For the past four years, there has been one common occurrence in the MLB draft: That occurrence is the Highly Anticipated Prep Shortstop (or HAPS, for short). The common characteristics is that the shortstop in question is (obviously) a high schooler, has the potential to make the majors in three years instead of the traditional four or five years, is a top prospect usually by the end of his first year or the middle of his second, and garners a lot of praise from opposing scouts.
The past four years of HAPS are as follows:
2013: JP Crawford, Phillies
While it’s still too early to be determined, Crawford had been highly visible throughout his high school career, and when he was drafted, it was to a team that was looking to replace a legendary shortstop with a newer model. Crawford’s first minor league season saw him completely own the Gulf Coast League and skip entirely over short ball in favor of the more advanced Low A. Crawford also ended the season as the #4 prospect in Philly’s system, behind only Roman Quinn, a fellow prep shortstop drafted in the 2nd round of the 2011 draft, as well as 3B Maikel Franco and P Jesse Biddle, who have made the 2014 top 100 list on MLB.com. Even though Crawford effectively was a HAPS by default, as last year’s middle infield class was very weak, Crawford has at least proven that he is still a very solid lock to follow the progression that fellow HAPS have gone through.
2012: Carlos Correa, Astros, and Addison Russell, Athletics.
Thanks to what could have been regarded as one of the best prep shortstop draft classes in baseball history, 2012 had not one, but two HAPS propects. Carlos Correa, who was the first overall pick, drew some attention at the end of his debut year, but in his second year, he justified why he was a first overall pick. After having a monster season for the Quad Cities River Bandits, Correa was rewarded by being voted in to the 2013 Futures game World Roster, as well as being named the Astros’ top prospect by the end of the season. At the start of the 2014 season Correa was named the top prospect in the Astros’ system again, ahead of such players as Mark Appel, Jonathan Singleton, and Lance McCullers, and was also named the #8 prospect in all of baseball.
Russell, who I’ve consistently noted was the catalyst for the death of Moneyball drafting in Oakland, has done nothing but impress in his first two years. Named the best prospect in Oakland’s system immediately after the 2012 season, Russell again went on a tear at Single-A Stockton, and was also selected for the Futures game as a member of Team USA. Russell ended the season in AAA Sacramento, completely jumping over AA, and although he obviously had issues handling the rapid increase in competition level, the prevailing theory is that Russell could be in the majors by the end of the 2014 season.
2011: Francisco Lindor, Indians
The Indians have repeatedly stated that they do not intend to rush Lindor to the major leagues, to which I call bull. Lindor has been nothing short of amazing ever since he stepped on the field. At the end of the 2012 season, his first full season in minor league ball, Lindor had established himself as a #1 shortstop prospect, the #1 Indians prospect, and the #13 prospect in baseball. This included an invite to the Futures game in Kansas City, where he played for the World Team. Lindor followed up his great 2012 with an even better 2013 where he went through two levels of ball, topping out in Double-A, and once again being invited to the Futures Game in New York. He once again ended the season as the top shortstop prospect, the top Indians prospect, but increased his overall prospect ranking to #5. At the beginning of this season, Lindor has already established himself as a top ten prospect yet again, however, he dropped his shortstop ranking to #4, perfectly reasonable given his competition was Xander Bogaerts, Correa, and Javier Baez, who has started to put himself in the HAPS conversation, especially after showing a dominant power swing in Spring Training. The reason why Baez isn’t in it right now is that while he’s advanced at the same rate as Lindor, he hasn’t had Lindor’s wow factor. Still, if Baez can be as consistently impressive as Lindor has been, he could put himself in the HAPS conversation.
2010: Manny Machado, Orioles
The man who started it all, Machado blazed through the minors, made his major league debut a mere two years after being drafted, and made his first All-star team in 2013. While Machado’s best season ended on a sour note after he broke his leg, he has definitely entered his name into the elite infielder category. I know that Machado technically is a third baseman now, but in truth I’m grading him as a shortstop because of his A-Rod like conversion to third. And to continue, Machado was a shortstop when he was drafted, and only played a few games at third base in the minors, in Double-A Bowie, which incidentally was his last minor league stop before he made his debut. Will Machado ever move back to shortstop? Maybe, maybe not, but regardless, Machado is still one of the best young players right now.
The 2014 draft isn’t until June, but that doesn’t mean there’s no room for early speculation. In what is considered yet another meh prep middle infield class, there are only two definitive first round prep shortstop talents, one of which has equal value as a pitcher. The two shortstops in question are Clovis High School’s Jacob Gatewood, and Olympia High School’s Nick Gordon.
Gatewood, like Crawford before him, has had eyes on him since last year. A well rounded guy with an emphasis on power who draws comparisons to Troy Tulowitzki and Starlin Castro, Gatewood, barring a bad senior season has the projectability to be a top ten pick, and could raise his stock to top five, maybe even top three if he continues to play at the level he has. In my initial mock, I had him going to Colorado as a potential replacement for Troy Tulowitzski, whom I feel will leave Colorado before 2020. In the thin air of Colorado, Gatewood would thrive despite the humidor baseballs, and he would have the potential to be a Machado-like talent.
Gordon has a baseball pedigree thanks to his father and brother, Tom and Dee. He has project ability as both a pitcher and a shortstop, but scouts have said that Gordon will stick to shortstop. While not as dominant at Gatewood, Gordon is still a top 20 prospect who could actually outperform his brother. I had Gordon going to San Diego. In theory, if Everth Cabrera can’t get back to his pre-Biogenesis self, it’s a possibility that the Padres will try and look for a replacement in the coming years. Gordon would benefit from the expansive park in San Diego, as he thrives on being a slap hitter with speed, much like Cabrera was.
Between Gatewood and Gordon, my belief is that the former makes the best case for the HAPS of 2014. He certainly has made a name for himself starting last year, and he has a legitimate shot to become one of the best shortstops in the post-Jeter and Rollins shortstop era. His power is not to be ignored, and if he signs early and tears it up in rookie or short ball, he could find himself in the top 100, maybe even top 25 very early in his career.