For the majority of the history of baseball, shortstops were never meant to be primary offensive contributors on a team. The greatest shortstops to ever play the game gained their fame for their defensive contributions, and if they were offensively talented, it was rarely accompanied with power. The days of Ozzie Smith, Luis Aparicio and more recently, Barry Larkin helped define this reputation. That of a speedy, defensively oriented player that occasionally provided strong offensive value.
Within the last 20 years or so, that has changed drastically, and it begins to change today. Perhaps this new era started with the emergence of a player like Cal Ripken, the Iron Man himself. Ripken posted 431 HR in his career, and was not awful defensively, winning two Gold Gloves throughout the span of his Hall of Fame career.
Or maybe it’s the career of who may be the greatest shortstop of all time, Derek Jeter, that inspired many teams to look for shortstops with strong offensive and defensive ability. With Jeter emerging, the attempts to make shortstops five-tool players has only increased. While Jeter isn’t a slugger by any means, he has still managed 257 HR, and most notably, he has 3,364 hits. He has been the most dominating contact hitter of this generation. Jeter has had it all during his career: speed, power, contact, fielding, and a powerful arm. All of these assets are necessary to be a perennial five-tool All-Star.
Today, it’s only becoming more of the norm. With the monster season that Troy Tulowitzki has managed thus far, he has made an example that shortstops can indeed be the most complete player on a 25-man roster. Tulowitzki is not alone in the field of dynamic, offense oriented shortstops. He only leads a category that consists of many young, dynamic players. Starlin Castro, Xander Bogaerts, and Erick Aybar are further evidence that shortstops are becoming complete players.
Some of this emergence has come at the cost of defensive skill. Players like Castro have had career-long struggles with the glove, not quite replicating the success and range that Smith and Larkin showed in their big league days. Yet having another lineup spot devoted to a more offensive player, the game of baseball simply trends to become more exciting.
This recent trend does not look to be slowing down anytime soon either. With shortstop prospects near the top, this upcoming generation may indeed be dominated by shortstops. With prospects such as the Chicago Cubs’ Javier Baez and the Houston Astros’ Carlos Correa, power, speed, and defense are all emphasized in their style of their game. If this young generation of shortstops makes it big, it is possible that within the next 10-15 years, it could be shortstop that is the new third base.
This trend may seem so new and unexpected for baseball, even though it is a trend that began as far back as the Cal Ripken era in Baltimore. In a pitcher dominated era that the MLB lives through today, it may be better for both fans and offensively struggling teams to embrace the new age of offensive shortstops. To expand the glove into a powerful bat for many young players.
Baseball will change from this, and overall, as well as for many teams, it will change the game for the better.