This year’s college crop of shortstops can’t compare to a year ago, where we saw back-to-back shortstops lead-off the draft, and five college shortstops go among the first 30 picks. The top-two shortstops this year are Errol Robinson of Ole Miss and Stephen Alemais of Tulane. While I like both of these players, neither of them are likely to be top-30 picks this year. The last time there was not a college shortstop in the top 30 was 2007.
I have mentioned many times that shortstops are the quarterbacks of the MLB draft. They always rise and teams will draft a lesser player there because of positional value and scarcity. A big part of this reason is that if a player fails defensively at shortstop, he can move to another position and find success. If a player is unable to handle a corner outfield position, then you’re stuck with putting that player at first base.
Alemais has stood out as the college shortstop that I think has the best chance to go in the top-30 this year. This is not a knock on the super athletic Robinson, but more of a statement on how I view Alemais.
Alemais is a defense-first shortstop who is a plus athlete, and it shows. I have no doubt in his ability to stick at short. He has a strong arm that would play anywhere on the infield and it is his best tool. He projects as a plus defender at shortstop and moves very well for the position. Since defense is often the easiest tool to translate, I would say that he is one of the safer values in this draft. The arm and athletic ability are both 60-65 grade tools, which makes him the rare player who already possess two plus tools in the draft.
I mentioned his athleticism before and he has been a 20 stolen base guy in college. I don’t think he has plus speed, but he is a natural athlete and a smart base runner. I think he could be a double-digit stolen base threat down the line. We sometimes get obsessed with speed, but being smart on the paths is equally as important.
The issue for Alemais is whether he will hit enough to be an everyday starter. His power is nonexistent. He is the definition of a slap hitter, with a college ISO of .85. ISO stands for isolated power and it is a way to measure a player's extra base hits per at-bat. The average for ISO is typically 140-150, so when you consider not just that he is a college player but the lower level he plays at, it becomes very clear Alemais power is a 25-30 grade tool.
There are some positives as a hitter, though. He is a switch hitter who has been hard to strike-out and has shown some bat-to-ball ability. His BABIP, which can show a hitter’s ability, has been high and has increased each year. He has shown an ability to take what he is given and hit the ball to all fields. I wish we had more chances to see him against top competition in the Cape Cod League. His hit tool is more than likely going to be below average, and that is fine. His carrying tool is his defense, not his bat.
Last year we saw a lot of young players come up and excel at shortstop, but it is still largely a very weak position in the majors. Of the 20 shortstops in the majors who had enough at-bats to qualify, only 12 had a wRC+ above 80. Jean Segura, for whom the Arizona Diamondbacks just traded a good prospect, had a wRC+ of 62. I would bet that in a few years that Alemais will be a better defender at short than Segura, and could post at least a 65 wRC+. It is all about relative and positional value. I feel like he is one of the few players that I can say with complete confidence will stick at shortstop. If the hit tool becomes a 40-45 grade tool, which I think is probable, then that would be enough to make him a starting shortstop in the majors.
I am 700 words in and basically just trying to say I think Alemais is the top shortstop in this college class because I think he has the best chance to be a starter in the majors. Remember just a year ago, the Yankees took a defensive first shortstop in Kyle Holder with the 30th pick in the draft. I am much more confidant in Alemais’ hit tool than I was in Holder’s. I must also admit, however, that Holder was a freak athlete with better defensive tools, so I understand to a degree what the Yankees were thinking.
I decided to get a bit more scientific with my comps for this week. I pay for a Baseball-Reference player index, so let’s use it. I went looking for a switch-hitting SS with an ISO of .9 or less and a dWAR of 1 or greater. It yielded six players. I eliminated Omar Vizquel right away because it was his age 40 and 41 years. This left me five players. Next, I eliminated Cesar Izturis and Rafael Furcal, as both were more than three inches shorter than Alemais. Three inches is a lot in baseball; just ask Sonny Gray on his draft day.
I was down to Erick Aybar and Ramon Santiago. The tie-breaker ended up being the player who managed to have more than one double-digit stolen base season. I mentioned earlier in this piece I thought this was something that Alemais could accomplish. So the best comp by a statistical approach is Aybar, who turned into a pretty solid offensive player and was one of the top-15 shortstops in baseball for the majority of his career. I am not sure how much I trust that Alemais will become that good of an offensive player, but it is possible.
In the end, Alemais is a pretty solid low floor player who should stand a decent chance at being no worse than a utility player for a lot of years.