In the coming weeks, the fantasy team here at Baseball Prospectus will be rolling out its positional rankings. Each team member assigned to cover a position will create an initial top 15 (more for outfielders and starting pitchers) on his own. He will then send that list to the rest of the team for discussion, at which point we will debate the rankings, both in terms of each player’s specific placement and the merits on which he was included in the top 15. This back-and-forth debate will yield the final list, which will be presented by the original author with notes on the pertinent players. We encourage you to bring your opinions into the fray using the comment section below.
Today, we continue the rankings with a look at our top 15 shortstops.
Pinning your fantasy team’s hopes on the back on an elite shortstop is a scary proposition. Although the top guys have produced some monster seasons in their careers, it seems they’ve led us on as many times as they’ve led us to titles in recent years. The sort of risk associated with those players causes many gamers to avoid the top tier of shortstops and opt instead to take a late-round flier on a Zack Cozart-type; personally, I think this strategy has merit. Not everyone can be in the Zack Cozart-takin’-business, though, so here’s our list of the top 15 players at the position…
- Troy Tulowitzki, COL
- Jose Reyes, TOR
- Hanley Ramirez, LAD
- Starlin Castro, CHC
- Jimmy Rollins, PHI
- Ian Desmond, WSH
- Elvis Andrus, TEX
- Ben Zobrist, TBR
- Asdrubal Cabrera, CLE
- Derek Jeter, NYY
- Alcides Escobar, KCR
- Erick Aybar, LAA
- Josh Rutledge, COL
- Jean Segura, MIL
- Danny Espinosa, WSH
*Martin Prado, eligible at SS in Yahoo with 11 games started, would rank between Cabrera and Jeter.
- If you want Tulowitzki on your squad, you’re likely going to have to spend a late-first or early-second round pick to get him. Given that he’s averaged just 113 games per year over the past five years, there’s not much of an injury discount factored into that price. People picking him there are expecting 150 games, a .300 average, 30 homers, and 100 RBI—a production level that is within his reach on the field, but not if he spends a quarter or more of the season on the disabled list. Tulo is still in his prime, at age 28, and lucky to call Colorado his home, but be wary of paying the sticker price here.
- There’s only one universe in which Reyes ends up in Toronto playing baseball, and since we’re in that one, let’s talk about it. North of the border, he leads off a potentially dangerous lineup, making 100 runs a distinct possibility. Reyes is actually the only shortstop I’d project to break the 100-run mark this year. Last year, he proved that he still has the durability to play a full season, bat .300, and steal 40 bases. There are questions about how his proclivity for leg ailments will mix with the Rogers Centre turf, but if the Blue Jays aren’t concerned, neither am I.
- Throw a temperamental Ramirez in the middle of a star-studded roster in Los Angeles, and what could go wrong? For half a season last year, the setup worked, but Hanley’s ability to mesh with his new teammates, who will be tasked with fulfilling lofty expectations this year, remains to be seen. Now 29 years old, Ramirez is certainly capable of a 20-20 season with a .270 average. If you expect much more, though, you’d better make sure you’re not dreaming.
- Castro was my third-most expensive hitter in the Tout Wars auction last year, and two months into the season, I felt like a genius. Through May, he was batting .317 with four homers, 15 steals, and an impressive 32 RBI—but then things turned sour. His batting average fell steadily into the .270s, he stopped stealing (or rather began to get caught stealing), and questions were raised about his focus. Overall, it ended up being a solid season for Castro, one worth $20 according to the PFM, but he fell short of expectations on the heels of impressive age-20 and -21 campaigns. Castro has the tools to improve on his 2012 numbers, but if he fails to do so, his production will be slightly lacking compared to his third-round price tag.
- Arguably the top performer at shortstop last year, Rollins churned out another elite fantasy season, despite some maddening stretches of ineptitude and a league-high volume of infield pop-ups. Since Rollins is now 34, some skill regression may well be in store, but the tools are still in place for a 20 homer, 25 steal season. Rollins’ batting average has suffered as a result of his increasingly fly-ball-oriented approach, but we’ll accept a .250 average if comes with everything else he offers.
- Another candidate for the top-2012-shortstop crown, Desmond broke out in the non-acne way, accumulating 25 home runs and 21 steals while batting a smooth .292. His 20-homer power seems legit, considering that he crushed the ball last year and will be playing in his age-27 season. Desmond has stolen 17, 25, and 21 bases the past three years, so another 20-steal season can be expected, too. The average could come down a bit given his strikeout rate, but if you’re in a league full of skeptics, Desmond could be a nice snag at this spot.
- Andrus is a safe bet for a .280 average with five homers and 30 steals. Except for last year, when he only stole 20. Or two years before that, when he hit zero homers. The point is, safe is a relative term here. If his power develops a little more, he could be an excellent fantasy asset.
- Josh went over Zobrist in his Top 15 Fantasy Second Basemen post. I’ll emphasize that you’re picking him for his counting stats, and that it’s nice that he’s shortstop-eligible again from a flexibility standpoint.
- Cabrera has the second-most home runs (42) by a shortstop over the past two years. He steals his fair share of bases, hits for a decent average, and, as a middle-of-the-order hitter, can accrue solid run and RBI totals. Cabrera does all of these things well, just not quite as well as the players ranked above him.
- Jeter enjoyed one of the better fantasy seasons of his career at age 38, thanks in part to an unexpected spike in his homers-per-fly balls rate, which surged to 16 percent. That put him right between Ryan Zimmerman and Bryce Harper in the HR:FB department, and Jeter probably does not have the power to keep pace with the Nats’ sluggers again. Assuming that Jeter’s HR:FB rate regresses, we can’t expect more than 10 homers or steals from The Captain. The batting average and runs scored will still drive his value, but considering that Jeter’s ankle injury casts a bit of doubt on his status for Opening Day, picking him earlier than this requires a leap of faith.
- Escobar produced his ideal season last year, batting .293 with five homers and 35 steals. He’s a good bet for 30-plus steals again, but based on his previous numbers, his average is projected to fall about 20 points. Nonetheless, if Escobar can stick in the top half of the lineup and get his run totals up, he’ll provide nice value.
- When he’s batting second, you’ll get the most out of Aybar. He’s not the only candidate to fill that position in Mike Scioscia’s lineup, though, with Howard Kendrick and Alberto Callaspo also jockeying for the role. He’ll have to stick there and rack up more than his standard 70 runs to increase his value.
- The jump from Double-A to the majors didn’t faze Rutledge, who batted .274 with eight homers and seven steals in his first 73 big-league games. In what will be his first full season, Rutledge has a good chance to collect 15 homers and 20 steals. Given his inexperience, however, it’s best not to get carried away with the potential here.
- Unlike Rutledge, the jump from Double-A to the bigs did faze Segura, whose production vanished in a 43-game audition at the end of last year. The only bright spot was Segura’s solid plate discipline, which kept his strikeout rate at a modest 14 percent. Slated to be the Brewers starting shortstop on Opening Day, Segura should fare better in translating his .270/5/30 potential to the majors.
- With his second 20-20 season in the books, Espinosa proved he’s good at doing those two things—hitting homers and stealing bases. Unfortunately, striking out is another thing at which he excels, and that makes batting above .240 a challenge for the Long Beach State product.