NL Central Preview: Shortstop

On to shortstops! Or backwards, rather.

As of now, gone are the likes of Brendan Ryan and Orlando Cabrera. With Ryan gone, the question of who is the best defensive short stop in the NL Central is back open and the answer may really surprised you. So will the other name at the top.

Since I’m rolling backwards at this point, I won’t waste any time and jump right into my look at the NL Central short stops.

6. Tommy Manzella, Houston (.225, 1 HR, 21 RBI in 83 games)
Manzella is Houston’s short stop of the future, but after that year who can blame Houston for looking elsewhere? Their management has said that they’d be looking at alternatives at shortstop as it was centered out as one position that definitely needed to improve over last year’s. However, to this point nobody has been signed or traded for leaving Manzella and the guy he shared time with last season, Angel Sanchez, to split time.

5. Starlin Castro, Chicago (.300, 3 HR, 41 RBI in 125 games)
Perhaps I’m underrating Castro a bit, but the fact that he was the worst defensive shortstop in the NL Central last season drops him below the next guy. Castro is an impressive young talent who should improve in his second year in the big leagues. And at just 20 years old, he has quite a ways to go.

4. Paul Janish, Cincinnati (.260, 5 HR, 25 RBI in 82 games)
Janish served in a more utility type role last season for the Reds, but played most of his games at short stop. Cincinnati also acquired veteran Edgar Renteria in the offseason too, but if they are smart the Reds will start Janish. Janish will likely hit better than Renteria while he was the best fielding shortstop in the NL Central last season. With that combination, I think he has to be their starter and it should be a solid season as far as shortstops stack up.

3. Ryan Theriot, St. Louis (.270, 2 HR, 29 RBI in 150 games for Chicago and Los Angeles)
Ryan Theriot might actually be the second best defensive shortstop in the division. That honestly shocked me. Granted his 2010 numbers include just 29 games at shortstop as he played mostly second base, which is by far a better defensive position for him. However, he is still around the top when you use his major league career stats. Combined with the hope that he will bounce back a bit on offense when he gets put back to the position he’s more comfortable in, he should exceed last season’s performances.

2. Ronny Cedeno, Pittsburgh (.256, 8 HR, 38 RBI in 139 games)
Cedeno signed a one year deal to remain in Pittsburgh, which was an interesting move considering the big market on middle infielders this season. However, who could have seen that coming. His offense stacks him up second best as it is head and shoulders above the performance of his divisional peers.

1. Yuniesky Betancourt, Milwaukee (.259, 16 HR, 78 RBI in 151 games for Kansas City)
He was the “other guy” in the Zach Grienke trade, but he had a good enough season to qualify him as the best short stop in the NL Central. Betancourt had a career year last year, so the question will be if he can repeat this performance or if he’ll slide back towards the .273, 9 HR career average. And that sub-.300 OBP scares me too. Even at that point, he’s still the best shortstop in the NL Central.

Now with 6 of 8 offensive positions complete, here is the projected standings:

Milwaukee — 29 pts
St. Louis — 25 pts
Cincinnati — 23 pts
Chicago — 20 pts
Pittsburgh — 19 pts
Houston — 10 pts

The look at Center Field should find it’s way up this weekend as we move on with the series.

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