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Ranking the AL East: Shortstop

Jeter has long been the top shortstop of the AL East. Time for the baton to pass (Getty Images)

These past couple weeks we have analyzing and ranking the AL East position by position. In most posts, including last week’s which focused on third base, our rankings have been fairly similar. This week however, the shortstop rankings are wide open with no two lists looking the same. Who got it right or is the correct order something else entirely? Let us know at the end!

1. J.J. Hardy, Baltimore Orioles: He doesn’t hit for average (.260 career average) and he doesn’t get on base all that much (.312 career OBP). Why then is he ranked first overall? Well when he makes contact he hits it hard, shown by his average of over 25 home runs and 28 doubles in the past three years. Along with his power, Hardy has won two Gold Gloves in the past two years. He is by no means a perfect player, but he contributes every way he can.

2. Jose Reyes, Toronto Blue Jays: If I had confidence Jose Reyes could stay healthy then he would be first on this list. Unfortunately the combination of playing 81 games on turf plus balky knees is a terrible combination. In little over half a season last year, Reyes had a slash line of .296/.353/.427 with 10 home runs and 15 stolen bases, which is certainly impressive. If Reyes can stay healthy he will one of the premiere shortstops in all of baseball. If being the key word.

3. Xander Bogaerts, Boston Red Sox: Postseason included, Bogaerts has played a grand total of 30 games at the Major League level. During the postseason Bogaerts showed that he possessed the maturity and patience of a veteran while he was only 20 years old. Now 21, Xander gets his first swing at a full season in the bigs. He won’t put it all together at once, but a .280/.340/.450 line with 18 home runs is within reach and that’s All-Star caliber.

4. Yunel Escobar, Tampa Bay Rays: While he is not quite the impact player it looked like he may be with Atlanta, Escobar is a solid choice at shortstop. He gets on base at an average pace (.332 OBP last year) and he has decent doubles power. His biggest plus is that he is an above average fielder and is very durable.

5. Derek Jeter, New York Yankees: Jeter placement is this ranking is by no means a knock on his career. The soon to be 40-year-old was only able to play in 17 games last year and the ankle he broke in 2012 still seems to be giving him problems. Jeter will certainly get a memorable farewell tour, but he is not the same player he was when he broke into the league in 1996.

Brian Roach

1. Jose Reyes, Toronto Blue Jays: The 30-year-old got hurt and missed nearly half the season, but played well in 93 games with a .296 average to go along with 10 home runs and 15 stolen bases. In a full season, Reyes can play great defense as well as be a solid leadoff hitter with 20-20 capability. His is by far the best shortstop in the AL East.

2. J.J. Hardy, Baltimore Orioles: The .263 average hurts Hardy, but he makes up his lack of consistency at the plate with his power. The 31-year-old finished with 25 longballs and has hit 22 or more his three seasons with the Orioles. He cut down on his strikeouts with only 73 in 2013 compared to 2012. Plus, he plays fairly well in the field.

3. Yunel Escobar, Tampa Bay Rays: Escobar has had trouble with the pitching in the American League East, but he has produced consistent numbers on both sides of the ball since 2011. In 2013, he played in 153 contests while knocking in 56 runs and hitting nine homers.  With a low K-BB ratio, at 73-57, the 31-year-old still has several seasons left in the tank to be a more reliable player after dealing with injuries in 2010.

4. Xander Bogaerts, Boston Red Sox: The 21-year-old may have only played in 18 games with the Red Sox in 2013, but showed in the postseason that he is ready to shine in the MLB. In the regular season, he hit .250 with a .320 OBP in 50 plate appearances. He did strike out 13 times with only five walks, but hit his first career home run. With Stephen Drew out of the picture at the moment, Bogaerts will have his time to shine on this younger Red Sox squad.

5. Derek Jeter, New York Yankees:  Jeter will turn 40 in June and his old age is the main factor that has him last on this list. He is retiring at the end of the season and played in just 17 games for the Bronx Bombers in 2013 due to ankle injuries. The 2014 season may be filled with great memories as he goes around on his farewell tour, but it won’t be the Jeter we are all used to seeing.

Scott Siegler

1. J.J. Hardy, Baltimore Orioles:  With Derek Jeter in decline and question marks hovering around the shortstop position for the rest of the AL East, J.J. Hardy has emerged at the top of my rankings. The Arizona native may have never been much of a batting average guy, but he now has an established resume as a top power hitting shortstop in the league with 77 home runs, 84 doubles, 224 RBI over the past three seasons. With a BB/K rate that has steadily been on the rise, it’s possible that we still haven’t seen J.J. Hardy at his best

2. Jose Reyes, Toronto Blue Jays: With the offensive explosiveness and base stealing prowess that Reyes has demonstrated throughout his career, it’s easy to see him as the most dangerous shortstop in the AL East. But, when you look again, you’d see that he has missed an average of 52 games per season over the last five seasons due to injuries. Even at his best, I’d take a full season of Hardy over 110 games of Reyes. With that said, just two seasons ago Jose managed to play in 160 games. If he can get that many at-bats, he will be the most productive shortstop in the division.

3. Derek Jeter, New York Yankees: Although he is in decline, he’s still Derek Jeter. In 2012, Jeter hit .316 through an incredible 686 at-bats and slugged 16 home runs. Although he only played in 17 games in 2013, injuries haven’t been Jeter’s mantra throughout his 19-year career. Rather, it has been consistency that the lifetime-Yankee has made a habit of during his time in the bigs. Even at 39 years old, Jeter has proven he is still a solid candidate for above average contributions from the shortstop position in 2014, and that’s more than our bottom two shortstops can say.

4. Xander Bogaerts. Boston Red Sox: I won’t deny that Xander has the most raw talent out of any of his counterparts. But before we get ahead of ourselves, it’s important we remember that the kid hasn’t spent more than a month at a time in the major leagues with consistent playing time yet. Yes, there’s a strong possibility he can match and even surpass Jeter’s contributions. But as a rookie, there’s also the chance he falls into a terrible slump and gets sent back down to the minors indefinitely. I think he’ll fall somewhere in between those two.

5. Yunel Escobar, Tampa Bay Rays: Escobar is not a bad option at shortstop for the Rays by any means. The 31-year-old has a history of being able to get on base consistently with a career OBP of .350. However, there’s not much more he has to offer that is above average. While he may be a good fit for a Tampa Bay system that is able to maximize every contribution he makes, he’s still the least impressive shortstop heading into 2014.

Now that you have seen them what do you think? Does Jeter have enough left in the take? Will Bogaerts be just as good as advertised or will he fold under the pressure? Opening Day is inching ever closer and we’ll begin to find out.

About Jamie Worthington - @Jam_Worth

Jamie is a regular contributor and editor for Sports of Boston, but has thoughts for all Boston areas sports for SoB. He loves that in sports everyone is allowed to have their own opinion and wants to hear yours! Follow him on twitter at: @Jam_Worth

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