The National League Central has sent two teams to the playoffs in the same season six different times:
- ’98 – Astros and Cubs
- ’01, ’04, ’05 – Astros and Cardinals
- ’08 – Cubs and Brewers
- ’11 – Brewers and Cardinals
The Reds, Cardinals and Brewers all look to be contenders in 2012 and there is an even better chance at multiple teams with the additional wild card spot.
Today’s rankings for position 6 on the scorecard; Shortstop:
2012 SS Base Rankings
You would have to forgive Starlin Castro if he said he felt out of place amongst his fellow shortstops in the National League Central heading into 2012. That is because at just 21, Castro is by far the youngest – and the best.
Three of the teams; Milwaukee, St. Louis and Pittsburgh have gone with a completely different demographic; trotting out elder statesmen Alex Gonzalez (35), Rafael Furcal (34) and Clint Barmes (33) respectively. The trio has combined for almost 4,000 big league games and more than 14,000 at bats.
Meanwhile the Reds and Astros will send Zack Cozart (26) and Jed Lowrie (27) to the key defensive position this season. Cozart is a rookie with only 37 career at bats and Lowrie is a former Boston Red Sox utility man that has never played more than 88 games in a season.
Only Castro shows up anywhere in the top 20 of most rankings for major league shortstops but he may be on his way to being one of the best at the position as stars like Troy Tulowitzki, Jimmy Rollins and Jose Reyes head to the backside of their careers and Hanley Ramirez moves to third.
1. Starlin Castro
When Castro was called up to the majors in 2010, he became the first player born in the 90’s to play in the bigs. He promptly became the first player born in the 90’s to homer in a big league game socking a 3-Run shot in his first at bat.
And so began the Starlin Castro era in Chicago. He is batting over .300 in his first two seasons in the majors and swiped 22 bases last season. He also socked 10 HR’s and 36 doubles in 2011 on his way to his first all star selection.
Offensively there may be no brighter prospect at the position in all of baseball. Defensively he has been atrocious but much of that may be his youth. His range is extraordinary but he relies far too much on his arm (as big as anyone’s) and last season had the worst fielding percentage for any player.
It seems certain that he will be given ample time to improve defensively as long as he keeps hitting and he clearly is the best shortstop in this division and probably already top 5 for shortstops overall.
2. Zack Cozart
Cozart doesn’t come with the fanfare that Castro does and while he isn’t in the same class the Reds organization is confident he will do well hitting in front of Joey Votto and Jay Bruce. He hit .324 in just 11 games last season and reached double figures in home runs each of his three full seasons in the minors.
He could challenge Castro in one area; errors. He had 23 errors at AA in 2009 and 11 in just 75 games at AAA last season. He didn’t commit any errors in 63 chances with the big league club in 2011 so expectations are high.
Not being superstar doesn’t mean you can’t be pretty good. Cozart should be pretty good and when put up against the rest of the starters in the division he probably looks even better.
3. Rafael Furcal
Entering his 14th season in the Majors, Furcal is coming off a pretty decent end to 2012 after being a late season acquisition by the Cardinals. He socked seven home runs in just 50 games and played fantastic defense including a few spectacular plays in the playoffs.
A lifetime .282 hitter; Furcal is a far cry from his former self but is a solid veteran that is a big reason why the team is the defending champion. He will bat leadoff ahead of a revamped Cardinal lineup and will provide leadership for new manager Mike Matheny.
4. Clint Barmes
Possibly more famous for falling down the stairs carrying deer meat that derailed what had been a stellar rookie season, Barmes enters his 10th season in the big leagues quite possibly wondering what might have been.
A promising player in the Colorado Rockies organization things were never quite the same after the freak accident. He was ultimately moved to second base after the Rockies went with Tulowitzki at short and then was traded ahead of last season to Houston.
He could approach double digit home runs but a lifetime .252 average may actually be inflated by his hot rookie season and 2008 when he had his best full season in the majors. He hasn’t hit over .245 in any of his other four full seasons.
5. Jed Lowrie
Lowrie was an All American at Stanford and bounced between various farm clubs and the Boston Red Sox from 2007 – 2011 before being traded in the off season to Houston and will be the replacement for Barmes there.
He has never been given a chance to play every day and has the same basic career stat line as the man he is replacing. The Astros are going nowhere fast and Lowrie is just another guy holding things down until the Astros are out from under some bad contracts and decide to rejoin the Majors.
6. Alex Gonzalez
The Brewers made it through the 2011 campaign with Yuniesky Betancourt flailing away on route to one of the least productive offensive seasons in the major leagues last season. A common measure of offensive prowess is OPS (On Base + slugging %) and Betancourt came in at a paltry .657 last season.
There was a player worse than him and on the heels of such great team success the Brewers decided to go get him. Enter Gonzalez, a lifetime .247 hitter the 35 year-old had an OPS of just .643 last season and carries just a .692 career OPS into his 14th big league season.
He did hit 23 HR’s combined for Atlanta and Toronto in 2010 and 15 last season for Atlanta but also struck out 126 times which was TWICE as many as Betancourt in roughly the same number of at bats.
The Brewers got him for reasons other than his bat however. He will be a massive upgrade at shortstop where it was sorely needed. Betancourt was severely limited in the field in terms of range and arm strength and Brewers’ pitchers watched helplessly as routine ground balls found their way into the outfield. Gonzalez is a top 5 defender at his position and comes cheap to a team reaching over $100 million in payroll for the first time.