2012 draft: Correa, Cecchini and Rahier headline talented shortstop class

Jesmuel Valentin-Diaz (left) and Gavin Cecchini are top shortstops heading into the 2012 draft. (photo by Joseph Santoliquito)

Shortstop is one of the premiere positions in baseball. Along with the catcher, they are usually the leader on the field, and if you get a great one, you do whatever it takes to lock them up. Troy Tulowitzki of the Colorado Rockies, arguably the best in the game right now, was given a 10-year/$157.75MM contract in 2011 that will keep him in Colorado until 2020. The Miami Marlins gave Jose Reyes a six-year/$106MM contract this offseason. Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez have combined to make more than $500MM over their careers.

This year’s shortstop class is extremely deep and talented. Along with college stars, Devin Marrero of Arizona State (expected to be the first shortstop taken) and Kenny Diekroeger of Stanford, there are several high school players who are expected to be first-round draft picks. Here are some of the best, who should also be able to stick at the position at the next level.

Carlos Correa, 6’-4”, 190 pounds, Puerto Rico Baseball Academy (PR)

Most think Correa will outgrow the position as his 6’-4” frame appears able to carry another 20-pounds without losing any athleticism. A defensive whiz at the position, he has an incredibly smooth feel for the game which makes it look effortless for him. He also has a strong and accurate arm which would allow for an easy transition to third base if he chose. At the plate, his quick wrists and balanced swing project to a high-average hitter at the next level. Has some power now, but more should come as he matures. Stock is soaring and should be the first high school shortstop taken in the draft. Committed to Vanderbilt.

Gavin Cecchini, 6’-2”, 185 pounds, Barbe HS (LA)

Cecchini is an unbelievable athlete and a true leader on the field. Has all the tools to stick at the position, from the strong arm to the great footwork and range. Hit .548 with 11 home runs, 41 RBI and 32 stolen bases as a junior for powerhouse Barbe last season. Lead the under-18 Team USA Baseball with a .500 average (25-for-50) over 15 games, including 17 RBI and 10 stolen bases as the team finished 14-0-1 and a Gold medal at the Pan-Am Championships. Has excellent bat speed, power to all fields and has been timed at 6.0 seconds in the 60-yard dash. His brother, Garin Cecchini, was a fourth-round pick by the Red Sox in the 2010 draft and was rated as the organization’s best hitter by Baseball America. Gavin has a higher ceiling and should be a top-15 pick in the 2012 draft. Committed to Ole Miss.

Tanner Rahier, 6’-2”, 210 pounds, Palm Desert HS (CA)

Rahier is considered a top draft pick even though he doesn’t play high school baseball. He attends Palm Desert but plays his baseball for the ABD Bulldogs in a league that uses wooden bats to better prepare him for the pros. He owns possibly the best work ethic in his draft class (here is a great article on his workout regimen). He could end up the best overall hitter on this list as his power already exceeds everyone else. He showed that power at the sixth-annual Power Showcase held at Chase Field this winter. In an event pitting the top 100 power hitters in the nation, he finished second overall, including leading everyone with 11 home runs after the first round. He runs a 6.63/60, has top bat speed, a canon arm and is a very high character person on and off the field. The Yankees own the 30th pick in the 2012 draft, and with Derek Jeter nearing the end of his career, Rahier would make an excellent heir to his throne. Although, the way his stock is soaring, he may be off the board by then. Committed to San Diego.

Addison Russell, 6’-1”, 210 pounds, Pace HS (FL)

Arguably the best defensive player on this list. Like Correa, the game just looks effortless to him. Excellent footwork, a strong and accurate arm, soft hands and natural instincts for the game separate him from the rest on the defensive side. However, his size and power may end up forcing him to move to third base. A teammate of Cecchini’s for Team USA, he hit .393 with nine RBI, four stolen bases and hit the team’s only home run of the Pan-Am tournament, a grand slam in the bottom of the first inning against Canada in the gold medal game that put the game away early for Team USA. Overall, he hit .364 with 14 RBI, six stolen bases and a 1.095 OPS over 15 games for the team. Like many of the players on this list, he is a very high character player and has drawn comparisons to Tulowitzki because of his play on both sides of the field. Should be a top-20 pick in the 2012 draft. Committed to Auburn.

Jesmuel Valentin-Diaz, 5’-11”, 180 pounds, Puerto Rico Baseball Academy (PR)

A teammate of Correa, Diaz mostly plays second base as Correa is the primary shortstop for the team. He should stick at shortstop in the majors due to his size, arm, range and instincts for the position. He also has a strong knowledge for the game having grown up around it, as his father, Jose Valentin, was a 16-year, major-league veteran. At the plate, the switch-hitter has a short stroke that generates gap-to-gap power and could develop more when he matures. Timed at 6.68/60, so should steal some bases as well. Gained a reputation as a clutch hitter throughout summer-league tournaments. Could sneak into the first round with a strong senior season. Committed to LSU.

C.J. Hinojosa, 5’-11”, 190 pounds, Klein Collins HS (TX)

Hinojosa recently decided not to enroll early at the University of Texas, something he was leaning toward after graduating from high school ahead of schedule. This move keeps him eligible for the 2012 draft. He still has the commitment to be a Longhorn, and a Texas commitment could come with signing issues, but he remains a potential top draft pick based on his talent. He has the size, arm and range to stick at the position at the next level. He is a high-average hitter from the right side, with raw power to all fields. He also has some speed and could develop into a number-two hitter in the lineup at the major-league level.

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