February 8, 2017
Fantasy Three-Year Projections
In case you missed any of the previous infield positions, let’s get you caught up:
With that out of the way, it’s time to order the shortstops. If you’ve been following along or you’re familiar with this exercise from years past, you know that these rankings function best as something like a cross between keeper preferences and dynasty rankings for those whose window of contention is open in the immediate future. It’s important to state that these rankings are mine alone. They no doubt vary from the opinions of other writers on this site and that’s okay. Good, even. This wouldn’t be much fun if we all thought the same thing about every player and couldn’t learn from each other in the cases where we diverge.
Off we go:
Machado’s track record and insanely high floor nets him top billing even though and he may not steal any more than a Trump-sized handful of bases. Correa sits in second chair thanks to a combination of youth and ceiling. Youth is abundant in this group, but don’t forget that Correa played nearly all of last season at age 21. Ceiling is relative too, seeing as how all of these players have reached elite status at ages that imply continued development on the horizon. Nevertheless, Correa stands out for his massive five-category potential. Lindor is an unexpected five-category asset too, owing to realization of modest power that was dormant in the minors and a prime lineup placement in an offense that PECOTA projects as the highest scoring in baseball. If you think Seager belongs higher even though he’s not going to run, it follows that you think he can approach Machado’s level of power. That’s certainly possible, I’m just not comfortable projecting it. Like Lindor, Xander offers across-the-board production in an explosive offense. After a huge start in 2016, he faded after the All-Star break. Of greater concern is that he stopped running altogether. If he’s not going to swipe 8-12 per season, I’m not sure he has the thump to stick in this tier, even if he’s routinely challenging .300 in a rich context.
Villar’s ability to draw walks and create stolen base opportunities out of the leadoff position means he can earn this spot with two-category excellence regardless of whether the home run total lands in the low double digits and/or the batting average drops a ways. I’m typically not the one to endorse a player with strikeout problems as severe as Story’s. Then again, most players don’t smack 27 bombs in 97 games as a rookie. I’m also not usually fond of the kind of approach exhibited by young players like Anderson. Rare is the example of a player who develops even league-average plate discipline when the starting point is so extreme. Anderson drew 13 walks in 431 major-league plate appearances (3.0 percent), right in line with his minor league resume, yet his batting average has yet to suffer for it. I think Anderson’s potential impact on the base paths in today’s speed-starved environment is enough to warrant an aggressive ranking, acknowledging that it comes with substantial downside risk. And while we’re on the topic of free swingers, give me Baez inside the top 10 despite the fact that he doesn’t have an obvious path to 500 at-bats at present. I find it hard to believe that Baez will make it through his age-26 season without spending at least one season as an everyday player. A 20-20 season with power upside is in play when the opportunity comes.
11. Orlando Arcia, Milwaukee Brewers
Segura finished 2016 as fantasy’s second best shortstop and though he’s a geriatric compared to everyone ranked above, he’ll play the entire 2017 season at 27 years old. Count me among those who don’t believe in last season’s power output. HR/FB regression was coming even if he hadn’t changed home parks. While going from Chase Field to Safeco isn’t the immense downgrade it once was, it is a material change. Arcia has a similar skillset and though he had a disappointing 2016 season, he’s still a core piece of the Brewers’ future. He should get all the at-bats he can handle while running enough to paper over any growing pains at the dish.
12. Addison Russell, Chicago Cubs
Coming off a 3.9-WARP season at age 22, it’s pretty clear that Russell is a franchise cornerstone. For fantasy, though? How much better do you think it’s going to get than the 67/21/95/5/.238 roto-slash line he posted last year? That was good for 20th best at the position. Unless the league-wide context shifts back to a place that rewards power more than it does today, Russell’s real world impact will outstrip his fantasy value.
Peraza would rank a few spots higher if I had any confidence that he’ll open 2017 a regular. I believe in the hit tool and he’d be a cinch for 30 steals with everyday at-bats. Only 14 players reached that mark last season. Aside from age, he’s not altogether different than Andrus. Somehow only 28 years old, Andrus has now strung together eight consecutive fantasy-relevant campaigns, primarily because of his speed. He’s averaged 30 steals per season for his career and never finished with fewer than 21. There’s not much evidence to suggest that he can replicate 2016’s career high batting average. I don’t think he necessarily needs it as long as the wheels stay intact and he gets back to within shouting distance of double-digit homers.
Enjoy power and poor defense? (Yeah, yeah. I know Semien was better last year.) I’m repeating myself on this point as we make our way around the dirt, but St. Louis’ infield is deep and flexible, which raises playing time concerns for everyone involved, including Diaz.
I have similar better-in-real-life concerns about Atlanta’s well-coiffed six-spotter as I did about Russell above and I have further concern that we’re getting ahead of ourselves based on pedigree and a short, if successful, major league trial. Swanson will be impactful in batting average eventually, but there’s no guarantee it happens immediately. And until Atlanta puts a better team on the field, I don’t see impact elsewhere. I don’t buy the argument that mundane counting stat production and safety in volume adds up to anything more than a player whose standard depth relevance comes at the mercy of the BABIP gods.
23. Brandon Crawford, San Francisco Giants
Nunez is ranked way too low if your league uses 2016 stats. The rest of this group is comprised of fairly stable options with a reasonable chance to contribute for the full three-year window these rankings contemplate.
26. Jedd Gyorko, St. Louis Cardinals
I’m intrigued by Polanco as a late flier. He has a well-rounded skill set and a chance to lock down a spot in the top third of Minnesota’s batting order. Assuming further development from the rest of the young Twins and a non-trade of Dozier, that could be a nice spot for stat accumulation. Escobar (speed) and Gyorko (power) are one-trick ponies I’m not that interested in, but one trick is better than none.
28. Franklin Barreto, Oakland Athletics
29. Willy Adames, Tampa Bay Rays
Crawford certainly didn’t press the issue by performing in Triple-A the way many, including myself, thought he would. I still don’t think he’s long for the minors and this ranking assumes he spends another few months in Lehigh Valley. If Crawford earns a big league job out of camp, move him up behind Swanson and apply the same cautions as I did to his NL East counterpart. Barreto and Adames should both open in Triple-A after spending the entirety of 2016 at Double-A. I like Adames more as a shortstop prospect because he can, you know, play shortstop. Barreto is the better bet for fantasy because his hit tool is relatively safe and he has enough speed to reasonably project 20 steals.
30. Tyler Saladino, Chicago White Sox
32. Ketel Marte, Arizona Diamondbacks
Yeah, I admit it. I have a Tyler Saladino problem. Have you checked out the White Sox depth chart recently though? Saladino could register a double-double in a utility role and there’s stolen base upside if he gets more time. Owings and Marte are two more speed-first teammates for whom role and playing time are unclear. That Owings can play an adequate outfield helps. I’ll trust that Newman displaces Jordy Mercer by early next year and that his preternatural hitting ability and acceptable speed provide a decent fantasy baseline.
34. Andrelton Simmons, Los Angeles Angles
36. Zack Cozart, Cincinnati Reds
38. J.J. Hardy, Baltimore Orioles
40. Freddy Galvis, Philadephia Phillies
Galvis’ 2016 will go down as one of the great mysteries of our time. Don’t fall for it. His 90th percentile PECOTA projection doesn’t even sniff the 20 homers and 17 steals he tallied last year.