February 5, 2014
Get to Know
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We’re about to undergo a fantasy shortstop renaissance.
The two best fantasy prospects in baseball, in my opinion, are shortstops. Four of the 10 best fantasy prospects are shortstops. I’d probably have 8-10 shortstops in my top 100 and another three or four in my top 150. This year’s crop of fantasy minor leaguers is teeming with shortstops who could change how we think about the position over the next few years.
Not all of these names will spend their entire careers at shortstop. Many will move off the position before they even reach the majors. But some of these players are going to be monster fantasy contributors playing at fantasy’s second-shallowest position, and that means owners in every format should be paying attention.
NAMES FOR 2014
Xander Bogaerts, Red Sox
I might be on record as being somewhat of a Bogaerts fan, and he’s just as strong a fantasy prospect as he is a major-league one. Despite what certain FOX broadcasters would have you believe, Bogaerts doesn’t have any speed, but he should contribute strongly in the other four fantasy categories and will be a monster in OBP leagues, too. I like him to challenge for a top-10-fantasy-shortstop finish this year, and by 2016 or so, we could be talking about him as a top-40-overall fantasy asset. Years of 30 homers with a .300 average and 100-plus RBI are possible, and he has the ability to stay at short at least for the next several years. I don’t believe that anybody feels the way I do about him now.
Javier Baez, Cubs
You can make a compelling case that Baez has the most fantasy upside of any player in the minors—Byron Buxton included. The power potential here is 35-plus homers a year in his prime, and when your bat speed elicits comparisons to Gary Sheffield’s, it’s hard not to fall in love with the profile. Baez carries more risk than some of the other elite prospects in today’s game, but the upside is as a player who warrants consideration for first overall in fantasy drafts. I don’t think Baez will see a ton of time in the majors this year, but I do think he’ll make it. That said, here’s a chance he could break in as a third baseman.
Addison Russell, Athletics
Good luck finding a more well-rounded fantasy prospect than Russell, who has a legitimate chance to contribute significantly in all five standard fantasy categories. With above average power and hit tools and base running savvy, Russell has the potential to hit .280 or better while challenging for 20 homers and steals apiece in his prime. Nineteen-year-olds aren’t supposed to make it all the way to Triple-A yet that’s what Russell did only a little over a year after being drafted, and there’s now a chance he sees time at the MLB level in 2014. I wouldn’t expect Russell to contribute as a fantasy stud immediately, but he’ll still be worth keeping an eye on in all leagues and formats.
Chris Owings, Diamondbacks
Another potential five-category fantasy force, Owings has among the clearest paths to playing time of the names listed here, as he need only beat out Didi Gregorius to start for the Diamondbacks every day. The 22-year-old had a phenomenal season in Triple-A in 2013 and was successful in his brief stint in the majors as well. While his ability to hit for average is his only truly standout tool in Jason Parks’ estimation, that’s the best tool to have from a fantasy point of view, and if Owings can hit .280-plus with 15 homers and steals each, he’ll be a very valuable commodity. He shouldn’t go undrafted in mixed leagues this season.
Francisco Lindor, Indians
Lindor is a better real-life prospect than a fantasy one, as I’ve stated many times before, but he’s still a top-50 fantasy prospect in my estimation. With elite defensive capabilities that should keep him at shortstop for his entire career, Lindor could end up with an offensive profile quite similar to Elvis Andrus-lite, challenging for a .300 average and stealing 20-plus bases a year. He’s devoid of power and his steals will come more from savvy than speed, though, so Lindor may only be a three-category contributor. That being said, middle infielders who can bolster your team’s average and help pad your R and SB totals have plenty of value. Like Baez and Russell, I think his debut will come in 2014, but his real impact won’t be felt until next year.
Hak-Ju Lee, Rays
For a speed-first player, Lee suffered about the scariest injury imaginable just 15 games into the 2013 season, tearing ligaments in his left knee and missing the remainder of the year. Before the injury he was poised to break into the majors at some point in 2013, using his combination of plus defense, plus speed and potential to hit for solid averages to serve as a potential top-of-the-order shortstop. There’s still the potential for plenty of value here, but fantasy owners should watch for reports as to how Lee is running this spring, as his 30-plus-SB potential was his most attractive fantasy attribute. He could be in line to see MLB time by July.
Marcus Semien, White Sox
Semien is boring, but this is a position where Brandon Crawford will make most top-30 lists this season. He has enough pop to potentially hit 15 bombs in his favorable home park, and he has enough speed to maybe steal 15 bases if things go his way. I don't expect the average to be pretty but it shouldn't kill you either, and Semien could have some nice positional versatility by year's end thanks to the names ahead of him on Chicago's infield depth chart. He's worth a flier in AL-only leagues and he'd probably just fit on a top-200 fantasy prospects list, which I hope to god doesn't exist anywhere.
Others: Joe Panik, Giants; Zach Walters, Nationals
NAMES FOR 2015 AND BEYOND
Carlos Correa, Astros
Does he need to move to third base down the line? Maybe. But no matter where Correa plays defense he has the type of bat that can carry a lineup and a fantasy squad. Though Correa is on track for a late 2015 MLB debut and a full-time gig in 2016, he’d be just 21 with a major league gig in that best-case scenario, meaning he wouldn’t produce the type of all-world numbers he projects to post in his prime. So while the upside here is very real and the 2016 ETA makes Correa attractive, just realize that he might not be the .300/.400/.500 force he’s capable of becoming until 2018 or so. When that’s the worst thing you can say about a player, it means he’s pretty good.
Corey Seager, Dodgers
People like to look at Bogaerts and Baez—two shortstops who many thought would need to move to third base, but don’t—and pretend Seager has a shot to stay there, too. That’s just wishful thinking, but Seager has the type of bat that should make him a very good, if not elite, fantasy third baseman. I think he’s a bit overrated by the fantasy community as a whole but he’s still a no-doubt top-100 name with a legitimate case for top-50 status. A good average with 20-plus homers and 10-plus steals could make Seager a more consistent version of Chase Headley at the hot corner.
Luis Sardinas, Rangers
Often overlooked in a stacked system with more middle infield depth than the entire NL Central had last year, Sardinas is a really exciting fantasy prospect in his own right. Good health and good performance saw him rise to Double-A last season, where his four-category impact potential shone through. His hit tool needs some refinement still, but there potential exists for Sardinas to hit .280-plus with 30-steal speed. He’s likely to need to change organizations and his work ethic is under question, but from a tools perspective there’s a lot to like here.
Tim Anderson, White Sox
One of Glorious Leader Bret Sayre's favorite players—and for good reason—Anderson is a fantasy toolshed with the potential to hit for above-average power and a high average, plus enough speed to make a significant impact in stolen bases, too. Unfortunately Anderson is more dream than reality right now, as his hit and power tools still have a long way to go and his arm strength may preclude him from remaining at shortstop, too. If the tools start to click Anderson could be a top-50 fantasy prospect at this time next year, so you'll likely need to buy in at the ground level if you want him.
Raul Adalberto Mondesi, Royals
I certainly get why many are so high on Mondesi when evaluating him as an MLB prospect, but he's not as good a fantasy name for the same reasons as Lindor is above. Mondesi could challenge for .300 averages and 30 steals every year, but he doesn't project to have much power, and he's still likely at least two full seasons away, having just reached Low-A in 2013. He's a nice name for the future for his three-category fantasy potential, but he's someone whose prospective MLB value is likely to drive up his perceived fantasy value to the point where you'll have to reach for him in keeper and dynasty drafts.
Jose Peraza, Braves
One of my favorite “sleeper” prospects headed into the year, Peraza’s blowing up a little bit thanks to one Keith Law, but I’ll still sing his praises here. While Peraza’s 64 steals in Single-A might lead to the impression that we have Jose Reyes 2.0 on our hands, that’s not the case. Peraza does have enough speed to routinely challenge for 30-plus bags though, and his hit tool is good enough to produce respectable averages, too. If he stays in the Braves organization he’s likely going to move to second base to accommodate Andrelton Simmons, but I think he’s their 2B of the future and he should skyrocket up fantasy rankings this season.
J.P. Crawford, Phillies
While Crawford lacks the insane upside of Anderson, he's also a near-lock to stay at shortstop and has a promising hit tool. It's the hit tool, along with his speed, that makes Crawford relevant for fantasy purposes, though I've read mixed reports on his power potential. Overall, this looks like another player in the Lindor/Mondesi mold (though the defense won't be that special), and when you combine the modest ceiling with his ETA he's a fringe top-150 guy. His first-round pedigree might elevate his draft status, but in shallower dynasty leagues, this is someone you should be able to wait on for another season.
Alen Hanson, Pirates
Hanson skyrocketed up the fantasy prospect rankings after a successful 2012, emerging from relative obscurity to near-universal top-100 rankings. He followed that performance up with a stinker in 2014, as questions about his hit tool, power and defensive home all came to light. Hanson did manage to steal 30 bases across two levels last year and he could challenge for 25 swipes a year once in the majors, but the profile loses a lot of its appeal if he’s only hitting .270 and only qualifies at second base. The Pirates have nothing blocking Hanson at shortstop, which helps his odds of at least beginning his career there, but odds are Hanson ends up as more of a fringe MI option than a credible starting shortstop in standard leagues.
Rosell Herrera, Rockies
Herrera is a divisive prospect in the fantasy community, as his stats suggest a future stud while his scouting reports suggest a much less favorable profile. He's here because I'm sure he'd be asked about if I hadn't listed him, but I want to see Herrera produce in a more neutral environment before I go crazy. While the hit tool undoubtedly improved last year the power might be partially a mirage, and Herrera is no lock to remain at shortstop. He's worth a flier to be sure, but the perceived value his 2013 stats has created is likely to mean you won't get him at a price or draft slot that reflects his true talents.
Hunter Dozier, Royals
Another player who's quite unlikely to stay at shortstop for very long, Dozier was a surprise pick at no. 8 overall last June, but that doesn't make him an uninteresting fantasy prospect. With plus power potential and enough speed to challenge for double-digit steals as well, Dozier's upside is as a Kyle Seager-like fantasy third baseman, capable of challenging for top-10 positional finishes and contributing solidly in four categories. With an ETA of 2016 and a modest ceiling he's a fringe top-150 name, but someone who warrants your attention in deeper dynasty leagues nonetheless.
Trevor Story, Rockies
To use the technical term, Story pooped the bed in 2013, hitting just .233/.305/.394 in High-A causing his considerable momentum to come to a screeching, metaphorical halt. With above average power and speed Story still has the potential to be an interesting fantasy piece—especially in Coors Field—but his swing looked quite ugly last season and his pitch recognition leaves much to be desired. While the former issues can be fixed with coaching the latter is more difficult to overcome, but Story's collection of tools, home ballpark and ability to remain at shortstop keep him in discussion as a top-150 fantasy name. Still, if another owner is still high on Story and wants to offer up value, I'd listen eagerly.
Jace Peterson, Padres
Peterson had a great statistical campaign and while he’s faced his fair share of doubters throughout his MiLB career, he just keeps producing. While his .313/.382/.454 batting line in High-A might lead you to believe he’s a star in the making, questions remain surrounding Peterson’s hit tool, and his speed grades out to just above average. The good news is he’s only a season away from making his MLB debut, but if a lack of something could tether him to something else, his lack of ceiling would tether him to the bottom of this list.
Others: Chris Taylor, Mariners; Franklin Barreto, Blue Jays; Deven Marrero, Red Sox; Orlando Calixte, Royals; Orlando Arcia, Brewers; Daniel Robertson, Athletics; Gavin Cecchini, Mets; Sergio Alcantara – Diamondbacks
Ben Carsley is an author of Baseball Prospectus.
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