Honus Wagner. Ozzie Smith. Barry Larkin. The greatest MLB shortstops have always set the tone for their decades of baseball. From the raw and gritty turn-of-the-century days of 1897 and the slick-fielding, high-flipping days of 1985 to the power-hitting, steroid-cloaked days of 2004, the shortstop position had yet to stop entertaining. Until very recently.
During the past decade, it looked as though Major League Baseball had lost a touch of pizazz at shortstop, as the position was deprived of an MVP award (excluding 2007, when Jimmy Rollins won it for the National League with the Phillies). Now, however, MLB shortstops are entering a golden age of filthy talent. A spot most recently loaded with the taller, power-hitting likes of Cal Ripken Jr., Derek Jeter, Nomar Garciaparra, and Alex Rodriguez (before his steroid-induced move to third base for the Yankees) now sees itself infused with a new brand of under-25 ballplayers. Though while they’re still prohibited from drinking alcohol in Delhi or renting cars, these studs are driving themselves directly into the record books.
Two years ago, the league was looking at Jordy Mercer, Jhonny Peralta, and Rollins as top MLB shortstops. Now, the position is loaded with fresh-squeezed juice. 2016 saw shortstop produce 93 wRC+ (Weighted Runs Created Plus), the best mark at the position since 1917, which garners a second look. Can these guys compete with the Jeter or Ripken crews? Let’s find out.
Eligibility: Players who mainly play shortstop are included. So no Jonathan Villar (second base), Eduardo Nunez (third base), or Manny Machado (third base).
Top 10 MLB Shortstops Ranked..
1. Corey Seager
Team: Los Angeles Dodgers
2016 Stats: .308 .365 .512, OPS — .877, Hits — 193, HR — 26, RBIs — 72
The Dodgers’ 6-foot-4 phenom won NL Rookie of the Year Award, finished third in the NL MVP Award race, and had statistically the best rookie shortstop season ever. Kyle Seager’s younger brother is closer than most to the spot they call the hall. Seager’s .308/.365/.512 line and 137 wRC+ (15th overall in 2016, ahead of Matt Carpenter, Mookie Betts, and Paul Goldschmidt) tell a clear story here.
2. Francisco Lindor
Team: Cleveland Indians
2016 Stats: .301 .358 .435, OPS — .794, Hits — 182, HR — 15, RBIs — 78
How many players from any position are better than 23-year-old Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor? Not many, as the smooth all-star taken eighth overall in the 2011 MLB Draft remains the first Puerto Rican shortstop to win the Gold Glove Award. At 5-foot-11, he may lack the power of his position counterparts, but his “Lindor Chocolates” nickname and .305 career average make him an instant contender for tops at the position.
3. Carlos Correa
Team: Houston Astros
2016 Stats: .274 .361 .451, OPS — .811, Hits — 158, HR — 20, RBIs — 96
During his first full season, Houston Astros wunderkind Carlos Correa batted .274/.361/.451 and slugged 20 home runs, along with 96 RBI and 13 stolen bases in 660 plate appearances. His walk rate increase to 11.4% last year from 9.3% in 2015 and same-timeframe OBP increase of .345 to .361 shows a clear path to success and that his overall discipline may be improving. Correa was noteworthy long before he hit the pro diamond, when he was chosen first overall in the 2012 MLB Draft and in turn became the highest-selected player to be drafted directly from a Puerto Rican high school. Oh, and he’s only 22.
— Texans Knight (@TexansKnight) June 29, 2016
4. Trea Turner
Team: Washington Nationals
2016 Stats: .342 .370 .567, OPS — .937, Hits — 105, HR — 13, RBIs — 40
In only 324 plate appearances last season, Nationals shortstop Trea Turner (drafted by the Padres No. 13 overall in the 2014 MLB Draft and eventually included in the three-way Wil Myers to San Diego trade) achieved a .342 batting average and .937 OPS with 53 runs scored, 40 runs batted in, 13 dingers, and a whopping 33 stolen bases. This year he’s proving 2016 was no fluke.
Trea Turner hits for the cycle pic.twitter.com/vuBUdHdESk
— Baseball Bros (@BaseballBros) April 26, 2017
5. Addison Russell
Team: Chicago Cubs
2016 Stats: .238 .321 .417, OPS — .738, Hits — 125, HR — 21, RBIs — 95
Promoted to the bigs with a rep for being a defensive wiz, Addison Russell (received from the Oakland Athletics in a trade for pitchers Jason Hammel and Jeff Samardzija) shocked the Wrigley faithful with 21 homers. His .238/.321/.417 (95 wRC+) line was less exciting, and keeps him a touch below the others for now, but the potential is clearly there. A blossoming youngster who seems to get better every day.
Here's Addison Russell's monthly launch angle. You might say there's a trend happening. pic.twitter.com/8C8v9lIMia
— Mike Petriello (@mike_petriello) August 29, 2016
6. Xander Bogaerts
Team: Boston Red Sox
2016 Stats: .294 .356 .446, OPS — .802, Hits — 192, HR — 21, RBIs — 89
Last year – in only his third season – Red Sox young buck Xander Bogaerts pulled down career highs in home runs (21), runs (115), runs batted in (89), wRC+ (113) and wOBA (.348). His 2016 second half didn’t quite complement his scorching start, but comparatively Bogaerts is a superior value.
7. Brandon Crawford
Team: San Francisco Giants
2016 Stats: .275 .342 .430, OPS — .772, Hits — 152, HR — 12, RBIs — 84
Arguably the most underappreciated shortstop – if not player – in baseball, 29-year-old all-star Brandon Crawford owns two World Series champion rings and two gold glove awards. He also holds the rare distinction of being sixth player in MLB history to hit a grand slam in his first Major League game and the first shortstop to hit a grand slam in a Major League Baseball postseason game. He’s not flashy, but Crawford is eerily consistent. I’d trust this guy in a foxhole.
8. Trevor Story
Team: Colorado Rockies
2016 Stats: .272 .341 .567, OPS — .909, Hits — 101, HR — 27, RBIs — 72
Thanks to Jose Reyes’ early-season suspension, Trevor Story got the chance to compete for the starting shortstop position in Colorado. Once there, he went on to set the MLB record for a rookie by hitting home runs in each of his first four games. Thanks to a thumb injury, however, Trevor Story’s magical rookie year (.272/.341/.567, 120 wRC+) ended a bit prematurely. His 27 dingers insinuate a powerful future, as does his statistical tendency to hit fly balls.
9. Andrelton Simmons
Team: Los Angeles Angels
2016 Stats: .281 .324 .366, OPS — .690, Hits — 126, HR — 4, RBIs — 44
Most have forgotten about former Atlanta Braves centerpiece Andrelton Simmons, considering he missed a ton of time and only hit .281 when present. But at only 27 years old, Simmons remains the model of shortstop defense (18 defensive runs saved despite the missed time). So like Ozzie Smith and his subpar .262 career average, Simmons will thrive on elite, game-changing defense.
If Andrelton Simmons gets his hands on the ball, you’re going to be out. pic.twitter.com/SEVE25SENF
— Baseball is Fun (@flippingbats) April 27, 2017
10. Aledmys Diaz
Team: St. Louis Cardinals
2016 Stats: .300 .369 .510, OPS — .879, Hits — 121, HR — 17, RBIs — 65
As a rookie for the always rookie-heavy Cardinals, Aledmys Diaz became the first player in history to keep a .500 batting average after 50 at bats. He was soon named an All-Star for the National League team, before finishing the year with a .300 average and 17 dingers. With a .236 average regression this year thus far, however, I’m not ready to crown Diaz elite as far as top MLB shortstops go.
Honorable Mentions: Troy Tulowitzki, Toronto Blue Jays; Tim Anderson, Chicago White Sox; Jean Segura, Seattle Mariners; Didi Gregorius, New York Yankees; Elvis Andrus, Texas Rangers; Dansby Swanson, Atlanta Braves; Freddy Galvis, Philadelphia Phillies
cover photo h/t Kelvin Kuo / Associated Press / LA Times