Shortstop Shopping

Wake Forest junior third baseman Willy Fox didn’t play against Elon last night, and he might miss a few more games after fighting off a burglar in his house Monday and suffering a laceration on his leg. An intruder entered Fox’ apartment late Monday night, and Fox tried to stop him, according to a statement released by the Demon Deacons today. He was cut on his left leg and taken to the hospital, where he spent the night and was released on Tuesday. Fox, a transfer from Arizona State, is batting .344 with four homers and 27 RBIs, and he has provided crucial protection for Allan Dykstra in the Wake Forest lineup. He’s listed as day to day.

One other note before we get to this week’s mailbag. Mississippi has unveiled plans for a $10 million to $12 million renovation of Oxford-University Stadium/Swayze Field. Looks like a very ambitious, impressive plan that will help cement Ole Miss’ long-term status as one of the nation’s elite programs. To the mailbag:

While (Zack) Cozart has had a slow start and (Josh) Horton some defensive issues, there are some impressive shortstops in the sophomore class. I was wondering which of Brandon Crawford, Ryan Flaherty and Tony Delmonico figured to stick at shortstop defensively in the pros and whether Danny Espinosa of Long Beach State belonged in the discussion. Espinosa didn’t make your list of the top 50 sophomores, but appears to be putting together a strong sophomore campaign against a very tough schedule.

Andrew McGuffin

Right now it’s up in the air who will be the first college shortstop off the board in June. Mississippi’s Zack Cozart probably remains the top shortstop in the junior class, thanks to his rock-steady defense, and his bat has begun to come around lately. He’s raised his overall numbers to .311/.371/.434, putting his early-season slump clearly in the rear-view mirror. North Carolina’s Josh Horton, meanwhile, is generally regarded as a better hitter, though his numbers have dipped recently to .356/.493/.545. Horton has the ability to get plenty of extra-base hits, but some scouts wonder if he’ll develop enough home run power to hold down a corner position if he has to move off shortstop. His arm is strong enough for short and his range is decent, but he struggles with routine plays at times, and his team-high eight errors and .932 fielding percentage give scouts pause. Both Horton and Cozart are still very likely to be drafted in the first two rounds, but there doesn’t seem to be a consensus first-round shortstop in this year’s college crop.

We could see several shortstops in the first round next year. UCLA’s Crawford is the best of the bunch–a legitimate five-tool talent who could be among the top five or 10 players drafted in 2008. One of the slickest defenders around, Crawford is capable of making the spectacular play, not just the routine plays. He’s not as consistent as Cozart at this point, but he can do things defensively that few players can, thanks to his outstanding range, arm, hands and instincts. And Crawford is also starting to live up to his significant offensive potential. He has a quick bat and intriguing raw power, and he has improved upon his .318/.378/.500 freshman campaign, batting .355/.410/.582 through 110 at-bats.

Espinosa has catapulted himself into the top 20 or so college sophomores, thanks to a similar athletic package to Crawford. His bat was a bit of a question entering the season, but he’s carried the Dirtbags for stretches this year, hitting .313/.416/.500 overall. Like Crawford, Espinosa profiles as a legitimate professional shortstop. Tennessee’s Delmonico might as well, but some scouts envision his sinewy frame profiling elsewhere. Delmonico also hasn’t impressed offensively this year, batting just .299/.403/.458. He still has a chance to go in the first couple of rounds, but he’s got some work to do. Flaherty’s bat is legit, though he’s underachieved somewhat this year, batting .325/.404/.470. Scouts would like to see more power production, because he certainly has significant raw power in his 6-foot-3, 200-pound frame. But few scouts believe Flaherty profiles as a shortstop in professional ball, so he’ll need to start living up to his power potential so he can hold down a corner spot.

Here’s one more sleeper in the sophomore class: Baylor’s Beamer Weems, a rock-steady defender and a switch-hitter who has also improved his offensive production this year. Weems was the only freshman shortstop in the country last year to start at least 60 games and commit 10 or fewer errors. Here’s what Bears assistant coach Mitch Thompson had to say about him:

“He’s been our leader, on and off the field. He’s hitting close to .440 in conference (.447 actually) because he’s really learning himself as a hitter. He stays within himself better and is having consistent, competitive at-bats. He’s driving balls foul line to foul line from both sides of the plate. He’s just been outstanding. And he’s been tremendous defensively. He makes some plays where you just shake your head and say, ‘How’d he do that?’

“He just has tremendous hands and hand-eye coordination. Sometimes I’m hitting him groundballs and he’s flipping the ball around like he’s a Harlem Globetrotter or something. I know this–I wouldn’t trade him.”