February 3, 2014
Fantasy Players to Target
Long renowned as one of fantasy’s most shallow positions, shortstop is about to get an infusion of talent like we haven’t see in many years. The influx of strong young performers will create an opportunity both to secure new cornerstones of your fantasy franchises, as well as capitalize on veterans who fall through the cracks as owners flock to what is shiny and new.
Elvis Andrus, Rangers
There might not be a cushier spot in a baseball lineup than the one Andrus occupies. Hitting no. 2 behind on-base superstar Shin-Soo Choo and in front of Prince Fielder, Adrian Beltre, and Alex Rios (I’m drooling now), the 25-year-old shortstop could threaten 100 runs in what figures to be one of baseball’s premier offenses. I’m grabbing Rangers wherever I can, but Andrus really excites me in this new-look offense. He’s averaged 33 steals in five seasons—including 42 last year—and I think another 25-30 SB is a reasonable low-end estimate for 2014. There’s little-to-no power here, but Andrus’s elite-run potential puts him over the top. —Alex Kantecki
Xander Bogaerts, Red Sox
Bogaerts only has 306 professional PA above the Double-A level, and he’s not very fast. I have now provided you with a complete list of attributes to dislike about Bogaerts from a fantasy perspective. The 21-year-old can hit for average. He can hit for power. He’s going to be an OBP machine. He’ll be batting in one of baseball’s best lineups, in a hitter-friendly park, and he’ll be doing all of this at shortstop, barring an unexpected return to Boston by Stephen Drew. Even if Drew is re-signed—which is pretty much a nightmare scenario for Bogaerts owners—I’d expect Bogaerts to start at shortstops against lefties, which means he’d still be eligible for the position in most leagues by June.
I’m aware that relying too heavily on prospects can be fantasy suicide, and I often prescribe to the theory that taking a proven veteran over the next best thing is the way to go. Bogaerts is a special case, though, as he’s universally regarded as having the approach at the plate, maturity and physical tools to excel in the majors right away. I like him to finish as a borderline top-10 fantasy shortstop this year, finishing with a line around .270/.330/.400 with around 18-22 homer uns. If he’s taken too early in your draft you should resist the temptation to reach for him, but he’s a player you should be targeting nonetheless. Bogaerts makes me #swoon. —Ben Carsley
Asdrubal Cabrera, Indians
Even in a disappointing season, Cabrera was one of the better power hitting shortstops , and provided a little bit in the stolen base s to boot. Forget about his 2011 power coming back, but a moderate bounce back in batting average makes a .270 BA, 17 HR, 75 RBI, 70 run, and 10 stolen base season well within the realm of possibility. Cabrera’s ISO was actually slightly higher in 2013 than his 2012 total. In early drafts, Cabrera is going 2-3 rounds behind Andrelton Simmons and Jed Lowrie. Cabrera is likely to provide similar value to these players at a lower cost. —Mike Gianella
Everth Cabrera, Padres
If you had Everth Cabrera on your team last year, you might be a little angry at him. He was on his way to an excellent season before the Biogenesis mess came up and cut him down for the final 50 games of the season. He no doubt earned back his draft day price with 37 SBs and a .283 AVG, but you were left scrounging to fill the toughest spot on the diamond after the suspension. His transcendent speed is still worth targeting, though.
Even with a 263-PA difference, he had just five fewer stolen bases than Elvis Andrus last season. I’d much rather invest in Cabrera over Andrus when you consider the discount in price (about two to four rounds depending on format). Andrus has the durability piece on Cabrera, but I don’t mind betting on Cabrera finally getting that first full season of work because the rewards would be massive.
With a full 700-PA allotment, he would’ve had 70 and 60 SBs the last two seasons, respectively. I also see some latent pop in Cabrera’s bat that could start coming to the fore—nothing crazy, but something like 7-10 home runs. The downside is more of the same: about 450 PA with a throng of SBs. But the upside is a .275-80-7-60-60 breakout season. —Paul Sporer
Everth Cabrera, Padres
Cabrera was in the midst of a very interesting breakout season when the Man stepped in and suspended him for the final 50 games of 2013. After striking out in over 22 percent of his career plate appearances heading into the season he lopped 6.5 percent off that rate by increasing his contact rate across the board. He actually swung at fewer pitches in the zone and slightly more out of the zone, yet he managed to put 34 more balls in play in 76 fewer plate appearances than in 2012. Add in steady BABIP and walk rates, and the result was a tasty 30-point boost in OBP. This is a good thing for most players, and a great thing for guys who steal bases every 10.9 plate appearances as Cabrera has over the past two seasons.
There's some risk here in that the step forward his contact rate took last season was so immense that common sense dictates some regression is likely. And he's still never managed to log a full season of 600-plus plate appearances. The latter risk is not tied to an injury history, though, and the contact rate jump occurred in what was essentially his sophomore season in the majors. He's squarely in his prime, and if he does manage even 130 games this year he has the kind of demonstrated mix of on-base and speed skill to post 50-plus steals, 80-plus runs, and a solid average. He’s currently going off the board seventh among shortstops, and that ain’t a bad gamble at all given the upside. —Wilson Karaman
Ian Desmond, Nationals
While other top-tier SS, Troy Tulowitzki and Hanley Ramirez, were busy being some combination of inconsistent (Hanley) or hurt (Tulowitzki and Hanley), Ian Desmond has somewhat quietly pumped out 20/20 seasons with above-average numbers across the roto board. He owns a modest walk rate of 6.6 percent, which might limit some of his run-scoring opportunities, but the Nationals lineup should improve this year to mitigate that somewhat. Desmond has a lot of value at the plate; he's earned a tier-one rating and should be entering his prime as a player. Even if he doesn't break out, a .280 season paired with 20 HR and 20 steals is huge production at shortstop. —Mauricio Rubio
Brad Miller, Mariners
All Brad Miller has done since he got into pro baseball has been hit. He was a career .334/.409/.516 hitter in the minor leagues, though a good chunk of that was at high-offensive environments like High Desert and Tacoma. And while his environment will be a lot less friendly in Seattle, I fully expect him to continue hitting. The 15.5 percent strikeout rate he posted in his major-league debut was strong and can lead to a .275+ average along with the potential for double-digit homers and steals. He's currently being drafted behind Asdrubal Cabrera, Jimmy Rollins and Alexei Ramirez according to NFBC ADP—in some cases by a full round or two—and deserves a better fate than that. —Bret Sayre
Chris Owings, Diamondbacks
There’s risk here of course, if Arizona opts to go with defensive wizard Didi Gregorius, but the upside is worth chancing, as Owings can provide average and speed, and should score plenty of runs in the Arizona lineup. He’s not a huge power threat, but playing at Chase Field gives him a boost there. He’s always been able to hit for average, despite some swing and miss to his game, and given how little he walks, that can actually help you as his high average will weight a bit more. Owings impressed in an extremely small sample (55 at-bats) at the major-league level last season, after posting an MVP performance in the Pacific Coast League. He’s not going to mimic those numbers in the majors, as he’ll have some adjusting to do at only 22 years old, but he should be able to give you double-digit home runs and stolen bases while keeping you level elsewhere. —Craig Goldstein
BP Fantasy Staff is an author of Baseball Prospectus.
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