There's a good amount of subjectivity regarding baseball prospects. With the evaluation of talent being in the eye of the beholder, finding consensus is often difficult. Even Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo at MLBPipeline.com don't always see eye-to-eye. They'll be discussing their viewpoints regularly in a feature called Pipeline Perspectives. Submit a topic for them to debate.
Shortstop was baseball's glory position in the late 1990s. Nomar Garciaparra, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez drew the majority of the headlines. Edgar Renteria and Miguel Tejada were just getting started. Barry Larkin and Cal Ripken Jr. were winding down Hall of Fame careers. And for those who like their shortstops to stand out most by flashing leather, Omar Vizquel was making plays that anyone but Ozzie Smith could only dream of.
History is about to repeat itself. Troy Tulowitzki is the best all-around shortstop in the Major Leagues today, and there are a number of offensive-minded standouts (Starlin Castro, Ian Desmond, Hanley Ramirez, Jean Segura) and defensive stalwarts (Elvis Andrus, Jose Iglesias, Andrelton Simmons). Not a single one of them is older than 30.
And the best may be yet to come. There's another wave of star shortstops ready to crash on the big leagues in the next couple of years. When we release MLB.com's Top 100 Prospects list on Jan. 23, we will have five shortstops among the game's 12 best prospects and a dozen overall on the list.
As part of our Pipeline Perspectives series, Jonathan Mayo and I debated in October who is the best overall shortstop prospect. My choice was Red Sox postseason hero Xander Bogaerts, while Jonathan's pick was slick-fielding Francisco Lindor of the Indians.
Now we're back to argue shortstops again, this time debating who's better between the Astros' Carlos Correa and the Athletics' Addison Russell. Both were first-round picks in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft, with Correa going No. 1 overall and signing for $4.8 million and Russell being chosen at No. 11 and receiving $2,625,000.
I'll acknowledge that Russell, Jonathan's choice, has a better chance at sticking at shortstop. But Correa has a higher offensive ceiling and will be a better overall player in the long run, even if he has to move to third base.
For his first full pro season, the Astros assigned Correa to the low Class A Midwest League. It's a pitcher-friendly circuit, and at 18, he was the second-youngest regular in the league. He wasn't fazed at all, however, batting .320/.405/.467 to rank second in the MWL in on-base percentage and third in hitting.
He's still growing into his 6-foot-4, 205-pound frame, but it's already obvious that Correa is going to have well-above-average power. He has the bat speed to catch up to any fastball and the aptitude to hit offspeed stuff. His long arms give him plenty of leverage and he's going to be very strong.
Correa controls the strike zone well, whiffing just 83 times while drawing 58 walks in 519 plate appearances against older competition. He also showed the ability to make adjustments, batting .335/.410/.500 in the second half of 2013 and recording his best month (.336/.430/.500) in August. It's easy to project him as a future .280 hitter with 30 homers annually in the Majors -- and that might be conservative.
He offers more than offense, too. While his average speed grades out as his worst tool, his instincts enhance his ability on the bases and in the field. With his soft hands and cannon arm, he could be an above-average shortstop, and if he has to move to the hot corner, he could be a Gold Glover.
Correa has so much ability that scouts have compared him to the likes of Rodriguez, Tulowitzki and Manny Machado. Russell looks like a future star, but Correa has the potential to be a superstar.