Ever since Khalil Greene, the San Diego Padres have failed to field a consistent long term quality shortstop. Even in 2015, when the team famously “went for it” and broke records in terms of team payroll and high-profile trades, the starting shortstop was Alexi Amarista, who ended the year with -0.5 bWAR and split innings with Clint Barmes. To the front office’s credit, the previous year Amarista posted an impressive 2.0 bWAR. However, that is the recurring story for modern Padres shortstops – a good year every now and then, but a lack of consistency for the long-term.
I do not really need to go in-depth on why a good shortstop is important. In the 2016 World Series, both teams had fantastic shortstops who anchored their infield defense, but also produced at the plate. In fact, every single 2016 playoff team had a good shortstop, if not one of the best in the game. Suffice to say that without a good shortstop, the Padres will never be contenders.
After the 2015 season, General Manager AJ Preller has certainly attempted to find the Padres shortstop of the future in the midst of rebuilding the entire organization. In fact, many talent evaluators believed he achieved that goal in the same trade that brought over top prospect Manuel Margot in exchange for Craig Kimbrel. In the 2015 winter trade with Boston, the Padres also acquired top SS prospect Javier Guerra, along with LHP Logan Allen and 2B/3B Carlos Asuaje. In the pre-2016 prospect rankings, Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, and MLB.com all ranked Guerra in the mid-50s of their top 100 prospect ranking. At that time, Guerra was only 20 years old – obviously, plenty of work ahead of him, but also plenty of growth. Unfortunately, as seems to be the tale of many Padres shortstops, Guerra fell off a metaphorical cliff in 2016 and continues to have serious struggles while repeating the A+ level in Lake Elsinore. Javier Guerra currently appears out of the running for the Padres’ future shortstop position, and we can only hope he gets back on track.
Luckily, Preller and Co. did not stop with Guerra. Since then, the Padres signed multiple international free agent (IFA) shortstops, including the promising Luis Almanzar, who signed for $4,000,000. Yet, Almanzar and most of the other young IFAs have not yet made their debuts in full-season ball and likely won’t for some time. In any case, it’s much too early to pencil in any of these prospects just yet.
Now, one prospect that deserves the level of excitement that surrounds him is Fernando Tatis Jr, the 18-year old son of former big leaguer Fernando Tatis. The 6’3″ shortstop has impressive defense and booming power, especially notable due to his very young age. Tatis Jr has the tools to dream on and was recently selected to the Midwest League (A-Level) All-Star Game. Herein lies the folly with plugging in Tatis Jr to the Padres 2020 starting roster– too much can go wrong and so much must go right for that hope to become reality. Just look at Javier Guerra; he seemed to be a slam dunk, yet he was a victim of the extreme volatility of young toolsy prospects..
The Padres do have a significant SS prospect who has already made a Major League appearance and is hitting astonishingly well. The story of Allen Córdoba is well known, but that doesn’t make it any less impressive. The 21-year-old Panamanian played the whole of last year in the St. Louis Cardinals Rookie level team. From there to the majors is a larger jump than even Luis Perdomo took last year, a move that was panned by much of the industry for being an unconquerable task for the young player.
Somehow, Córdoba is thriving. Presently, the “shortstop” is hitting a line of .281/.314/.412, with an OPS+ of 98, good for 3rd best on the Padres, trailing only behind Wil Myers and the recently rejuvenated Hunter Renfroe. Let’s read that again:
The third best hitter on the Padres this season is a Rule 5 pick who spent 2016 at the Rookie level.
So when considering top Padres SS prospects, I believe Córdoba tops the list simply because of his ability to perform at the highest level not only at such a young age but also after skipping so many levels.. That’s not to say Córdoba is flawless with power and defense being the most glaring, but for young shortstops, both of those tools can further develop. And who knows how much better that hit tool can get?
When ranking prospects, talent evaluators always have to judge potential against risk or floor. Tatis Jr and Luis Almanzar certainly have higher ceilings, but neither can compete against Córdoba’s ability to be at least an average major league hitter at this moment. Odds are, the 21 year old Córdoba will improve as he matures while performing on the game’s biggest stage.
Tatis Jr has all the potential in the world, and if he continues to succeed at Fort Wayne and prove his ability to make adjustments at higher levels, then he’ll likely leapfrog Cordoba. But right now, Cordoba’s success at the Major League level cannot be ignored.