Organizational droughts: shortstop

Jamie Squire

When was the last time your team developed a shortstop who had a great season? We have lists ...

Welcome back to another installment of organizational droughts, in which we search for the last homegrown players for all 30 teams to star at a specific position. "Homegrown" is defined as a player who had never played for another organization before his big season. "Star" is defined as a player who has a season worth four or more wins above replacement according to Baseball Reference. "Odd" is defined as 23 teams passing on Mike Trout in the 2009 draft. But that last one isn't going to come up because we're talking about shortstops, stupid.

Here's the thing about WAR and shortstops: It makes everyone scouts from 1968, drooling over the next Mark Belanger. Defense used to be important for shortstops. Then came the statistical revolution, and it was more important in some circles for shortstops to hit. Turns out that defense really is important for shortstops! Huh. And a player can be extremely valuable even when he doesn't hit a lot. As such, you'll see some odd names pop up on any list of four-win shortstops. Jack Wilson! Adam Everett! Khalil Greene! If a hitter can get to more ground balls than the average shortstop and hit a little bit, he's probably helping a team win quite a bit.

Here are the last homegrown star shortstops for every team, a list in which "star" is very much debatable:

Star-divide

Still with the team

Phillies - Jimmy Rollins (5.4 wins above replacement in 2008)
Yankees - Derek Jeter (6.6, 2009)
White Sox - Alexei Ramirez (5.5, 2010)
Rockies - Troy Tulowitzki (6.2, 2011)
Angels - Erick Aybar (4.3, 2012)

It's not just a happy coincidence that all of these players have been with the same team for their entire careers, and all of them have been given the long-term-contract treatment at one point. When a team finds that homegrown shortstop, they hold onto him like a supermodel that you found on Match.com who makes six figures and tells a mean Von Hayes joke. You will set apartment buildings on fire if that's the only way to keep other suitors away.

The only surprise here for some of you might be Alexei Ramirez, who has never had a season that was super-dominant on the surface. But he consistently grades out as one of the better fielders in baseball, and apart from last year, usually mixes juuuust enough OBP with his power. His power is down this year, but the average is back to normal. If he has another typical Alexei Ramirez year, that's a pretty big deal for the White Sox.

Star-divide

Recent past

Red Sox - Nomar Garciaparra (6.1, 2003)
Indians - Jhonny Peralta (5.1, 2005)
Royals - Mike Aviles (4.7, 2008)
Brewers - J.J. Hardy (4.8, 2008)
Braves - Yunel Escobar (4.2, 2009)
Cardinals - Brendan Ryan (4.5, 2009)
Athletics - Cliff Pennington (4.4, 2010)
Diamondbacks - Stephen Drew (4.0, 2010)
Mets - Jose Reyes (4.7, 2011)

Here's where you get into the meat of the defense-vs.-offense debate, with Cliff Pennington and Brendan Ryan. Ryan's 4.5-win season, though, had less to do with him fielding like a mustachioed Ozzie Smith, and more with him hitting pretty well -- .292/.340/.400 in that standout year.

Then he got to the Mariners, whose clubhouse has two plates of Oreos at all times: one a plate of regular Oreos, and another of Enchanted Oreos of Shitty Hitting. The latter one is marked with a little sign, but the words are in six-point font. Whenever a clubhouse guy mentions that they should make the font bigger, the response is always, "Yeah, yeah, yeah, we know." A more important point might be that there's no reason to have that plate of enchanted Oreos in the first place, but I'm just a blogger.

Also, Ryan was pretty bad in the season before he got to the Mariners. But, still.

The most surprising name on any of these lists might be Mike Aviles, who basically had the standard Bert Campaneris season as a 27-year-old rookie, then never came too close to it again.

Star-divide

Not-so-recent past

Blue Jays - Tony Fernandez (4.5, 1990)
Tigers - Alan Trammell (4.2, 1993)
Orioles - Cal Ripken (4.0, 1994)
Reds - Barry Larkin (5.1, 1999)
Mariners - Alex Rodriguez (10.3, 2000)

This list … it's like the first page in my baseball card binder when I was 12. And Alex Rodriguez. When it comes to developing great shortstops, apparently, teams like to drop the mic and walk away from the whole sordid business of developing great shortstops. This list has four of the top 10 shortstops ever, according to WAR, and Tony Fernandez is no slouch at #25.

This means that the Yankees will go 20 years between Derek Jeter and the next really good homegrown shortstop. Of course, they'll also get five-win production from Brandon Wood on a minor-league deal, too, so they won't be missing out.

Rodriguez was 24 for that 10-win season, by the way. Another reminder that Mike Trout previously existed, and he was a shortstop. Man alive, did that legacy get screwed up along the way.

Last note: In between Trammell seasons, the Tigers also had two great seasons at short from Travis Fryman, who was much better than you might remember.

Star-divide

Distant past

Twins - Zoilo Versalles (7.2, 1965)
Pirates - Gene Alley (5.3, 1968)
Cubs - Don Kessinger (4.0, 1969)
Rangers - Ed Brinkman (4.4, 1970)
Giants - Chris Speier (4.2, 1975)
Padres - Ozzie Smith (5.0, 1980)
Dodgers - Bill Russell (4.9, 1982)

It's hard to look at a list of MVPs in major-league history without stopping to notice Zoilo Versalles. He's out of place, and when you note that he hit .273/.318/.462, you might figure the writers made some sort of good-clubhouse-guy mistake. Don't. Versalles led the league in doubles, triples, and total bases, and he was second in WAR only to Sam McDowell, a pitcher. And Versalles did it all while playing an outstanding shortstop.

It's weird. The Mike Trout supporters and the Versalles supporters would have had a lot to agree with, yet the former group kept getting portrayed as new-school dorks. We were just retro, man. Defense and doubles, everyone. Defense and doubles.

Ozzie made an All-Star team with Padres, which is kind of odd to think about. He did it with a .259/.328/.276 first half, but then he slumped to .183/.257/.234 in the second half. He was 26, so it wasn't like he was going to get better, right? Right? If it makes the Padres feel better, the other NL West teams have had similar problems drafting and developing shortstops.

Don Kessinger won what looks like a well-deserved Gold Glove in that '69 season with the Cubs, but he was a career .252/.314/.312 hitter. For a shortstop in the '60s, that was good enough to be a six-time All-Star.

If you're wondering about Michael Young with the Rangers, he just missed the cutoff. Turns out that his defense hurt him a little when it came to assessing his value. Wait, no, hear me out. In 2005, Young set career marks in homers, hits, on-base percentage, and batting average, but he also recorded the second-worst defensive season in shortstop history, at least according to fielding runs.

I just wish there were somewhere on the Internet where we could discuss Michael Young's defensive contributions. I've kept this bottled up so long.

Edit: Also, Michael Young was drafted by the Blue Jays. Which I've written about before. It'd be a lot easier to keep track of this stuff if there were, like, four teams.

Star-divide

Nope

Rays
Astros
Marlins
Expos/Nationals

Wil Cordero was supposed to be the next Cal Ripken, but he fielded short like Eddie Murray, so he just missed. Hubie Brooks was a Mets product, so he doesn't count, and Orlando Cabrera came oh-so-close to the cutoff, but never quite made it. So the Expos/Nationals are still waiting for Ian Desmond to have a career year.

Dickie Thon came over in a trade for Ken Forsch, in case you were wondering about the Astros, but more importantly, they don't have a history of shortstops at all, homegrown or otherwise. Denis Menke is an 8-win player if you're talking about limericks, though.

The Rays and Marlins are recent expansion teams, so they're not exactly surprises. I originally had Hanley Ramirez on the Marlins here, but I forgot that he was a Red Sox prospect. Came over to the Marlins in a minor deal, or something. Edgar Renteria came close, but he didn't blossom into a star until he was with the Cardinals, according to WAR.

While the Astros and Expos haven't exactly been around since the turn of the 20th century, they've been around long enough to lose this round of organizational droughts handily.

Previous articles on organizational droughts:

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