Every year, the shortstop position is arguably the most loaded among our Top 10 positional lists. The 2023 edition is no different.
Slight spoiler: All 10 of the featured shortstops here will place among MLB Pipeline’s Top 40 overall prospects. Where exactly? Well, you’ll need to come back Thursday to find out.
It’s a young and diverse group of shortstops too. Only three of the 10 (Anthony Volpe, Elly De La Cruz, Ezequiel Tovar) are expected to arrive in the Majors this season, and the oldest (Brooks Lee) was a first-round pick just last year. Six hail from the United States, while three are from the Dominican Republic and one comes from Venezuela. Of those six Americans, five were drafted as high school players, partly explaining why the group is so young.
The Reds are the only organization with multiple Top 10 shortstops in De La Cruz and Noelvi Marte, and fellow Cincinnati infielder Edwin Arroyo didn’t miss by much. Similarly, Top 100 stalwarts Colson Montgomery (White Sox), Royce Lewis (Twins) and Masyn Winn (Cardinals) aren’t far off and only fell victim to the depth of the Top 10.
The Top 10 (ETA)
1. Anthony Volpe, Yankees (2023)
2. Marcelo Mayer, Red Sox (2024)
3. Elly De La Cruz, Reds (2023)
4. Jordan Lawlar, D-backs (2024)
5. Jackson Holliday, Orioles (2025)
6. Jackson Merrill, Padres (2024)
7. Marco Luciano, Giants (2024)
8. Ezequiel Tovar, Rockies (2023)
9. Noelvi Marte, Reds (2024)
10. Brooks Lee, Twins (2024)
The switch-hitter produced a .351 average over 115 career games at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and struck out only 28 times in 286 plate appearances last spring. Lee’s bat-to-ball skills prompted the Twins to take him eighth overall, and his new club couldn’t challenge the bat fast enough, giving him time at Double-A Wichita before his first Minor League season was up.
The Giants prospect has the elite bat speed to generate close to plus-plus raw power, and he elevates the ball consistently enough (59 percent of his balls were off the ground at High-A in 2022) to make the most of it. He’s still only entering his age-21 season, right around the time the power could truly pop as he enters the upper Minors for the first time.
Run: De La Cruz (70)
Arguably the most electric player in the entire Minors, De La Cruz has established himself as an absolute burner in the field, and that might come as a shock to anyone who first sees his 6-foot-5 frame. The Reds farmhand took advantage of those wheels with 47 steals at High-A and Double-A last season.
Arm: Mayer, De La Cruz, Merrill, Luciano, Tovar (60)
You won’t find many wet noodles at the six because of the difficulty of making throws from there, so it tracks that half of our Top 10 earned plus grades for their arms. Mayer, Merrill and Tovar seem most likely to stick at short, but Luciano and De La Cruz could put their cannons to use from third or the outfield should they need to move.
Field: Tovar (70)
The Dominican Republic native has been Major League-ready with the glove for some time, thanks to his great footwork, impressive instincts and ability to chase down balls to both the left and right. He was our shortstop pick on the 2023 All-Defense Team.
Highest ceiling: De La Cruz
In 2022, the Cincinnati star was two homers away from being the Minors’ first 30-40 player since George Springer in 2013, and he has the loud tools to back up the numbers. He’s arguably the best power-speed prospect in the Minors, and the only thing that gives us pause is his 30.8 percent K rate from last year. If he brings that down a touch — or even manages to keep making enough hard contact to keep his batting average respectable — he’s a potential superstar.
Highest floor: Volpe
Early concerns about Volpe’s ability to hit upper-level pitching were eased when he took off in June at Double-A last year, and while there are some arm concerns, he’s a steady defensive presence at short too. He isn’t far from taking a middle-infield spot in the Bronx, and barring any significant changes to his profile, he seems a safe bet to hold down that place for years to come.
Rookie of the Year candidate: Volpe
There are only three 2023 ETAs on this list in Volpe, De La Cruz and Tovar. Oswald Peraza — another stellar prospect who will feature in our Top 100 overall list — could complicate matters with the Yankees for Volpe, but the latter still has a higher ceiling because of his superior skills with the bat. If he joins the Bombers by the end of May, Volpe should have a ROY shot.
Highest riser: Merrill
The Maryland native was considered a solid prospect when he went 27th overall to San Diego in 2021. The internal and external reports on him now, however, are downright stellar, starting with the praise for his all-fields hitting approach. Wrist and hamstring injuries held the 19-year-old back from a full regular season, but he was still one of the most talked-about prospects in the Arizona Fall League after an aggressive assignment in the desert. There’s a lot of helium attached to his spot at No. 6.
Humblest beginning: De La Cruz
Cincinnati wasn’t expected to make a splash in the 2018-19 international market considering it couldn’t sign any players for more than $300,000 as part of previous overage penalties. So much for that. The club brought in De La Cruz for $65,000, and to his credit, the switch-hitter has developed into a potential franchise cornerstone.
Most to prove: Marte
Marte is relatively new to the Reds’ system, having joined last summer in the Luis Castillo blockbuster, and he came with promising pull-side power and more than a few questions. For starters, he may not be a shortstop much longer, and the Reds had him at third base exclusively in the Arizona Fall League. Even if he gets shortstop looks this spring, he’ll be competing with De La Cruz, Edwin Arroyo and Matt McLain on the depth chart for the position. It’ll be on the 21-year-old to prove he’s more than just a powerful corner infield type.
Keep an eye on: Joey Ortiz, Orioles
As if the Orioles needed another promising young infielder. Ortiz, a fourth-round pick in 2019, is a slick-fielding shortstop with plenty of arm for the position. He faced questions with the bat entering last season but handled a jump to Triple-A quite well with a .346/.400/.567 line and serviceable 14.8 percent K rate in 26 games. His near-readiness may make it easier for Baltimore to keep Gunnar Henderson at third base and give the O’s their long-term left side of the infield.