If there’s anything we love more than baseball around here on the fantasy staff, it’s collaborating with each other. So, at the behest of myself, we’re going to be doing one final group series of the year to close out the last seven weeks of the season. For this series, we will each select one player who is below 25 percent owned in either ESPN or Yahoo! leagues who could be someone to consider grabbing before the end of the season with an eye toward a keeper spot. Now, given the depth we’re dealing with here, these recommendations are not for owners who can keep five or seven players from season-to-season—it’s more for those of you who play in leagues where keepers take up more than half of your roster (and possibly more, in the case of some recommendations contained within).
Wilmer Flores, New York Mets
“Flores is owned in a hearty 0.2 percent of ESPN leagues, and it's not terribly difficult to see why. The 23-year-old is hitting just .237/.271/.312 in 182 PA this season, knocking out just two homers and driving in only 16 runs in the process. Even for a player with shortstop eligibility that's pretty bad, but there's reason for optimism moving forward. Flores hit .323/.367/.568 in Triple-A this season after being similarly effective last year, and while Las Vegas is a hitter-friendly environment, some of the underlying skill here is real. The fear with Flores has long been that he'd be relegated to a position much lower on the positional value scale, but the Mets are still running him out at shortstop we're he'll be eligible in all formats at least for next year. Flores won't challenge for a top-10 fantasy SS finish by any means, but if he's given 500-plus PA next year it's not crazy to think he could hit .270 with 10-plus homers and around 60 runs and RBI apiece. That's starting to look like a pretty valuable player in deeper leagues, and I prefer him to the likes of a Yunel Escobar, Stephen Drew, or a Jordy Mercer, as uninspiring as those names may be.” —Ben Carsley
Didi Gregorius, Arizona Diamondbacks
“Gregorius isn’t popular amongst fantasy owners at the moment, as he’s barely treading water above the Mendoza Line and projects to begin the 2015 season behind Chris Owings at shortstop. However, the Diamondbacks seemingly plan to move Aaron Hill across the diamond to third base in order to give more playing time to Owings and Gregorius next season. Playing time is important to fantasy shortstops, and Gregorius should be able to deliver a modest PA total. He won’t flirt with the .300 mark—unless something otherworldly happens with the BABIP—but he can near double-digit homers and hit roughly .250 to .270 with a handful of stolen bases. That’s not nothing, especially when looking to dumpster dive for shortstops for next season.” —J.P. Breen
Francisco Lindor, Cleveland Indians
“There’s a high-end class of up-and-coming young shortstops both in the upper minors and major leagues, but Lindor is the one that lags far behind the others in the fantasy landscape. And while Xander Bogaerts, Javier Baez and Addison Russell are all potential fantasy stars, the company he keeps puts an unnecessary damper on his fantasy value. After all, as a 20 year old in Double-A, Lindor hit .278/.352/.389 with six homers and 25 steals in just 88 games before seeing that performance dip a little in a 38-game sample at Triple-A. With Asdrubal Cabrera out of town and Zach Walters no threat to the position long-term (despite the power showing), Lindor should earn the starting shortstop job as soon as it makes financial sense to call him up. After all, his strong defensive profile will allow him to carry real life value even if the bat lags immediately. In the long run, Lindor has the talent offensively to approach .300 with double-digit homers and 20-25 steals, but for 2015, expectations should be much more tempered. If he were to get 400 at bats, it’s reasonable to think he could hit .270 with 6-8 homers and 15-20 steals—that looks an awful lot like the good version of Erick Aybar if you prorate it out over a full season. Even the pretty good version of Aybar is currently a top-10 shortstop this year.” —Bret Sayre
Jordy Mercer, Pittsburgh Pirates
“For the purposes of this assignment, I am required to write something in the neighborhood of 200 words about Jordy Mercer. This reminds me of my high school days and the never ending struggle to hit a word count by writing stupid sentences like “this paper is about Jordy Mercer, who is a shortstop for the Pirates, a team that plays in a city called Pittsburgh, which is in a state called Pennsylvania, a state that was one of the original 13 colonies before the United States fought for independence in the Revolutionary War.” I thought about taking the easy way out and doing something along these lines before I decided that you—the loyal Baseball Prospectus reader—deserve way better than a cheap and easy write-up on Jordy Mercer. After all, you diligently read all work all season long from the first pitch on Opening Day until the final out of the World Series and aren’t coming here just looking for 200 words of filler that don’t tell you anything useful about Jordy Mercer. No way, you deserve more than fantasy writer Mike Gianella looking for a cheap and easy way to dodge this assignment by filling the page with nonsense. So, in conclusion, Jordy Mercer is a player who you mind wind up with on your fantasy team next year depending upon your format. Thus concludes my fantasy baseball player write up on Jordy Mercer, which I hope you enjoyed immensely. (Editor’s note: try harder, Mike.)
On the surface, Mercer’s counting stats (8 HR, 43 RBI, 2 SB, 48 runs, .258 batting average entering last night’s action) look fairly pedestrian unless you play in NL-only. However, since June 1 when Mercer started getting the lion’s share of the playing time, he has put up a more robust 7/36/2/36/.289 line across 306 plate appearances. If Mercer is the starter next year, 12-15 home runs isn’t out of the question. Even if the batting average slips to a more reasonable .260 or .265, those kinds of numbers from a shortstop in deeper mixed and mono formats will provide value up the middle. He’s a nice guy to stash if you can keep him at his FAAB price or around $5 or so in your league.” —Mike Gianella
Brad Miller, Seattle Mariners
“Brad Miller has been… not good this year. Like really, really not good. His weaknesses against same-handed pitching have been exposed and exploited to horrifying ends, as his .174/.234/.302 line against southpaws has been fully supported by a three percent spike in his whiff rate and an inability (and unwillingness) to handle pitches away from him. He's lost his regular staring job, and it's unclear whether the organization will give him the chance to win it back this off-season. While many of his struggles this season have been the legitimate result of adjustment failures, however, he's also been done in by an unseemly .249 BABIP—and that figure includes a sub-.200 mark through the season's first two months. Some bad luck out of the gate for a young player, he starts pressing, his season proceeds to go off the rails… it can happen. But this is still a kid who hit .336/.411/.518 across about a thousand minor league plate appearances, and he'll play next season right on the cusp of his physical prime at age 25. Given the youth and track record of hitting at every stop he's someone who at least deserves an end-game flier in AL-only leagues to see if he gets himself another shot. Even as the lead of a strong-side platoon entering the spring there's some legitimate upside still tucked into his bat.” –Wilson Karaman
Chris Owings, Arizona Diamondbacks
“After playing in 72 of the Diamondbacks first 81 games, Owings has been sidelined with right shoulder soreness. (Notes: (i) that is a really sore shoulder and (ii) he is currently on rehab assignment.) In those first 72 games, Owings performed as advertised: a little pop, some steals, good bat-to-ball, and an overly aggressive approach. The fantasy results were very solid; Owings put up six home runs, seven stolen bases, and a .277 batting average. The runs and runs batted in were suppressed for two reasons: (i) the Diamondbacks’ terrible offense and (ii) a very low walk rate (4.7 percent).
That is what happened, but why am I recommending Owings going forward? First, his excellent bat-to-ball skills and ability to be a five-category contributor did quite well translating to the major league level. Secondly, Owings showed signs of being able to adjust as the league adjusted to him. The one kink in his above average bat-to-ball armor has been a swing and miss tendency against breaking balls. The league got the memo by June, in which Owings saw 38 percent breaking balls compared to 24-25 percent breaking balls over the first two months of the season. Despite this, Owings was able to post his most offensively prolific month in June by annihilating fastballs and off speed pitches. More so, while the swing and miss remained for Owings against breaking balls, the results were excellent when he did connect (33 percent line-drive rate on breaking balls in June).
While Owings’s approach will probably continue to prevent him from every being a top-five fantasy shortstop (unless he gets a healthy dose of BABIP luck), the tools and the ability to make adjustments are there for him to be very useful for your 2015 fantasy squad. Add in some positive regression for most of the Diamondbacks’ offense and his counting stats could see improvement. Then add in the fact that he may be cheaply acquired in some leagues and he could be ripe for the picking.” —Jeff Quinton
Joe Panik, San Francisco Giants
“Panik had some buzz when he was drafted in the first round of 2011, but it never really blossomed as his numbers dwindled by the level until taking a big turn at the perfect time. He was essentially on par from the age-to-level standpoint before hitting Triple-A as a 23-year-old this year. He doesn't do any one thing particularly well, but he does enough across the board to retain value, especially with his middle infield (second base) eligibility. At his best, he'll have a BABIP-infused batting average with a smattering of counting numbers largely dependent on his spot in the batting order. With his excellent plate skills (180 K, 171 BB in the minors), he has some Marco Scutaro-esque upside.” —Paul Sporer
Chris Taylor, Seattle Mariners
“While there's not a ton to offer here from an offensive perspective, Taylor has the ability to hit for average and run. There's little present power, and he's unlikely to develop any down the road, especially with Safeco as his home park. While his .310 average is more mirage than substance (.409 BABIP), he's consistently hit for high averages in the minors, and somethinåg in the .285-plus range can be expected, along with 10-15 steals. That might not scream keeper to you, but the depth at shortstop is brutal, and while it's been a small sample, Taylor has outplayed Brad Miller thus far. He could be something like a poor man's Chris Owings from a fantasy perspective, and while that's not a top-10 player at the position, he'll be of value in AL-Only and deep mixed leagues.” —Craig Goldstein
Jonathan Villar, Houston Astros
“When the winds came they took the shortstops first and left us with a thin upper crust of top guys who are shakily propped up by one- or two-category fillers—players whose usefulness in this new deflated offensive era can only be found in specialization. Jonathan Villar is a one stat guy. He has exceptional speed and not much else. One-trick ponies tend to not last long at the MLB level and I’m not terribly confident he’s going to get 200 at-bats ånext year but the one tool is worth the gamble especially at shortstop. We all looked, it’s real ugly out there.” –Mauricio Rubio
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