Next to the ability to cultivate pitching prospects, a team's ability to develop major league caliber shortstop play is the most important part of player development.
The first reason is relatively simple. If a team finds their guy at shortstop, they can plug him in there for years to come. Think Troy Tulowitzki and Elvis Andrus in this scenario. The number of teams with shortstops of the future pales in comparison to the number of teams signing fill-ins year to year. Players like Clint Barmes and Alex Gonzalez have made entire careers out of their ability to play solid defense day in and day out.
The second reason is the need for shortstops throughout baseball is there every year. A top prospect shortstop is about as valuable a trading piece as there is in all of baseball. In recent years, both Jean Segura and Alcides Escobar were the centerpieces in trades for teams to land Zack Greinke. Didi Gregorius helped the Indians nab top-pitching prospect Trevor Bauer. Teams with organizational depth at shortstop are usually among the top buyers at the trade deadline.
Instead of focusing on some of the current top shortstop prospects, we are going to focus on guys that could make a jump into the top-10 (among prospects) at the position in the coming years.
The personal favorite of mine on this list is Orlando Arcia in the Brewers organization. Just 18 years old, Arcia has manned shortstop for Low-A Wisconsin in the Midwest League all season long. According to Baseball America, he's the fourth youngest player in the entire Midwest League.
The Brewers pushing Arcia to Wisconsin at such a young age was even more surprising considering that he missed 2012 with an ankle injury. The list of players in the Midwest League whose professional experience consists of 218 at-bats at age-16 in the Dominican Summer League is very small.
As would be expected with any young player adjusting to his first taste of full-season ball after missing an entire season, April was a struggle for Arcia. In 77 at-bats for the month, the youngster posted a line of .182/.238/.234 good for an awful .472 OPS. The Brewers and Arcia held strong though and May yielded immediate results. Arcia began to do everything well, his plate appearances became more competitive, he got more hits and he took more walks. For the month he hit .326/.414/.395 for an .805 OPS.
The best part of Arcia's game is his defense. Most scouts believe he will easily be able to handle the position throughout his progression. Arcia will have many ups and downs as the season goes on and with many 18-year-olds the latter part of the season could become a grind, but he has impressed already. He is definitely a prospect on the rise and one that could crack top-100 if not top-50 lists for next season.
Another name to keep an eye on is Raul Adalberto Mondesi. Mondesi is not exactly a sleeper as Arcia is, but in my mind this is a guy who could jump from a top 100-150 prospect to become a top-25 type. Just 17 years old and playing in full-season ball in the Low-A South Atlantic League; Mondesi is doing things to catch the eyes of scouts everywhere.
While his numbers are not jumping off the page by any means, it is important to consider that at age 17, Mondesi is the second youngest player in the league and is playing against guys that are in some cases five years older than he is. Overall, the switch-hitter is hitting .253/.298/.404 with four home runs, eight doubles, five triples and 11 stolen bases.
The one real negative thus far of Mondesi's game is his strikeout rate. This season he is whiffing at a rate of 24.9% or 54 times in 217 plate appearances. While this certainly is a problem, it's not overwhelmingly worrisome at this point. Mondesi's K% is down from 28% last season and it should continue falling as he progresses and matures.
Like Arcia, there are very few - if any - scouts that question his ability to stick at the shortstop position. Combine that with the fact that Mondesi's power is still developing and he is already slugging .404 as a teenager and you have the makings of a potential top prospect in baseball.
The Rangers' ability to find and develop shortstops has been nothing short of amazing. They are head and shoulders above anybody else. Not only do they already have a stud shortstop that could man the position for another decade in Andrus, they have the top prospect in the game in Jurickson Profar. As if that was not enough, they have two guys on their High-A team in Myrtle Beach that might be top shortstop prospects in most other organizations.
Luis Sardinas, who just turned 20 in May, is currently known mostly for his defense but many believe the switch-hitter has the potential to do significant damage at the dish. Unlike most switch-hitting prospects his age; Sardinas has shown equal ability from both sides of the plate.
Currently in the Carolina League, Sardinas has a line of .283/.335/.340. Many were looking for his power to take a step up this season, but it still hasn't come around. He may never have the power that some projected early in his career, but his speed (16 stolen bases in 20 chances) and plus ability at shortstop make him someone to watch.
Sardinas' teammate, Rougned Odor, would probably be given a shot to play shortstop in any other organization, but with the Rangers he has been playing second base. At 19 years old, Odor is the youngest player in the Carolina League and has already showed a great offensive ability. A season ago in the South Atlantic League, Odor had 37 extra-base hits and slugged .400. This season in the Carolina League, Odor is slugging .439 and his on-base percentage is up over 40 points to .357.
Odor is a left-handed hitter and has some pretty significant splits. His line against right-handed pitching is very impressive at .308/.373/.462 with 17 of his 21 extra-base hits on the season. Against left-handers he is just .214/.298/.357, nearly a 200-point difference in OPS. This is a problem that many young hitters improve on with the more reps they get against quality left-handed pitching. If Odor can figure out the lefty-lefty matchup in his development...look out.