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Keeping up with the Minors: Shortstop

A lot has been made about the quantity and quality of prospects we traded at this year's deadline. I thought it would be a good idea to keep some of the spotlight on the minors and see if our system is already starting to recover. First up is a look as a couple of shortstops. At Baseball Prospectus, prospect guru Kevin Goldstein ranked Braves triple-A shortstop Brent Lillibridge as the fourth-best shortstop prospect in the minors:

Lillibridge has been especially hot of late, going 23-for-47 in his last 13 games with five doubles, two triples and three home runs. His showing at Triple-A has more than made up for his slow start in the Southern League. Power is the only tool for Lillibridge that rates as below average, although he's anything but a weakling with 11 home runs overall in 431 at-bats. He's a plus-plus runner with 36 stolen bases this year, a solid hitter, and a very good defensive shortstop to boot. He's nearly ready, and it will be interesting to see if the Braves make some room for him in the offseason.

It will be interesting to see if, how, and where the Braves make room for him in the off-season. If he is indeed a "very good defensive shortstop" it may shock some if they pull the opposite-of-Kelly-Johnson and move Lillibridge from the infield to the outfield. Center field, which is where he is rumored to be headed if Andruw leaves, is a difficult position to play, but with his "plus-plus" speed he may be able to make a smooth transition athletically. Beyond just the speed needed for the position, there is a lot of recognition of how pitches are hit off the bat that can only be learned through experience. While an error at second base may lead to an extra base for the batter/runner, and error in center can be a multi-base mistake. So if he does make a transition to the outfield, I wouldn't expect it to be a fast one.

As for our recently traded young shortstop phenom, Elvis Andrus, this is what Goldstein had to say about ranking him as the ninth best shortstop prospect in the minors:

Scouts still love the tools, but the high praise for Andrus as a player is down from where it was two years ago, when he was the talk of the Gulf Coast League. Yes, he's exceedingly young, but at the same time, he's never put up good numbers. His approach is advanced for his age, and he's a very good runner, but he's shown almost zero ability to drive the ball, and scouts no longer speak of any kind of power projection. Defensively, he has excellent range and a rocket arm, but is still prone to the usual inconsistency one finds in teenage infielders, being charged with 28 errors on the season. Andrus has always been the subject of much hype--some of it justified, some... not so much.

No, we're not exactly checking in on a guy that is "our" prospect anymore, but I think this report helps to illustrate why it may have been easier for us to part with Elvis. I can see him taking a very similar path to the majors that Wilson Betemit took - there seems to be a lot of similarities between the two players, especially in the hype. I wonder if that's another reason that the Braves agreed to part with Andrus.

Another reason Elvis may have been more expendable were the excellent debuts of two of this year's draft picks, infielders Brandon Hicks (.969 OPS) and Travis Jones (.876 OPS), who have both shown an already polished approach at Rome this year. The other player in the system who may have made Elvis more expendable is Diory Hernandez (.305/.365/.414), who has finally emerged as a player who may have some major league potential. He has performed well this year at Mississippi, and would likely move up if Lillibridge made the majors.

With guys like Lillibridge and Hicks in the system, we should be solid at short for the foreseeable future. And with a guy like Yunel Escobar already showing what he can do on a major league level, we should be solid even it Renteria is traded.

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