2023 Positional Preview: Shortstop Has Short And Long-Term Solutions

Feb 7, 2023 - 12:00 PM
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Welcome to Over the Monster’s 2023 Season Preview! Between now and Opening Day, we’ll be here to tell you anything and everything* you need to know about the upcoming season. Below is an installment in our Positional Preview Series, in which we do a deep dive on each positional group. Let’s continue with the left-side of the infield at shortstop.

* Well, not everything, but a lot of things. Trust us: you don’t actually want everything, anyway; a little hunger feeds the soul.

Oh, what could have been? Going into the 2022-23 offseason, it sounded like keeping Xander Bogaerts was imperative to the mission of Chaim Bloom and co. for the future of the Red Sox. An 11-year, $280M deal with the Padres dashed those hopes quickly once free agency started in early December. Not to say Bloom could or should have ponied up that type of a contract, but losing a cornerstone of both the field and the locker room, someone who could have had a “C” stitched on his shoulder? That hurts. But that’s not to say all is lost. Between multiple members of the current roster, and several up-and-coming prospects, the Red Sox may in fact have a plan for the no. 6 position as we advance both for this season and the foreseeable future.

The Starter – Kike Hernandez

Listen to the man himself; he’s a born shortstop from the beginning of his career, and he’s been DREAMING of being the Red Sox SS. That’s not exactly what his Major League career has looked like.

64 games started as a shortstop in nine seasons, with decent results. The kicker is how well he will fare over a 162-game season in the infield. Hernandez has had a TON of positional rotation, mainly as a centerfielder with the Red Sox and a second baseman and utility outfielder with the Dodgers. At a position where it’s imperative to be defensively sound — a linchpin of the double play, someone who needs to have the range to cover anywhere from third base to up the middle — any work put in to increase lateral mobility (not just the breakneck speed used as an outfielder to chase down fly balls) is going to make a big difference. Second base becomes just as crucial as shortstop, and developing chemistry with whomever his opposite-side-of-the-field counterpart may be is just as important to the defensive security of the Red Sox middle infield.

A projected 2.8 WAR is precisely what the Red Sox need out of Hernandez: a solid, every-day starter. They don’t need his bat for pop; they have Rafael Devers and Adam Duvall to smack balls into the seats at Fenway. What they do need is what they also hope to get out of Masataka Yoshida, someone who can consistently put the ball in play, get on base, and set up multi-run scoring situations. Yoshida’s inclusion in Boston’s lineup puts Hernandez in an enviable position, and almost splits the lineup in two. Having Yoshida lead off with Devers behind him allows Hernandez to bring his contact-hitting abilities to the middle of the lineup, with power hitters in Triston Casas and Adam Duvall behind him. It makes for some lineup balance, something the Red Sox sorely lacked past the cleanup hitter last season.

As Dan wrote a few weeks ago, the move to short may be the key to unlocking another level in his play. For the Sox’s sake, they certainly hope so.

The Bench – Adalberto Mondesi

Bloom trading for Mondesi is precisely the type of boom/bust roster move Bloom’s been known to make. If he booms, his toolsiness will bring absolute versatility to the Sox squad. If he busts, it’s just another in a set of moves that continue to be head-scratchers.

Phil gave us a lot of resources to learn more about Mondesi. Still, a tl;dr version is that if he can stay healthy, he can make lots of contact, prove to be an extremely shifty baserunner, and be a plus fielder, all skills which would really help bridge the gap between this year until a particular prospect who shall be named later is ready. If he can’t stay healthy, then it puts a lot of pressure on either Christian Arroyo to play some time at short, or for the immediate minor league depth to come into play. FanGraphs predictions vary wildly, from THE BAT and ATC projecting a 0.5 WAR, to ZiPS DC with an astronomical 3.0 WAR projected. It’s just as much a wildcard play as possible.

Minor League Depth

Marcelo Mayer is the future of Red Sox shortstops, or that’s what we all want to hear. Ranked ninth in MLB’s 2023 Prospect Rankings, he made strides despite some injuries in 2022, the most notable is getting the callup to High A Salem, playing with guys on average 3.5 years older than him, and putting up solid numbers in his transition. Chaim Bloom has made no qualms about keeping his development steady and not rushing him to the Majors because of positional need. He’s probably two years away from hitting the big club, but to see him end up in Double A Portland by the end of this season wouldn’t be unreasonable at all.

In the more immediate depth, Ceddanne Rafaela is a name you’ll see across multiple previews this offseason. While mainly looked at in the outfield, he’s also spent time across the infield at shortstop and second base. Regardless of whether he starts the season in Portland or Worcester, he’s someone to keep an eye on around the All-Star break as someone who could be ready to step in on the big stage.

Spring training superstar of last year Ryan Fitzgerald is also looking to take that next step, as well as David Hamilton, one of the pieces of the Hunter Renfroe trade to Milwaukee. Hamilton was named the minor-league Baserunner of the Year by the Sox, so it might be possible to see him in a Quinton Berry-like role where they need speed off the bench in key situations come clutch time.

Divisional Rankings

  1. Wander Franco
  2. Bo Bichette
  3. Kike Hernandez
  4. Isiah Kiner-Falefa
  5. Jorge Mateo

Right now, the Yankees plan to have an “open competition” for time at shortstop. Between Oswald Peraza and Anthony Volpe, they have two very talented prospects who are hoping to take time away from Isiah Kiner-Falefa. Still, the position isn’t as secure for anyone as when Jeter used to man that spot on the field.

The Orioles have a similar situation of not having a proper fit for shortstop. Jorge Mateo was the O’s man last season, playing 150 games, so he might be there to start the season, but keep an eye out for prospect Gunnar Henderson. A giant bat like his could supplant any position in the infield, including shortstop. If Henderson takes on shortstop full time, my rankings definitely change.

If there’s any two teams who have the most security at short, it’s Tampa and Toronto. Wander Franco and Bo Bichette are two young superstars who can’t wait to break out and show the division what they’re made of. No questions asked about these two.

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