MLB.com's Top 50 Prospects list has been expanded to 100. The 2012 version will be unveiled on Wednesday, Jan. 25, on MLB.com as well as on a one-hour show on MLB Network, airing at 10 p.m. ET. Leading up to that, MLB.com will take a look at baseball's top 10 prospects at each position.
A wise scout once said that finding talent up the middle is more valuable than in other parts of the field. Developing a player who can play a premium position, he claimed, is essential, and extremely difficult. When someone comes along who has the ability to hit and stay at shortstop, that's the type of prospect you covet. Not everyone on this year's Top 10 shortstop list will end up playing shortstop every day in the big leagues. But there are enough of those types of dynamic players to feel like the position is in good hands for the next generation.
1. Manny Machado, Orioles: Machado was the first high school player taken in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft, and for good reason. While his first full season had its ups and downs, including a knee injury that forced him out of action for a month, Machado did get promoted and played in the XM All-Star Futures Game. Machado is right where he should be defensively, playing solid shortstop despite his size. The time away from the field did show in his hitting a bit once he was up in the high-A Carolina League, as he needs to improve his approach at the plate. That will come in time, and Machado should hit for average and some power. A good spring could allow Machado to jump up to Double-A Bowie to start the season.
2. Jurickson Profar, Rangers: It's always a good sign when a young player gets better as a season progresses. When he does so in his first taste of full-season ball while playing a premium position, you might have something special. That's what happened for Profar at age 18 in the South Atlantic League. His second-half stats were outstanding, and he finished in the top 10 in the league in on-base plus slugging percentage, never hitting the proverbial wall. A plus defender across the board, Profar is also a very good baserunner and started showing some legitimate extra-base pop at the plate. He'll move up a level in 2012, and it will be interesting to see how quickly he can advance to provide competition for Elvis Andrus.
3. Francisco Lindor, Indians: Lindor did not sign until right before the deadline last August, so save for a handful of New York-Penn League games at the end of the summer, the Indians first-rounder will be making his official professional debut on Opening Day. When he does, it should become quickly apparent why he was a top 10 selection in the 2011 Draft. Lindor has the chance to be an outstanding all-around shortstop. He has a very advanced approach at the plate as a switch-hitter, one who should hit for average and power from both sides. Lindor gets on base and is a heady baserunner. There's also no question about his defensive ability, with a plus arm and range. While Lindor is a high schooler who will likely start the year at Class A Lake County, don't be shocked if he's able to move faster than most prepsters.
4. Billy Hamilton, Reds: Over the years, there have been many speedsters in the Minors who rack up gaudy stolen-base totals but stall out when they reach the upper levels. Hamilton swiped 103 bags in 2011, but there's more to him than just his wheels, though that clearly will be his calling card. He's worked on being a switch-hitter and has the chance to be a dynamic leadoff hitter if he can learn better plate discipline and get on base at a better clip, which he started to do in the second half of 2011. Hamilton has more than enough range for shortstop, but it remains to be seen if he'll stay there long term or need to move to second or the outfield down the line. He'll stay at short for now, and it will be fun to see what he does as an encore in the California League in 2012.
5. Hak-Ju Lee, Rays: Lee joined the Rays from the Cubs as part of the Matt Garza deal, and it's worth the price of admission just to watch him play shortstop. He is a plus defender across the board, capable of making highlight-reel plays. The two-time Futures Game participant is showing he can hit and run as well. Lee hits for average, and while he's never going to rack up many home runs, he's not just a singles hitter. Lee's speed helps in that regard, and he should be more of a basestealing threat as he learns the nuances of that part of the game. He finished the 2011 season with Double-A Montgomery, and that's where he should bring his exciting brand of play to start this coming season.
6. Nick Franklin, Mariners: After Franklin went 20-20 in his first full season, everyone was excited to see what he would do in year No. 2 in Seatttle's system. But the 2011 season really never got going for the infielder, because he was hit in the face with a bat during batting practice in June. He did eventually return and played well in the Arizona Fall League, named the No. 14 prospect there by MLB.com. Some feel a move from shortstop might be in Franklin's future, but he's played well enough to stay there for the time being. With 2011 now firmly behind him, Franklin will finally get the chance to show that 2010 was no fluke.
7. Jean Segura, Angels: There has been a good amount of talk about how new general manager Jerry Dipoto and assistant GM Scott Servais have their work cut out for them in rebuilding the Halos' farm system. One thing they did inherit was the up-the-middle talent of Segura, who was supposed to move to shortstop after a solid season at second but stayed off the field for a good amount of the 2011 season due to hamstring problems. His tools, though, are still very much there. Segura has shown the ability to hit for average and pretty good power, especially for the position. His plus speed when his legs are healthy make him a legitimate basestealing threat and gives him more than enough range (along with a strong arm) to stay at shortstop. Segura will get the chance to prove that full-time this year, perhaps at Double-A Arkansas.
8. Javier Baez, Cubs: Baez went one spot after Lindor in the 2011 Draft, and while Lindor might be the better all-around shortstop, a very good argument can be made that Baez is the better pure hitter. His plus bat speed should enable him to hit for average and power. Baez doesn't get cheated at the plate, and his already-impressive skills will be even better once he learns a bit more plate discipline. He's not a slouch defensively, with a strong arm and good hands, but he doesn't have the same kind of range Lindor has. Some think a move to third is in Baez's future, and his bat should be more than fine to profile well there. That bat could allow Baez to move speedily through the system, regardless of his defensive home.
9. Andrelton Simmons, Braves: Simmons had about as solid a first full season as you could ask for in 2011, playing at two levels while hitting for average, stealing bases and playing outstanding defense at short. The Curacao native is one of the best defensive shortstops in the game, with a plus arm and range. He has offensive skills as well, with good bat speed and ability to make consistent contact. While Simmons doesn't strike out, he is a bit of a free swinger and he could tone that down some, along with his basestealing approach. Once that all comes together, starting this season at Double-A Mississippi, he could be a high-level everyday shortstop.
10. Xander Bogaerts, Red Sox: Any thoughts of Bogaerts coming along slowly were thrown out the window when he played his way to the South Atlantic League in June and seemed more than comfortable there as a teenager. He has some serious pop, with the ability to hit to all fields. A very good pure hitter, Bogaerts will improve even more when he learns the strike zone better, something that's sure to happen as he progresses, because he's already shown an ability to adjust at the plate. Bogaerts isn't bad at shortstop, but there's a good chance he'll outgrow the spot and move to third, where his bat will play well. He'll continue playing shorststop in 2012, moving up to Class A Advanced Salem.
To be eligible for the list, a player must have rookie eligibility. To qualify for rookie status, a player must not have exceeded 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched in the Major Leagues, or accumulated more than 45 days on the active roster of a Major League club or clubs during the 25-player limit period, excluding time on the disabled list or in military service.
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com and writes a blog, B3. Follow @JonathanMayoB3 on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.