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Dragons 2015 Preview, Part 6: Shortstops

March 20, 2015

This is part six of an eight-part series previewing the 2015 Dragons. Players listed here are candidates for positions on the 25-man Dragons season-opening roster.

This preview is an unofficial projection of possible roster candidates. Minor League rosters are not established until April 5. Spring training variables including performance, injuries, trades, and additional player acquisitions will impact the roster accordingly.

Shortstops

Candidates: Cory Thompson, Luis Gonzalez.

The shortstop position has been an interesting one to follow over the Dragons history. Starting in 2005 and continuing through 2011, every Dragons shortstop reached the Major Leagues, though some were eventually moved to other positions. In 2008, the Dragons opened the season with Todd Frazier at shortstop and after he was promoted, Zack Cozart took over the position. Now Frazier and Cozart hold down the left side of the Cincinnati Reds infield. Paul Janish and Adam Rosales were the Dragons shortstops in 2005 and '06 before Chris Valaika took over in 2007. After Frazier and Cozart, Miguel Rojas, who was on the Dodgers playoff roster in 2014, served as the Dragons shortstop in 2009. Didi Gregorius, now the heir apparent to Derek Jeter with the Yankees, took over in Dayton in 2010, and Billy Hamilton was the Dragons 2011 shortstop. That is eight Dragons shortstops in a row to play in the Major Leagues, and all of them except Janish played in the big leagues in 2014 (Janish, who has appeared in 431 Major League games, spent the year in Triple-A).

That streak could continue. Dragons 2012 shortstop Juan Perez, and Zach Vincej from 2013, certainly have a chance. The Dragons combination of shortstops in 2014 was also very interesting. Carlton Daal spent the first three months at the position and played in the Midwest League All-Star Game, batting .296 before going down for the year with a broken hand. He was replaced by Alex Blandino, a 2014 first round draft pick out of Stanford, who showed great promise as a hitter, though some scouts project him to move to second base or back to his college position of third base. Blandino actually played well for the Dragons defensively at shortstop, a position he had not played since high school. Both Daal and Blandino will likely move up the ladder to Daytona in 2015 with Blandino serving as the shortstop and Daal at second base. The Dragons 2015 shortstop options also seem interesting.

Click links on each name for career stats and player information.

Cory Thompson has not gotten a tremendous amount of publicity as a prospect, but playing in Dayton has a way of bringing out the scouts and prospect-writers if you perform well here. The Reds invested a fifth round draft pick in Thompson in 2013 when they selected him out of Mauldin High School in South Carolina. Thompson was heavily scouted in high school where he starred as both a shortstop and pitcher, and he has gone on record as saying that many teams viewed him as a pitcher first. In fact, Thompson entered draft day in 2013 not knowing if the team that selected him would take him as a pitcher or position player. The Reds liked him better as a shortstop. Thompson had intended to play at the University of South Carolina before coming to terms with the Reds.

As expected based on his background, Thompson has a tremendous arm at the shortstop position. Following each of Thompson's two seasons in the Reds organization, he was named by Baseball America as the "Infielder with Best Arm" in the Reds system. As a hitter, he has held his own and if he takes a step forward in Dayton, he will jump onto the prospect charts. Thompson played at Billings in 2014, generally serving as the #2 hitter in the batting order. He started the year hitting well and was batting .307 as late as July 10, but he hit just .225 in the second half and finished the season at .245. Thompson's power numbers improved significantly from his first year in pro ball in 2013. He collected 20 extra base hits in 2014 after tallying just 11 the previous year, and his home run total increased from one to six. He was perfect in 13 stolen base attempts without being thrown out. Thompson is known as a very athletic player with fine tools who needs experience. He will likely serve as an everyday player for the Dragons in 2015. The question remaining to answer is whether he will be the Dayton shortstop or second baseman.

Luis Gonzalez has been in the Reds organization since signing as an international free agent from the Dominican Republic prior to the 2013 season. Gonzalez has played in just 32 games in the United States, all with the Reds Arizona League affiliate in Goodyear last summer. However, he has opened enough eyes that he appears to have a legitimate chance at making the unlikely jump from Goodyear straight into the Dragons starting lineup. 

Gonzalez has drawn defensive comparisons to 2009 Dragons shortstop Miguel Rojas, who impressed the Dodgers enough last season that they kept him on their playoff roster. A comparison to Rojas is quite a compliment because Rojas was one of the finest defensive infielders ever to play at Fifth Third Field with the Dragons. Midwest League shortstops who remain with their teams for a full 140-game season typically finish with 30-40 errors. Gregorius, Hamilton, Perez, and Daal all finished in that window. Rojas had just 13 for the '09 Dragons, enjoying an amazing year in the field. Former Reds Farm Director Terry Reynolds once said that Rojas had the quickest hands he had seen in 20 years. Rojas did not have the athleticism or range of Gregorius or Hamilton, but he caught every ball he got to. Gonzalez is said to be the same kind of defender. As a hitter, Gonzalez batted .277 without a home run in only 94 at-bats with Goodyear last season, so his experience level is very limited. Some observers see the similarities with Rojas, but feel Gonzalez has more long-term potential as a hitter. The Reds thought enough of Gonzalez to give him some innings in a Major League spring game earlier this month. If the powers-that-be feel that Gonzalez is ready to fill the role of everyday shortstop for the Dragons in 2015, Thompson will slide over to second base. This would have seemed unlikely late last season, but Gonzalez has earned a serious look.

Notable: 2013 Dragons all-star shortstop Zach Vincej hit .271 for Advanced-A Bakersfield last season and would hope to earn the everyday job with Double-A Pensacola in 2015. He is another extremely strong defender.

Next up: The Third Basemen

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