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.
It's quite a time for young shortstop prospects. Some might even call it a renaissance. Once upon a time, you'd be hard-pressed to find talent at the position, and what upside there might be, there was almost always a question about whether the player could stay at the premium defensive spot.
That's not the case anymore. Take a look at our Top 10 shortstops on Prospect Watch. All of them are on the Top 100 overall prospects list. And that doesn't count the Rangers' Jurickson Profar and the Mariners' Nick Franklin, who have graduated off the list.
So identifying the best shortstop prospect is kind of like debating ice cream flavors. They're all good. It's all about which one you like best.
Jim Callis decided to go with the offensive upside of Xander Bogaerts, and it's kind of hard to argue against the choice. One knock against Bogaerts used to be that he wouldn't be able to remain a shortstop and would have to move to third. But he's quieted most of that talk and it looks fairly certain that he has the ability to stay up the middle, at least for the time being. If he moves to third, it would only be because that's where the Red Sox have a need, a la Manny Machado in Baltimore.
But as improved as Bogaerts is, he doesn't come close to the defensive ability of my choice, Francisco Lindor. The top Indians prospect, who is No. 1 on the shortstop list and No. 5 overall, could handle the challenges of the position at the big league level right now.
Lindor, who turns 20 next month, is an exciting combination of tools and instincts and there has never been, nor will there ever be, any questions about his ability to stay at short. His arm, range and hands are all at least above-average. His feel for the position is outstanding, allowing him to play above his already strong tools.
All the talk about his glove shouldn't make anyone believe that Lindor, the No. 8 overall pick in the 2011 Draft, can't hit. This isn't Jose Iglesias or Adeiny Hechavarria, both of whom carried outstanding defensive reputations to the big leagues, but who had, and continue to have, questions about their ability to hit consistently in the Major Leagues.
Lindor may not have the power that Bogaerts will grow into, but he's far from a slouch. He hit a combined .303/.380/.407 across two levels in 2013. He walked more times than he struck out. How often can you say that about a teenager, let alone a teenager pushed to Double-A during his second full season of pro ball?
All of Lindor's offensive numbers improved this year, while he moved quickly up the Indians' ladder. And there is some extra-base power to come. Don't expect huge numbers, but 10-15 homers with a bunch of doubles certainly seems reasonable. He stole 25 bases this season, 27 in 2012. He's not a burner, but he has enough speed and instincts to be a threat. He hit first or second most of 2013 and his combination of offensive skills fit perfectly at or near the top of a lineup.
Beyond all the numbers, though, is what truly makes Lindor the shortstop prospect I'd pick first. I know there are sabermatricians out there who cringe at the mention of intangibles. But things like makeup and work ethic can go a long way in determining which talented prospect turns into not just a big leaguer, but a premier one.
Simply put, Lindor has it. He carries himself like he belongs, but not in an overly cocky way. He's a natural leader, the type to whom teammates gravitate. Teams often want their shortstops to be coaches on the field, captains of the infield. Lindor has all of those qualities in excess.
Tools may get you to the big leagues. But look on the sides of that road and you'll see plenty of once-touted prospects who didn't quite lived up to billing. Add in the makeup Lindor possesses, and that's a recipe for not only a good Major League shortstop, but one an organization would love to build around.