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The Recent First Round Shortstops

Since 2003, another 30 shortstops have been taken in the first round of the June Amateur Draft. This includes a guy who might become the best college shortstop drafted in 25 years, and the biggest draft bust the position has even seen. You have Aaron Hill, Adam Jones, Stephen Drew, Justin Upton, Cliff Pennington and Gordon Beckham who have already established themselves as big league regulars. There is C.J. Henry, who left baseball to play with his brother on the Kansas basketball team. And Brandon Wood, perhaps the most frustrating of all.

Today, I won’t be talking about those 10 players above. I also won’t talk about Emmanuel Burriss or Omar Quintanilla, both of whom are injured and not particularly exciting. Justin Jackson is injured and moderately exciting, but we’ll wait to talk about him once he’s healthy. That leaves us 17 players that run the gamut on the prospect scale to talk about today.

The Most Likely Busts

Since we agreed not to talk about Matt Bush, this is heretofore known as the Preston Mattingly group, as the former Dodgers supplemental first rounder has never really done anything as a professional that is prospect worthy. It’s premature to think of Ryan Dent as a bust, as he did have a .350 OBP in Low-A as a 20-year-old, but I don’t have super-high hopes for the former 62nd overall pick. I have more confidence calling Anthony Hewitt a bust, as he now has a 22/188 walk-to-strikeout ratio in 545 career plate appearances. And a .625 OPS.

Trevor Plouffe continues to get better and better, but if we stick from what we learned yesterday, I don’t see him ever becoming a viable Major League regular. His OBP in Low-A was .300, and his AA career was just .272/.326/.410. I feel the same way about Pete Kozma, who really doesn’t have a skill worth praising. The bench is his only big league future.

The It’s Not Looking Great Group

It feels like Chris Nelson and Tyler Greene have been around forever, teasing people with their abilities. We thought Nelson was a prospect in 2004 and 2007, he looked like a bust in 2005, 2006 and 2008. He’s now battled health problems, but has looked okay in 2009 and 2010. Probably a bench player, but the Rockies have a not-horrible back up plan if Tulowitzki were to go down. Greene will never make enough contact to be a viable regular, but he could be a really good bench player considering his glove, his baserunning and his power.

I am cautiously pessimistic about Ryan Flaherty, especially after he fell flat on his face with an Opening Day assignment to Double-A. The Cubs probably should have left him in Tennessee to figure things out, as he is clearly good enough to handle the Florida State League (.333/.402/.514). He’s the best member of this tier, but I also don’t get a great feeling. From talking with people, he seems like a prospect whose whole is less than the sum of his parts.

Finally, we have the 2009 draftees that are struggling mightily out of the gate: the Astros Jiovanni Mier and Diamondbacks prospect Chris Owings. Mier has been a complete mess in the Sally League, .210/.308/.263, but he’s a really good athlete that’s walking enough (11 BB%) to keep me from closing the book. Owings batting line of .291/.309/.419 in the Midwest League is actually pretty good, but his 4-36 walk-to-strikeout rate is not.

The Prospects

In my first draft of this piece, I contemplated ranking Reese Havens as a blue-chip guy. He was close. But the quantity of injury problems, many to his back, have me worried. The Mets now know he isn’t really a shortstop, but I think he can be a really solid second baseman down the line. Adrian Cardenas shares the left-handed, second base profile, but doesn’t share much else with Havens. Ability to make contact is his best skill, and maybe his only one.

Drew Cumberland is a long-time favorite of mine, and enjoying a fantastic breakout season in the Cal League. But it’s not really a breakout as much as a healthy season, as Cumberland is just doing everything he’s done before (with a little more power). He makes contact, he takes his walks, he steals bases, has enough pop, and he sticks up the middle. He’s a good prospect. In the same league, and less impressively so, is Grant Green. It’s far too early to make a call on Green, but he’s striking out too much, and not hitting for the power I thought he would. He’s holding onto prospect status for dear life at this point.

The Blue Chippers

Mike Moustakas really took a hit in prospect circles when he hit just .250/.297/.421 last year in the Carolina League. But, yesterday’s article taught us that High-A has historically been the least important level in a first round shortstop’s development, and really, Moustakas’ .272/.337/.468 line at 19 in the Midwest League the year prior was pretty good. I saw him take batting practice that year, and it was one of the most impressive shows I’ve seen a hitter put on at that level. He’s now hitting .377/.463/.770 in 150 plate appearances at Double-A, and I have a lot of faith that he’ll be a star in Kansas City.

There have been few 2009 draft picks that have been as impressive as Nick Franklin, the 27th overall pick for the Seattle Mariners. We know that the best shortstop picks have established themselves right off the bat, and Franklin seems to be doing that at age 19 in the Midwest League. He now has 23 extra-base hits in 195 plate appearances, and is hitting .317/.361/.567 overall. He’s splitting time between shortstop and second, but right now, and draws praise for his athleticism.

If I’m telling you we never should have given up on Mike Moustakas, I’m not ready to turn my back on Tim Beckham, either. A recent hot streak has really helped matters, but still, he now has a .706 OPS, and his career minor league batting line is .258/.319/.383. The walks are up, the power looks up, but Beckham is a very mistake-prone player. I’m waiting until Double-A to begin to make declaritive statements about the Rays passing on Buster Posey for Beckham, but just know that I’m tempted.

I’ll close things out with a quick ranking today: Moustakas, Franklin, Beckham, Cumberland, Havens, Cardenas, Green, Flaherty. Tomorrow, I’ll be back with the 2010 draft’s shortstop prospects.