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State of the System 2020: Shortstop

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Believe it or not, the system is loaded.

Ronny Mauricio
Steve Sypa

For years, Jose Reyes was a given at shortstop, and not only was he a player good enough to be penciled in as an everyday starter, but he excelled. In 1050 games from 2003-2011, he hit .292/.341/.441 with 81 home runs and 370 stolen bases, playing in four All-Star Games, receiving a smattering of MVP votes, and winning the 2011 National League batting championship with a .337 average. After he left, the Mets had a hole at shortstop for years. Ruben Tejada, Omar Quintanilla, Wilmer Flores, Asdrubal Cabrera, Amed Rosario and Andres Gimenez have all have started at the position since, and while none were necessarily bad players, a combination of offensive production, defensive ability, contract-length and/or experience has left the Mets without a sure fire, dependable shortstop since Reyes. While the Mets’ minor league system is thin in many areas, shortstop is not one of them.

As is the case with almost every other position, a lack of upper minors depth prompted the Syracuse Mets to turned to free agency to man the position. Danny Espinosa received the majority of playing time in Syracuse, hitting .256/.338/.440 in 129 games. Certainly capable of playing the position in a full-time capacity, Luis Guillorme shuttled up-and-down between the majors and minors, costing him the ability to claim the position for his own.

Andres Gimenez, the Mets number two prospect going into the 2020 season, handled shortstop duties for the Binghamton Rumble Ponies. A combination of factors led to a subpar .250/.309/.387, but the 20-year-old performed exceptionally well in other aspects of the game, stealing 28 bases and playing plus defense. He was sent to the Arizona Fall League and streamlined the new swing mechanics that he introduced in 2019, winning the league batting championship with a .371/.413/.586 line. Promoted to the Mets for the shortened 2020 season, Gimenez went from a bench role to a full-time role thanks to multiple middle infield injuries and has made the most of his time, highlighting why he was a top prospect in the system.

The St. Lucie Mets had Manny Rodriguez get the bulk of the playing time at shortstop. Drafted in the 10th round of the 2018 MLB Draft as a senior out of the University of Cincinnati, Rodriguez hit .236/.298/.339 with the Brooklyn Cyclones for the remainder of that year and then hit .242/.314/.313 with St. Lucie in 2019. A local Brooklyn boy, Rodriguez always was more of a defense-over-offense player, though the swing changes that saw him go from hitting .242/.297/.331 with one homer in his junior season to .292/.374/.589 with twelve homers in his senior season have not really translated at the professional level. Regardless of his bat, he has the defensive tools to stay at shortstop for years to come, with plenty of quick twitch muscle, excellent range, soft hands, a smooth transfer, and above-average arm.

The top prospect in the Mets’ minor league system, Ronny Mauricio was the starting shortstop for the Columbia Fireflies. Though his .268/.307/.357 batting line may look unimpressive at first glance, the 18-year-old hit a much more impressive .290/.333/.394 in the first half. Considered one of the top talents available during the 2017-2018 international signing period, the Mets signed Mauricio for $2.1 million and he has done nothing but impress since. The young Dominican oozes potential, with the potential to hit for average and for power. In addition, he is a capable shortstop, though some evaluators have the concern that as he starts filling in, he will slow down and be forced off the position. Regardless, he currently reads the ball well off the bat, shows good reaction times and instincts, has soft hands, a quick transfer, and possesses a plus arm.

In addition to Mauricio, Shervyen Newton, the Mets’ tenth top prospect for the 2020 season, was rostered with Columbia is capable of playing shortstop; the presence of Mauricio relegated the Curaçaoan to second. While Newton was unable to follow up his impressive 2018 season with a strong 2019 season, hitting.209/.283/.330 in 109 games, the raw tools that ranked so highly in prospect lists remained.

The Brooklyn Cyclones saw Wilmer Reyes and Yoel Romero split playing time at shortstop, with Reyes edging Romero out slightly, 38 games to 23. While not a top prospect yet, Wilmer Reyes was one of the best players I saw during the 2019 season, a year in which he hit .323/.350/.441 in 61 total games, leading qualified hitters on the team in OPS and a variety of other offensive categories. Signed on the last day of the 2015-2016 international free agent period out of the Dominican Republic, Reyes has flashed a solid hit tool in his young career. He played all over the field in 2019, logging the majority of his time at shortstop but also playing first base, second base, and third base as well. At short, he is not traditionally quick or rangy, but has a smooth glove and is able to transfer and throw the ball quickly, augmenting his average arm.

Yoel Romero was signed out of Venezuela a year prior, for $300,000. After spending three years in the Dominican Summer League, he was brought stateside in 2018, spending the season with the Kingsport Mets and hitting a solid .265/.368/.373. He began the 2019 season with a handful of appearances with the Columbia Fireflies and St. Lucie Mets prior to the start of the Cyclones’ season, but spent the bulk of his year in Brooklyn, hitting .251/.326/.377 in 54 games. Like Reyes, Romero was extremely versatile in 2019, playing various positions. With the bat, the 22-year-old Venezuelan is a gap hitter with limited power upside, an average-over-power hitter. Defensively, he profiles well at shortstop thanks to quick-twitch muscle affording him quick reaction times, but his arm and range are only considered average.

The Kingsport Mets saw Sebastian Espino and Jaylen Palmer split playing time at shortstop, with Espino edging out Palmer 38 games to 30. Signed out of the Dominican Republic, Sebastian Espino signed for $300,000, the highest bonus that the Mets gave to an international rookie during the 2016-2017 international signing period. The Mets put the 17-year-old shortstop on an advanced developmental path, promoting the 17-year-old stateside at the end of the 2017 after playing the year in the Dominican Summer League. He stayed in the GCL for the 2018 and played in Kingsport in 2019, hitting .267/.329/.367 in 46 games and .251/.303/.332 in 52 games respectively. Espino currently projects as a defensive-oriented shortstop, showing soft hands, good actions, and plenty of range. With the bat, he is currently a contact-oriented fastball hitter, spraying line drives around the field with the occasional double. There may be some additional power potential in his 6’2”, 175-pound frame, but were he to grow into more power, he needs to develop his eye as well, as he struggles against breaking balls.

Ranked the Mets 16 top prospect for the 2020 season, Jaylen Palmer is a local kid, born in Brooklyn. He attended Holy Cross High School, commuting back and forth from Canarsie to Flushing every day, after hitting .286/.511/.476 in 24 games in his senior year was drafted by the Mets in the 22nd round of the 2018 MLB Draft. The Mets went overslot to sign him, paying him $200,000 and assigned him to the GCL Mets, where he hit .310/.394/.414 in 25 games with 1 home run and 5 stolen bases. The 18-year-old was promoted to Kingsport for the 2019 season, where he split time at shortstop and third base, hitting .260/.344/.413 in 62 games with 7 home runs and 1 stolen base. Tall and leggy, Palmer has above-average bat speed, giving him a bit of pop. While his swing is smooth and flows well, there is length and loft to it, making him susceptible to swinging over pitches, as his 39.1% strikeout rate in 2019 attests to. On the field, he shows above-average range and a strong, accurate arm. He is athletic and possesses above-average speed, making him a versatile defender with the ability to play second base, shortstop, third base, and though he has never played it as a professional, the outfield.

In the GCL, William Lugo got the majority of playing time at short. Using $475,000 of the million dollars of international bonus pool money that the Mets received after they traded Jeurys Familia to the Athletics on July 21, 2018, the Mets were able to sign Dominican third baseman William Lugo in late August a few weeks later. The 17-year-old skipped over the Dominican Summer League completely and was assigned to the GCL Mets for the remainder of the year, where he hit .158/.280/.219 in 43 games, hitting 1 home run and stealing 1 base. The 6’3”, 215-pound Lugo is solidly built, thick and muscular from top to bottom. He swings with confidence and authority, putting a jolt into the ball when he connects, showing present above-average power, and with the possibility of plus power in the future. He has a solid eye and recognizes spin well enough for a youngster, but gets aggressive at the plate and needs to work on being selective in order to maximize pitches that he can drive. Defensively, he has enough agility and a strong enough arm to play shortstop at this young age, but is likely better suited for third, or first if his body continues growing and he loses mobility.

Finally, the Mets have a trio of interesting players who play shortstop in the Dominican Summer League in Victor Gonzalez, Isnael Monegro, and Junior Tillien.