shortstop prospect in the sport.
That ranking is nice and all, but Lindor knows he's far from alone in the burgeoning shortstop spectrum, which has bred a sense of healthy competition.
"The more competition I have, the better it's going to make me," Lindor said. "So I'm embracing it. I see Bogaerts got called up [to Triple-A], I see Correa's doing great, I see [Jurickson] Profar is in the big leagues, I see what Baez is doing, and I think that's awesome. I'm happy for all of them, because I know what it takes and we're going through the same process."
And if they keep progressing, well, you won't need Groucho Marx glasses to see the future looks bright at short.