Twins

The Twins Finally Have Too Many Shortstops

Photo Credit: Peter Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

To say the Minnesota Twins have struggled to find quality shortstops throughout their existence is an understatement. You’d think at some point in 60 years, a team could stumble into an elite shortstop at one point. Pretty much the entire American League did.

The Seattle Mariners and Texas Rangers had A-Rod, the Oakland A’s developed MVP Miguel Tejada, and Houston Astros drafted Carlos Correa (we’ll get back to him in a second). The Detroit Tigers (Carlos Guillen) and Cleveland Guardians (Francisco Lindor) also had elite shortstops.

Heck, there are plenty of AL teams that had two such star shortstops. The New York Yankees acquired A-Rod but had Derek Jeter, necessitating a move to third base. The Boston Red Sox got two of them with Nomar Garciaparra and Xander Bogaerts. Even the Baltimore Orioles churned out Cal Ripken Jr. and signed Tejada in free agency afterward.

Meanwhile, in Minneapolis! They had… well, here’s a list of every shortstop in Twins history who had multiple seasons with 400 plate appearances and an above-average wRC, according to FanGraphs:

Zoilo Versalles (1964-65)
Roy Smalley (1976, ’78-80, ’85)
Eduardo Escobar (2014-15)

And thus ends the Twins’ history of above-average shortstops. Until last year, that is, when Correa came to Minnesota to hang out for a year, then bailed to the San Francisco Giants bailed to the New York Mets realized that when you took Minnesota’s glasses off, they were actually really hot.

So now the Twins, Correa’s first and really, only choice for a long-term baseball home, finally have a star shortstop to roll with for the long term. Whenever you can get a player like Correa, you obviously have to do it. But in some ways, the timing couldn’t be worse.

For Opening Day, Correa displaces Kyle Farmer, a slightly-below average hitter, to a super-utility role. That’s not bad. But the Twins have a pair of star shortstop prospects that should be landing any day now. 2017 No. 1 overall pick Royce Lewis, and 2022 No. 8 overall pick Brooks Lee.

Lewis might already be an everyday shortstop if not for Correa’s stunning arrival last season. Lewis fully recovered from early-career knee injuries to slash .313/.405/.534 in AAA last season, then dazzled in his Twins debut with a .300/.317/.550 line in 12 games. Once Correa went back, though, Lewis hit the outfield where he suffered another ACL tear.

Should Lewis make a full recovery (a significant if), he’d be back in line to play shortstop… only, Correa is penciled in there for six-to-ten years.

The Twins drafted Lee five years later, but he’s only about two years younger than Lewis. He turns 22 in February, whereas Lewis will be 24 in June. And for a guy who was drafted last summer, Lee seems incredibly advanced as a prospect.

He played 25 games in High-A ball last year, a small but impressive sample. As a 21-year-old, he slashed .289/.395/.454 in his first year of facing professional pitchers. His .848 OPS ranked sixth in the Midwest League among all Under-22 hitters with 100-plus plate appearances.

Lee should start in AA Wichita next year, and from there, anything can happen. It’s not unusual to see top prospects skip Triple-A and go straight to the majors if their progress is meteoric and the need is present.

Except… Correa is penciled in at shortstop for the next six-to-ten years.

Lewis and Lee are the two best prospects in the Twins’ system. If you’d argue that Austin Martin, the No. 5 overall pick in 2020, is third despite a down season in Double-A, that makes three top shortstop prospects in their system, with a megastar holding that spot for the next half-decade.

What do you do with these guys now? Should Minnesota be concerned that they’re blocking their best prospects?

There’s a simple answer to that: What, are you kidding?

Don’t get us wrong, if Correa somehow didn’t find Minnesota appealing and left for greener pastures, Lewis and Lee would be a decent long-term plan to fill the position. But can guess what’s even better?

If you said, having Correa and two elite shortstop prospects, ding ding. You won. Take a look at that history again. The franchise has basically had just three above-average shortstops in 60-plus years of existence before Correa, and two of them had a reign lasting just two seasons.

Correa gives the Twins about as much certainty as you can get that they’ll have one for the next half-decade or so. Injuries can always derail that, especially if the ankle injury is a big deal. But otherwise, Minnesota has that in the bag. Say what you want about last year, but he still OPS’d .834 and was 40% better than a league-average hitter. That’s probably not going away anytime soon.

The certainty Correa brings is important because the attrition rate for MLB prospects is pretty high. You don’t need to look further than Lewis or Martin to see why. Both might certainly turn out, but injuries can derail a career at any time. In Martin’s case, plenty of top prospects can not have their skills translate at the highest levels of pro ball.

But hey, let’s say we can guarantee that Lewis and Lee both hit as prospects and become top, shortstop-capable players. Let’s go nuts and say Austin Martin develops some power and joins them. Is it bad that Correa’s there to block them?

We’re once again tapping the There’s No Such Thing As Too Many Shortstops sign.

It’s absurdly easy to find room for players athletic enough to play at shortstop. You have third base, you have second base, and you even have the outfield. You can easily imagine a scenario where in a year or two’s time, Lee grabs third base, Lewis becomes a fixture at second, and Martin is able to take on a super-utility role, playing all over the infield and outfield.

Not only can shortstops slide to other positions, but they can also slide back to short in case of rest or injury. Look at how the Twins missed zero beats with Lewis to spell Correa last May.

Having a viable alternative at shortstop, let alone multiple ones, allows Minnesota to keep Correa fresh with DH appearances over the course of a 162-game season. That Lee, Lewis, or Martin semi-regular reps at short to stay comfortable is a bonus. And if Correa gets hurt, or has to move to third base later in his career, no big deal. They’d have reinforcements ready.

There’s just such little downside to this potential logjam. It serves simultaneously as a great insurance policy for unforeseen, or even foreseen, issues with Correa, and as a way to get above-average defense at many important positions. Any Twins fan should beg for a day when their biggest problem becomes that, for once, they’ve got too many shortstops.

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