Size doesn’t matter: The vertically-challenged team

What is the ideal body shape for a baseball player? Does size matter? Check out the stars in our “vertically-challenged” team before you decide.

When you see Aaron Judge swaggering around like some sort of Adonis, it’s difficult to believe that biggest isn’t best. The guy ripples as he moves. At a shade over two metres tall (6-foot-7) and coming in at 125kgs (19st, 9lbs), there is no doubt that he looks the epitome of a world-beating athlete.

He has it all. His long strides eat up the outfield as he sprints to pluck a flyball from the sky. And when batting, his big levers and quick-fire muscles propel the ball as hard as anyone on the planet.

The former first-round pick was the Rookie of the Year in 2017, while subsequently finishing second in MVP voting. Injury hampered his 2018, but his short MLB career still averages out to 46 home runs, 106 RBI and double-digit stolen bases for a full 162-game season.

By recently signing 6-foot-4 (1.93M) DJ LeMahieu, Judge’s Yankees will likely set the record for the tallest lineup in history this season.

Heightism in New York is rife, with the news that the Yankees just traded away 5-foot-10 Sonny Gray – the shortest player on their roster. 

Was the real reason for the Sonny Grade trade his lack of inches?

Baseball is an extraordinary game, where players like Judge can succeed, but also less athletically-privileged individuals like Bartolo Colon or lightweight pitchers like Zach Davies or skinny little things like Billy Hamilton or skinny big things like 2.03M (6-foot-8) Tayron Guerrero can all perform at the highest level.

Evolution hasn’t been so kind to everyone, yet some of the more physically challenged players are the best in the game.

Enjoy our choices for the 2019 vertically-challenged lineup. To qualify for selection, the player must be no more than 1.75M (5-foot-9) tall, which, by the way, is the average height of a British man.

The first name on the team sheet is the current AL MVP Mookie Betts. He hit 32 home runs in 2018 with 30 stolen bases and 1.078 OPS. The 26-year-old led the majors in runs (129), batting average (.346) and slugging percentage (.640), while also securing himself both Silver Slugger and Gold Glove awards.

Betts recently signed a record $20 million contract; the highest for a player in his second season of arbitration-eligibility. Small is beautiful, but small is not cheap.

Second base is the most competitive position in the world of pint-sized players. There are lots of excellent undersized second basemen. Padres’ superstar-in-waiting Luis Urias didn’t even make the cut.

Houston Astros ball-of-dynamite Jose Altuve gets the nod in our lineup. He has averaged 200 hits in each of the last five years while posting a batting average of .331.

Despite offering power, speed and excellent contact skills, Altuve never appeared high on any prospects lists. He was only the Astros No.28 prospect the year that he made his big league debut.

2018 was a down year for Altuve. Fewer runs, home runs and RBI, and a lower batting average, but he still finished the season as a top-20 hitter.

The third player in our trio of diminutive superstars is the Cleveland Indians barrel of power Jose Ramirez.

Only three players hit more home runs than Ramirez in 2018. Amazingly he went deep more times than elite sluggers Nolan Arenado, Nelson Cruz, Giancarlo Stanton or Aaron Judge.

Ramirez is another player with whom the prospect evaluators whiffed. Although he is a completely different player to the one who hit .219 AVG with just six home runs in 2015. Now he walks, doesn’t strike out much, gets on-base, hits doubles for fun, and the 26-year-old is still getting better.

As if further proof was needed that size doesn’t matter. Over the last three years, these three players are the best hitters in the game outside of Mike Trout.

Patrolling right field for our vertically-challenged team is the Washington Nationals Adam Eaton. I didn’t even realise he was below average height.

Eaton moved from the White Sox in 2016 in the high profile deal which landed an impressive trio of pitchers: Dane Dunning, Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez. Unfortunately, injury has restricted Eaton to just 410 at-bats in Nationals’ colours, but he offers high on-base potential with the ability to score 100 runs when healthy.

In left field is 24-year-old Willie Calhoun. This guy is powerful. He smashed 31 home runs (fourth highest) in Triple-A in 2017, and that was as a 22-year-old. So far his transition to the majors has not been successful, but adjustments should help him fulfil his potential.

At shortstop, we will need to get the Braves outstanding young second baseman to shift over to the position at which he excelled in the minors. In his first full MLB season, Ozzie Albies scored 104 runs with 24 home runs, despite being the eighth youngest player in the league.

The Curacao native is under team control through 2024 and is part of the reason why the Braves will be one of the favourites in the NL for the next five years or so.

There are no short first basemen. The only player I could find was walk-machine Carlos Santana, but at 1.80M (5-foot-11), he would have towered over the rest of the team. Instead, we have opted to move free agent Josh Harrison to first base.

Even if he doesn’t know how to play first base, he can learn. It’s not that hard.

There is also a dearth of short catchers. That was until the most captivating player in baseball burst into our consciousness last season.

Willians Astudillo of the Twins is a phenomenon; a tour de force. He stands 5-foot-9 and deserves his own highlight channel. At the very least, he deserves his own Bat Flips and Nerds article (coming soon).

The catcher also plays every other position on the field. At over 100kgs, no-one with his physique has ever played centre field in the majors. He has no-look pick-off tricks, hidden ball tricks and breaks unwritten rules when he launches home runs.

He does everything, except strikeout. In 3,228 plate appearances across all levels over the last nine years, Astudillo has struck out just 99 times. That’s a strikeout rate of 3%. By comparison, J.T Realmuto, the best catcher in the league, has a career strikeout rate of over 18%.

Creating a rotation of sub-1.75M players is not easy, although it is spearheaded by the Blue Jays elite groundball pitcher Marcus Stroman. His injury-impacted 2018 campaign was disappointing, but Stroman threw over 200 innings in both of the previous two seasons, and inducing ground balls is a great recipe for success.

When Stroman isn’t on the mound, our strategy would have to be to utilise bullpen arms. Choices include Matt Bush, Ryan Dull and Tim Collins. In fact, the list of players 1.75M or less who pitched in the majors last season stretches to just nine names. At the bottom of the list, albeit with only one inning, is Willians Astudillo. He really is an incredible player. I’m off to write another article.

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