We've looked at catcher, first base, second base and third base so far this week. We'll finish things off in the infield with shortstop. (We'll continue our previews next week, of course.)
Today's position: Shortstop
It doesn't seem like a long time ago that Michael Young was asked to move from shortstop to third base (right after winning a Gold Glove) so that a young, promising prospect could start at one of the most important positions on the field.
That was actually prior to the 2009 season. And the Rangers' logic made sense. They said then that they felt the competitive window for Texas was going to really start opening up in 2010 (most thought 2011 would be a year the club could contend for the World Series, so the team was a bit ahead of schedule by some estimates) and they wanted Andrus to have a season under his belt before then. So despite never playing in Triple-A, Andrus was promoted to the big leagues and handed the role of starting shortstop.
He was nearly the rookie of the year in 2009 (finishing second to Oakland's Andrew Bailey). He stole 33 bases, made highlight-reel plays at short and managed to hit .267 with 40 RBIs in 145 games. He led all rookies in games played, hits, runs, total bases, triples and stolen bases. In other words: Andrus exceeded expectations.
He had 22 errors that first season and one focus was cleaning up the mental mistakes on easier plays. Andrus could make the impossible look easy, but at times would make the easy look impossible. Many of those errors were bad throws. He dropped the total to 16 in 2010 but saw it rise to 25. Errors aren't the only way to measure fielding and can certainly be misleading, but the bottom line is a player of Andrus' caliber shouldn't have that many errors in the field. The only player with more errors in 2011 was Orioles 1B/3B Mark Reynolds. In fairness, it should be pointed out that Andrus' range means he gets to balls that others can't, meaning those balls can turn into errors while for other shortstops they are just hits. But Andrus knows that part of his game must improve.
Andrus played well in August, batting over .300, and it appeared he was ready to go into the postseason on a roll. But the 23-year-old hit just .235 in the 2011 playoffs with one stolen base, one RBI and 10 runs scored. He did save his best play for the World Series, with multi-hit games in Games 3, 4 and 6. But he had seven strikeouts to one walk and overall in the postseason wasn't on base as much as he would like.
Still, Andrus is a big spark plug in the lineup. Manager Ron Washington has insisted on batting him second in large part because the Ian Kinsler-Andrus combination puts a ton of pressure on the opponent right away, having to get a couple of speed guys out. But Andrus can also bunt, move runners over and make contact. That allows Washington many options after Kinsler gets on base.
Andrus has plenty of skill and should continue to improve. He enters a new part of his major league service time now, becoming an arbitration-eligible player for the first time this offseason. But sides have exchanged figures (they are not quite $1 million apart) and hope to come to an agreement to avoid a hearing. It means that Andrus can be a free agent after the 2014 season. Scott Boras is Andrus' agent, BTW.
But the Rangers head into 2012 with a shortstop who now has three years of experience and is focused on improving.