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Royals State of the Farm: Shortstop

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MLB: Spring Training-Kansas City Royals at Los Angeles Dodgers Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Previous versions: Introduction Catchers First Base Second Base

I think as an organization, 2B gets a lot of flack and it’s well warranted. It’s been bad, but what about SS? Alcides Escobar has been the damn near 162-game starter for the past few years, though his bat has gone from poor to a liability. He’s been decent some years, but now his defense is a bit worse and his bat is a black hole. However shortstop has been an issue for a long time. Dating back to 2000, Royals shortstops rank dead last in fWAR, eight wins behind the third worst team and 28 wins from the median. That includes the likes of Mike Aviles, Rey Sanchez, Angel Berroa, Yuniesky Betancourt, Neifi Perez, and Tony Pena. Mostly anemic hitters (group total of 68 wRC+ - 32% below league average).

The minor league depth at the position is a bit weird. Raul Mondesi is not really a prospect anymore (it’s safe to say his debut exposed holes in his game and that he was rushed) and there are questions about what the hell he’ll end up being production wise ten years from now (or fewer). Beyond that it’s international guys like Marten Gasparini and Jeison Guzman who are both young (Guzman younger) and are stil a mystery, with American players that are a little more glove than bat. Glove over bat isn’t necessarily a bad thing for a SS (Jason Bartlett made a decent living), but a good bad can hide any defensive issues much more than a good glove can hide a bad bat.

AAA

I guess you could put Ramon Torres here again, but everyone who played SS in Omaha this year is either a) Raul Mondesi b) Ramon Torres c) 27+ years old (Christian Colon/Clint Barmes/Dusty Coleman) or Carlos Diaz who had a -41 (negative) wRC+.

AA

Jack Lopez- 24 years old .187/.232/.288 48 wRC+

I feel like I’ve been watching Lopez play since he was a middle schooler. He’s been in the org since 2011, and has spent three years in A+ Wilmington before a mercy promotion to AA (where as you see his output wasn’t too good). Lopez is a really good defender at least but lacks any semblance of power (he’s ~160 pounds when wet) so if you squint hard enough you can see Darwin Barney - a good career for his skillset.

Humberto Arteaga - 23 years old .208/.228/.256 34 wRC+

Hopefully you are getting a sense of what the SS position in Northwest Arkansas was like when Raul Mondesi wasn’t there. Arteaga has been around as long as Lopez and languished a bit just the same (between A-Ball and Wilmington). Humberto got a good signing bonus (~$1M) and had some good years early on for a late-teen’s excellent glove player but the bat just hasn’t advanced. Many years back you were hoping for a good gloved SS who could hit for average, but that dream looks gone unfortunately.

A+

Seriously, it doesn’t stop. Here are a list of SS who played in Wilmington this year and where else they played:

Raul Mondesi: A+, AA, AAA, MLB

Humberto Arteaga: A+, AA

Carlos Diaz: A+, AA, AAA

Nobody played more than 61 games at short for the Blue Rocks.

Brian Bien stuck around the most. He had a decent pro debut after being a 31st rounder in 2015 but didn’t start playing until May and struggled. I don’t know much about Bien other than he was captain at Bowling Green, two time All-MAC, and holds the career BGU record for putouts (on the field, not somewhere else).

A

Marten Gasparini - 20 years old .196/.256/.293

Now we are getting to some names. Hailing from Italy, Gasparini got the largest bonus for a European player ever. If you want an idea of how raw he was, he signed in 2013 and just made his full season debut this past year. Given $1.3M at the age of 16, Gasparini was extremely raw and we knew it would take some time. He’s certainly grown in size (obviously) since his pro debut and the raw power is coming out a bit more (though it’s mostly present in batting practice). He’s a plus runner and fielder but struggles at the plate with pitch recognition (which makes sense again given his background). Originally we we hoping to see Gasparini in the majors four five years after signing but it’s looking like four or five years from now.

Advanced Rookie

Ricky Aracena - 19 years old .251/.300/.322 60 wRC+

Aracena got a little love last year after a good pro debut at the plate (92 wRC+), with good speed and glove. He’s slow down a bit (he’s grown slightly in size) since then though but it hasn’t really impacted his defense. MLB.com put a 50 on his hit tool but that’s probably a bit too heavy. I think he’s more of a 45/30/60/55/60 (that’s pretty scout speak-ish so to explain it goes hit/power/speed/defense/arm) tool-wise. That’s a utility player ceiling (Ramon Torres-ish) in the end.

Low Rookie

Nicholas “Nicky” Lopez - 22 years old .281/.393/.429 132 wRC+

Get ready for this stat: Lopez walked more than he struck out (and he struck out 10.6% of the time). That kind of line is few and far between, particularly for a Royals shortstop, but there are some thing to like with Lopez. He is certainly better than Jack Lopez but the two share some profile similarity; low power, decent runner, decent fielder but I’ll take the junior Lopez’s hit tool. Yes he was old for his level but there is enough strike zone recognition and bat to ball skills he could BABIP his way into a few okay seasons, though pitchers won’t fear him much given his lack of size.

Arizona Rookie League

Jesion Guzman - 18 years old .261/.329/.378 103 wRC+

When the Royals blew past their international pool in 2015, a lot of the fan fare went to fellow Dominican Seuly Matias (who rightfully is a better prospect) but they weren’t that far apart upon signing. Guzman hit well on the hitter friendly Arizona fields as he integrated by making his state-side debut.

The two are a bit different now (Matias taking the step forward) in prospect-dom. Guzman is apart from most the guys on this list as he isn’t a great runner or spectacular defender. Instead he’s a bit better hitter but the power is still a question mark. I think he’ll grow in size a bit more but wouldn’t be surprised if only his weight moved up and not his height.

There’s a polish to him that it’s tough to throw much projection on the tools, so he’s the kind of guy that will always need to outproduce his peers to carve a big league role.

I promise I really try to get as many names on these lists as I can, but shorstop is just so thin in the org right now I had to scrape some names and basically ditch AAA and A+.