NL Central Shortstops: Starlin Castro On Top


Shortstop is one of the most vital positions in the game of baseball. It’s the position every kid wants to play in little league, and is usually the position many recruits play before moving to third, second, or the outfield.

The youth movement at short stop in the National League Central is very evident. Youngsters like Zach Cozart and Jean Segura are quickly making their way to the top of the list. However, it’s still Chicago’s Starlin Castro who finds himself at the top of the list.

So, who has moved up from last year? What new faces will be giving the Reds headaches throughout the season? Without further ado, here’s my top five list:

#1 Starlin Castro – Chicago Cub

It was my belief (or hope, rather) that Zach Cozart would find himself on top of this list for the 2013 season. In order to do that, he’d have to do a lot to surpass the star quality that Starlin Castro brings along with his name.

Sep 17, 2012; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro (right) signals to Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop Clint Barmes (12) to stop on a foul ball during the third inning at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

Castro hasn’t shown a ton of improvement just yet in his relatively young career. However, if history has anything to say about it, that will change very soon. His numbers as a shortstop are nothing short of impressive. Last season was the first season in which Castro didn’t hit .300 (he did get up to .283 though), and in fact most of his numbers except for his power stats were down from 2011.

But, as we’ve seen time and time again, early 20’s stability leads to mid-20’s progression. Steamer and Oliver both see him becoming a 4 or 5 WAR player in 2013. That’s leaps and bounds above everyone else in the NLC, and in my opinion will only go up from there. As this fangraphs article points out, the only shortstops to have better statistics through their age 22 season are Alex Rodriguez and Cal Ripken. A few who hadn’t put numbers as good as Castro’s through 22? Gary Sheffield, Alan Trammell, and Robin Yount. If Castro can manage to replicate any of those careers, the Cubs will be very happy.

The Big Question: Can Castro get his head straight enough to become an elite MLB player? The talent is there, but I’m not sure if the determination to be great is part of his game. That won’t stop him from becoming a starter until he ultimately retires, but to truly be able to be in the same conversation as some of those names mentioned above, he’ll need to get his act together.

Projected WAR: 4.8

#2 Zach Cozart – Cincinnati Reds

May 4, 2012: Pittsburgh, PA, USA: Cincinnati Reds shortstop Zach Cozart (2) runs down Pittsburgh Pirates base runner Jose Tabata (2) after being picked off by pitcher Johnny Cueto (47) at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Pugliese-USA TODAY Sports

The first real toss-up of the article. Some people like Jean Segura a bit more than Cozart, but I’m going with our guy here. Cozart had an opportunity to really get his name out there in 2012. After hitting .324/.324/.486 in 11 games in ’11, Cozart had experts around the nation, especially Reds fans, hoping to see those numbers over a full season. What we got instead was part of the worst lead-off tandem in the big leagues. His slash line of .246/.288/.399 was a huge sore spot in an otherwise rock-solid Reds offense. His defense was better than his minor league numbers would suggest they would be, which was a plus. Had he committed 25+ errors on top of his poor rookie offensive showing, I’m not sure Billy Hamilton would have been pushed to center field.

I’m of the belief that the real Cozart is closer to the 2011 player than the 2012 player. I don’t think batting lead off did him any favors, as I don’t think he’s a natural lead off hitter. Now that the top half of the Reds’ lineup is pretty much cemented, I think Cozart will have plenty of room to grow in the 7 or 8 hole.

The Big Question: Which Zach Cozart is the real Zach Cozart? The difference between a .240 hitter and a 3.20 hitter could mean the difference between a World Series birth for this particular Reds lineup. It looks like we can at least be sure we’ll be getting an average defender up the middle and a fair amount of power from the bottom of the lineup, but there will likely be a few men still on base from the top half of the lineup ready for Zach to drive in, if he’s able to. 

Projected WAR: 2.6

#3 Jean Segura – Milwaukee Brewers

Oct 1, 2012; Milwaukee, WI, USA; San Diego Padres shortstop Everth Cabrera (2) steals 2nd base under the tag by Milwaukee Brewers shortstop Jean Segura (9) in the third inning at Miller Park. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Jean Segura is a newcomer, not only to the National League Central but the MLB in general. The Brewers acquired Segura in the trade with the LA Angels that sent Zack Greinke to Anaheim. Segura has an opportunity much like Zach Cozart did last year. Scouts and experts are raving about his raw tools — this fangraphs article even hints that he may be capable of becoming a member of the 30-30 club.

Segura is the epitome of a raw player with tons of potential. Many believe he could do with a season or two in the minors to refine his craft, but the Brewers will be expecting him to start at short on opening day. Whether or not this will work is anyone’s guess. He’s projected to be hitting in the 8 spot, as his power just isn’t fleshed out to even reach double digit homers just yet. However, the speed is absolutely there, and I do think starting out with less responsibility is a bit of a better tactic than the way the Reds handled Cozart last year.

The Big Question: Will Segura be able to stay in the Brewer’s lineup for the entirety of the 2013 season? He has missed some time to injury, and there’s still the fact that he’s very raw. If he can’t produce right off the bat in the Show, will he be sent back to AAA to refine his swing? Time will tell.

Projected WAR: 1.9

#4 Clint Barmes – Pittsburgh Pirates

September 3, 2012; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop Clint Barmes (12) hits an RBI single against the Houston Astros during the fifth inning at PNC Park. The Houston Astros won 5-1. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Barmes has been a face that has been around for a while, starting out with the Rockies and Astros before coming to the Pirates in 2012. His career slash has been in a steady decline. He was a .300 hitter for the first couple of years in his career, but finished last season with a measly .229/.272/.321. His defensive play is as solid as it comes. He’s sort of the anti-Brandon Phillips. No flash, no flair, but he’s still a very serviceable shortstop — he was 14.4 fielding runs above average in 2012. He ended last year with 1.7 WAR, and trust me, that wasn’t due to his offensive prowess.

Projections for Barmes see him slightly increasing his slash, mostly because it can’t get much worse without him losing his starting job. His power is steadily declining, and he’s never been much of a fiend on the base paths. But the Pirates staff seems to love him, especially because of his glove.

Projected WAR: 1.7

#5 Rafael Furcal – St. Louis Cardinals

Aug 24, 2012; Cincinnati, OH, USA; St. Louis Cardinals shortstop Rafael Furcal (15) turns a double play during the second inning against the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park. Mandatory Credit: Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

It’s hard to say who the Cardinal’s Opening Day Shortstop will be. Seemingly all of their infielders can play any position, and it looks like Furcal could miss a couple of games to start the season. Going with MLB Depth Charts, Furcal is the guy for now.

Furcal is almost a household name just because he’s been playing the game for so long. He won the Rookie of the Year for Atlanta in 2000, and stayed with the Braves for six seasons. He played for the Dodgers for 5 and moved to St. Louis in 2011. All told, he’s been to three All-Star games, including in 2012.

That All-Star selection last season came on the heels of a blistering start to the 2012 season. Through May he was sporting a triple slash of .349/.397/.486. In case you’re new to the game, that’s pretty good for a 34 year old. Unfortunately a slump turned into an elbow injury which ended his All-Star year. Now, there are questions about how much Furcal has left in the tank.

Of course, there were some who were questioning his age and regression at the beginning of last season. Could we see Furcal come back from injury as the same player he was before his mid-season slump? 34 isn’t THAT old, after all.

The Big Question: Does Furcal have another mid-30’s All-Star appearance in him? The Cardinals lineup certainly wouldn’t be hurt if Furcal puts up career average numbers in ’13. But should he find a way to get on another roll like he did in the early months of 2012, the Cardinals will put up another tough fight in the NLC.

Projected WAR: 1.5


#1: Starlin Castro
#2: Zach Cozart
#3: Jean Segura
#4: Clint Barmes
#5: Rafael Furcal

Again, the young guns in the NLC are rising to the cream of the crop. Watch the battle between Cozart and Segura this season. Personally, I predict Cozart will take off, while Segura might not succeed just yet. Also keep an eye on what happens with the Cardinals at the position. I don’t know if Furcal is the answer in St. Louis for much longer.

As was with my first base rankings, all projections were taken from the Bill James projections on Fangraphs. Projected WAR was a combination of Steamer and Oliver projected WARs.