Top 15 Shortstop Prospects (2020 Preseason): Who Will Emerge As The Next Great SS Prospect?

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Generally shortstop is seen as a premier position for prospects, as players developing at shortstop are often shifted to other positions. That’s not to say that none of the prospects will stick, because some certainly will. At the same time the position also appears to be in need of a fresh batch of elite prospects. After you get through the top names, there’s a slew of intriguing names that need to take the next step in their development. Who will be the next elite shortstop prospect? Who should we be trying to buy now? Let’s take a look:

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RankingNameGradeTeam
1Wander FrancoATampa Bay Rays
2Carter KieboomA-Washington Nationals
3CJ AbramsB+San Diego Padres
4Bobby Witt Jr.B+Kansas City Royals
5Oneil CruzB+Pittsburgh Pirates
6Jordan GroshansB+Toronto Blue Jays
7Luis GarciaB+Washington Nationals
8Royce LewisBMinnesota Twins
9Marco LucianoBSan Francisco Giants
10Andres GimenezBNew York Mets
11Brice TurangBMilwaukee Brewers
12Ronny MauricioBNew York Mets
13Geraldo PerdomoBArizona Diamondbacks
14Freudis NovaBHouston Astros
15Ryan ViladeB-Colorado Rockies

1) Wander Franco – Tampa Bay Rays
Grade – A

Franco continued his emergence as the elite prospect in the game, despite playing at 18-years old, as he produced at both Single-A and High-A in ’19:

  • Single-A – .318 with 6 HR and 14 SB
  • High-A – .339 with 3 HR and 4 SB

He showed even more power potential, which he should be able to tap into as he develops physically, having added 27 doubles and 7 triples over his 495 PA.  He also showed an impressive ability to make contact, considering his age, with a 4.3% SwStr%.

If you want a “knock” it’s that he could ultimately grow out of his speed, though that’s already the “weakest” part of his game (he went 18-for-32 on SB attempts last season).  He’s coming quickly and is forcing Tampa Bay to be more aggressive than normal in terms of his promotions. 

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2) Carter Kieboom – Washington Nationals
Grade – A-

It would be easy to be down on Kieboom after his disastrous MLB debut, hitting .128 with a 37.2% strikeout rate over 43 PA.  Of course even while he struggled he showed a strong approach (despite the strikeout rate):

  • SwStr% – 9.3%
  • O-Swing% – 24.2%

He also posted a 9.0% SwStr% over 494 PA at Triple-A, even in a small sample size the approach was believable, which led to a 20.2% strikeout rate and 13.8% walk rate.  He hit 16 HR at Triple-A, though with 24 double and 3 triples it’s easy to envision his power growing (especially with the approach).  During his brief time in the Majors he hit the ball hard (43.5%) and he simply needs more of a look to settle in and thrive.  That should come in 2020.

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3) CJ Abrams – San Diego Padres
Grade – B+

Abrams was selected sixth overall in the 2019 draft, though you could argue that he’s the most intriguing prospect in the class.  He has blazing speed (in his first taste of professional baseball he went 15-for-21 on SB attempts), and while the power isn’t there yet as he matures and develops he should become a 10-15 HR hitter.

The question is going to be his approach, as you have to wonder if he’ll be exposed against more advanced pitching (over 156 PA at Rookie Ball):

  • Strikeout Rate – 9.0%
  • Walk Rate – 6.4%
  • SwStr% – 17.7%

It’s a small sample size and we need to give him time to adjust to professional pitchers.  That said it’s still something to monitor.

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4) Bobby Witt Jr. – Kansas City Royals
Grade – B+

There are a few things we know about Witt thus far:

  • He was selected second overall in 2019
  • He was arguably the most hyped prospect in the draft class
  • He struggled badly with his ability to make contact initially

An “older” high school selection, Witt had 164 AB in Rookie Ball and posted a monstrous 25.6% SwStr%.  While that didn’t lead to many strikeouts yet (19.4%), it’s a red flag that needs to be monitored closely.  We aren’t going to make a big deal yet, as it was his first professional exposure, and there is the potential for him to develop both power and speed as he matures.  He could be the premier prospect in the draft class, but it could take time.

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5) Oneil Cruz – Pittsburgh Pirates
Grade – B+

There’s obviously concerns whether or not Cruz can remain at shortstop considering his size, but the power potential will play at any position.  That’s assuming he learns to control the strike zone, though strikeouts are going to remain a part of his game.  Just look at the numbers over 292 PA split between High-A and Double-A:

  • SwStr% – 16.7%
  • Strikeout Rate – 25.3%
  • Walk Rate – 8.2%

While he hit .298 last year, he benefited from a .384 BABIP and that’s not going to continue.  Obviously he’s not Aaron Judge, but in 280 PA at Double-A back in ’15 Judge had a 25.0% strikeout rate, 8.6% walk rate and 11.6% SwStr%, and given their size and power potential it’s easy to draw a comparison.  Cruz could develop into a “poor man’s Judge”, likely hitting closer to .250-.260 but with 35+ HR regularly.

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6) Jordan Groshans – Toronto Blue Jays
Grade – B+

If it wasn’t for injury there would likely be a lot more hype surrounding Groshans.  The 2018 first round selection was limited to 23 games in ’19, before a foot injury ended his season in May.  When he was on the field he was impressive, hitting .337 with 2 HR, 13 RBI and 12 R.  His approach was his most impressive skill, playing as a 19-year old:

  • Walk Rate – 13.5%
  • SwStr% – 9.9%

The power has not yet developed, though it should come in time as he matures and learns.  He also has enough speed to contribute a few stolen bases per year.  Whether he is slotted at shortstop or has to move to third base, he has all of the tools to be a successful player who could develop into a 25/10 type player to go along with a solid average.

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7) Luis Garcia – Washington Nationals
Grade – B+

The Nationals have been aggressive with Garcia, and that didn’t change in ’19 as he played the year at Double-A as a 19-yard old (he’ll turn 20 in May).  He held his own, hitting .280 with 4 HR and 11 SB over 525 AB.  He posted a meager 3.1% walk rate and also struggled with swings and misses (12.2% SwStr%), and those are things that could hurt him as he continues to advance. 

Of course his age and the competition level have to be taken into account, so you have to wonder if he’d be best served to have his ascent slowed.  He needs to mature and hone is approach, because he has the potential to develop into a 20/20 middle infield prospect.  The fear is that he can’t reel in his aggressiveness if he continues to be pushed so hard, so time will tell.

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8) Royce Lewis – Minnesota Twins
Grade – B

The first overall selection in 2017 spent time at High-A (418 PA) and Double-A (148 PA), but took a step backwards in his approach (Strikeout Rate // SwStr%):

  • High-A – 21.5% // 11.1%
  • Double-A – 22.3% // 12.5%

There’s clearly some power (26 doubles, 4 triples and 12 HR), which continues to develop, and speed (22-for-32 on SB attempts), but suddenly facing questions about his swing/approach there are concerns that he won’t live up his potential.  As it is he doesn’t draw enough walks (6.7% in ’19) and the strikeout rate could continue to rise against more advanced pitching.  He’ll likely open the year at Double-A and he could either rebuild his stock or see his value completely plummet.

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9) Marco Luciano – San Francisco Giants
Grade – B

Luciano is only 18-years old (he won’t turn 19 until September), so it’s easy to say he’s a long ways from arriving at the highest level.  At the same time he was one of the most hyped signings from the 2018 international signing period and he did a good job of backing up the hype.  In his first taste of professional baseball he hit .302 with 10 HR and 9 SB over 179 AB and the feeling is that he should continue to grow into his power and develop into a plus power bat.

The two questions will be whether or not he can develop into a solid base stealer (he needs to learn to become more efficient) and whether or not the Giants will be able to reign in his approach.  He’s obviously young and developing, but a 20.4% SwStr% in Rookie Ball is eye-popping.

Still, he has the ceiling of a Top 10 prospect and five-tool player if it all comes together.

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10) Andres Gimenez – New York Mets
Grade – B

Gimenez spent the year at Double-A and was solid, hitting .250 with 9 HR and 28 SB over 432 AB.  Obviously the number that seems to be his carrying tool is his speed, though he went 28-for-44 on SB attempts so he needs to learn to become more efficient on the bases.  Let’s also not forget that he went 38-for-52 in ’18, further supporting the speed potential.  At 20-years old he has time, and the ability to steal 20+ bases is going to make him an attractive asset moving forward.

It’s also interesting that the left-handed hitter carried a reverse split in ’19:

  • vs. RHP – .223/.274/.365
  • vs. LHP – .320/.394/.443

That’s promising, as is the fact that he maintained his SwStr% (11.6% in ’18, 11.5% in ’19) despite playing at Double-A as a 20-year old. He may never be a true superstar, but the upside value is there.

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11) Brice Turang – Milwaukee Brewers
Grade – B

The profile is impressive for a potential top of the order bat, who brings speed and an above average approach.  He’s 44-for-51 in SB since being drafted 21st overall in 2018, showing that the speed and ability to use it is there.  His approach was solid overall in ’19, as he split time between Single-A and High-A, though the performance stumbled after his promotion:

  • Single-A (357 PA) – .287 with 2 HR and 21 SB
  • High-A (207 PA) – .200 with 1 HR and 9 SB

Moving up against more advanced pitching his SwStr% “jumped” from 6.0% at Single-A to 9.6% at High-A though his walk rose from 13.7% to 16.4%.  Playing as a 19-year old it’s not a red flag, as he needs time to acclimate himself to more advanced pitching.  Now 20-years old (he turned 20 in November), he could be ready to take a significant step forward.  He’s not going to be a source of power, but it’s an impressive skill set that can make an impact.

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12) Ronny Mauricio – New York Mets
Grade – B

When we look at Mauricio it’s all about projection, as the 18-year old (he’ll turn 19 in August) has a long ways to go in his development.  Spending the year at Single-A he hit .268 with 4 HR and 6 SB over 504 PA, as he posted a 12.0% SwStr% and walked just 4.6%.  Of course playing his first year in full season ball fatigue may have been a factor, as he was producing significantly better in the first half:

  • First Half – .290/.333/.394
  • Second Half – .245/.280/.319

With age and maturity he should refine his approach, and there is power potential to tap into.  It’s easy to get distracted by the hype currently, but you need to be patient in your expectations.  He’s young and inexperienced, so give him time to see if he can put it together.  If he does the upside is there and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him rise into a B+ type prospect by year’s end.

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13) Geraldo Perdomo – Arizona Diamondbacks
Grade – B

The question facing Perdomo is if he’ll develop enough power in order to thrive at the highest levels, as he hit .275 with 3 HR and 26 SB over 499 PA split between Single-A (385 PA) and High-A (114 PA).  There’s no questioning his approach/understanding of the strike zone given these numbers:

  • Single-A – 56 K vs. 56 BB
  • High-A – 11 K vs. 14 BB

Expected to stick at shortstop, if he could mature into a 12-15 HR threat with his speed he’ll be an impressive prospect.  Having turned 20-years old this offseason there is time, but even if he’s at 6-9 HR he can’t be ignored.

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14) Freudis Nova – Houston Astros
Grade – B

Outside of Whitley it’s easy to label Nova as the highest upside prospect in the Houston system, though he needs to start showing it on the field instead of just in scouting reports.  He turned 20-years old in January so there is time, but in 282 AB at Single-A he hit just .259 with 3 HR and 10 SB while his aggressive approach made it difficult to produce:

  • Strikeouts – 22.7%
  • SwStr% – 15.0%
  • Walks – 5.0%

By all reports he has significant raw power, though it hasn’t translated to live game action and you have to wonder how much it will with the strikeout issues in the lower levels.  More advanced pitching could further expose him, sending his prospect stock crashing.  This could prove to be a key year in his development.

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15) Ryan Vilade – Colorado Rockies
Grade – B-

Vilade received a lot of hype after being selected in the second round of the 2017 draft, and though he hasn’t been a bust the results also haven’t been spectacular.  Playing at High-A last year (587 PA) he hit .303 with 24 SB, and while there weren’t a ton of home runs he did show some intriguing extra base potential:

  • Doubles – 27
  • Triples – 10
  • Home Runs – 12

The question many have is whether or not there will be more power, or if he’ll continues to take a hit first approach using the entire field and making consistent contact (8.6% SwStr%). There’s nothing wrong with what he’s currently showing, and even as is a .270/15/20 player would have significant value regardless of the position he plays (he saw time at shortstop and third base last season). 

Playing 2020 at 21-years old it’s very likely he learns to tap into his power a little bit more, creating the potential for a 20/20 player.  Don’t be surprised to see him rise into the “B” and maybe even “B+” range this season.

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Just Missed – Robert Puason (OAK), Jazz Chisholm (MIA), Noelvi Marte (SEA), Jose Garcia (CIN), Braden Shewmake (ATL)

Sources – Fangraphs, MILB.com, MLB.com

Make sure to check out all of our 2020 prospect rankings:

AL EastAL CentralAL West
Baltimore OriolesChicago White SoxHouston Astros
Boston Red SoxCleveland IndiansLos Angeles Angels
New York YankeesDetroit TigersOakland A's
Tampa Bay RaysKansas City RoyalsSeattle Mariners
Toronto Blue JaysMinnesota TwinsTexas Rangers
NL EastNL CentralNL West
Atlanta BravesChicago CubsArizona Diamondbacks
Miami MarlinsCincinnati RedsColorado Rockies
New York MetsMilwaukee BrewersLos Angeles Dodgers
Philadelphia PhilliesPittsburgh PiratesSan Diego Padres
Washington NationalsSt. Louis CardinalsSan Francisco Giants

2 COMMENTS

    • He’s right on the cusp and his strong finish was impressive, but we need to see more and that he can maintain it

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