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The shortstop position saw its overall fantasy performance get pulled up thanks to the dual-position eligibility of Dee Gordon; however, true shortstops across the league saw their offensive numbers drop for the second-consecutive season. Collectively, they only hit .251/.306/.363 with 433 combined stolen bases. That’s 23 stolen bases fewer than a year ago, as well as a lower triple-slash line across the board. Thus, Dee Gordon may have helped in 2014, but that fantasy boost at the position has departed to Miami and second base. Things may not be pretty this year.
Of course, Troy Tulowitzki was compiling video-game-type numbers prior to his injury. A full 600+ plate appearance from him could overwhelmingly aid the overall production from the position. In addition, guys like Javier Baez and Danny Santana will likely amass a full season’s worth of at-bats, and the position has a handful of bounceback candidates—such as Jean Segura, Brad Miller, and even Ian Desmond, to an extent.
One specific performance from a year ago deserves note. It’s not often that you see someone vastly outperform preseason expectations at 32 years old, but Alexei Ramirez sipped from the fountain of youth and partied like it was 2008 all over again. The Cuban native hit 15 homers, stole 21 bases, and hit .273. He flew under the radar because the White Sox fielded a crummy squad—something that will likely change this year—but his run/RBI stats were also great for a shortstop. All in all, Ramirez began the season as a fringe top-10 player and finished as the fourth-ranked shortstop in ESPN leagues. He was one of the feel-good stories from fantasy in 2014.
Shortstop is still where a lot of fantasy owners go to acquire their speed on draft day. Eight shortstops with eligibility extending into this year stole at least 20 bases a year ago. And although outfielders and second basemen filled the top ten for stolen-base numbers, those eight shortstops still ranked in the top-40 for fantasy stolen bases. If you’re lucky enough to grab one of the shortstops who hits 15-plus homers and steals 15-plus bases (there were only three of them in 2014), that’s crazy good business.
The League Breakout
In the National League, a lot of eyes will be on Javier Baez, as he’ll retain shortstop eligibility for the upcoming fantasy season and possesses a tantalizing blend of plus power and speed. At only 22 years old and with a lot of swing-and-miss in his game, Baez isn’t likely near his fantasy prime. However, it should be noted the uber-prospect displayed an ability to adjust at Triple-A last year. His strikeout rate fell from 34.5 percent in May to 29.3 percent and 23.8 percent in June and July, respectively, before he got a call up to the big leagues and was largely overwhelmed. Baez shouldn’t be written off—but I’m not willing to project him to be the type of player he needs to be in 2015 to justify the price tag.
I’m instead looking down the totem poll for my breakout player. It’s not nearly as sexy, but Chris Owings has a chance to bring a nice return. He’s currently going between 16th and 20th in drafts. ESPN has him ranked as the 22nd-best shortstop. In only 332 plate appearances last year, though, he hit six homers and stole eight bases. Plus, Didi Gregorius is no longer in Arizona to steal playing time from the 23-year-old. Owings has the ability to hit 10 homers with 15-20 stolen bases with a solid average. He may threaten to sneak into the top-10 shortstops by the end of the year.
Ben Zobrist is interesting in the American League, as is Xander Bogaerts, but fantasy owners’ best chance to snag a breakout player at shortstop lies with Brad Miller—or even Nick Franklin, considering he played ten games at short last year. I realize that’s digging deep and banking on a significant turnaround in performance; however, Miller (the same with Franklin) is the one with the minor-league track record that suggests his potential fantasy value is far superior than his draft slot.
Aside from Miller, the American League doesn’t appear to have too many sleepers in terms of ADP. It remains an uphill battle at the plate for Didi Gregorius, J.J. Hardy, and Asdrubal Cabrera are middle-of-the-pack options with downside potential, Xander Bogaerts is a fantasy darling with the price tag to match, etc. Maybe Eugenio Suarez, if you think he’ll grab the job from Cozart, but if we’re starting to talk about the shortstop who is currently being drafted 46th overall at the position, we should probably stop.
The Strategy in Mixed Leagues
According to NFBC’s early average-draft position, Troy Tulowitzki is going in the middle of the second round. I’m all over that. Dude is almost guaranteed 30-plus bombs with a great batting average and great contextual stats … if he stays healthy. That’s always the caveat with Tulo, but my preliminary strategy for snake drafts is to target Tulo in the second round and hope for health. The upside is MVP-caliber.
Otherwise, the strategy in mixed leagues is pretty straight-forward. If you’re able to grab Desmond or Hanley Ramirez in the 20-25 range, that should be good value. That’s not reaching for the type of value they could both bring, as their performance should reasonably be expected to improve from a year ago.
After the top three, it’s about understanding your team’s needs. It’s about determining if you need power and can sacrifice average or speed—Jhonny Peralta, Starlin Castro, Xander Bogaerts—or if you need stolen bases—Jean Segura, Danny Santana, Erick Aybar—or if you need power/speed without the average—Jimmy Rollins, Asdrubal Cabrera, etc. All of those groupings have players of differing value, but the point remains true: Understand your team and understand what your team needs once you get past the ninth or 10th round. Build a team, don’t just grab players in the later rounds in a haphazard manner. Know you can get 15-20 stolen bases from Chris Owings at 244th overall. Know you can get roughly 15 homers from Asdrubal Cabrera at 211th overall.
I similarly recommend handcuffing your mid-tier shortstop with an upside pick later in the draft, such as the aforementioned Brad Miller or Wilmer Flores. The probability of hitting isn’t high, but the strategy helps mitigate the inherent risk associated with the mid-tier shortstops.
The Long-Term Outlook
Tulo and Desmond remain atop the mountain at the shortstop position, even in dynasty leagues. Although we often argue on BP that we can’t predict the future and try not to let future positional eligibility sway our valuations, it seems highly unlikely that Hanley Ramirez will possess shortstop eligibility past the 2015 season. He’s still a great long-term keeper—just not at the shortstop position.
The big-three youngsters are next: Xander Bogaerts, Javier Baez, and Carlos Correa. Rank them how you like. They’re the next tier. Addison Russell arguably comes next in terms of young prospects, but there’s a legitimate gap between them, for me.
Francisco Lindor will continue to get a lot of attention due to his lofty rankings on prospect lists; however, fantasy owners must remember how much of that prospect valuation is tied up in his defense skill set. That’s not to suggest he can’t still be valuable. He could hit a half-dozen homers with a solid average and 20-plus stolen bases. It just doesn’t jive with his current price tag in fantasy leagues. Fantasy owners are paying too much for name recognition and not enough for projected production.
A Closing Haiku
Shortstops always weak.
Position tends to bring pain.
Winter is coming.