Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Shortstops past, present and future

At most positions, the first question about a prospect is: Can he hit? At shortstop (and catcher, and to a limited extent center field) the question is: Can he handle the position?

Tsuyoshi Nishioka
dodges a San Diego
Shortstop in particular is seen as the athlete's position. The best athlete on a high school team is probably going to be the shortstop. He needs the quickness to get to balls, the hands to field the grounders cleanly, the arm to make the infield's longest throws, the grace and body control to put it all together. And, to top it off, he needs the intelligence/instincts to know what the play is.

It's a high set of standards, and it's worth remembering that Greg Gagne — probably the best defensive shortstop the Twins have ever had and certainly the most reliable — was not certain to stick at the position as he made his way through the Twins system, that there were those in the organization who thought he should be a third baseman.

Tsuyoshi Nishioka has played four games at short for the Twins. To the naked eye, he has displayed impressive range and a suspect arm. He's been charged with two errors — one on a bobbled grounder, the other on an off-target throw — which gives him an ugly fielding percentage. To the (very limited) extent that the defensive metrics have anything to tell us, he's an average shortstop (0 in plus-minus, 0 in runs saved), which still puts him ahead of the other three men who've played shortstop for the Twins this season. Realistically, the stats from four games tell us nothing. Subjectively, he appears capable of handling the position.

Levi Michael was the 30th
overall pick earlier this month.
Also over the past few days, we've had an opportunity to observe Levi Michael, the Twins first round draft pick, playing short for North Carolina in the College World Series. The Twins say they expect Michael to stick at short; I suspect that's a minority opinion.

I haven't drawn any conclusion from what I've seen about Michael's shortstop future. I did see him come in for a grounder and make the play to first — a truly routine play, except that I have three times this year (once in spring training, twice in regular season) seem Trevor Plouffe play such balls into infield singles.

Michael knows how to come in grounders? Hey, right there he's ahead of Plouffe.

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