The 2017 Miami Marlins have hit their stride, entering the weekend as winners of four consecutive series. Interim shortstop Miguel Rojas—enjoying a BABIP-driven career year (.324/.390/.381, 105 wRC+)—has been instrumental to the hot streak, with JT Riddle shut down for the season and undergoing shoulder surgery.
Rojas is useful, popular, cheap and controllable, but he won’t stop Riddle from reclaiming an everyday job once healthy again. Although the 25-year-old struggled at the plate (.250/.282/.355, 62 wRC+), his background and all-around skill set closely resemble what several other MLB infielders once showed as rookies.
A 70-game sample doesn’t tell us much, so Riddle’s career could still be headed in one of a million different directions. It’s even possible that this labrum tear marks the end of his playing days.
But if the Kentucky native avoids recurring injuries (a big “if”), these former shortstops serve as helpful examples for Marlins fans wondering what to expect.
Dozier was tasked with rejuvenating a Minnesota Twins team that began the 2012 season on a brutal 7-20 stretch. The call-up came with some expectations, considering the organization had selected him as its Minor League Player of the Year in 2011.
Instead, he delivered a Riddle-like .234/.271/.332 batting line (63 WRC+) in 84 games. Dozier’s rookie campaign wasn’t cut short by injury, but rather a demotion to Triple-A.
Since reappearing in the major leagues in 2013, Dozier has been used exclusively at second base. Along with the position change, he also reworked the launch angle of his swing. As a result, his total of 128 home runs over the past five seasons leads all middle infielders, while his 17.5 Wins Above Replacement ranks sixth.
Before dismissing this as a possible path for Riddle, keep in mind that Dozier’s power surge caught everybody off guard, too. He had been limited to single-digit home runs in every professional season (dating back to 2009) prior to that sophomore breakout! A game of adjustments, indeed.
If Dozier is the optimistic outlook on Riddle’s career, you’ll find Abbott at the opposite end of the spectrum. Nine MLB seasons is nothing to sneeze at, but overall, he barely amounted to a replacement-level player (0.7 fWAR).
After a cup of coffee with the 1993 Oakland Athletics, he got a longer look with the Marlins the following year at age 25. Abbott’s plate discipline issues surfaced that summer, and he never fully addressed them.
His rookie walk rate of 4.3 percent was similar to Riddle’s 4.9 percent. It didn’t improve much from that point forward (6.0 career walk rate). An impatient approach caused him to fall short of league average offensive production—99 wRC+ or lower—every season.
At least Abbott gets to live out his retirement as a champion, thanks to the 1997 Fish. Of course, he had already settled into a utility role at that point.
Even if working deep counts doesn’t become a high priority for Riddle, he’ll be able to stick at shortstop for awhile by making the spectacular look routine.
Listed at 6-1 and 185 pounds, Grudzielanek certainly had the Riddle physique (6-1/180). Also, both entered the professional ranks as mid-round draft picks out of college, ultimately ascending to the big leagues at the same age.
The Montreal Expos rookie acclimated himself well on defense while struggling in a familiar way with the bat (.245/.300/.316, 60 wRC+). Even the length of Grudzielanek’s debut in 1995—78 games—was eerily similar to Riddle’s.
A fiery April performance in a down year for National League shortstops led to Grudzielanek’s only All-Star selection in 1996. A decade later, he finally earned a Gold Glove after shifting to second base. More than 1,800 regular-season games, tens of millions of dollars in salary and a few accolades make for a very respectable career.
It’s hard to imagine Riddle himself choosing Grudzielanek as a role model. If we’re being realistic, though, the Marlins would be thrilled to have him develop into that sort of player.