Chat with Jayson Stark

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Welcome to The Show! Jayson Stark is stopping by Wednesday at 1 p.m. ET as part of our ongoing Hot Stove Heaters chats! Check back each day for a new topic and a new chat! Take it away, Jayson!

Day after day, Hot Stove Heaters keep rolling out the greatest debates in baseball -- A-Rod versus Pujols, Beckett versus Peavy, Phillie Phanatic versus Mr. Met. (Yes, Mr. Chairman, I take full responsibility for making up that last one.) But now we've stumbled upon a debate topic that's pretty much impossible:

You have to take one shortstop to start your team. And it has to be a guy who will play this entire season at an age younger than 25. (New Yorkers please take note: That ground rule happens to eliminate Jose Reyes from this argument.) So which phenom would you take, Hanley Ramirez or Troy Tulowitzki?

Ramirez, the 2006 rookie of the year, is as talented as any young player in the whole sport, and had the most top-secret monster season in baseball last year. But his critics -- what few there are -- have every right to bring up his pesky defensive issues. And Tulowitzki lost the 2007 rookie-of-the-year election to Ryan Braun by two stinking points, in a season in which he put up eyeball-shattering defensive stats. But the argument against him is that his terrific offensive numbers were clearly Rocky Mountain-aided.

The case for Ramirez

Ramirez is off to one of the great starts to a career by any shortstop who ever lived. How's that for a pithy description of the case? He's two seasons into his career, and he has topped 45 steals and 45 doubles in each of them. So how many players have ever done that? How about none? At any position. In any two seasons of their career. But that's not all. Ramirez also is coming off a 200-hit, 20-homer, 50-steal, 100-run season, and only two other players in history have ever had a year like that: Lou Brock (1967) and Craig Biggio. Those 212 hits last year would be the most ever by a National League shortstop -- if Jimmy Rollins hadn't also gotten 212. And it's that power-speed-high-average combo that really makes Ramirez unique. He was the only player in the league to finish in the top five in hits, runs, average, doubles and stolen bases. This guy is a special, special offensive talent. Too bad the only people who seem to have noticed are those 2,000 folks who stampede up (or down) the Florida Pike to see the Marlins every night.

The case for Tulowitzki

You just don't see guys Tulowitzki's age (22 last year) who come into the league and essentially take over both the entire infield and the entire clubhouse as a rookie. Doesn't happen. Not even to Derek Jeter. It also isn't often that you find yourself compelled to start all discussions about a player's numbers with his defensive numbers. But that's mandatory in this case, too. Tulowitzki's 561 assists were the most by any National League shortstop since Ozzie Smith in 1980 -- and only one other shortstop in the league (Rollins) was within 100 assists. Think about that for a second. I don't care how high they cut the grass at Coors. That stat isn't about landscaping. It's about attitude, because this is a guy who wants every ball hit to him. Every single one. Oh, and he compiled all those assists while leading the major leagues in fielding percentage. Offensively, Tulowitzki's home/road splits (.326 BA./.392 OBP/.568 SLG at Coors, .256/.327/.393 on the road) are a little troubling. But he did hit more home runs (24) than any NL rookie shortstop in history. And he's one of only three shortstops in history to top 20 homers and 100 runs scored at age 22 or younger. You've heard of the others: A-Rod (1996-98) and Cal Ripken Jr. (1983). And why do I have a suspicion it may not be the last time we hear Tulowitzki's name in the same conversation as theirs?

The Choice

As I said, this is totally impossible. If you asked me to take one of these players, I'd take Ramirez. But scouts and GMs I talked to question whether he's going to spend all, or even most, of his career at shortstop. So if I have to take one shortstop to build my team around, I'll take Tulowitzki. (How's that for inspired hedging?) This is a position where the No. 1 requirement is defensive dependability. And except for possibly Omar Vizquel, there isn't a more dependable defensive shortstop alive than this kid -- already. So that's my pick. Let the chat debate begin.

Vote: Which young shortstop would you rather have?

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