Shortstop, the glamour position in baseball. This tends to be one of the positions that has the most amount of star power, and that’s still the case today. The identity of this position has shifted however; this is now as much of an offensive position as it was a defensive position. Specifically with the top five, this list is filled with two-way superstars, all of whom have MVP or even Hall of Fame potential. This list is right on par with the third base list in terms of talent, and it’ll be a lot of fun to dissect this list. Let’s take a deep dive into the top ten shortstops in baseball.
#10 Trea Turner, Washington Nationals
Projected Stats: .276/.344/.429 (.773 OPS) 16 HR 0 drs 3.4 WAR
What’s so interesting about this list is how different shortstops use different strengths to stand out. While Trea Turner is a very solid player all around, his speed is by far his best trait. He ranked sixth in the MLB with a sprint speed of 30.1 ft/sec, and he’s totaled 122 stolen bases in his three seasons. That’s certainly the flashiest part of Turner’s game, but the reasoning behind him being on this list extends beyond that. Turner played in all 162 games this past season, posting a 105 weighted runs created plus (wrc+) and a 4.1 WAR. He didn’t necessarily improve in any aspect of hitting, but he didn’t regress, so at least he’s remained consistent. Defensively, the 26-year-old was nothing special but was still a fine defender at a short (2 drs, 3.2 UZR). Just entering his prime and not a free agent until 2023, Turner has plenty of time to develop another obvious strength outside of speed. For now, he’s a speedster who’s serviceable in all categories, which isn’t bad by any means. With more signs of improvement, Turner can jump higher on this list, but #10 is the highest he can rank on this list at the moment.
#9 Xander Bogaerts, Boston Red Sox
Projected Stats: .280/.351/.474 (.825 OPS) 18 HR -15 drs 3.0 WAR
Could you guess who is the only shortstop on this list who’s won multiple World Series championships. That would be Xander Bogaerts, who won the World Series in his first season (2013), and this past season (2018) with the Red Sox. The 26-year-old has been a relatively solid player offensively, but he really solidified himself as an above average hitter this past season. He set career highs in OPS (.883), home runs (23), wrc+ (133), hard contact rate (37.9%), and wOBA (.373). There’s not much to say about Bogaerts besides the fact that he’s one of the top hitters at the position, but the same praise cannot be said about his defense. Bogaerts is basically a liability defensively: he has posted -40 drs in the past three seasons. That’s a concern at a position where defense is still valued as high as anything else, and it’s even more concerning that Bogaerts has actually gotten worse defensively every season. He’s also a below average baserunner (-1.7 BsR), so he’s really just a hitter rather than an actual all around player. Bogaerts’ offense is enough to keep him in the top ten, but until he becomes more than just an offensive threat, he can’t rank higher. Especially in a contract year, he’ll certainly want to become more of an all around player next season in order to maximize his payday.
#8 Paul DeJong, St.Louis Cardinals
Projected Stats: .254/.320/.466 (.786 OPS) 23 HR 8 drs 3.3 WAR
Despite flying under the radar after being selected in the fourth round in the 2015 MLB draft, Paul Dejong broke onto the scene in 2017, compiling an .857 OPS with a 2.7 WAR, finishing second in the NL Rookie of the Year voting. The Cardinals took notice of that breakout, extending the 25-year-old on a deal that can possibly run through 2025. Expectations were high on DeJong to replicated his 2017 performance last season, and although he regressed to a .746 OPS while only playing in 115 games due to injuries, DeJong remained a solid player. He posted a 3.8 WAR, and improved his walk rate (7.3%), as well as his hard contact rate (38.7%). His .288 BABIP suggests he should see slight improvement automatically, but his progression with his plate discipline and the quality of his contact also signal that he’s on his way to developing into a very competent and consistent hitter. Defensively was where DeJong really impressed in 2018 however. Both his 14 drs and 7.1 UZR signal he was an elite defender this past season, and that superb defense to go along with his reasonable production offensively and above average base running (2.7 BsR) make a better all around player than Turner and Bogaerts. DeJong has the potential to jump further up this list in the near future, but for now, he comes in at #8 after a decent, but still disappointing season offensively.
#7 Javier Baez, Chicago Cubs
Projected Stats: .275/.321/.502 (.823 OPS) 28 HR 5 drs 4.7 WAR
As mentioned before, shortstop is a very flashy position. Therefore, the flashier a player at the position tends to be, the higher fans tend to think of them. That’s the case with Javier Baez, who’s become arguably the most overrated player in the MLB. The 26-year-old finished second in the NL MVP voting last season, and is seen as by some as one of the premier talents in the MLB. Yet, Baez is far from that. Thanks to a very low walk rate of 4.5%, his on base percentage was still below average at .326. Furthermore, his hard contact rate of 35.8% doesn’t justify his .347 BABIP, and at some point, that luck will run out. When it does, Baez may be screwed; his atrocious K rate of 25.9% and chase rate of 45.5% show that he’s made no progress in developing into the all around hitter that fans claim him to be. While Baez is a solid defender, the metrics show (-0.5 UZR at SS), that he’s not the elite defender he’s made out to be. Still, Baez is coming off of a season with an .881 OPS and a 6.3 WAR, and is an above average baserunner (3.9 BsR). There are too many red flags to rank him higher than this, and I don’t believe he’ll ever move higher on this list, but he’s definitely a top seven shortstop for now.
#6 Andrelton Simmons, Los Angeles Angels
Projected Stats: .282/.331/.407 (.738 OPS) 12 HR 27 drs 6.7 WAR
Though shortstop has become a two-way position, defense still remains supreme as the top trait needed to play at the position. In that regard, there’s no one better than Andrelton Simmons. With 146 career drs and a career UZR of 101.9, the 29-year-old is one of the greatest defenders at the position of all time with 4 gold gloves already in his six-year career. While Simmons had been a one-dimensional player early on, he’s really become more than that. Over the past two seasons, he has an OPS of .753 with a 13.3 WAR, finishing in the top 15 in the NL MVP voting in each of those seasons. This past season specifically, Simmons made some drastic improvements offensively. His hard contact rate (36%) increased by seven percent, while his strikeout rate decreased to 7.3%. In fact, that K rate was the lowest in baseball, while his 87.8% contact rate ranked sixth. Simmons did struggle more in the second half with a .669 OPS and a 11.5% K rate, but nothing else regressed besides that, so I’m confident that he’ll be more like the player he was in the first half. Even if his OPS doesn’t improve beyond .750, his defense is so historic that he’ll continue to be one of the most valuable shortstops in the MLB. If his offense does improve like it should in 2019 though, he’ll be possibly a top three shortstop. While some may complain that Mike Trout doesn’t have enough help to get into the postseason with the Angels, one thing’s for certain: Simmons is an excellent sidekick and should not be overlooked.
#5 Trevor Story, Colorado Rockies
Projected Stats: .266/.331/.512 (.843 OPS) 31 HR 6 drs 4.4 WAR
As I said in the case that I made for Nolan Arenado as the #2 third baseman, players who play for the Rockies tend to be overlooked; their excellent numbers are labeled as inflated by playing half their games in Colorado. Like Arenado, Trevor Story’s home OPS (1.043) is significantly higher than it is on the road (.780). Still, using those numbers to call his overall numbers (.914 OPS, 5.6 WAR) would be both lazy and uncalled for. Story’s hard contact rate on the road this past season (45.2%) was both elite and higher than it was at home. This indicates that his batted ball profile makes him a stellar hitter no matter where he’s playing at. Plus, a .780 OPS on the road is no slouch, especially considering ALL hitters tend to hit better at home than they do on the road. Story took big steps this season to become an elite hitter to back up his superb numbers. He decreased his K rate from 34.9% in 2017 to 25.6% in 2018, increasing his zone contact from 79.9% in 2017 to 87.2%. These are big steps for Story, and I’m excited to see if he can continue to improve his contact rate in order to become a more complete player offensively, as his upside is off the charts. He’s also a solid defender at short (12 drs), and even stole 27 bases last season. Story’s becoming a complete player right in front of our eyes, and one might say he’s already reached superstar status. Don’t let Coors Field fool you, he’s deserving of a spot in the top five.
#4 Carlos Correa, Houston Astros
Projected Stats: .266/.360/.463 (.823 OPS) 19 HR 0 drs 4.3 WAR
After winning the World Series in 2017, it looked like the sky was the limit for Carlos Correa and the Astros. In 2018, both the player and the team fell back to Earth. Houston was eliminated by the Red Sox in the ALDS, while Correa had his worst season yet. Dealing with a back injury, he was limited to 110 games, and wasn’t particularly effective in those games. Correa posted career lows in OPS (.728), wrc+ (101), home runs (15), and WAR (1.7). It’s clear to see where the decline came from, as his hard contact rate decreased to 28.8%. Since that’s the only number that regressed, it’s very reasonable to blame that on the injury; obviously an injured back would hurt a player’s overall power. Correa’s an average defender at short stop with 0 drs over the past two seasons, but considering his elite offensive output (.941 OPS in 2017), that’s definitely good enough for him to be one of the top players at the position. The sky is still the limit for the 24-year-old, and back healthy this season, we should expect Correa to get back to his usual ways. Considering his “usual way” is a 6 win season, it’s an easy choice to bet on him and keep him in the top five of this list.
#3 Corey Seager, Los Angeles Dodgers
Projected Stats: .298/.369/.495 (.863 OPS) 24 HR 4 drs 5.8 WAR
On the losing end of that 2017 World Series where Correa and the Astros won, Corey Seager also looked to be trending upward after posting two straight seasons with an OPS over .850 and a WAR over 5.5. However, like Correa, Seager was not able to take the next step in 2018, as he missed almost the entire season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. In 26 games, he posted just a .744 OPS, but considering how small the sample size is combined with the fact his performance was probably affected by the injury, it’s unfair to use that to judge him at all. Instead, let’s look at how exceptional of a player Seager was before the injury. In 2017, he increased his hard contact rate to 44%, increased his walk rate to 10.9%, and posted 10 drs. Based on those stats, it’s clear to see that Seager is an elite talent, and it’s important to note that he’s just 27-years-old. Assuming the injury doesn’t affect him, as it usually doesn’t for position players, he should continue his progression to not only a superstar, but even a possibly NL MVP winner this season. Seager’s injury prevents him from possibly ranking #1 on this list, but his production before the injury is more than enough to keep him in the top three. If he does continue to progress and proves that he’s moved past the surgery, he could contend for the top spot on this list next year.
#2 Manny Machado, Free Agent
Projected Stats: .286/.342/.509 (.851 OPS) 35 HR 0 drs 5 WAR
At the trade deadline last season, Manny Machado was the biggest storyline. Who would win the sweepstakes for him? Would the team that got him attempt to sign him to a massive extension? Well, the Dodgers ended up acquiring the 26-year-old superstar, but that didn’t go quite as planned. Machado regressed with Los Angeles, and then got into an overwhelming amount of drama in the postseason that made many people in the baseball industry question his character. For that reason, among others, he remains unsigned on the free agent market, with the Padres and White Sox currently the two most linked teams to him. Still, Machado’s talent on the field can’t be ignored; he’s one of the best players in baseball, and will get paid like such eventually. Though his numbers declined with the Dodgers, Machado still finished with a .905 OPS, a 141 wrc+, and a 5.7 WAR. He did so with a very low K rate (14.7%), and his .304 BABIP suggests that those overall numbers were deserved. Defensively, it’s very strange for Machado. After posting -18 drs with the Orioles, he had 5 drs once traded to the Dodgers. A huge part of defense in today’s game is with shifts and positioning, and considering how notoriously awful the Orioles are at doing that combined with the eye test, I’m a believer that Machado’s defensive numbers with Los Angeles show who he really is as a defender. Overall, Machado is one of the game’s premier sluggers and an average to above average defender at shortstop. He definitely deserves the $250M+ he’s in line to receive, and it will be interesting to see how his defense fairs with a new team. That is, if he doesn’t move back to third base. For now, however, Machado is classified as a shortstop, and definitely has to be ranked in the top two of this list.
#1 Francisco Lindor, Cleveland Indians
Projected Stats: .281/.347/.508 (.855 OPS) 34 HR 10 drs 7 WAR
For a small market team like the Indians to contend on an annual basis, they need to hit on their draft picks. That’s exactly what they did when they selected Francisco Lindor with the 8th overall pick in the 2011 MLB draft. In his three and a half seasons with the club, the 25-year-old has a career OPS of .837 with a career WAR of 23.9. Furthermore, he’s finished top ten in the AL MVP voting in each of his three full seasons, and has established himself as a top ten, or even top five player in baseball. Even scarier, it that Lindor is still constantly improving. after posting a career best .871 OPS and 7.9 WAR. He increased his hard contact rate to 41.6%, increased his line drive rate to 21.6%, and also slightly increased his walk rate to 9.4%. Plus, he’s a tremendous defender at shortstop, with 14 drs and a 14.1 UZR last season. Heck, he’s even a switch hitter who’s balanced on both sides, and is one of the most liked players in the game. Lindor is the all around, marketable superstar that teams dream for. There’s no weakness to his game, and when he’s a free agent in three years, he likely may be the first player ever to earn a $400 million contract. He’s that good, and considering that he likely hasn’t even hit his ceiling, he’s a no-brainer as the top shortstop in the league.