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Edmundo Sosa versus Jose Rondon

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Which infielder should make the team?

MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at New York Mets Jim Rassol-USA TODAY Sports

There are been some developments that have made what previously seemed to be a fixed bench with no surprises into a bench with more possibilities. Suddenly, the obvious bench is not quite as obvious. For starters, the Cardinals plan to carry 13 pitchers and 13 position players. The previous belief was a 14/12 split, which means the Cardinals can carry another bench player. Secondly, Harrison Bader got injured and will start the year on the IL. There’s another bench player who gets to make the team. Third, Justin Williams was granted a fourth option, making his guaranteed roster spot less of a guarantee now.

This is good news for basically everyone but Justin Williams. The Cardinals can bring two players to the majors who wouldn’t have with no Bader injury and 12 position players on the roster. Plus, one of their competitors can now be sent down to the minors, and if the Cardinals chose that route, the three bench players could make the team who had no shot at all of making the team before.

Except, while things have changed, they primarily benefit outfielders on the 40 man roster. The Cardinals of course need to carry one backup catcher, so there’s one bench role. Matt Carpenter will not be cut before spring is over, so there’s a second bench role. With as uncertain a situation as the outfield situation is, there’s no way the Cardinals don’t carry five outfielders or people who can pretend to be an outfielder. So no matter the news, the Cardinals can still only carry one other middle infielder.

Edmundo Sosa has no options, is 25 and is reportedly one of the best defensive shortstops in the Cardinals system. The Cardinals signed both Max Moroff and Jose Rondon as middle infield depth, because frankly the Cardinals have none. And while Moroff has had a pretty great spring - .250/.429/.500 - Jose Rondon has pretty much exited him out of the conversation. Not that he had much of a chance before, but when your fellow minor league signee outperforms you, there’s really not much you can do.

And the consensus on VEB - at least in the comments - seems to be to bring up Jose Rondon and to let Sosa go. Well, put him on waivers anyway. Rondon is batting .318/.407/.636 in 27 spring plate appearances. That pop isn’t exactly a fluke, what with his .179 projected ISO by ZiPS. We don’t have much info on his defense unfortunately. But clearly, people want him for his bat over his defense.

So at least in the minds of fans, it seems to be Edmundo Sosa versus Jose Rondon. Sosa is the weak hitting, good to great to elite fielding shortstop. Rondon is the bat of the two, whose defense appears to be decent to acceptable to bad maybe, at least at short. You’ll notice I’m not giving any specifics on either’s defense, and this is a case where lack of data really is unfortunate.

What does ZiPS say? Well, ZiPS favors Rondon. Given just 424 PAs, ZiPS thinks Rondon could be a 1.2 WAR player. Sosa, on the other hand, isn’t liked by ZiPS, projecting 0.3 WAR in 531 PAs. Seems pretty straightforward who to pick right? Well, not exactly. ZiPS sees Rondon and Sosa as equal fielders. That seems... unlikely. Extraordinarily unlikely. ZiPS uses its own defensive formula using actual minor league data, but... let’s just say I don’t trust the defensive numbers when they use actual MLB data. I imagine minors is even less reliable than that.

Let’s put it this way. Rondon has a projected 83 wRC+ by ZiPS and if Rondon was a +4 fielder at SS like ZiPS thinks, I don’t think he signs for a minor league deal. Because that’s nearly a league average player! This was the best deal he could get, so clearly the league doesn’t think he’s a +4 shortstop.

What does the limited info we have on him say? Pretty much nothing that suggests he’s even an above average fielder. He’s played at 2B, 3B, and SS for his MLB career and his numbers are all over the map. He’s +10.9 at 3B, but -15.5 at 2B. He’s also -12.7 at SS. This is more a reflection of just how small a sample we’re dealing with than anything. But if you take his numbers that he has and then fill in the rest of what would be a good sample with average defense, he’s a -1.3 fielder at SS. The fan scouting report from 2018 gave him exactly average defense. Statcast has his outs above average at SS at -4 for his career, +2 at 3B, neutral at 2B.

From the extremely limited sample we have, this profile is suggestive of a guy who is probably above average at 2B and 3B, and... well I’m still not honestly sure of his SS defense. Average seems like a best case to me. There are some players who can be above average at 2B and 3B and just be awful at SS - think Jedd Gyorko. I don’t know if he’s one of those guys, but he could be one of those guys and the fact that he only landed a minor league deal suggests his SS defense is not highly thought of.

Sosa was called the best defensive infielder on the Cardinals 40 man roster in Fangraphs writeup of the 2020 prospect rankings - which included Kolten Wong and Paul DeJong (although I think it’s possible the writer forgot about DeJong having elite numbers there. Scouting him wouldn’t suggest he’s elite.) He is probably better than a +4 fielder that ZiPS gives him.

So what we have here is a potential swing in values based purely on defense. Let’s accept the offensive values as sacred. Not to suggest they couldn’t be wrong, but I think they are certainly more based on data I can trust than defense. Let’s say Rondon is a -1 fielder and Sosa is a +6 fielder. That gap between them is now 0.7 WAR and 0.5 WAR. And it could easily be a bigger swing than that, depending on your opinion of Sosa’s defense of course.

But you may say, spring training. Well first off, Sosa’s numbers are misleading. While I’m sure they’d still be bad, he’s at least played in one B game where he hit a home run. If you’ll check his stats on MLB, there is no evidence of a home run. He’s batting .105/.250/.158 officially. There are some positives though. He has three walks and one hit by pitch, and I would not mention the HBP if not for the fact that he got hit 16 times in AAA in 2019, so getting HBP seems to be something of a talent for him. He only has two strikeouts in 24 plate appearances, undeniably a positive for a guy with a projected K rate of 21.4%. While the homer wouldn’t make his line good, it would look a hell of a lot better.

Honestly, I’m not convinced either are all that good. But I’m also not buying Rondon’s small sample here. In 2019, the last time he played, he had a 47 wRC+ in 157 PAs as a 25-year-old. In AAA, he had a 73 wRC+. In his AAA career, which spanned four seasons of intermittent play, he’s a 101 wRC+ hitter in 592 PAs.

On the other hand, Sosa is 25 now. He essentially skipped his age 24 season unfortunately, but at 22 and 23, he had a 90 wRC+ in 705 AAA PAs. Rondon is the better hitter yes, but by how much? I’m not really seeing how one could draw the conclusion that Rondon is definitely better than Sosa or that he has more potential than Sosa, especially given the ages of both and the probable defense of both.

Edmundo Sosa will make the team, some people will be mad, and I frankly don’t think they should be.