3 Up: Yes! Alexi Amarista Should Start At Shortstop For The Padres
3 Up: Alexi Amarista Can Be a Starting Shortstop
There is a good chance the San Diego Padres will have a new starting shortstop in 2015. With Everth Cabrera missing large numbers of games in two consecutive years due to substance abuse and injuries, the front office may just decide to cut ties with the former stolen base champion. He hasn’t played a game since being arrested for driving under the influence of marijuana.
Who filled in for Cabrera over the last month of the season? Alexi Amarista, that’s who. And Amarista performed admirably. The career utility man showed himself capable of starting at shortstop on a daily basis. If the Padres do rid themselves of Cabrera, could they start the season with Amarista as their starter at the number six position?
I say yes.
And here’s why:
1. He’s earned it. For the past three years, Amarista has functioned as a super sub, playing wherever the team needed him. He has played second base, third base, shortstop, and all three outfield positions. At every position he plays, he is a plus defender, including center field and shortstop. If he becomes the starting shortstop, then that opens the super utility role for both rookie Cory Spangenberg and second-year man Yangervis Solarte, thus giving Bud Black more depth and roster flexibility.
Among shortstops with at least 10 games played in 2014, he had the 7th best defensive WAR in the National League. He finished with a better DWAR than Troy Tulowitzki, Jimmy Rollins, Ian Desmond, Jean Segura, and Adeiny Hechavarria, among others. He also finished ahead of Everth Cabrera.
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2. Offensively, although he wouldn’t be a top-of-the-lineup hitter on most squads, on the Padres, he’s not the worst guy to have at the plate. On a team that had people talking about the worst offenses of all-time, he finished 5th on the team with 40 RBI in 423 ABs, his 12 stolen bases were second only to Cabrera, and he managed to finish with a positive WAR of 1.0. His .239 batting average was thirteen points above the team average of .226. So unless the Friars gets a major offensive overhaul over the winter, Amarista can be considered a positive contributor to the offense.
This is not to say he is a very good hitter. His OBP has plenty of room for improvement, and he averages only three or four extra base hits per month. But perhaps better than being a good hitter, he is a clutch hitter. While his career average with nobody on base is an admittedly poor .217, he hits considerably better – .264 – with runners in scoring position. With at least two runners on base, he rakes at a .300 clip, and in 30 ABs with the bases loaded, he has collected 12 hits, including a homer and two doubles, for a .400 average and .567 slugging percentage. With a runner on third and less than two outs, he is 14-for-42 (.333) with 36 RBI. Anyone who has watched the Padres the last couple of years knows how rare that kind of success is on this team.
3. He’s a fan favorite. Everyone loves watching Amarista play. He plays with unbridled enthusiasm, he’s got a huge smile on his face when he’s on the diamond, and despite being the smallest player on the field – he’s listed at 5’6” – he can hit the ball out of the park, going deep five times each of the last four years. Sure, he swings for the fences for the next week-and-a-half after hitting one out, but that’s part of his charm. And he has one of the best nicknames in baseball: the Little Ninja. What’s not to like?
Alexi Amarista has earned the chance to be the Padres starting shortstop.