Today, we continue the 2019 VEB Community Projections series with shortstop Paul DeJong.
DeJong took a speedy yet unconventional path to the big leagues. Drafted 131st overall out of Illinois State in 2014, DeJong was viewed as a moderate upside power bat with uncertainty over his ultimate position. He played some catcher and later some third base in college, with scouts viewing third as his best shot to stay up the defensive spectrum.
Fast-forward to pro ball, and his power translated as he quickly moved up the ladder to AA in his first full season. The plate discipline splits were concerning, especially considering the pressure put on his bat should he have stayed at third. Then something peculiar happened - the Cardinals decided to give DeJong a go at shortstop. The move up the spectrum was, at the time, thought to be an attempt to groom DeJong for a super-utility role. Little did anyone know he’d end up sticking up the middle.
DeJong debuted in 2017 after beginning the season in Memphis. The rookie impressed out of the gate, slashing .285/.325/.532 across 443 PA’s. His plate discipline numbers - 4.7% BB%, 28.0% K% - were scary, but a .247 ISO more than made up the difference. Ultimately he ran a 122 wRC+, which when added to his surprisingly cromulent defense up the middle, resulted in a 3.0 fWAR debut.
Heading into 2018, DeJong quickly secured an extension from the club and was penciled in as the starting shortstop. From Opening Day to May 17, he slashed .260/.351/.473 for a 125 wRC+. The power was slightly below 2017 standards, but he showed improved selectivity and upped his walk rate to 9.4% over the span. Unfortunately, DeJong was hit on the left hand on May 17 and wouldn’t return to the field until July. Upon returning, he was noticeably carrying rust and lacking thump while the hand worked back to full strength. After returning on July 6th, DeJong ran a .231/.292/.413 line for a 90 wRC+.
Altogether, DeJong’s injury-split 2018 campaign added up to a 102 wRC+ at the plate. He made strides in improving both his walk rate and strikeout rate, but the hand injury temporarily sapped his power and depressed the overall line. Defensively, DeJong graded out even better in 2018 than he did in his surprising 2017 debut. This year, the projections seem to have warmed to his glove work and he’s projected as a comfortably above-average defensive shortstop.
So the question becomes, how do you predict DeJong’s 2018 will go?