Since Christian Guzman left after the 2004 season, the starting shortstop position for the Twins has been a revolving door. Jason Bartlett was solid for a couple years, but other than Bartlett the list of starters is long and less than impressive.
The Twins have earned the reputation for being weak up the middle at the big league level and throughout their organization. Until recently, that statement was true as the Twins currently have excellent organizational depth at the shortstop position. It is a common opinion that the organization's strength is their young outfielders. But the more I look at the shortstops they have signed these past few years, I must ask if shortstop could be the strongest position in the system?
Take a look at the nine shortstops after the jump, then tell us where you would rank shortstop in the Twins organization.The list of shortstops is headed by Brian Dozier. Signed as an eighth round pick out of the University of Southern Mississippi in 2009, Dozier has raced through the organization. A non-roster invite to spring training, management has made it clear they would not have a problem calling on Dozier if either Jamie Carroll or Alexi Casilla should be injured. Dozier began his career in Elizabethton following the draft where he hit .353 average in 218 at bats. After a solid 2010 split between Beloit and Fort Myers, Dozier opened eyes last year when he was selected the organization's Player of the Year. He began his 2011 season at Fort Myers where he hit .322 average in 180 at bats with a .423 OBP. He moved up to New Britain where he hit .318/.384/.502 with 22 doubles, seven triples and seven home runs. For the season, he struck out only 66 times in 491 at bats while taking 55 walks. He also stole 24 bases while being thrown out eleven times. After an impressive performance in the Arizona Fall League, Dozier came to spring training as a long shot to make the Twins opening day roster. Ron Gardenhire, who has stated that he wanted Dozier called up last summer, has made it clear that Dozier will play full-time in Rochester rather than sit on the Twins bench. His comments also indicate that he sees Dozier as the Twins shortstop of the future.
Last December the Twins claimed Pedro Floriman off waivers from the Orioles. They soon waived him so that he could be assigned to Rochester, thus removing him from the 40-man roster. Floriman has a reputation for being an excellent defensive shortstop who has yet to hit well enough to be considered for a big league job although he hit .267/.344/.396 at Bowie of the Eastern League last year. Floriman, who is a switch hitter with some quickness, has worked himself into a position this spring where he is being considered for a utility spot on their 25-man roster. He is only 25 years old and if he can take another step forward with his bat, he could compete for a starting job in the future.
The Twins selected Levi Michael in the first round of last year's draft. Considered by many as the top shortstop in the draft, Michael fell to the Twins in part because he struggled late last season at UNC and in the College World Series. Although it was public knowledge that he was playing through an injury, the extent of his injuries wasn't well known. Michael, who was playing with three serious injuries, still wasn't 100% healthy when he reported to the Fall Instructional League in late September. Now healthy, there have been comments that suggest he will begin his professional career in Hi-A ball at Fort Myers. Although he has yet to play in his first professional game, most believe that Michael is a sure bet to be a starting big league shortstop someday.
The Twins selected two other shortstops high in last year's draft, Tyler Grimes in the fifth round and Adam Bryant in the ninth round. Both players began their careers in A-ball at Beloit rather than at Elizabethton where the Twins usually assign most college draft picks. Grimes, who played his college ball at Wichita State, hit .225 average in 138 at bats with four home runs. A Troy University grad, Bryant hit .245 average in 208 at bats. With their initial exposure to professional ball behind them, look for both to begin this season back at Beloit. Whereas Bryant seems more suited to become a utility player, Grimes should continue his move through the organization as a shortstop.
In the second round of the 2010 draft, the Twins selected a raw high school shortstop from Georgia, Niko Goodrum. The comments about him when drafted were that he was very raw and very, very athletic. Thus, it wasn't a surprise when he struggled in his initial season with the Gulf Coast League Twins where he hit for only .161 average. A tall (6'4") and athletic shortstop, Goodrum is considered by many as having the best arm of any infielder in the organization. It was described to me as being both fluid and strong. This past year at Elizabethton, he hit better during the first half before hitting well over .300 average the last half of his season. A switch hitter, his improvement was tied to hitting much better from the left side. He also stole eight bases in nine attempts. When you take into consideration his athleticism and raw talent, his ceiling may be so high that should he reach it he would be the best shortstop the Twins have ever had.
Another exciting young shortstop is Daniel Santana, who spent most of last year at Beloit. Santana, who turned 21 last winter, played mostly shortstop before spending some time as a center fielder late in the year. In 365 at bats, Santana hit .247 average with seven home runs and 24 stolen bases. It is rumored that Fort Myers manager Jake Mauer would like to move Santana to second base this year to form a double play combination with Levi Michael. Although he has been a shortstop most of his career, it appears the Twins are looking to move him to either second base or the outfield.
Prior to signing Miguel Sano and Max Kepler to big contracts in 2009, the Twins had signed Jorge Polanco for $700,000+. Known for his defensive abilities, Baseball America named him the best defensive infielder in the entire Twins organization in 2010. After splitting his rookie professional season between the DSL Twins and GCL Twins, Polanco spent all of 2011 with the GCL Twins. After hitting .223 average in 103 at bats with the GCL Twins in 2010, he raised his average to .250 in 172 at bats last year. Polanco, who won't turn 19 until July, will likely begin the 2012 season in EST before reporting to Elizabethton. If he can continue the improvement he made at the plate last year, look for him to work his way up the ladder towards a position with the Twins .
A year after signing Polanco the Twins signed another top shortstop from the Dominican Republic, Javier Pimentel. He began his 2011 season in the Dominican Summer League. In a very unusual move for the Twins, they moved the seventeen year old Pimentel up to the Gulf Coast League in early summer. He would hit only .167 average in 102 at bats for the GCL Twins, however, he was one of the youngest players in the league. At 6'3" tall, Pimentel has a frame that suggests third base may be his best position.
Several of this group will never complete their journey to Minnesota. Others will be moved to another position along the way. A group that includes the Twins next starting shortstop, a first round pick who was the top shortstop in the draft, a gifted athlete with a very high ceiling and a young prospect who is a defensive specialist, shortstop is no longer a void in the organization. Is the shortstop position the strongest position in the organization, stronger than their stable of outfielders? You tell me what you think!