WTNYNovember 09, 2004
Battle Of Rarities
By Bryan Smith

While I hope everyone has enjoyed the team and position evaluations I have most recently written about, today will be geared back towards player comparisons. Todays topic will be three, young, switch-hitting shortstops who all spent a good portion of their season in high-A. As always, I hope a look into each player will provide a clear ranking of the three.

Despite being about thirteen months older than his Dominican counterparts, our Queens native has 712 and 786 less at-bats, respectively. Chosen in the third round of the 2003 draft, Tony Giarratano was a good player in his Freshman and Junior seasons while at Tulane University.

In his freshman season with the Green Wave, Giarratano hit an impressive .352/.448/.457 in 264 at-bats. This was good enough to get him on the first-team Freshman All-America squad, as decided by Baseball America. He was tenth in Conference USA in batting average, and fifth in hits. Playing the whole season at second base, Tony followed with mediocre performances on Team USA, and then the Cape Cod League.

His stellar first collegiate season was followed by a Sophmore slump, in which the infielder missed more than 15 games, and saw his OPS drop to .639. He split time all over the diamond, playing primarily on the left side of the infield. For his final season he would be moved to shortstop, where Giarratano enjoyed a .336/.394/.507 season. The combination of his poor sophomore season, lack of a defined position, and lack of power helped him slip to the third round, where the Tigers gave him a solid $500,000 bonus.

A relatively quick signing allowed the Tigers to send their shortstop to the NYPL, where Giarratano was able to play 47 games. During his time there, the Tulane infielder hit .328/.369/.476. While this is somewhat intriguing, it should be noted that sabermatricians would be thrown off by his decline patience numbers. His IsoD (OBP-BA) was .086 his freshman year, solid, and the highest he has posted since leaving high school. It feel to .080 his sophomore season, then .058 as a power-hitting senior, and just .041 when making the transition to professional baseball.

Enough about some ex-Tigers draft pick, what about the Dominican shortstops in the high-profile Red Sox and Angel organizations? What were Hanley Ramirez and Erick Aybar doing prior to entering the 2004 season?

Both growing up in the Dominican Republic, in towns fairly close to each other (Ramirez- Santo Domingo, Aybar- Bani), Ramirez was the first to make a recorded debut in professional baseball. As a 17-year-old, Hanley had 197 at-bats in the Dominican Summer League. While The Baseball Cube does not have enough information to give me his on-base percentage, I can see that Ramirez hit .345 with a .533 slugging percentage. Already, there were rumors that Dan Duquette had hit the jackpot.

In 2002, both players saw short-season ball action as 18-year-olds. Aybar was sent to the hitter-friendly Pioneer League, where he hit .326/.395/.469 in 273 at-bats. He also stole 15 bases in that fairly short amount of time, showing the speed that is often associated with him. Meanwhile, Hanley split the season between the GCL and NYPL, registering 164 and 97 at-bats, respectively. He hit .341/.402/.555 before being promoted, in which he worsened to .371/.400/.536. The sharp decline in plate discipline is a little worrisome, but the organization hardly believed Ramirez was immune to the walk.

So, at this point, Hanley is by far the best prospect of the three. Aybar made a nice little splash, but was lost in a pretty solid Anaheim system. Giarratano has allowed a terrible sophomore season to cloud his future in professional baseball. We know what 2003 brought to the latter, but no one would have seen what it presented Hanley.

A slump, a suspension, a label. Like Giarratano did in his second season at Tulane, Ramirez had a slump in 2003 as a 19-year-old in the South Atlantic League. He hit .275/.327/.403, hardly the numbers of the top prospect he had been labeled before the season. Furthermore, the Red Sox had suspended him indefinitely for undisclosed attitude problems, which has kept the arrogant tag on Ramirez neck ever since.

Aybar saw this and ran with it. While the Midwest League is often far more difficult to hit in than the Sally League, Aybar had a solid .308/.346/.446 season. While this wasnt enough to drop jaws, for the first time in his baseball existence, he was turning heads. A shortstop with a good batting average, a bit of pop, and 32 stolen bases? And still a teenager? Damn

Still, factor in Hanleys disappointing seasons as well as good years by Aybar and TonyG, and you still have Ramirez atop the prospect list. He was showing Gold Glove-type defense as a teenager, with enough promise in his bat to allow Bostonians to hold their breath a bit longer.

And this season, they were finally able to sigh some relief. Ramirez was dynamite this season, split between the Florida State League and the Eastern League. His batting average was .310 in both places and on-base percentage near .360 in both, but his rise in slugging (.389 to .512) will effect Theos decision-making this winter. If Ramirez can sustain the .310/.360/.512 type line he had in the Eastern League, he is a better option than Orlando Cabrera in 2007, if not 2006. Maybe Omar Vizquel can play a role for someone: placeholder.

But Ramirez was not the only one of the three with gaudy numbers, ask Erick Aybar. The 20-year-old shortstop nearly won the California League MVP trophy, once Josh Barfields, after hitting .330/.370/.485. I would highly doubt if that slugging is ever approached again, as the CL has been known to do that to players before. Yes, he did steal 51 bases, but this has to be taken with a grain of salt considering the 36 times he was thrown out.

TonyG had a good season as well, with a unique offensive explosion when moving from the MWL to the FSL. For some reason, Tiger brass saw it necessary to promote their third-rounder after just 43 Midwest League games, and an OPS of just .735. In hindsight, it looks like a golden move. Giarratano hit .376/.421/.505 with the Lakeland Tigers, and stole 25 bases for the season. Hes made the full-time move to shortstop, where he shows a good arm and a lack of sensational range.

So, whats next for these guys? Ramirez should actually stay in the Red Sox organization, with a spot opening up for him when ready. I would be shocked in the BoSox sign a SS for more than two years, basically calling for the trade of their best prospect.

The opposite is true in Anaheim, where Arte Moreno will nearly surely sign either Nomar Garciaparra or Edgar Renteria. This officially puts Erick Aybar on the block, which is fine, considering some scouts like Brandon Wood better. I see Aybar sniffing an .800 OPS in his peak, with mostly a Cristian Guzman type career on the horizon. Actually, thats a pretty sensational comparison.

While hes the oldest at the group, nearly 22, Im most torn on TonyG. Is he, or is he not, a better prospect than Aybar. Im leaning towards no, considering his ISO and IsoD werent even that good despite a great FSL average. He lacks the speed and range of Aybar, though hes equally as batting average-dependent. Its close, but I think you have to give the spot to Aybar.

So, there you have it. To me, Hanley Ramirez is the best switch-hitting shortstop in the minor leagues, and is wrestling Ian Kinsler for the #2 SS prospect in baseball label. He probably loses by a little bit, with a top five of: Guzman, Kinsler, Ramirez, Santos, Quintanilla. Aybar and Giarratano round out the top 7, though J.J. Hardy will want his inclusion in there somewhere.

How about this for the question of the day: name the 14 AL starting shortstops on Opening Day, 2007. Mine will be comment #1

Comments

NYY- Derek Jeter (won't learn)
BOS- Hanley Ramirez
TOR- Aaron Hill
BAL- Miguel Tejada
TB- Trey Tutlowski/Tyler Greene (SS in '05)

CHW- Juan Uribe
MIN- Cristian Guzman (sorry Aaron)
KC- Angel Berroa
DET- Carlos Guillen/TonyG (split)
CLE- Jhonny Peralta

SEA- Jose Lopez
OAK- Bobby Crosby (Q at 2nd)
TEX- Ian Kinsler (MY at 2nd)
ANA- Nomar Garciaparra (last year of deal)

Bryan, so you're thinking that BJ Upton won't improve enough in the field to play SS? Move to 3B?

The Red Sox have an important decision to make in the next 2 years. Assuming that Hanley continues to improve and makes the big league club, what are the Sox going to do with Dustin Pedroia? No errors in over 40 games last season. While not having Hanley's range, the Sox think he can play there everyday and not move him to 2B. Looking in their system even deeper, they have Luis Soto, who has Hanley's same skill set. I have a feeling Hanley and Dustin will be playing SS in 07, but obviously not with the same team.

regarding tampa - has tyler greene even been drafted yet? and who on earth is trey tutlowski, im really curious.

it's kind of strange to forecast the future let alone the team of guys that aren't even in pro ball yet.

maybe you should just go with reid brignac, even though they say he's going to grow out of the position. if i had to put money on it, i'd say their starter in 07 is going some journeyman/utility type (if not upton or brignac)

"MIN- Cristian Guzman (sorry Aaron)"

Where's the love for Jason Bartlett?

The Tampa Bay prediction was more of a joke, saying the team screwed up not keeping Upton there. Tyler Greene and Trey Tutlowski are the two best collegiate shortstops, both locks for first-round picks. But I really hope the D-Rays stop going offensive on top ten picks, and start building some more pitching depth in that system.

Bartlett has good numbers, but if Terry Ryan isn't convinced he's going to be a good shortstop (don't have the link), look for Guzman to get a deal around 3 years, $15-18M.

Just a guess...

NYY - A Rod
Bos - Ramirez
TB - Upton
Bal - Miggy
Tor - Hill

Det - Giarratano
Cle - Peralta
Min - Jose Lopez (trade with Sea for surplusage outfielder)
KC - Julio Lugo (Berroa hitting .230 in AAA)
Chw - Nomah (Signs a 1 year deal with the Cubs this season, doesn't do very well, then Chw gets him because they're the only squad dumb enough to offer him 3 years to play SS)

Tex - Kinsler (by midseason)
Sea - Morse (Reed doesn't pan out, necessitating the Lopez trade....at least Morse does)
Oak - Crosby
Ana - Renteria

Kinsler is a can't-miss. Smooth and athletic in the field, like he was born to field grounders and turn the DP. Solid, improving stroke at the plate with gap power that could develop into more than that. What a player.

Aaron Hill I'm not sold on -- looks like a future UTL guy more than a starter.

Morse? No chance. Yes he's athletic and strong and can hit BP homers like there's no tomorrow, but in the field he's lost. Not just lost at shortstop, but there really ought to be questions as to what position he will play some day, because I can't even see him holding his own at an outfield corner. I know that sounds harsh, but if you've seen the guy with a glove in his hand you know what I'm talking about.

Re: the Duster, I don't know that Pedroia is quite the poster boy Moneyballers should be looking for what they/we say, "stats over scouts!" He's got major, major problems on that swing, the kind of problems he can get away with and still get on base in the minors, but the kind that can be exploited in higher levels.

And for those who haven't seen him, I must stress that the rumors are true: he looks *exactly* like a midget wrestler.

Those are some of the guys I've seen in the minors or the Fall League. There are more, and I've got more to say about them, but these are just my initial reactions.

T-r-o-y T-u-l-o-w-i-t-z-k-i, SS, Long Beach State.