Unlike other positions, there are very few Sure Things in the world of shortstops. From top to bottom the position is full of potential and pitfalls, upside players you can flip a coin on, Injury risks that can make or break your draft and average players that could either sink or swim. The top picks aren’t worth a first round pick and are borderline second round, but somebody will jump. The players ranked next are good options, but not all of them are a guarantee. And below the top 10 are some steady options, young hopefuls and the dregs of the fantasy world. Reach too early and it could cost you a good player at another position. Wait too long and you may be drafting several shortstops hoping one pans out for you. Overall it’s a crap shoot here so roll the dice and hope it doesn’t come up snake eyes.
This year’s free agent class consists of Derek Jeter (Resigned for 1 year at $12 million), Stephen Drew, Rafael Furcal (signed with Marlins), Johnny Peralta (signed by Cardinals), Clint Barmes (returns to Pittsburgh), Yunel Escobar (option picked up), Brendan Ryan (Resigned by Yankees), Willie Bloomquist (signed by Mariners), Alex Gonzalez, Yuniesky Betancourt, Jamey Carrol, Alexi Casilla, Cesar Izturis and John McDonald. Of these players only Jeter owns his own fate. More than likely he’ll give it the old college try as I’m sure he wants to go out better than this. Yunel Escobar is a bargain at $5 million given the free agent options for Tampa so I expect him to stay put. Peralta will be on the move with Jose Iglesias on board, as will Stephen Drew and both should find work someplace. As for the rest, even if they do land a spot somewhere their names are not worth knowing in the fantasy baseball world except in maybe the deepest of leagues.
As always, feel free to disagree in the comments section below.
1. Troy Tulowitzki (Rockies): Disable List, that’s the first word that comes to mind when most people (well, fantasy people) hear the name Troy Tulowitzki. His DL history includes missing 2 months in 2008 with a torn left Quadriceps tendon, 5 weeks in 2010 with a fractured wrist, 4 months in 2012 for groin surgery and 4 weeks in 2013 for a fractured rib. Add on the 20 games him missed sporadically in September 2011 for nagging injuries and games he’s missed at other times for similar ouchies and you can see why fantasy owners love to hate Troy boy. Now while 2008 & 2012 were lost years, he still managed to give us Tulowitzki numbers in the other three years despite missing time. In a H2H league you may have felt the pain but in a roto league you probably didn’t miss a beat in those three years. Shortstops take a beating physically and injuries are going to happen, but now you have to weigh the injury vs. the reward. He’s no longer a first round guarantee, but if you’re a gambler he’ll be going quickly in the second.
2. Ian Desmond (Nationals): Oops, I did it again. I don’t like Britney Spears but the title is appropriate. While most of Ian’s numbers were up from last year, they were slightly down if you take into consideration the 100 extra plate appearance he had. He lost a few points off of his batting average but it still ranked him fourth among qualifying shortstops. His walk rate did go up ever so slightly, increasing a full point from last year to 6.5%. A few years ago Ian Desmond seemed to be lost at the plate and was one of the worst defensive shortstops in the league. It took him a few years but it appears he has figured things out quite well. Given his health, age and solid play the past two years he deserves to be above Tulowitzki, but he doesn’t have Troy’s upside so he’ll have to settle for second best. He bounced between the 5 and 6 hole in the batting order this year. If Washington keeps him fifth for most of the season or even gives him a chance at a higher spot from time to time, he could increase his RBI and run totals yet again. For now, expect numbers around what he has done the past two years. On average Desmond went in round 6 of most drafts this year. Next year you’ll be lucky to see him in get through round 3, and if he does…don’t hesitate.
3. Hanley Ramirez (Dodgers): Hanley has missed two months or more in two of the past three seasons, but I don’t blame him for that. He hurt his shoulder in 2011 making a diving catch and this year he had a torn thumb ligament after diving for a ball in the World Baseball Classic (I’ll rant about the WBC another time). Neither injury was due to bad conditioning or from being out of shape, it was just bad luck. When he returned from injury this year, he showed all the signs of being the Hanley we saw from 2006 to 2010. His numbers were down in 2012 but that was probably due to the fact he was disgruntled with the Marlins. Most of us would have probably felt the same way after playing all those years for a team that cared more about payroll than it did for its players. I would like to believe playing for the Dodgers has given him new life and ignited that old spark he had.
I think he will carry over what he did in the second half to next year and give us the Hanley of old. I don’t see another 30 stolen base year, but 20 stolen bases with 20+ home runs, 90 runs and RBIs and a batting average around .295 sounds about right. Don’t let the couple of injuries he suffered the past few years scare you off. At one time he challenged Troy Tulowitzki for the top spot; well he’s still good enough to do it again.
4. Jose Reyes (Blue Jays): Jose missed half of the season to the dismay and anger of fantasy owners. He put up typical Reyes numbers in the time that he did play, but nobody wants to hear that when it comes to their second round draft pick. Reyes has gotten the rap of being an injury prone player, and I think that’s a little unfair. Yes he missed a month in 2011 with a bad hamstring, but he still put up a .337 average with 39 steals, 101 runs and led the league in hits. He missed a month in 2010 with a hyperactive thyroid gland and while his numbers were down they weren’t bad. In 2009 he missed the year with a torn calf and tore his hamstring while rehabbing (OK that one sucked). If he wasn’t a first round pick in 2010 & 2011 nobody would have blinked an eye when he missed a month’s time. In the 8 years prior to this year he missed one full year and then one month in 2 separate years (and you can’t blame him for the thyroid thing). That’s a pretty good stretch of health for a shortstop.
The 2008 injury was bad, but in the five years since then he’s missed one month because of that hamstring. He’s not that much of an injury risk, but he does play at an injury risk position. What should you expect next year, look to his 2012 season as there’s no reason Reyes can’t replicate those numbers. As for his health, I’ll repeat what I said with Troy Tulowitzki. Shortstops take a beating physically and injuries are going to happen, but now you have to weigh the injury vs. the reward. He’s no longer a first round pick and I’m sure this injury will scare a good number of buyers off in the second round, but if he makes it to the third round you’d be crazy to pass (unless Ian Desmond is still there).
5. Elvis Andrus (Rangers): The batting average was lower than expected, but just like 2010 a few extra strikeouts will do that. This year he made up for last season lack of speed and surpassed 40 stolen bases for the first time in his career. He also improved on his success rate so for those of you who count the number of times players are caught stealing, you were happy to see a 7 there. Other than that it was another typical Elvis year. After five years you pretty much know what you’re going to get from Elvis. An average around .280, 4 home runs, 60 RBIs, 80 Runs scored and 30+ stolen bases. If this were any other position those numbers wouldn’t impress you, but for a shortstop they put you right around the top five. Elvis is a bit overrated in my opinion, getting drafted higher based upon position scarcity instead of talent.
6. Jean Segura (Brewers): After dealing with several injuries in the minor and a trade to Milwaukee, Segura finally arrived. It was a tale of two halves for Segura. Before the break he had 11 homers, 27 stolen bases and a .337 batting average. After the break he came back down to earth. The average settled in at .245 and the power had vanished completely, but his speed improved as he swiped 17 bags in 212 at bats. So what should we expect from Segura in 2014. The 11 home runs he hit in the first half were more than he hit in any year in the minors so for now at least, consider that his ceiling. The speed is for real as he had 117 steals over the course of 338 games in the minors. I would say 30 steals to be conservative as they should/could be higher as he has potential for more. As far as the batting average, he hit .311 in the minors with a good walk to strikeout ratio. I might scale back my expectations to the .280 range, but just like the stolen bases there is potential for more. A realistic view, he can be as good as Elvis Andrus with a better average and double-digit power.
7. J.J. Hardy (Orioles): JJ doesn’t get a lot of respect, but he deserves a little. In the past 7 years he’s only had 2 years where he batted below .260, only 2 years where he failed to reach 20 home runs, only 2 years where he scored less than 63 runs, and only 2 years where he’s had less than 68 RBIs. Now while his numbers aren’t great, they are very consistent and sometimes that’s good enough. His 2009 season was so bad he was actually benched for about half the games in the second half. His batting average was bad in 2012 but the rest of his numbers were on par. He can be inconsistent from month to month but his bottom line is usually the same. For 2014 I’d say another 20 home run season with an average close to .270. His RBI and run numbers should both reach 60 and both have a chance to go higher if he hits someplace other than sixth or seventh in the order. I like Hardy, but I would still invest in one of the guys below just to cover the month or two he goes cold.
8. Starlin Castro (Cubs): He had a horrible year from a fantasy stand point (ok, in real life as well) and if I were to Judge him by what he did this year he would rank lower. But Castro did have three pretty good years before this meltdown so I’m not going to dismiss him just yet. So what went wrong besides the obvious increase in strikeouts and loss of walks? Some have pointed to his mechanics saying they’ve changed since he came into the league, but those voices come from outside the organization. Hopefully there is some kind of plan in play in Chicago to fix him in the off-season, unless they’re going to let him flail away until Javier Baez is ready. He’s only 24 so it’s not like he’s set in his ways. I really don’t know what to think as far as next season goes, but I can’t see him getting any worse. If the Cubs acknowledge the problem and lay out plans to address his hitting he could make an interesting sleeper next year, and odds are he won’t cost you a high pick as many owners have soured on him. If you do draft him grab an adequate back up as well to cover yourself.
9. Alexei Ramirez (White Sox): Alexei is an interesting player. His power went down for the third straight year. His home run totals for the past four years are 18, 15, 9 and 5. Normally this isn’t a good sign but what he has lost in power he has gained in speed. He stole 7 in 2011 and 20 last season, and this year he crossed the 30 plateau. His RBI production was down this year but was in the 70 range for the five previous years. His run production was also down but considering the White Sox were next to last in scoring runs, I’ll give him a pass on that one. If you ignore the past hype about what kind of player he was supposed to be and just look at his numbers, he’s been quietly consistent as far as fantasy numbers go. Ramirez doesn’t have any upside at this stage of his career and his numbers aren’t going to blow you away, but he will get the job done with little risk.
10. Asdrubal Cabrera (Indians): Two years ago he was a popular pick after his 25 home run season. Two years later we have a better picture of what kind of player Cabrera really is. His batting average took a hit this year but I’m willing to write that off given his history. His counting stats were either in line or above what he did last year so with the exception of his batting average and a higher strikeout rate, it wasn’t all bad. He’s averaged 15 home runs with 65 runs and RBIs the past 2 years so when looking towards next year, I think those numbers are a safe bet. I’d also expect the batting average to come back up to the .270 range because Cabrera is not as bad as he appeared to be this year. He’s a safer pick than Xander Bogaerts that could produce more than he’s averaged the past two years.
11. Everth Cabrera (Padres): You won’t find any power here, and if you’re looking for RBI production you’ll be disappointed as well. Now if you’re looking for a legitimate stolen base threat, Cabrera’s your man. He showed good speed in the minor and stole 44 bases in 2012. He was up to 37 this year before a suspension cut his season short. As for his batting average, he hit .290 in the minors. While his average hasn’t climbed that high in the majors yet, it’s getting closer. Ranking him eleventh is a leap of faith on my part in hoping his speed wasn’t enhanced. If he can put up a batting average between what he did the past 2 years and maintain a spot at the top of the order in San Diego, he could be a three category contributor. PED players are always a risk so you’ll have to weigh the risk of taking him over one of the names below.
12. Xander Bogaerts (Red Sox): The soon to be 21-year-old flew through the minors and was successful at every stop. He shows a good batting eye with a decent walk total and acceptable strikeout rate. He also shows good power potential for his age and while scout see him eventually being a 30 home run guy, it’s going to be a few years before we see that (unless he pulls a Mike Trout on us). Speed is not his forte, but he may give you a handful. Projecting him for next year is tough, but an average in the .280 range with around 15 homers isn’t out of the question. Runs and RBI totals will be contingent on where he hits in the lineup. This may be the last time you get a chance to get Bogaerts on the cheap if he succeeds next year.
13. Jimmy Rollins (Phillies): Jimmy isn’t ranked here just because he had a bad year, Jimmy is here because he’s 35 and had a bad year. For five years now Jimmy has had a batting average of .250 (give or take). Jimmy also spent half the year batting either second or third so that cozy leadoff spot is not exclusively his anymore, hence the 20 stolen bases. The lower spot in the batting order didn’t help Jimmy’s RBI numbers as they were the lowest of his career. And while Jimmy did hit 23 home runs last year, he only had 16 the year before that and fewer than 10 the previous year as well as this year. Did Jimmy have a down year or are Jimmy’s skills on the decline. It’s hard to say but I think Jimmy is still capable on giving us 20 stolen bases, at least 60 runs (with a chance for more), double-digit home runs (barely) and a .250 batting average. Jimmy still has some value, but the sun is setting on Jimmy’s career.
14. Andrelton Simmons (Braves): Even though Ian Desmond put up great numbers in 2012, he was on average just the sixth shortstop off the board this year. You showed it to me once; show me again and I’ll trust you. This is where Simmons is at now. He didn’t display any power in the minors let along enough to hit 15. He also showed he has some speed coming up, but that hasn’t shown through like we thought. He had a strong July giving owns a batting average of .287 and 5 home runs but hit .255 or below for the other five months. In his brief minor league career he hit .299. He doesn’t walk much but he doesn’t strikeout much either so for him to be successful he’s going to have to hit for average. If he can do that and if he can improve on his stolen bases he could contribute in 3 categories. As for the power, I’m not sure that’s for real so I wouldn’t buy into the home run total. He’s a risk with a decent ceiling but if the average drops out, he going into the basement hard (but his defense ensures his job stability).
15. Brad Miller (Mariners): He held his own upon being promoted to the big club and showed a little bit of everything to give fantasy owners and Seattle fans hope. Miller can hit for a high average and has a patient bat. His BB/K ratio has been very close from his NCAA day’s right up to the majors. He has the power, speed and skill to hit 15 homers and steal 25+ bases annually, and at age 24 those numbers could come as soon as next year. His power may be suppressed in the beginning as he gets used to hitting in spacious SAFECO field. He could finish outside the top 12, but predicting anything higher would be unrealistic. I don’t see star potential yet, but I do see him as a useful player next year with a chance to be a top 10 guy.
16. Zack Cozart (Reds): With the exception of almost doubling his RBI totals Cozart didn’t make any huge strides to improve his game. He lost some power as his home run and doubles totals dropped. He also didn’t have one stolen base attempt, something that boggles my mind considering he showed enough speed in the minors to steal at least 15 bases a year (chalk that one up to Dusty “Red Light” Baker). While he did bring his batting average up overall, it went down at home and he hit .233 with runners on. Combine the low batting averages with his anorexic walk totals and you have to wonder how much longer he’ll remain hitting second. Next year should be interesting. If he remains at the top of the order for the most part he could duplicate his 2013 numbers, but if they move him down expect a loss in runs and RBI opportunities. He’s 28 so there very little room for growth, and it could be that this is all Cozart is going to be.
17. Erick Aybar (Angels): Aybar is an ok hitter, but just ok. In his 8 year career with the Angels, they have yet to find a stable spot for him in the lineup. He has spent as much time at the top of the batting order as he has at the bottom. Maybe they move him around based upon the matchups, or maybe they just find stable spots for their better players and stick him in whatever spot is left. Regardless of where he hits his numbers are usually the same. 68 runs, 50 RBI, 5-8 homers and a batting average around .270. The one thing not mentioned is his stolen bases which were about half of what he’s averaged the past 3 years. A twenty steal Aybar would be ranked at 17, but a ten stolen base Aybar drops a few spots in the rankings. More than likely you won’t be drafting him unless you play with a MI slot so those in 12 or even 14 team leagues can leave him for someone else.
18. Jed Lowrie (A’s): He finally found a home and received full-time at bats and put together a decent season. He was in the top 10 for runs, RBIs, and batting average for qualifying Shortstops. He doesn’t have a lot of power but can reach double digits. He could rank higher, but we’d like to see him do this again given his inconsistencies during part-time play. He’s an option for deeper leagues or those that use a MI slot. He primarily played shortstop last season but with Hiroyuki Nakajima in AAA, there’s a chance he’ll be playing second in 2014. Regardless of which position he plays, he ranks about the same.
19. Derek Jeter (Yankees): I can’t see Jeter taking a $3 million dollar buyout when he can get $8 million just for suiting up. And something tells me he wants to go out on a better note than he did this year. Jeter looked good in 2012 finishing first in runs and batting average among qualifying shortstops and led the league in hits. He fractured his ankle in-game one of the ALCS to end his season and suffered another crack while rehabbing to start the season on the DL. He was able to return but hit the DL 3 more times with a quadriceps strain, calf strain and more ankle problems. That’s a lot of problems for a young man but Jeter will turn 40 next June. The ankle is his biggest issue as shortstop can be rough on a guy with healthy limbs. If he shows up to spring training healthy and doesn’t show any lingering effects in his ankle we can move him up a bit, but for now I’m going to err on the side of caution. Even if he does show up healthy, given his age and wear the position he plays puts on the body, do you really want to risk the pick over nostalgia? Jeter was a superstar in his prime, but just like Todd Helton…his best days are behind him.
Edit: November 1st, Jeter signed a 1 year $12 million dollar contract with yankees.
20. Jhonny Peralta (Cardinals): Jhonny on the spot can provide a decent batting average most years, has enough pop in his bat to deliver double-digit home runs and give you 50 or so in the run and RBI department. That is injury fill in/bench material and not the numbers you would want in your lineup on a regular basis. Peralta is a better baseball player than he is a fantasy one as he is not there for his bat; he’s there for his glove. He’s had 8 or fewer errors in a season for the past 3 years which is good for his team, but we don’t count errors in our world (well, most of us don’t). He’s bound to land a job with some team desperate for shortstop help but as for the world of fantasy, you can find him in the case marked “In case of emergency, break glass”.
21. Jose Iglesias (Tigers): He’s the guy that made Peralta irrelevant in Detroit. He put up an average the first 3 months in Boston unlike anything he’s ever done in the minors. He quickly came back to earth in July and found himself in Detroit by August. His last 2 months were ok but nothing special. In the minors he didn’t show any signs of being a power hitter, he showed some speed but only enough to crack double digits, and his batting average sat in the .265 range. So what do I expect from Iglesias in 2014…not much. If he can hit for an acceptable average he may be able to give you some runs and maybe 10 stolen bases. He’ll be 24 so there is room to grow, but without a pedigree for hitting there’s not much potential here until he shows us otherwise.
22. Jonathan Villar (Astros): The rookie got the call in July and while he started slow, he showed improvements over the next few months. His calling card is his speed, but he does possesses enough power to hit 10 homers and maybe a few more as he matures. On the downside he’s never hit for this high of an average in the minors. He is only 22 so there is room for improvement, but with a 27% strikeout rate he’s got a lot of work to do. Houston has brought up some good players and has several more in the minors, but I don’t see Villar as one of them. He’s worth monitoring, but until he cuts down on his strikeouts and shows he can hit for average consistently he’s not going to help your team.
23. Stephen Drew (Free Agent): He must have drank some of JoBu’s rum somewhere along the line because his career has been on a downward spiral for years now. His batting average is mediocre at best, his power is average and whatever speed he had in the past has practically disappeared. This year he set a new high for strikeouts in a season in less than 200 at bats from his previous high. He also has a problem staying on the field as he’s played a full season just once in the past 5 years. Drew is a free agent this year and I don’t see him returning to Boston, and I don’t see how he can help your team.
24. Yunel Escobar (Rays): He showed some promise early in his career, someone who could be a good source of runs and RBIs with double-digit power and a batting average in the .290 range. He did manage to put up those numbers not too long ago in 2011. Somehow over the past 2 years he turned into someone who was lucky to reach double-digit homers with no more than 50 runs and RBIs and a batting average closer to .260. I was hoping the move to Tampa would rejuvenate him but that didn’t happen. He’s not worth drafting but he’s worth monitoring from afar if you end up with a less than desirable shortstop.
One other player worth monitoring would be Hiroyuki Nakajima. He signed with the A’s last season and was slated to be their starting shortstop. An early slump along with an injury had Nakajima on the DL and then off to AAA for the season. He did manage to hit for a good average while in the minors, but the power and speed he showed in Japan did not make it through customs. In Japan he was a 20/20 player with a .300 batting average. Statistics don’t always translate with foreign players, but if he looks good during spring training, he could be an interesting sleeper that you can pluck off the waiver wire.
Be sure to check out the entire Top 24 for 2014 Series.