Balancing Present & Future at Shortstop

As I’ve said in earlier articles, I’m not a fan of relying heavily or exclusively on young phenoms in my starting lineup. Prospects can be valuable, and some hit the ground running, but too many struggle and, based on what they may cost us, don’t put up the numbers we’d like — at least initially. Many young players improve over time and become starting fantasy studs. But how long do you wait for a breakout, and how much should you rely on a rookie as your starter? Those are important questions, especially for the middle infield, and shortstop in particular.

Xander Bogaerts was the #1 SS in my points league for 2015. However, in 2014 I had to rely on him as my sole SS on my roster, and he was #24. Needless to say, when I was playing more for the playoffs than the future the last two years, the poor 2014 hurt me. In this case, Bogaerts covered both ends of the spectrum by being below average and then the best SS I could have. But most don’t make that quick a rise to the top, and frankly I’m not convinced he’ll repeat as a top-3 in 2016.

Despite my warnings, what have I done? I’ve ranked Correa #1 for dynasty leagues, and Corey Seager and Bogaerts are next in line. Lindor appears at #5 on my list, and Russell is #6. With that said, here are my thoughts on shortstop and youth risk/reward moving forward.

Now Is the Time to Invest in Potential

There are two great reasons to try your hand at a young buy risky shortstop.

(1) There are a lot of them to choose from right now. This means you won’t necessarily have to overpay for a touted name, compared to when there are only 1-2 big prospects (or veterans) at the position. Nearly half of our 20 dynasty SS have fewer than 3 years MLB experience. Even if you miss on Correa, you can “settle” for someone like Lindor or Bogaerts. Drop another tier, and you can have Wilmer Flores or Jung Ho Kang or Ketel Marte.

(2) There really are no solid, reliable veterans for the long-term. The influx of youth into my own top-10 is more telling regarding of the lack of reliable veterans. Tulo and Reyes are injury risks. Andrus has faded. Rollins, Alexei and Jhonny are old and risky. Overall, I don’t want my fantasy roster to be full of young, unproven players; I’d rather pick up reliable veterans, often for cheaper. However, at shortstop there really is no top-15 player without some risk. In that case, if I’m forced to take higher risk at this position, I may as well shoot for a player with upside, versus a veteran who may continue doing league average but is at risk of starting an age-related fade. When it comes to dynasty leagues, this has added value. Invest in a young player who may continue to improve for years, or take an older hitter who is more likely to decline? Right now, SS makes the most sense for taking youth and upside over a veteran.

How Much Struggle Do You Tolerate?

This question can’t be easily answered. Depending on your league format and depth, maybe you can get away with a struggling full-time rookie (like Xander’s 2014) because so many MI are being used. If you’re not competing for the crown and are in rebuild mode, then a young player struggling is less of a concern (barring a full collapse).

The simple option is to have a backup veteran for short-term use, in case your young player struggles or is sent down. But sometimes you can’t, or injuries suck up your depth, or you’re in “win now” mode and can’t tolerate sub par production. Normally I caution against pulling the plug too early on a player, because a month or two of production can be affected by luck. However, in the case of young players, they often get less of a leash than veterans. I suggest you closely follow the news of that player’s team, to see how much tolerance the team has for him. You can believe it’s bad luck, and the metrics may fully back you up, but the MLB team doesn’t listen to you and may pull the player anyway.

Struggle within one season is one thing, but for young players and dynasty teams, what about a multiple season outlook? Again, it depends on the type of struggle, and on the MLB team’s roster and patience. In one league I can still stash Jurickson Profar in a minors slot, but after his first year struggles and then major injuries, is it worth it anymore? Odor has taken 2B, and Andrus is likely entrenched at SS due to his contract. There’s a chance Profar won’t play in the majors for 2016, at least not in a consistent role. Do I let him fill one of my five minors slots for possibly two more years, just to see whether he’ll do something in 2017?

Another somewhat recent example is Josh Rutledge. After filling in for the injured Tulo, he was handed a starting gig at 2B. Some people put him in the top-10 on the assumption he could continue his production. The next year, his first month BA was horrible, and though he improved some in May, he’d lost the faith of the team as DJ LeMahieu performed well. Rutledge did even worse in his part-time stints during June and July. Granted that Rutledge was not the youngest when he broke through, but the potential and assumption of value was similar to our batch of touted rookies when he entered his sophomore year.

As for multiyear waiting, I look closely at a player’s metrics. I want to see solid or improving skills, with less potential good luck factors in their stats. The higher the touted value of a player, the more leash I give him, but I still have a generally quick hook under most circumstances. At shortstop in particular, there’s slightly more risk because so many young players get moved off of the position. Whether there’s an incumbent in the way, or they really aren’t star shortstop material at the major league level, you may see your shortstop change positions. It’s one thing if he moves and continues to produce, like Machado. It’s another if he’s below average and then moves to a less valuable position.

Normally I’d say trade a young SS for a sure veteran, whether the rookie is hot or cold. But as I said in my first part, there are few great veteran options at shortstop for you to plug in your roster and keep for five years. Right now, shortstop pretty much forces you to take a chance. That’s going to give your struggling rookies a longer leash, which is why I stuck with Bogaerts in 2014. He was under a cheap contract, the FA options weren’t much better, and I could likely trade him to a prospect lover if I really did feel the need to move on.

Monitor your SS and give them leeway. But more important, pay close attention to the team’s news. If a team loses faith in a player, it’s likely going to be hard for him to produce a profit, and you may want to seek out a trade before he loses any more tout.

 

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Kevin Jebens
Fantasy baseball player since 2000; winning leagues ranging from 12-team H2H to 18-team experts 5x5. Has written for various baseball blogs, including the 2013 Bleed Cubbie Blue Annual.
Kevin Jebens

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