High school and college teams often put their best athletes at shortstop, yet Major League teams continue to find themselves outsourcing when trying to fill the position. Finding U.S. players in next week's First-Year Player Draft who can play shortstop at the game's highest level continues to prove difficult.
Of the 30 current big league regular shortstops, 16 were signed on the international market. Among the 14 draftees, two were born in foreign countries and half were taken in 2005 or earlier. If you're looking for new blood, just two of MLBPipeline.com's Top 10 shortstop prospects are American products of the Draft.
"I've always thought middle infielders are the toughest thing to find in the Draft," an American League scouting director said. "I've always felt like you're a little bit behind the 8-ball looking for shortstops domestically compared to the Dominican Republic. I don't know why, but I haven't seen enough of them around here. This year there's Nick Gordon and Trea Turner, and there really isn't a second college shortstop who stands out who's going to stay there."
The Draft will take place on June 5-7, beginning with the Draft preview show on MLB.com and MLB Network on Thursday, June 5, at 6 p.m. ET. Live Draft coverage from MLB Network's Studio 42 begins at 7 p.m., with the top 74 picks being streamed on MLB.com and broadcast on MLB Network. MLB.com's exclusive coverage of the second and third days will begin with a live Draft show at 12:30 p.m. ET on June 6.
Gordon, of Olympia High in Orlando, Fla., and Turner, of North Carolina State, are the only two players in the 2014 Draft who project to be selected in the first round and play shortstop in the Majors. Current high school shortstops Michael Chavis of Sprayberry High in Marietta, Ga., and Jacob Gatewood of Clovis High in California likely will go in the first round but few clubs believe they will be able to stick in the middle infield in pro ball.
The only one of those four players who's universally beloved in scouting circles is Gordon, who has a chance to contribute in all phases of the game. His speed, arm and defense all grade as plus tools, and his bat isn't far behind. He'll need to get stronger but he offers some pop at the plate.
Gordon has excellent bloodlines, too. His father Tom was an All-Star closer and his brother Dee, of the Dodgers, currently leads the big leagues in steals. Nick could be a prospect on the mound as well, where he has shown a low-90s fastball and a promising curveball, but he has a brighter future as a shortstop.
"Gordon isn't going to get out of the first five picks," an AL senior scouting official said. "With his speed, arm and athleticism, you put those three things together and he stands out in a Draft short on position players."
If Gordon is taken with one of the first five picks, he'll be just the eighth shortstop drafted that high in the past 10 years. The others -- Matt Bush, Justin Upton, Mike Moustakas, Tim Beckham, Christian Colon, Manny Machado and Carlos Correa -- have combined to play a grand total of one inning at shortstop in the Major Leagues.
Turner could be the first college position player selected next week, somewhere in the upper half of the first round. He has the tools to become a dynamic leadoff hitter with his top-of-the-line speed and his ability to control the strike zone, though many teams question his bat and think he'll need to tone down his swing and approach. He can be a solid defender at shortstop, though he'll have to improve his consistency.
"To me, there are only two shortstops in this Draft, Gordon and Turner," a second AL scouting director said. "There were mixed reports on Turner's bat but he turned it on at the end of the season. He ran better than he did last summer when he was hurt a little bit. He should be able to stay at shortstop, though some say he'll just be average there. Like a lot of guy at the top of the Draft, there are a lot of questions with him."
There are even more questions surrounding Chavis and Gatewood. Chavis won the home run derby at the Perfect Game All-American Classic last August and has continued to pound the ball this spring. But there's no consensus on where he'll wind up defensively.
Chavis lacks first-step quickness and classic middle-infield actions, so he probably won't play shortstop beyond high school. Some scouts believe he can play second base adequately, others think third base is a more realistic fit and still others believe he's best suited for left field.
"He's really swung the bat well and taken a step forward," a National League assistant GM said. "He'll have to play second or third base, and you're hoping he has the range for second base. I think he'll be a good bat with average power. I probably saw him as a second- or third-rounder coming into the year, and he's moved up."
Gatewood also is known for his longball heroics. He won the junior portion of the All-Star Game Home Run Derby by going deep 13 times at Citi Field with a metal bat last July, and he also captured the home run derby title at the Under Armour All-America Game at Wrigley Field a month later. He has an athletic 6-foot-5 frame and a strong arm.
Compared to Chavis, Gatewood has a better chance to stick at shortstop, though he figures to lose a step and outgrow the position once he fills out. He'll still profile well as a third baseman -- provided he erases doubts about his ability to make enough consistent contact to fully tap into his prodigious power.
"Gatewood is one of those guys everyone has been talking about since the ninth grade," an NL scouting director said. "He has a great body, a great look and great leverage in his swing. But he swings and misses a lot."
The best pure shortstop in the Draft is Milton Ramos of American Heritage School in Plantation, Fla. The Colombian-born Ramos is a defensive wizard with smooth actions, plenty of range, soft hands and a strong arm. But he's also 6-2 and 165 pounds, leading to worries that he won't be strong enough to handle big league pitching. That figures to knock him down to the second round.
"He's an interesting guy," an AL front-office executive said. "He's so small so there's such a limited bat, so I don't think he's for everybody. But he's a shortstop and that's valuable. Our area guy says he's the best defender in the Draft."
While teams are finding as many questions as answers at shortstop, there's a rarity at second base. Forrest Wall of Orangewood Christian High in Maitland, Fla., could become just the fifth high schooler at that position taken in the first round, following Pat Rockett, Rich Puig, Terry Lee and LeVon Washington.
A quality athlete with well-above-average speed, Wall has a quick bat that produces consistent line-drive contact. He has surprising pop for a 6-foot, 170-pounder, which he showed off by outperforming the Blue Jays' Jose Bautista in the first round of a charity home run derby event in February. Wall's arm hasn't bounced back since he had shoulder surgery in 2011, and while most scouts believe he can throw well enough to stay at second base, he could wind up in center field.
"I think next to Alex Jackson, he's the second-best high school hitter in this Draft," the NL scouting director said. "I think he can throw well enough to stay at second base. For those who like him, he's Dustin Ackley. He can run and hit."
MLB.com's coverage of the Draft includes Draft Central, the Top 100 Draft Prospects list and Draft Tracker, a live interactive application that includes a searchable database of Draft-eligible players. Every selection will be tweeted live from @MLBDraftTracker, and you can also keep up to date by following @MLBDraft. And get into the Draft conversation by tagging your tweets with #mlbdraft.
Jim Callis is a reporter for MLB.com and writes a blog, Callis' Corner. Follow @jimcallisMLB on Twitter.