Shortstop Tiers

Written by: David Holler

Look at all the young talent at shortstop this year. In keeper leagues, you will hear about the “Big-4” franchise shortstops. This cohort excludes third baseman Machado, and Trevor Story has to repeat to be considered a consensus part of this group. I put him in The Elite Tier because the ceiling puts him at the top of the group, and his floor is higher than people think. Do what you can to lock up one of the young stars in this top-tier for 2017.

The Elite Tier

  • Manny Machado BAL 24
  • Carlos Correa HOU 22
  • Corey Seager LAD 22
  • Xander Bogaerts BOS 24
  • Francisco Lindor CLE 23
  • Trevor Story COL 24

Manny Machado won’t be playing shortstop for the Orioles this year, but he sure can play it for your fantasy team this summer. Machado broke into the majors as a baby-faced 20-year-old in 2012, but the Orioles star took it to a whole other level over the past two seasons by hitting 35 and 37 home runs respectively. The batting average just keeps increasing for Machado (.294 last season), and he feels like a player that could win a batting title at some point in the near future. He’s projected to be at the top of the shortstop tier this season, but keeper league owners know that he will most likely lose that eligibility next season. Acquire Machado to lock down one of the top young stars in the game.

Carlos Correa was in the conversation for the top pick in fantasy last Spring. All indicators were pointing straight up for the star after a stellar 2015 in which he crushed 22 home runs in two-thirds of a season and produced an .857 OPS. Correa is a great reminder that MLB players don’t develop like they do in video games where the player ratings only increase each season. The numbers predictably dipped a bit in 2016 to the tune of 20 home runs and an .811 OPS. Don’t let the dip fool you, this stock is going up. Correa’s talent is immense and he should be the top shortstop targeted in keeper leagues. Take the Astros star if you like acquiring 22-year-old players with near limitless ceilings. Speaking of 22-year-old stars……

Corey Seager went from the top prospect in baseball to the top rookie in the majors – look who just finished third in the MVP voting. The Dodgers have their franchise shortstop locked in, and I suggest you follow suit for your lineup. The .892 OPS over his first 184 games could put him on a hall of fame trajectory if he can continue to develop. The younger Seager does everything but steal bases, but don’t be shocked if he experiences a bit of a Correa like regression in his second full MLB season. A slight dip in these numbers would still be good enough to justify a high pick in seasonal leagues. Do what needs to be done to acquire him in a keeper league.

Xander Bogaerts is a really good hitter in the middle of a very potent Red Sox lineup. He doesn’t quite possess the same stratospheric ceiling as Correa and Seager, but the floor is just as high as the aforementioned pair. I’ll lay out the case for Bogaerts to finish as the top player of this tier. Hitting second or third for Boston makes 115 runs repeatable, he has the talent to win a batting title and it’s possible that the 21 home run total from last season increases with age. Hitting the floor involves the home run total decreasing, in which case he’s still a really solid player thanks to his hitting ability.

Francisco Lindor was considered a distant fourth of the “Big 4” shortstops coming into 2016, but hitting over .300 in his first two seasons and an impressive playoff run has vaulted Lindor over Bogaerts on some preseason draft boards. Optimistic projections will put his HR and SB totals in the 20’s, but I believe that takes a little blind faith. Acquire the Indians franchise shortstop if the above options are taken and you don’t want to miss out on the youth movement. Lindor absolutely belongs in this group, and give him a huge bump in keeper leagues.

Trevor Story just came off a monster 2016. If he can repeat 90% of last season, he belongs in this tier. If he can maintain 80% of last season over his career, we’ll be talking about the next Tulo. Frankly, we have a limited track record so this is a risky pick. If Story would have maintained his pace over 162 games last year, he would have hit over 40 hone runs and driven in 120, so take Story if you believe in doubling down and baseballs flying in thin Rocky Mountain air.

The Speed Tier (w/ Position Flexibility)

  • Jonathan Villar MIL 25
  • Jean Segura SEA 27

Jonathan Villar is expected to slide over to second base this year, meaning he will have eligibility at 2B, 3B and SS around mid-April. There is a wide range of outcomes for Villar’s value here since speculating on stolen bases, which is always tricky. The MLB leading 62 stolen bases last year were driven by 679 plate appearances and a career high .369 OBP. Expect a little regression and hope for 40 plus stolen bases from the 2017 Swiss army knife of infield eligibility.

Jean Segura could be the one player more hurt by an offseason trade than anyone else. Things were going so well in his first season in Arizona. Segura has always been able to swipe bases, but out of nowhere came a slashline of .319/.368/.499. I’m always skeptical of a player who experiences the single season power surge, so add that to playing 81 games in the power sapping Safeco Field and you will see why Segura’s 2017 rankings do not match his wildly productive 2016 numbers. Take Segura if you’re looking for stolen bases in the 20-30 range, but don’t expect the power display to continue.

The Fallback Tier

  • Addison Russell CHC 23
  • Elvis Andrus TEX 28
  • Troy Tulowitzki TOR 32
  • Javier Baez CHC 24
  • Brad Miller TB 27

Addison Russell hit 21 HRs and drove in 95 last season at age 22, so there is tremendous upside with this player. A breakout at age 23 could land him in the elite tier, but be aware of the .240/.314/.404 career slashline over two seasons. A repeat of those numbers would put a hurting on your fantasy team’s percentages, so consider how many of those categories your league counts. The ceiling is sky-high, but you might have to pay the Cubs premium. Give a huge bump in keeper leagues.

Elvis Andrus looked like one of the elite young shortstops after he stole 42 bases in 2013 during his age 24 season. After three seasons of SB totals in the 20’s, Andrus is looking more like a light hitting bargain option whose speed is probably not going to spike anytime soon. A nice surprise in 2016 was the batting average over .300 and OPS over .800. Those were a bit out of character, but if he can repeat them, he will be a solid value in 2017.

Troy Tulowitzki was a huge name in fantasy baseball. The problem is  the production no longer matches the name value. The injury concerns still persist, but now the batting average has been hovering around .250 over his two partial seasons in Toronto. I like Tulo more in a shallow league where you can gamble on upside and quickly move on after an injury or regression. If you’re counting on the Jays shortstop as a starter, find a safer option.

Javier Baez should be shortstop eligible in your league for one more season. In 2016, Baez held his own by slashing .273/.314/.423, hitting 14 home runs and stealing 12 bases. He’s probably going to bat at the bottom of the order and may not even repeat the aforementioned numbers, but if Baez shows even a modest improvement or finds his way to the top of the Cubs lineup, you are looking at serious sleeper potential here. Take a flier since he shouldn’t cost much to acquire unless your league is full of Cubs fans.

Brad Miller came out of nowhere to hit 30 HRs last year in his age 26 season. There was no sign of this from previous seasons, so was this an outlier or a breakout? Miller is in the prime of his career, and any home run total in the 20’s would be impressive from the shortstop position, but I’m not buying it. Let someone else gamble on a repeat unless the price or draft position merits it.

The Fall Way Back Tier

  • Dansby Swanson ATL 23
  • Aledmys Diaz STL 26
  • Eduardo Nunez SF 29
  • Marcus Semien OAK 26
  • Brandon Crawford SF 30

Dansby Swanson was the #4 prospect according to going into the 2016 season. That ranking was based on hitting for average, getting on base, speed and defense (which will not help your fantasy team). Swanson is not a power hitting prospect, but then again, that’s what they said about Francisco Lindor as well. Take a shot on this guy late in your draft, but don’t count on consistent production from the 23-year-old as he adjusts to MLB pitching.

Aledmys Diaz and his awesome first half will drive him way up draft boards this Spring, but there are plenty of reasons to doubt the repeat performance. First, Diaz was never a highly rated prospect. Second, the advanced stats do not support a continued .300 batting average. Third, the first half OPS of .915 fell all the way off to .782 after the all-star break. Hey, I’m the guy who thinks recency bias leads to bad drafting decisions, but this feels like a mirage for Diaz.

Eduardo Nunez topped 350 plate appearances for the first time in his career in his age 28 season. Talk about a late bloomer. Nunez rewarded fantasy owners with 40 stolen bases over a full season of at bats in Minnesota and San Francisco. It should be noted that the Twins probably sold high on the career part timer. The first half OPS dipped from .836 to .654 after the break. Like Diaz, this feels like a one hit wonder.

Marcus Semien actually hit 27 home runs last season. His slash line is probably going to hurt you so you’re gambling on the chance that he can repeat the power display and counting stats. Diaz, Nunez and Semien have all basically produced at this level for a single major league season, so who do you like to repeat? If the lack of track record doesn’t discourage you, take a chance on the power surge.

Brandon Crawford is a better player for the Giants than he will be for your fantasy team. He took a small step forward in batting average to hit .275 last season, a category that had been a weakness for him. Crawford doesn’t excel in any one category in fantasy, but can give you solid contributions in RBIs and chip in for the others. Take Crawford in a deep league to acquire safe low ceiling production.

The AL/NL Only Tier

  • Jose Peraza CIN 22
  • Didi Gregorius NYY 27
  • Ketel Marte ARI 23
  • Tim Anderson CWS 23
  • Jedd Gyorko  STL 28
  • Alcides Escobar KC 30

Players in this tier should only be considered for AL/NL only and deeper mixed leagues, or as a low-end fall back MI option. Most of these players have major deficiencies from a fantasy perspective, so let’s take a strengths based view and look for players who can flash something.

Jose Peraza hit .324 and stole 21 bases in a tiny little sample size of 256 plate appearances. Prove it! Didi Gregorius managed to pop 20 HRs with a respectable .276 batting average last season. Prove it! Ketel Marte is young and fast so take a shot on stolen base potential. Tim Anderson looks like he can hit for average and steal a few bases, so go for the youthful ceiling here. Jedd Gyorko is eligible at 2B/3B/SS and hit 30 home runs last season, enough to offset his batting average and OBP. Alcides Escobar will get plenty of plate appearances and could make a return to his 20+ stolen base seasons of the past.

Positional eligibility is based on playing 20 games at the position in 2016. The same criteria is used for ESPN fantasy leagues.


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