Fantasy State of the Position: Shortstop

The shortstop position has historically been the weakest in fantasy baseball, but despite the top two players at the position being incredibly injury prone, shortstop is actually a pretty deep position for 2014. I have Boston Red Sox elite prospect Xander Bogaerts at 11th overall in my personal rankings and I would be more than happy to start him at shortstop in a 10-team league. While the top two hitters at the position, Hanley Ramirez and Troy Tulowitzki, are two of the best hitters in baseball, I’ll let some other team take on the injury risk come draft day.

After Tulo and Hanley is Jose Reyes, another injury prone shortstop. I will most likely avoid these three players altogether. Jean Segura is the first shortstop off the board to target, as he looks to be developing into a younger version of Jose Reyes. Unfortunately, everyone else feels the same way as Segura is currently being draft at pick No. 28 with Reyes going at pick No. 34 according to NFBC ADP. While Segura may not repeat his breakout season from 2013, he should continue to hit the ball with authority and steal plenty of bases. Segura slowly broke down as the year went on last year, posting declining OPS marks in every consecutive month of the season. He certainly is not the .900+ OPS player he was in April and May, but he is also not the sub-.600 OPS player he was in August and September. With all things equal, I would still rather have the track record of Jose Reyes rather than the risk of Jean Segura.

Ian Desmond is going a couple picks later than Reyes at pick No. 36 and he seems like the safest bet among the first five shortstops. Desmond has become a 20/20 lock with a solid batting average in a strong lineup. You really can’t go wrong drafting Ian Desmond considering the inherent risk associated with the four shortstops ahead of him.

After Desmond there are two players who derive most of their value from racking up steals. Elvis Andrus had a bounce back season last year, stealing 42 bases to go along with a .271 batting average. What really bumps up his value is being in the Texas lineup, which resulted in 67 RBI. His batting average and RBI totals have been consistent the past three years but the difference between 2012 and 2013 was a stolen base total that doubled. At 25-years-old there is no reason to expect a decline in his skills so Andrus should be able to repeat his production and will only be an anchor in the home run department.

Everth Cabrera has even more speed than Andrus with 37 stolen bases in just 381 plate appearances last year, before having to serve a 50-game suspension for his involvement in the Biogenesis scandal. Cabrera has the potential for 50+ steals but his RBI total will pale in comparison to Andrus. If Cabrera can make up for his lack of RBI with 15-20 more stolen bases, he may be a much better investment than Andrus. Currently, Elvis Andrus has an ADP of No. 52 while Everth Cabrera is being taken with the 80th pick.

Going ahead of Cabrera is Ben Zobrist at pick No. 77 and I can understand why, as consistency counts for a lot in a 162-game season. However, I think that is just too early to take Zobrist considering the options still on the board. Alexei Ramirez has reinvented himself as a base stealer, following up a 20-steal campaign in 2012 with a 30-steal season last year. Ramirez plays in one of the best hitter’s parks in the league and can still flirt with double digit home runs. He is not a bad option at his average draft position of 149. Starlin Castro killed more than a few fantasy teams with his implosion a year ago, but the Cubs shortstop will be just 24-years-old this season and still has 15 HR, 30 SB, .300 BA potential. His ADP of 120 seems about right, but could return a lot of value for those who take the risk.

When talking about upside potential, no one has more than Xander Bogaerts. The Red Sox phenom tore through the minor leagues, hitting .311/.407/.502 in Double-A last year before being promoted to Triple-A and doing more of the same. Bogaerts was then called up at the end of August last year and played a role in the Red Sox World Series run. According to Baseball America, “Bogaerts has the offensive potential to be an all-star at any position.” BA also grades out the 22-year-old with “plus-plus raw power.” That is pretty much all you need to know about Xander Bogaerts. He is being taken on average with the 161st pick of the draft and I will have no problem taking him a few rounds early if necessary.


Overvalued:

  • J.J. Hardy (ADP No. 135)
  • Andrelton Simmons (ADP No. 143)
  • Jed Lowrie (ADP No. 145)

J.J. Hardy amazingly put up a .738 OPS last year despite hitting 25 home runs. Those 25 home runs were also good for just 76 RBI. Hardy’s groundballs have increased the past two seasons and his on-base percentage is pretty pathetic. If your team is desperate for power and you don’t have a shortstop yet I can see using a pick on him, but I would like to avoid Hardy if possible.

Andrelton Simmons apparently forgot that he was in the major leagues last year because he was not supposed to hit home runs at the big league level. 17 jacks later and he is being regarded as a starting caliber shortstop in 10 team leagues. I’m not buying it. Despite his 17 home runs Simmons still wound up with a .396 slugging percentage, part of a puke inducing overall line of .248/.296/.396 with just 6 stolen bases. The Braves put the brakes on Justin Upton when he came to town and I don’t expect they will let Simmons run wild with his 55% success rate a year ago. Simmons is in the big leagues due to his superior glove work, not his bat.

The injury prone Jed Lowrie finished with 154 games played a season ago and was able to put up solid counting stats with 15 home runs, 75 RBI and 80 Runs for the Houston Astros. These numbers are all well and good, but there is no upside with Lowrie and a lot of downside with a potential injury. Lowrie looks like the Neil Walker of shortstops: he’ll get picked up and dropped all year long. If you don’t draft him, don’t worry, he’ll wind up on the waiver wire before long.

Undervalued

  • Brad Miller (ADP 181)
  • Jonathan Villar (ADP 208)
  • Alcides Escobar (ADP 235)

Brad Miller is an absolute steal at his current average draft position. He won’t wow you with any one skill but he will contribute in every fantasy category. After a cumulative minor league line of .334/.409/.516 Miller was called up halfway through the season last year for the Mariners and performed pretty well for his first taste of the big leagues, striking out in 15.5 percent of his at bats with a .154 ISO in 76 games. Miller pitched in 8 home runs and 5 steals and should rack up double digit totals with a solid batting average this year for the Mariners. Miller is a safe bet to not hurt your team in any category and has the upside to go 15/15 with close to a .300 batting average.

Jonathan Villar is an afterthought to most but he has the potential to steal 40+ bases, meaning his isn’t that much different than Everth Cabrera. Villar is not going to have a very good batting average, as he struck out at nearly twice the rate of Cabrera last year (29.5 percent to 15.9 percent), but Villar did walk in 10 percent of his plate appearances and will get on base. Last year he stole 18 bases in 58 games. In a full season, 40 stolen bases is a conservative estimate. Villar also showed some pop in the minors with 21 home runs in 744 plate appearances at Double-A, as well as 8 home runs in 386 plate appearances at Triple-A last year. He likely won’t reach double digits this year but it is not out of the question. Villar is an easy fix at the middle infield position late in the draft and is a sleeper at shortstop due to his huge stolen base upside.

Alcides Escobar has turned into the forgotten man. At one time he was a highly touted sleeper at shortstop coming off an impressive debut for the Brewers in 2009. After failing to make a splash in 2010 Escobar has alternated good and bad seasons, a puppet being pulled by the strings of his batting average on balls in play:

Year Average BABIP GB/FB LD% SB
2010 0.235 0.264 1.30 21.5% 10
2011 0.254 0.285 1.86 18.1% 26
2012 0.293 0.344 2.25 23.0% 35
2013 0.234 0.264 1.49 23.0% 22

A player with Escobar’s speed should never have a BABIP below .300, but that is how the balls have landed in three of Escobar’s four seasons. The driver of his average on balls in play is seen in Escobar’s groundball to fly ball ratio. The one year he was able to get that rate about 2.0 is the year his BABIP was at a normal level for his type of player. Escobar has put up an above average 23 percent line rate the past two seasons, so if he can just hit enough ground balls, his average on balls in play should have positive regression and result in a solid batting average and 30+ stolen bases. That’s exactly the kind of player to target with one of the last picks in the draft.

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