FORT MYERS, FLA. – Michael Cuddyer was one. So were Trevor Plouffe, Miguel Sano, Chuck Knoblauch and Brian Dozier.
They all were shortstops when signed or drafted by the Twins, and all ended up at another position.
And that underscores the Twins front office’s belief that you can’t have too many good options at one of baseball’s premier positions.
The Twins began camp with four above-average shortstop prospects before dealing Jermaine Palacios to Tampa Bay for pitcher Jake Odorizzi. That still leaves them with Nick Gordon, Wander Javier and Royce Lewis. With Jorge Polanco, 24, just settling in as the shortstop of the present — he figures to be only the second Twins shortstop since 2004 to make consecutive Opening Day starts — the Twins appear to be secure at the position for the next several years.
“The reality is, when you think about the defensive spectrum and you work down that spectrum — no disrespect to first base or left field or otherwise, typically a lot of the guys who start there don’t move into the middle infield positions, center, catcher,” Twins Chief Baseball Officer Derek Falvey said.
“So the up-the-middle positions — catcher, shortstop, center field, even second base to some degree — those guys have some flexibility afterward as they go up the ladder.”
Which means it’s not a bad thing to draft or sign several shortstops a year, because they can be moved anywhere. It’s not just the Twins, as a number of current and former players started out at short before moving elsewhere. Adam Jones, Melvin Upton, Dustin Pedroia, Alex Rodriguez and even former Twins All-Star closer Joe Nathan (54 games for Class A Bellingham in 1995) began as shortstops before switching positions.
The moves can be made for various reasons. Some outgrow shortstop (see Sano). Skill sets become better suited for another position (see Dozier). In Nathan’s case, he just couldn’t hit. But someone loved his arm enough to make him a pitcher.
Collecting top shortstop prospects can require using high draft picks and committing millions in bonus money. Lewis, the first overall pick in last year’s draft, signed for $6.7 million. Javier, 19, signed out of the Dominican Republic for a club record $4 million in 2015. Gordon, the fifth overall pick in 2014, signed for $3.8 million.
Lewis, 18, is ranked as the top overall prospect in the organization by MLB.com, with Gordon fourth and Javier fifth. The Twins took Lewis with Polanco, Gordon, Javier and Palacios already in the organization.
“While we have a lot of shortstops right now,” Falvey said. “Some of those guys could end up moving, and we think they have the opportunity to impact us at different positions.”
Second or short?
Gordon, 22, batted .270 with nine homers and 60 RBI at Class AA Chattanooga last season. He played 104 games at short and 14 at second. There has been a belief by many in the organization that his range and arm are a better fit at second base. But many also feel that with more consistent footwork, Gordon will be able to handle short in the majors.
“I’m an infielder,” Gordon said. “Wherever they give me a chance to play, I’m definitely going to feel good about it.”
There were concerns about Polanco, too, but he enters 2018 as the unquestioned starting shortstop.
“It’s kind of similar to Nick,” said Twins manager Paul Molitor, who played 57 major league games at shortstop but achieved stardom at second base, third base and designated hitter. “Nick’s still a little bit young and on that curve. He had a chance to play Double-A last year. I think he should play around just so he can keep his windows open in case something should happen, but I wouldn’t take him off short.”
Something that could happen next year: Dozier leaving as a free agent. That would open up second base for Gordon.
While Gordon is at major league camp, teenagers Javier and Lewis are on the back fields of the CenturyLink Sports Complex, preparing for the minor league season. Together.
“We’re actually in the same group, the Fort Myers group for now,” said Lewis, who last year made the rare jump from the Gulf Coast Rookie League to Class A Cedar Rapids. “We’re fielding, hitting, running. Anything baseball-wise, we’re doing it together. I learn a lot from him and hopefully I’m giving him stuff he can learn from me as well.”
Some scouts believe Lewis will end up in center field, but the Twins are more convinced than ever that he is a shortstop after watching him at rookie ball and, after the promotion, Cedar Rapids of the Midwest League. Lewis batted .296 with a home runs and 10 RBI in 18 games with the Kernels.
Javier started the year with the Twins’ Dominican League team but played 41 games at Rookie League Elizabethton, where he batted .299 with a .383 on-base percentage in 41 games. The Twins love his offensive potential and feel he could stick at short even if he begins to add to his 6-foot-1, 165-pound frame.
The best scenario is for Lewis to start 2018 at high-Class A Fort Myers with Javier at Cedar Rapids. But the Twins are prepared to share shortstop with both at Cedar Rapids.
With three of the top shortstop prospects in baseball, the Twins will make sure Gordon, Lewis and Javier will continue to develop at the vital position.
“It’s exciting for us to have three guys of that caliber and all playing the shortstop position,” said Jeremy Zoll, the Twins director of minor league operations. “They are all making their way through the system, also expect them to be pretty fast movers and make an impact sooner than later in Minnesota.”