2013 Season Preview: The Shortstops

The Most Important Player in Baseball
Mariano Rivera set to announce retirement following 2013 season on Saturday

Starting this week and continuing through the end of the Spring Training, we’re going to preview the Yankees position-by-position and on a couple of different levels.

(AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
(AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

The Yankees have been getting above-average production from the shortstop position for nearly two decades now thanks to Derek Jeter, who continued to prove doubters/me wrong by hitting .316/.362/.429 (117 wRC+) with a league-leading 216 hits at age 38 last summer. His postseason ended prematurely due to a fractured left ankle — after playing on a bone bruise pretty much all September — that required offseason surgery, and he’s yet to play this spring as he rehabs. The shortstop position is a question mark for New York and it’s not just because of Jeter’s injury.

The Starter
It will be Jeter, hell or high water. Despite his lack of Grapefruit League action to date, he hasn’t suffered any kind of setback and is expected to be ready in time for Opening Day. The Yankees will, however, use the Cap’n as their DH against left-handed pitchers quite a bit (i.e. all the time) in April to give him the occasional break and day off his feet. They did something similar last year and will do it again this year, but it’s a bit more of a necessity now.

Offensively, the projections hate Jeter because he’s a 38-year-old shortstop coming off a major injury, but he’s been legitimately driven the ball since working with former hitting coach Gary Denbo during his midseason DL stint in 2010. He’s managed a .321/.369/.434 overall batting line in over 1,000 plate appearances since then — including a respectable .298/.351/.377 against righties, who handled him very well from 2010 through the start of the DL stint — which is no small sample. Those hits weren’t ground balls with eyes or bloops in front of poor defensive outfielders, it’s been vintage Jeter slashing the ball to right and occasionally over the fence.

The defense is what really concerns me. The Cap’n has pretty much always been a below-average defender and he hasn’t gotten any better with age, but now we’re adding the ankle injury on top of it. If he loses any more mobility, forget it. He’d be completely unplayable at shortstop even though the Yankees would never consider moving him down the defensive spectrum. Jeter’s arm is fine and his glovework — he handles whatever he can get to — is strong, but his limited range could be even worse in 2013. With a ground ball heavy rotation (outside of Phil Hughes), it could be a major problem. For now the Yankees will count on Jeter to again ignite the offense from atop the lineup and live with his flaws, which is what they’ve been doing for several years now.

(AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
(AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

The Backup
It’s obvious the Yankees want it to be Eduardo Nunez. They’re giving him every opportunity to show he can handle the position, starting last year with his demotion and continuing this spring with his 36 defensive innings, two shy of team leader Melky Mesa. They’ve worked with him on shortening his arm action and all sorts of stuff, but nothing has taken. Still, they’re apparently intrigued by the 25-year-old’s offensive potential, which stems almost exclusively from his contact ability and speed. If they get their way, it will be Nunez soaking up all those shortstop innings while Jeter spends the day at DH against left-handed starters.

Jayson Nix is the only alternative here and is more of an emergency option at shortstop that someone you’d want to run out there several days in a row if need be. Neither he nor Nunez inspires much confidence, really.

Knocking on the Door
The Bombers do not have a shortstop prospect in Triple-A at all. There’s an outside chance Nunez will get sent down to start the season, but I wouldn’t count on it. The Scranton club will rely on the likes of 33-year-old Gil Velazquez and 26-year-olds Addison Maruszak and Reegie Corona at the infield’s most important position. Velazquez and Corona are no-hit/all-glove types while Maruszak doesn’t really do much of anything well. The team’s only real in-house shortstop options are Jeter, Nunez, and Nix. They’d sooner make a trade than run Velazquez, Corona, or Maruszak out there semi-regularly.

(ESPN)
(ESPN)

The Top Prospect
The Yankees don’t have a standout shortstop prospect but they do have a very interesting one in 19-year-old Austin Aune, the team’s 14th best prospect overall. Last summer’s second rounder received a $1M bonus and hit .273/.358/.410 (130 wRC+) with one homer and five steals in 163 plate appearances for the rookie level Gulf Coast League affiliate, though his inexperience was evident in his 27.6% strikeout rate. Aune was a top quarterback recruit who passed on a commitment to TCU to sign with New York, so the Yankees are hoping that focusing on baseball full-time will allow him to reach his considerable ceiling. Aune has big power potential from the left side to go along with his strong throwing arm and athleticism, but there is a lot of work to be done. He’ll likely begin the season in Extended Spring Training before joining Short Season Staten Island at midseason, so he’s far from being a big league factor.

The Deep Sleeper
Cito Culver and Claudio Custodio are New York’s most well-known lower-level shortstop prospects, but neither hit much last season or projects to be a real impact player. The Yankees’ most intriguing shortstop prospect way down in the minors is 18-year-old Abi Avelino, who signed for $300k back in 2011. He’s a standout defender with a good arm, good instincts, and good body control, and his offensive game is built around an easy right-handed swing that produces an awful lot contact. Avelino obviously has a long, long way to go before he becomes a factor in the Major Leagues, but he has all the tools to breakout and establish himself as one of the team’s best prospects. The Yankees are expected to bring him stateside with one of their two rookie level GCL affiliates this summer.

* * *

The Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira injuries mean Jeter’s return from his ankle surgery is extremely important to the team’s early season success. He needs to get on the field, stay on the field, and get on-base so Robinson Cano has someone to drive in. The Yankees will ease him back into the shortstop position with those DH days, but the Cap’n’s bat is the most important thing. There is no real immediate help at the position coming up behind Jeter just in case, that is unless Nunez suddenly figures out how to make routine throws. I’m not counting on it.

Other Previews: Catchers, First Basemen, Second Basemen

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The Most Important Player in Baseball
Mariano Rivera set to announce retirement following 2013 season on Saturday
  • mike myers

    Ed Nunuez = A shortstop that can play baseball, but not shortstop.

    Super.

    Good news. Os, Sox and Rays are worse than last year too.

  • Eddard the Great

    This preview could have been shortened to two words- Derek Jeter.

    As far as Nuney, he’s ready to take that next step. I think he’ll be an excellent fill in at 3B if they don’t make a trade. He brings an element of speed that was sorely lacking last season. With Nuney, Gardner and Ichiro in the lineup we’ll have to steal bases, move runners over and hit for contact to score runs and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

    • Robinson Tilapia

      Derek Fucking Jeter.

  • dkidd

    jeter needs 211 hits to pass tris speaker and be 5th all time

    who’s going to bet against him?

    • Eddard the Great

      I would never bet against Jete. People did a couple years ago and he came back with a vengeance. The guy is timeless, like Mo and Andy. He’ll break Rose’s record if he wants to play that long.

  • Guns

    Cito Culver.

    Sigh.

  • http://www.penuel-law.com/ Cuso

    Today’s cleanup hitter in Jupiter, and playing DH is….Francisco Cervelli.

    No, really.

    • Now Batting

      Thank god it’s not televised.

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike Axisa

      Eh, no big deal on March 7th. They weren’t sending the regulars four hours away to Jupiter.

      • http://www.penuel-law.com/ Cuso

        True. Not a huge deal. I chuckled a little bit, though.

        • Robinson Tilapia

          Sammy Pearce in September was worse. :)

    • Laz

      Higher in the batting order gets more reps. I’d rather have some of the unknowns get more reps.

    • trr

      i just threw up in mouth

  • http://www.penuel-law.com/ Cuso

    Maybe it’s just me or maybe it’s naivete’.

    I’m just “assuming” Jeter because there’s so many other holes to worry about.

    And by assuming Jeter, I mean assuming reasonably above-average stats for SS, reasonable below-average range, well-above average arm/glove, and 150 games played.

    (dangerous game friend-o)

    • Vern Sneaker

      I’ll be thrilled if he plays 120 games at SS, another 30 at DH, and hits .300 again. He’s 39 and coming off ankle surgery. Do we believe in miracles?

  • aluis

    Anyone here realize one common theme at that’s there’s really no depth anywhere is this organization? None for Curtis, Tex, Jete, etc. I think that Cashman should be held accountable for this. Hopefully management begins to realize this sooner rather than later and decide it’s time to show him the door.

    • pablos sausagenpeppers

      Anyone here realize one common theme at that’s there’s really no depth anywhere is this organization? None for Curtis, Tex, Jete, etc. I think that Cashman should be held accountable for this. Hopefully management begins to realize this sooner rather than later and decide it’s time to show him the boobs.

    • gageagainstthemachine

      It’s hard to have fail safe depth at every position at any given moment. Where I agree with the fact that they’re thin at AAA, I think it’s impossible to have everything covered with a 25 man roster and so many teams trying to fill the bench with all-around utility guys. Not all-stars, but good enough to fill in here and there for a while not expecting to have to all hold the fort at once. Some storms you just have to weather. Unfortunately, this spring has brought more of a superstorm rather than a standard storm. Granderson going down stunk, but wasn’t necessarily the end of the world. Teix out for the same amount of time? Really stinks! But how exactly do you prepare for that? There’s no way to prepare for the worse case scenario. And I would argue it’s not even feasible. Unless of course we, the fans, stop whining about the ludicrous deals and have a “Soriano” for every “Mariano”. But even that requires an All-Star to play understudy to another All-Star. That contract sucked, but it sure was lightning in a bottle looking back. Simply put, the GM can only stock the system so much. If you were a player who could compete for a starting job on an MLB, why would you want to sign with the Yankees’ MiLB with so many entrenched in contracts, production, and lore at the MLB level? And on top of that, the Yankees homegrown farm system is thin at the top because of annual success. Tough to draft the Harpers and the Trouts when you’re at the top consistently. That’s why they got Jeter when they did. They sucked! It’s going to be a bumpy start. But hang in there. Sorry this is so long…

      • Robinson Tilapia

        Just stop making sense already.

      • Laz

        Agree. Arod, Jeter, Teix, Grandy. It is tough to have that amount of depth to pill in for 4 all stars.

      • aluis

        True but how some fail safe depth? Right now there doesn’t appear to be any which is worrisome, and then to your point add in your superstorm and that really takes it to another level.

        • gageagainstthemachine

          It’s not like Cashman sat around going, “Ok, so let’s assume Grandy and Tex get hurt in Spring Training and both are out 10 weeks.” Overall, their track records are pretty damn good in terms of health. Some things you can’t plan for. Speaking of plans, he had to plan a major replacement for the albatross that is ARod, which includes not just half of this season, but perhaps longer (if not his career, if he can’t comeback or proves to be “Bo Jackson” done with the hip issues). There is no fail safe depth. It’s just completely unreasonable to assume that ANY team has the capability to fill 4 All-Star holes at one given time. What if Youkilis doesn’t sign and goes for the guaranteed 2 years in Cleveland? We have NO 3B! Give Cash some credit. And instead of looking back where hindsight is always perfect vision, let’s consider the reality of the situation as it stands. Even if he got clearance to blow the payroll up to $400M to fix the gaping holes at the start of the season, who are they going to sign?! And if he trades for equally-competent gap fillers (remember: they gotta be All-Stars if we’re talking fail safe), you deplete an already thin farm system (since people will be asking the moon knowing the situation the Yankees are in) down to nothing. Now you’re talking about irreversible damage for years to fill a month and a half holes. Personally, give some kids a crack at it. It’s not likely they’re bums off the street you’re giving a bat and glove to and saying “good luck!”. I don’t want to see short-sighted answers with long-term damages. But that’s just me (and hopefully I’m not alone). I think they have the options/ability to go .500 in the meantime. The Giants started that bad last year and they held the WS Trophy. You can’t predict, or fix, everything on paper. That’s why it’s such a great game.

    • Havok9120

      The depth is there at almost every position except SS. The issue is that it’s a massive drop off in quality, which is frankly to be expected when this many injuries hit at the same time and our starters include two premier power hitters, the best 2B in the game, and Derek Jeter. No one would have been surprised if any or every one of these guys had All-Star worthy seasons; the depth behind them is almost guaranteed to be pitiful in comparison.

  • CG

    Hey mike… I don’t know if this makes any sense, but if it did, would jeter be able to handle 1B?

    For example, if you suppose that Jeter needs an off day from SS or is just plain unable to field the position… and assume that Nunez plays SS. Who would do a better job at 1B: Jeter, or, the likely DH in such situations?

  • Bobby

    “You’d have to go back to the early-1990s, which I don’t remember all too well”

    Always have to rub that in.