1. Jose Reyes (Toronto Blue Jays)- The Blue Jays’ huge offseason clearly did not pay off last year. Rather than winning the AL East, as many predicted them to, they suffered a host of injuries and finished in last place with a 74-88 record. Jose Reyes was a part of the disappointment insofar as he was unable to stay healthy, playing in just 93 games. When healthy, however, he was the same old Jose Reyes; he posted a .296/.353/.427 slash line with 10 home runs and 15 stolen bases. The Jays look like they could be in for another disappointing season in 2014, but Reyes should remain a bright spot so long as he can stay healthy– admittedly a daunting task for the 31-year old.
2. JJ Hardy (Baltimore Orioles)- Since joining the Orioles in 2011, Hardy has drawn recognition for his unique but valuable skill set. He is an excellent defensive shortstop, winning back-to-back Gold Gloves in 2012 and 2013 and rather than being a contact hitter or even a good all-around hitter, he is a pure power threat. Last season, Hardy slashed .263/.306/.433 with 25 home runs and 76 RBIs for the O’s in a rebound year after a down season in 2012. If Hardy can remain on the track that he is currently on, then he will hold his spot as one of the more valuable but underrated shortstops in baseball.
3. Xander Bogaerts (Boston Red Sox)- Next, we have the 21-year old shortstop who is ranked by many as the #2 overall prospect in baseball and has already won a World Series Championship in his career. Bogaerts has all the makings of a star in this league and it’s hard not to get excited about him holding down an everyday job in the major leagues, as he likely will in 2014. He will probably experience a few hiccups in his rookie season, but still should compete and maybe even be a frontrunner for AL Rookie of the Year, hopefully putting up a line even better than the .250/.320/.364 in 18 games last season. He is certainly not a sure thing, but as far as prospects go, he’s awfully close to it.
4. Derek Jeter (New York Yankees)- Following in Mark Teixeira‘s footsteps, Jeter is the second Yankee in these rankings who would have been #1 just a few years ago, but now is ranked fourth after a lost season. However, unlike Teixeira, who is 33 years old, Jeter is 39 and has a much lower probability of ever returning to the player he once was. First and foremost, it seems like a stretch to think that Jeter– never an above-average shortstop in his career– will be able to man shortstop day in and day out. But even offensively, always the strong side of his game, it’s hard to imagine Jeter coming to the player he was even two years ago when he slashed .316/.362/.429. Jeter is obviously a Hall of Famer and he may prove me wrong, but I don’t see him having a productive year in what could be his last season.
5. Yunel Escobar (Tampa Bay Rays)- That Escobar is ranked fifth on this list is more a testament to the strength of the AL East shortstops than it is to his weaknesses. A great defensive shortstop, Escobar was not bad offensively in his first season in Tampa Bay as he slashed .256/.332/.366 with 9 home runs and 56 RBIs. Now at 31 years of age, however, Escobar has a lower ceiling than anybody else on this list and that’s what puts him so low. Reyes, Hardy, Bogaerts, and even Jeter have higher offensive ceilings than Escobar and only Jeter will play significantly worse defense. However, Escobar will still be a solid option for Joe Maddon to pencil into the lineup nearly every day next season.