The golden days of the AL shortstop that were the 90's and early 00's have passed, leaving us with what used to exist at the position: slick fielders that most likely will not hit more than 20 homeruns. The AL Central has a curious blend of both types of the shortstops. With the five players all being under the age of 30, we should be seeing these players for the next few seasons.
Cleveland: Asdrubal Cabrera had a down year all around last season. His BB%, ISO, and BABIP all dropped below his career norms which had an obvious negative effect on his numbers. Cabrera will never reach double digits in homeruns, but is quick enough to steal anywhere from 10-20 bases depending on if he can stay healthy the entire season. He gets on base in just under 35% of his PA and could score 100 runs on a better team, but he's stuck on the Indians. He's not very good defensively and will most likely share time with Orlando Cabrera jumping around between shortstop and second.
Kansas City: Alcides Escobar came over to the Royals this winter in the Zack Greinke trade. The young Venezuelan disappointed last season, as he struggled mightily to post numbers similar to the ones he showed in the minors. Escobar has stolen as many as 42 bases in the minors (and AAA at that), but will struggle to steal more than 25 in the majors until he can get his OBP over .320. While Alcides is faster than Cabrera, he is even less powerful and will easily hit more triples than homeruns every year, especially now that his home games will be played in Kauffman Stadium instead of Miller Park. Escobar plays above-average defense and should give the Royals a nice vacuum between third and second for the foreseeable future.
Detroit: Jhonny Peralta simply loves the Rust Belt too much to leave the region, as he headed north across Lake Erie last season to join the Tigers. For some reason, Jim Leyland insists on playing the stone-handed Dominican at shortstop, where he can cause the most damage possible to his team. Peralta strikes out a bit much (23.5% of his career AB), but does have the power numbers to accompany that deficiency (.157 career ISO). Jhonny will finish in the top two for homeruns out of these five gentleman. And I will never tire of his insistence that everyone else in the world spells their name wrong, not him.
Minnesota: The Twins are attempting to pull an Alexei Ramirez type position switch with their own Alexi. Alexi Casilla has played second base intermittently for Minnesota over the past five seasons. Now that Nick Punto, Jason Bartlett, and the other piranhas have left for bluer rivers, Casilla is entering a season as the full-time starter for the first time. This probably won't end well. Casilla was below average defensively playing second base and is now moving to a harder position. Some times this works out for the best (Alexei Ramirez), but that isn't the norm. Casilla had a career year at the plate, fueled greatly by a .026 spike in his BABIP. He has the speed to steal 20+ bases, but hasn't gotten on base enough in the majors to pull this off (career .306 OBP). Casilla has the least amount of power out of these five players and offers very little upside.
Chicago: The White Sox may not have had much of a presence in the international market as other teams over the past decade (thanks again David Wilder!), but the players they have managed to land have made up for the lack of quantity with a greater quality. Alexei Ramirez is a prime example of this. The Cuban Missile struggles early every season during the colder months, but turns it on once the city gets warmer. Ramirez is a lock to hit 15+ homeruns and steal 10+ bases every season (though he is not an efficient thief). Alexei's seeming distaste for drawing walks (5.4% career BB%) will always limit his ability to get on base at an above league average rate, but his power helps to offset this. When you take into account that he is also the best fielding shortstop in the AL, it becomes even more apparent why Kenny Williams thought it was so important to lock him up for the next 5-6 years.
Conclusion: I like that it won't even be viewed as homerism when I say that Alexei Ramirez is the top shortstop in the division by far. It's a nice perk that comes with being the tops at your position in your league. Alcides Escobar and Asrubal Cabrera are practically neck and neck, but I'm going with Escobar as the number two guy because he still has a higher ceiling than what we've seen Cabrera establish himself to have. Peralta's bat saves him from a last place finish, which then falls to Alexi Casilla. Trading J.J. Hardy away this winter will likely come back to haunt the Twins. Next week will bring about the conclusion to the nine part series, as catchers will be the final target.