Shortstop will always be the marquee position for Venezuelan baseball. The names are entered in the ledger of history: Aparicio, Concepcion, Guillen, Vizquel. Aparicio, to date, is the only besibolista criollo in Cooperstown. (Vizquel may follow him in the next couple of seasons.)
As we build toward the 2015 season, we’ve already picked a pitching staff and the corner positions for a proposed VZ All-Star squad. Today, we focus on the shortstop position. I’d say it’s a three-player race among Asdrubal Cabrera, who’ll get the nod at short for the Tampa Bay Rays this season, and his AL counterparts Elvis Andrus of Texas and Alcides Escobar of Kansas City (think El-Al, like the Middle Eastern airline).
Cabrera was the rising star of shortstops just four seasons ago, in Cleveland. He hit 25 home runs and won the Silver Slugger at shortstop (the coveted SSSS); 2011 and 2012 he was named to the All-Star team. He could pick it, too–he rose to stardom in my mind for a game which he single-handedly (or single-glovedly) saved against the Yankees. But his batting average dwindled from the .270s to the .240s and last year the Nationals picked him for the last two months of the season and played him at….second base.
Asdrubal, from Puerto La Cruz, home of Venezuela’s champion Caribes, is in the last year of a big contract, so I’d look for a return to form.
Moving west, we next consider 25-year-old Elvis Andrus, the youngest of our three contenders. Elvis will likely have countryman Rougned Odor pairing with him at second base this season. Elvis has averaged about 30 stolen bases over a six -year career and with a solid .272 career average, but has never hit over .286. He leads all active players with 87 sacrifice hits, a category he’s led the league in three times. If not for his silly Abraham Lincoln beard…
Last at shortstop is Speedy Alcides–Escobar, the iron-man #6 for the AL champion Royals. Anchoring a solid VZ combination with compatriot Omar Infante, Alcides has a certain shortstop je ne sais quoi about him that I just dig–long and lanky, he runs the bases like a racehorse and he tracks the damned ball in the air or on the ground. He was a finalist for the Gold Glove and he may yet get one there (I understand the Gold Glove is a bit of a political game, and three other Royals got one, so maybe it wasn’t Alcides’ turn yet).
I’ll give Alcides the nod. He’s averaged 157 games and about 30 stolen bases for the past four seasons. He rebounded from a poor 2013 to hit .285 last year. I think he still can improve. But Elvis is still definitely in the building, and Asdrubal is certainly the best player named Asdrubal in baseball.
Honorable mention at campo corto goes to three guys whom I saw play in Venezuela over the winter (I give them extra credit): Freddy Galvis of the fabulous Aguilas de Zulia, who’ll get a full time run at Jimmy Rollins’ vacated position in Philly (Andres Eloy Blanco backs him up); Eduardo Escobar, who played everywhere in the infield for the Twins last year and then for the Tigres of Aragua; and Wilmer Flores, who can’t seem to get a clear-cut vote of confidence from the Mets’ management, although he’ll be the opening day #6. Wilmer, I’m on your side, even if Sandy Alderson isn’t. Go on, son.