Gambling on Prospects: The Elite Shortstops

This series will look at prospects and show whether they are worth an investment on your fantasy team. Every owner knows that the secret to a strong minors system is knowing who to throw away and knowing who to keep. Each player featured in this series will be given one of the following recommendations:

  1. Hold ’em : If you own this prospect, hang tight. While times may seem rough, the talent is worth holding onto.
  2. Fold ’em : If you own this prospect, now is the time to sell while they may still have some name value.
  3. Walk Away: This prospect is not worth paying attention to in your league.
  4. Run: Get to the waiver wire immediately and put a claim in for this prospect.

Five months ago I ranked the top 100 prospects in baseball and placed five shortstops in the top nine overall. With Xander Bogaerts graduating from the list, it’s time to look at the remaining four shortstops and how they’re progressing in 2014.

A quick review of each player before looking at 2014:

Javier Baez: 6’0″, 190lbs with plus plus power and outstanding bat speed. While the strikeouts may be high, his power is ridiculous at the shortstop position; one that he can play well enough to stick at. Check out the power:

Addison Russell: 6’0″, 195 lbs, toolsy shortstop has the makings of a 20/20 hitter. With good bat speed and solid plate coverage, Russell is an offensive force at the plate and a weapon on the basepaths. Jason Hunt of Fake Teams gives us this video footage:

Carlos Correa: 6’4″, 205lbs very athletic with a quick bat and very good pitch recognition. He has excellent power potential with good speed and can handle the shortstop position. His makeup is off the charts; just an insane talent. Here’s a rather lengthy scouting video from BaseballInstinct.com:

Francisco Lindor: Just 5’11”, 175 lbs, Lindor is the premiere defensive shortstop in the minor leagues. He also has a great eye at the plate producing a high OBP and batting average. He’s a top of the order hitter who will score a lot of runs, without a lot of home run power. That’s not to say he can’t turn on one from time to time:

Here is how the 4 shortstops have been ranked the past two years by Baseball Prospectus, Baseball America and Fantasy Assembly.

Player BP 2013 BA 2013 BP 2014 BA 2014 FA 2014
Javier Baez 20 16 4 5 5
Addison Russell 22 48 7 14 6
Carlos Correa 26 13 5 7 7
Francisco Lindor 10 28 6 13 9

The Past:

All four shortstops were first round selections; Lindor and Baez in 2011 and Russell and Correa in 2012. Both Francisco Lindor and Javier Baez played 5 games in the 2011 season, but essentially these 4 elite shortstops started in 2012.

Player Age LVL AB R HR RBI SB BB K AVG OBP SLG
Correa 17 RK 190 28 3 12 6 12 44 .258 .305 .400
Russell 18 RK-A 217 46 7 45 16 23 48 .369 .432 .594
Baez 19 A-A+ 293 50 16 46 24 14 69 .294 .346 .543
Lindor 18 A 490 83 6 42 27 61 78 .257 .352 .355

All four throughout each level are very young vs their competition. I see no advantage to any of them based on their age relative to level; they’re all outstanding in this regard.

In 2013 each player moved up a level or two with excellent results. Carlos Correa and Addison Russell showed a balanced power speed game while Baez displayed awesome power and Lindor a speed/average combination.

Player Age LVL AB R HR RBI SB BB K AVG OBP SLG
Correa 18 A 450 73 9 86 10 58 83 .320 .405 .467
Russell 19 A+-AAA 442 86 17 60 21 61 125 .269 .369 .495
Baez 20 A+-AA 517 98 37 111 20 40 147 .282 .341 .578
Lindor 19 A+-AA 403 65 2 34 25 49 46 .303 .380 .407

The Present:

It’s been an eventful season for our foursome:

Carlos Correa missed a week at the end of April with right shoulder soreness, and since his return has slashed just .306/.324/.319. Couple a 2:13 BB/K rate in that period and the fact he’s hitting less than .100 vs LHP for the year and there are some small red flags that have popped up this year with Correa.

Addison Russell tore his hamstring after just 2 games in AA to start 2014, after being on a fast track to the major leagues. He’s within a week of game action with the club taking in carefully with their star shortstop prospect.

Javier Baez is striking out 35% of the time with a .287 OBP; numbers that would make Matt Adams look like an All Star. In a season of disappointments, there is some encouragement as over the past four games Baez is hitting .333/.375/.467.

Francisco Lindor returned to AA, still young for the level of competition and has added a little bit of muscle and pop as he’s clubbed 4 home runs in 40 games vs just 2 in all of 2013. The on base skills and the defensive magic remain for this future All-Star shortstop.

Player Age LVL AB R HR RBI SB BB K AVG OBP SLG
Correa 19 A+ 152 24 2 33 7 11 28 .303 .351 .434
Russell 20 AA 7 2 1 2 1 0 1 .714 .714 1.286
Baez 21 AAA 121 14 4 14 3 11 47 .165 .244 .298
Lindor 20 AA 155 23 4 28 9 19 27 .290 .369 .439

The Future:

Carlos Correa, despite some struggles in 2014 is still batting over .300 as a 19 year old in advanced A ball. He is an elite talent who can stay at shortstop while contributing both power and speed. He is very young, but he’s extremely mature and from all accounts is a leader on and off the field. This is a generational talent and I have zero concerns still ranking him in the top 10 prospects overall in baseball. Here’s a look at the speech he gave to his River Bandits team mates after their 2013 championship :

Prospect Ranking in 2014 #7. Recommendation: Hold’Em

Addison Russell had two very good games in 2014 before re-injuring his hamstring and likely losing any opportunity to contribute more than a cup of coffee for the Oakland A’s this season. He is currently taking batting practice and fielding grounders as he looks to get into game action before the end of the month. The lack of playing time this year hasn’t helped his prospect ranking, but it may have created a small buying opportunity (that is almost over). If Russell is going to play himself into the starting shortstop job next season in Oakland he’ll need to stay healthy and produce this year. He’s young enough that it doesn’t matter for his long term outlook, but I’m betting on him for big results for the remainder of the season.

Prospect Ranking in 2014 #6. Recommendation: Hold’Em

Javier Baez is having an even worse season than Russell, with his strikeout rate significantly limiting his projected ability to hit in the major leagues. The sixth youngest player in the PCL, Baez has the talent to right the ship so to speak, but the concerns over his ability to make contact are very real. As a very aggressive hitter, his difficulties hitting quality off speed pitches have only been magnified against higher competition. It is too early to get off the Baez bandwagon as I fully expect him to start showcasing that power in the second half. In a dynasty league I just traded him for Wil Myers as I’m making a run this season. I wouldn’t sell him for less as he’s still a top 10 prospect, but I’d certainly explore trade possibilities.

Prospect Ranking in 2014 #5. Recommendation: Fold’Em (not really…. just explore)

Francisco Lindor has the reputation of a lesser hitting shortstop who is a wizard defensively. This may be true, but his excellent hit tool and plate coverage almost assure that he’ll be at least a solid regular. With his elite defense, there is no chance he’ll be moved off the position making him Elvis Andrus with a little more pop and a little less speed. The recent good play of Asrubal Cabrera makes Lindor’s promotion less imminent, but as the Cleveland Indians flounder in the cellar of the AL Central, Cabrera will become a trade piece in the summer.

Prospect Ranking in 2014 #9. Recommendation: Run.

 

Other Prospect Notes:

Raul Mondesi, SS, Kansas City Royals. Just 18 in advanced A ball, Mondesi is hitting .261/.311/.361 with most of the problem coming in May where he’s hitting just .183. He’s also batting just .209 vs LHP this season. Just 18, I’m not concerned in the least as he’s more or less holding his own against much older competition. Prospect Ranking in 2014 #27. Recommendation: Hold ‘Em

J.P. Crawford, SS, Philadelphia Phillies. Crawford returned from a finger injury on Monday and promptly got back to his hot hitting ways. Through 35 games in Low A, Crawford is hitting .333/.427/.481 with 8 stolen bases and as many walks as strike outs. Just 19 years old, this top SS from the 2013 draft is looking every bit the heir apparent to Rollins in Philadelphia. Prospect Ranking in 2014 #76. Recommendation: Run

Hak-Ju Lee, SS, Tampa Bay Rays.  Lee hit his first home run of the season last night after a less than modest start to the season, now hitting .206/.349/.279 with a 20% K rate. At 23 years old, Lee is looking very much the part of an all-defense, poor offense profile.  I’m being patient after he lost his season to a knee injury in 2013, but time is running out. Prospect Ranking in 2014 #68. Recommendation: Fold ‘Em

Corey Seager, SS, Los Angeles Dodgers. Seager hit his 3rd home run in as many days on Monday and is heating up in high A. A big SS at 6’4″, Seager looks like a third baseman long term, but his bat should play over there as well. Prospect Ranking in 2014 #36. Recommendation: Hold ‘Em

Jose Rondon, SS, Anaheim Angels. 20 year old Rondon is tearing apart the California League with a .339 AVG. His .418 BABIP and 7 walks to 34 strikeouts lead one to assume that batting average will fall. Still very young, Rondon is worth monitoring but likely from afar. Prospect Ranking in 2014 N/A. Recommendation: Walk Away

 

If you’re gonna play the game boy, you gotta learn to play it right.

Paul Hartman

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Fantasy Baseball player since 1987. Creator of Fantasy Assembly, yet just fortunate enough to be a part of it.