Via Bill Madden -
Whether Derek Jeter realizes it or not, Joe Girardi’s proposed move to bat him leadoff may well be a prelude to a much more dramatic switch in the not-so-distant future.
Jeter’s decreased range at shortstop, especially to his left, has been an increasingly hot topic around baseball – which the Yankee high command has pointedly chosen to ignore, because there didn’t appear to be any bona fide prospects in the system. That, however, all changed this spring with the emergence of 23-year-old Ramiro Pena, whose dazzling glovework has made him the frontrunner to win the utility infielder’s job until Alex Rodriguez comes back in May.
Fact is, Pena has always demonstrated world class defense since being signed by the Yankees out of Mexico in 2005, but his improvement with the bat is what’s elevated him to legitimate major league prospect status.
“When I first saw him three years ago, you could knock the bat out of his hands,” said one veteran scout whose primary assignment is in the minor leagues. “But he was a magician with the glove and that made him someone to keep an eye on. Now that he’s gained a little weight, put on a little muscle, he’s no longer an ‘out.’ He can handle the bat. I always felt his glove would get him to the big leagues, but now I can see him as an everyday shortstop.”
“Best looking young shortstop I’ve seen in a couple of years,” said one National League scout.
So assuming Pena is the real deal, it would seem that with another year of Triple-A apprenticeship, presumably mixed with stints at the big league level, he’ll be ready for regular duty with the Yankees. Jeter will be 35 next season, the last year of his contract, and, his pride aside, he can’t expect to extend his career as a shortstop.
Not the first time we’ve heard someone singing a happy tune over Pena.
Me? I think if anyone is going to push Jeter off short, it’s going to have to come via a Wally Pip case – where someone fills in for Captain Derek, over an extended period, due to injury, and just plays so well during that time that it forces the Yankees and/or Jeter to make a move. Now, the twist to all this, of course, is timing. If such a situation should occur during Jeter’s last year of his current contract, well, then it gets really interesting, doesn’t it?