Ahh, the shortstop. Without a doubt, the most important defensive player on the field. A good shortstop can make an average pitcher look great. For years, St Louis saw this effect in action as they watched Ozzie Smith track down groundballs that most other fielders didn’t have a chance of reaching. Former Mets shortstop Bud Harrelson summed it up best in 1987 when he said “The thing about Ozzie is, if he misses a ball, you assume it’s uncatchable. If any other shortstop misses a ball, your first thought is, ‘Would Ozzie have had it?'”
The position has been constantly in flux since Ozzie’s retirement. We as fans have seen Tripp Cromer, Royce Clayton, Edgar Renteria, David Eckstein, Cesar Izturis, Brendan Ryan, and Ryan Theriot as opening day shortstops in the last 15 years. What is striking about that list is that Brendan Ryan is the only homegrown player, including Ozzie. Obviously shortstop has not been a position of strength for the Cardinals farm system. Can they right the ship and bring up a major league shortstop?
Pete Kozma – The Kozmanaut continues to be talked about strictly because he is a former first round pick and will start the season at AAA. It stands to reason that if Furcal or Tyler Greene can’t hold down the position, he may get a shot at it. Kozma has not been all that impressive though. His defense is lacking and his offense is not enough to compensate. He appeared to turn the corner in 2010 with a power surge at AA, but regressed upon promotion to AAA last season. Kozma still has a bit of upside if he can figure things out this season, but he is very close to being considered a bust.
Ryan Jackson – Jackson is the prospect most similar to Ozzie Smith. He has solid offense numbers, but won’t win any silver sluggers. He showed a bit of pop in his bat at AA this past season. It will be interesting to see if the power develops or if it proves to be a fluke. His value, though, is with the glove. Jackson is a shortstop to watch. He has a lot of range, solid arm strength, and a good head on his shoulders. He’s Brendan Ryan with a little more mental composure. He will probably take over the AAA starting job this season and could be ready to make his debut in the 2013 season.
Matt Williams – Williams is still very raw. He played 2011 in Rookie league and showed good offensive production. It’s far too soon to rank him, but with a repeat of his offense in 2012 and a promotion to the next level, Williams could climb the Cardinals prospect rankings.
Robelys Reyes – Like Williams, Reyes is too raw to project. He has only played short season baseball, but has put up solid offensive numbers. With regular playing time, Reyes could prove to be a valuable commodity for the Cardinals, but he will have to show consistent progression as he ascends through the leagues.
Out of all of the shortstop prospects, Jackson looks like the player that is most projectable at the major league level. His defense is ready now and balances out his average offense. Barring any major setbacks, he looks like the Cardinals shortstop of the future.
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Tags: Brendan Ryan Cesar Izturis David Eckstein Edgar Renteria Matt Williams Minor League Report Ozzie Smith Pete Kozma Robelys Reyes Royce Clayton Ryan Jackson Ryan Theriot St Louis Cardinals Tripp Cromer