Doug Kroll is an editor for CSTV.com, focusing on baseball. E-mail here!
Reel off some of the great shortstops in the game of baseball of late and they are both gifted at the plate and in the field.
Then there are the shortstops that played the game strictly because of their slick gloves that saved hits from going up the middle of the diamond.
With the game today so focused on the offense, it's key to not only have a guy that will produce at the plate, but also play good defense up the middle.
The best shortstops returning in 2008 may not have flashy names or be the superstars in the game, but they are all players that get the job done, not only at the dish, but in the field.
1. Ryan Flaherty, Vanderbilt- With guys like Pedro Alvarez, David Price and Dominic de la Osa on the team last season, Ryan Flaherty kind of went unnoticed to some. It obviously takes a lot of talent around you to quietly hit .381 and drive in 57 runs, but the junior somehow did that. Now with Price gone to the pros, Flaherty joins Alvarez to form one of the top left side's of any infield in the nation. Even better, the Maine native only committed eight errors last season and finished with a ridiculous .969 fielding percentage. Just to show how good he is in the field, many of his shortstop brethren across the nation finished with at least double the errors. Flaherty will be a huge part in the Commodores' quest to forget about last season's forgettable ending and get to Omaha
2. Danny Espinosa, Long Beach State- Big things were expected out of Danny Espinosa when he arrived at Long Beach. He was following in the footsteps of Dirtbag great Evan Longoria and had some big shoes to fill. After earning Big West Freshman of the Year honors, he's supplanted himself as one of the best shortstops in the nation. Espinosa may only be 6-feet but he led LBSU with seven home runs in 2007, and finished with a .319 average in his sophomore season. Espinosa has the tools to be an all-around player, and even though he made 14 errors last season, he's capable of better. Also look for better stolen base numbers than 2-for-9.
3. Beamer Weems, Baylor- Another junior, Baylor's Beamer Weems is part of a talented crop of juniors that the Bears bring into the 2008 season as they look to get back to the top of the Big 12. Weems finished tied for second on the team with a .321 average a year ago, after racking up all sorts of freshman accolades in 2006. While his .956 fielding percentage has room for improvement, Weems has quickly turned into one of the best at his position. The Virginia native had a good summer as well, playing in the Cape Cod League with the Wareham Gatemen, he led the team with 40 games played while hitting .257 and knocking in 11 RBI, which was second on the team.
4. Gordon Beckham, Georgia-Gordon Beckham certainly burst onto the scene in 2006 for Georgia, helping lead them all the way to Omaha. The 2007 season wasn't a very good one for the Bulldogs, but Beckham definitely didn't disappoint. Only 6-foot, 181 pounds, Beckham led the team with 13 homeruns and 51 RBI. Beckham also had a fantastic summer in the Cape Cod League, leading the league with nine home runs while playing for Yarmouth-Dennis. While his 16 errors is a little high, his fielding percentage did improve from his freshman season, going up from .937 to .943. Look for even better numbers in 2008.
5. Cole Figueroa, Florida- Cole Figueroa was another shortstop on an underachieving SEC team last year. Funny how two of the best in the nation are from two of 2007's bottom-dwellers in the nation's best conference. Only a freshman a year ago, Figueroa showed he had some pop in his bat despite being just 5-foot-10, 180 pounds. He finished second on the team with 11 home runs, behind slugger Matt LaPorta, and also hit .332. A First-Team Freshman All-American, Figueroa did commit 16 errors, but that's about average for a college shortstop. Add in the fact he's only a freshman and Figueroa is going to make a lot of noise in the next couple of seasons, after a solid Cape Cod League debut over the summer. For new head coach Kevin O'Sullivan, he's hoping it's enough noise that the Gators forget about losing LaPorta this year.
On The Radar: Brandon Crawford, UCLA; Greg Miclat, Virginia; Brandon Hicks, Texas A&M; Jason Christian, Michigan