As iconic as ever, Derek Jeter hasn’t given up the shortstop position just yet. Last year’s milestone 3,000th hit kicked off a strong second half that saw an offensive resurgence for the Yankees captain. At some point, he won’t be able to do it any more, but for now his job is secure. Signed through 2013, with a player option for 2014, Jeter isn’t going away any time soon. The question is how long he can stay at shortstop, and how long he can be a productive piece at the top of the order.
In the big leagues
The productive years of Jeter seemed finished. His 2010 had been discouraging, and his first half of 2011 was more of the same. Then things shifted for the better. Jeter returned in more ways than one last season, finishing the year with a .327/.383/.428 second half that suggested he wasn’t finished just yet. Obviously he’s no longer a dynamic fielder, but he makes the routine plays (Eduardo Nunez showed what happens when the opposite is true). At 37 years old, Jeter is still the Yankees everyday shortstop, with Nunez waiting in the wings. Last year’s second half was reason to believe — or at least hope — that Jeter’s still got some production left in him.
On the verge
What do you consider, on the verge? Is this section strictly to discuss minor league players rising toward the big leagues, because if that’s the case, the conversation is a short one. Ramiro Pena is still around, likely to handle the bulk of the shortstop duties in Triple-A while veterans Jayson Nix and Doug Bernier provide veteran depth. Jose Pirela should return to Double-A after a disappointing 2011 regular season followed by a strong showing in winter ball. Walter Ibarra has never been a big prospect, but he played well last year in Tampa. In reality, though, the player on the verge is already on the big league roster. If the Yankees have an “on the verge” heir to Jeter’s position, it’s Nunez, their current utility man who’s shown flashes of enough speed, bat and arm to be a possible everyday guy under the right circumstances. He’s the organization’s top upper-level shortstop, and it’s not even close.
Deep in the system
Where things get slightly more interesting at the shortstop position is further down in the system. First-round pick Cito Culver didn’t put up eye-popping stats last year in Staten Island — .250/.323/.337 with 17 errors — but the organization believes he’ll be a viable if not very good defensive shortstop, and there is legitimate hope that his bat will continue to improve. Angelo Gumbs was drafted as a shortstop, but spent all of last year at second. Two players who made some noise in their first season in the states: Dominican middle infielders Claudio Custodio and Jose Rosario. Both hit well over .300 in the Gulf Coast League, with Custodio showing a lot of speed and Rosario showing pretty good power. Baseball America named Custodio the league’s ninth-best prospect, but noted that his throwing might make him a better fit at second base eventually.
Organizational depth chart
My rough guess. It’s too early for the Yankees to decide who will be where next season.
New York: Derek Jeter
Scranton/WB: Ramiro Pena
Trenton: Jose Pirela
Tampa: Walter Ibarra
Charleston: Cito Culver
My prediction has a lot of status quo. In fact, I have Pena, Pirela and Ibarra each returning to their same level as last season. Despite good winter league numbers, Pirela doesn’t strike me as a player ready to help in the big leagues, so it’s hard to see him getting a spot in Triple-A. If he’s back in Double-A, Ibarra could be stuck with a fourth straight season in High-A (despite impressive numbers). Either way, it doesn’t look like Trenton or Tampa is going to have a significant name at shortstop. There will be big league depth in Triple-A, organizational filler in the middle, and legitimate prospects in the lower levels.
Associated Press photo of Jeter, headshots of Jeter, Nunez and Culver