Among an emergent crop of young infield talent in the majors, the American League East is chockfull of smooth fielding and sweet swinging shortstops. While the tire fire of the division in Baltimore remains without a true long-term option after sending away José Iglesias in the offseason, the other four teams have locked down potential franchise cornerstones.
As hard as it is for some to imagine, the Yankees’ talented shortstop, Gleyber Torres, might not be close to the top of the pile. Let’s work through the thought exercise, and rank the shortstops at the position’s most loaded division.
5. Freddy Galvis, Baltimore Orioles
Just a couple weeks ago, the O’s signed Freddy Galvis to a one-year deal as 2021’s stopgap. In 2020, Galvis’ solid discipline and power carried his barely Mendoza Line-clearing .202 average to a near-league average .712 OPS. However, his career-high BB/K ratio and ISO seem more suggestive of a short season’s variance than a newly discerning and powerful hitter considering Galvis’ nine-season track record of mediocre offense. At 31, he might not be a whole lot longer for the league than his first year at Camden.
Aside from Galvis, the only semi-regular O’s shortstop remaining from 2020 is Pat Valaika. He provided the Orioles an uncommon bright spot on offense (.791 OPS), but was just as bad as fellow bench player Andrew Velazquez defensively, if not worse. He’s 28 and never hit much in Colorado even before joining the O’s, so he’s not exactly Cal Ripken Jr. waiting in the wings for whenever Galvis goes down or leaves town.
4. Willy Adames, Tampa Bay Rays
Though it might not be the case much longer, due to Wander Franco’s impending arrival, Willy Adames projects to be the Rays’ starting shortstop on Opening Day. Despite below average expected statistics across the board, Adames posted career-highs in slugging and OPS, more than 50 points greater than his career averages. With his outperformance of his peripherals, Adames isn’t likely to maintain his new offensive excellence, especially due to his horrendous strikeout rate.
Though his first (-8) and third (-6) years’ OAA would suggest otherwise, he’s a toolsy defender capable of the occasional highlight reel play, especially with his elite arm strength. However, his somewhat herky-jerky footwork sets him up for failure, especially when pulled farther into the hole to the third base side. In 2020, Adames tied three others for the fifth-most errors committed. He’ll make a couple tough plays and almost all of the gimmies, but has struggled to put it all together on the tougher plays that the best shortstops make routinely.
With a Tatis-like torrid stretch after a late-season callup, the game’s top prospect in Franco could easily vault the Rays up this list. For now, however, the Rays won’t do better than fourth in the division at short as long as they ride with Adames.
3. Gleyber Torres, New York Yankees
2021 is shaping up to be a pivotal season for the Yankees’ 23-year-old prodigy, as Gleyber has one last season to cement his starting spot before the Yankees consider an upgrade in stacked shortstop free agent class. After a season in which he struggled to find his groove offensively, and his defensive struggles were only exacerbated, Gleyber’s ability to get red hot just in time for the playoffs saved him from a completely lost season.
With myriad mentions of Torres coming into the 2020 season a step slower, he’ll need to be in tip-top shape from the get-go if he wants to make the most of his preternatural talent. Still just 24, Torres has the offensive talent to be among the game’s best shortstops, but it’s his defense that has a ways to go.
2. Xander Bogaerts, Boston Red Sox
It’s easy to sleep on how good Bogaerts is due to the predictability of his production. He’s a three-time Silver Slugger winner at short with MVP votes and an OPS over .850 in each of the last three seasons, and he’s hit over .300 in each of the past two campaigns. With all due respect to Gleyber, Bogaerts’ mediocre defense and steady offensive production make him the AL East’s closest approximation of Derek Jeter since The Captain’s retirement. At 28, he’s undoubtedly still in his prime, and only seems to be getting better. He can’t be the game’s best shortstop without a defensive revolution, but he’s arguably the best hitting one in the AL East, and definitely the division’s most consistent.
1. Bo Bichette/Marcus Semien, Toronto Blue Jays
At just 22 years of age, Bo Bichette looks a lot like Gleyber Torres did after his first couple seasons in the majors. Most glaringly, the offensive production has been as advertised, and more. Though he doesn’t walk as much as the game’s most valuable players, young hitters rarely do (unless they’re named Juan Soto), he hits the ball as consistently hard as nearly anyone, and should only continue to improve with age given his stellar peripherals. Like Torres, to say he struggles on defense is an understatement. Through two partial big-league seasons, Bichette has been one of the game’s weakest shortstops, though not quite as bad as his Yankee counterpart. Given his absence of cold streaks and marginal improvement over Torres’ awful defense, Bichette, on his own, would be at least neck and neck with Torres.
However, the Jays also added former Oakland Athletic, Marcus Semien. Since Torres’ debut, Semien has more than double Torres’ WAR, including a third-place MVP finish as recently as 2019. He’s a supreme athlete capable of above average production on either side of the ball. With him in tow, the Jays will be able to employ either Bichette or Semien at shortstop, limiting Bichette’s potential defensive liability.
While Bichette’s worst-case defensive scenario might land him somewhere in between Gleyber and Xander, if he grows to merely passable, the Jays can slide Semien to second or third and make the most of Bo’s offensive output compared to that of the average shortstop. If not, he can probably still make the throws from third to first, with Semien handling the tougher of the two positions. Together, they’re the division’s most complete package at short.