#6 on the field, often number 1 in your heart...
Atlanta Braves- Yunel Escobar
Escobar's numbers improved modestly in 2009, his second full season as Atlanta's shortstop. He will hit in the high .200s to low .300s, but shows modest power (10-15 home runs) and little speed (12-24 lifetime in stolen base attempts). He's very good defensively, and could concievably win a Gold Glove someday, maybe even this year. Watching him play, his attitude very clearly irks Bobby Cox more than occasionally, and one wonders how good he would be if he spent more time watching video of pitchers and trying to pick up their cues and moves, and less time acting like a clown and getting his hair frosted blond. At 27, it's time for Escobar to step up and become a good player, or remain content to just be another guy.
Offense- 2.5... pretty average all the way around... no secondary numbers, and his average is even mitigated a bit by his propensity to hit into double plays
Defense- 4.5... good range, good arm, makes the plays he's supposed to and can be spectacular
Florida Marlins- Hanley Ramirez
Hanley Ramirez might very well be the most talented player in the division, and if he's not the best player, he's on the short list. I'd argue that Ramirez and Chase Utley are the two best players in the division, and their offensive stat lines are remarkably similar. Ramirez won his first batting title in 2009 with a .342 average, and it would surprise no one if that were the first of many batting crowns. Still only 26, Ramirez hits for average and power, can run, and can hit anywhere in the top of the order. As good as his '09 was, I think Hanley actually had a better season in 2008, when he hit for more power, walked more, and led the NL in runs scored. He's only modest in the field, and his ability at short coupled with his size make him an ideal candidate to shift to third base in the future, a la Cal Ripken and Alex Rodriguez. If you were to start a franchise and could pick any one player to do so, you could do a lot worse than Ramirez.
Offense- 5... batting champs who can drive the ball and run are hard to come by, but this is one
Defense- 2... I think he'd better better at third, but that may not happen until he signs with the Yankees or Red Sox in a few years
New York Mets- Jose Reyes
Jose Reyes, for better or worse, is the face of this era of New York Mets baseball. He was one of the cornerstones that the team intended to build around in the middle of the decade, debuted at 20 in 2003, went to the playoffs in 2006, was a big part of a late-season meltdown in 2007, had an OK 2008 and not much of a 2009 with injuries. A tantalizing combination of leadoff speed and home run capability, Reyes has yet to prove that he really has a clue about what's going on during a game. Each of his last two healthy seasons he has led the league in caught stealing, and he remains difficult to walk, but not as difficult as in his first few seasons. His career .337 on base percentage is not good enough to be an effective leadoff hitter for a team that struggles to score runs. And- fairly or unfairly- he more than any other is the face and name cited by other teams as acting the fool and getting them riled up. Who's clowning around incited a brawl with the Marlins on the next-to-last day of the 2007 season and gave a Marlin team playing for nothing motivation to help complete the Mets' historic collapse? Jose Reyes. What name was scrawled on Shane Victorino's locker plate after he rounded first with his hand in the air after his playoff grand slam against CC Sabathia in the 2008 playoffs? J. Reyes. Reyes has rightfully earned the reputation of a guy who celebrates a bit too much for a 5th inning home run in June, and other teams notice. Until he starts acting like a pro and wins something, instead of just acting like he's won something, the reputation will follow him. Don't let the offense and defense numbers fool you. If there was a 'makeup' category, he'd be in Dan Uggla defense-land, and that detracts from his admittedly strong suits.
Offense- 4... can hit the ball out of the park, and steals tons of bases... also hard to walk and gets thrown out too much on the base paths
Defense- 5... very good all around
Philadelphia Phillies- Jimmy Rollins
Jimmy Rollins is the anti- Jose Reyes. In many ways, they are similar. Both are leadoff hitting shortstops, both play excellent defense, both can hit the ball out of the park and steal lots of bases. Both like to run their mouths, but the difference is that Rollins backs up what he says, and Reyes disappears in big spots. Rollins said prior to the 2007 season that Philadelphia was the team to beat, and then went out and won the NL MVP award. Rollins said the Phils would win 100 games in 2008, and between the regular season and playoffs they won 103. Rollins is the guy you saw make the diving stab to turn a double play to clinch the division title in 2008, and the guy whose double to the gap with two outs down a run against the Dodgers won Game Four of the 2009 NLCS. The numbers say Rollins and Reyes are similar, but if you watch them both play everyday, you know that they're not. Having said all of that, Rollins has to be better about pitch selection and working counts to be effective for the Phillies. His is a simple formula- when he scores, the Phillies win. Period, end of sentence. Because of this, more doubles on 2-2 counts are preferable to 1-0 pop ups. Rollins, like Reyes, steals a lot of bases, but unlike Reyes, he rarely gets caught, taking 119 out of 136 over the past three years. Rollins' range and arm are exceptional, and he had rightly earned three consecutive Gold Gloves.
Offense- 4... a 3.5 without his base stealing success rate, has to do much better than the .296 OBP he posted in 2009
Defense- 5... as good as anyone in baseball
Washington Nationals- Ian Desmond
This week's announcement that Desmond will be the Nats' everyday shortstop came as little surprise to those who follow the team. Cristian Guzman's range and abilities are a bit limited at this point, and the 24-year old Desmond is thought ready to handle playing every day in the show. In limited duty in 09, Desmond looked to belong, hitting .280 with four home runs in 21 games, while displaying tools that provide all the evidence you need for why the Nats are high on him. However, I have my doubts about his ability at the plate at the big league level. Prior to 2009, Desmond never hit above .264 for a season in the minors, and half of his 50 minor league home runs came at the High A level. He has also struck out two and a half times as often as he's walked, which are not good indicators that he'll make consistent contact or show good pitch selection in the majors. He's still young, and his 2009 season may have been the result of everything clicking into place for him. Time will tell for Desmond, and the Nationals intend to find out over the 162 game long haul.
Offense- 2... You've got to perform better for more than 21 games to prove you can hit big league pitching
Defense- 2... Posted some ghastly fielding percentages in the minors
Shortstop Wrap Up
-Best Shortstop- Jimmy Rollins
-Best Third Baseman Moonlighting at SS- Hanley Ramirez
-Best Offensively- Ramirez
-Best Defensively- Rollins
-Worst Offensively- Ian Desmond
-Worst Defensively- Desmond
-Biggest Question- Can Desmond be a servicable to good shortstop in the bigs?
-Best in Five Years- Ramirez, but probably at third base
Up next, left field...