Despite the flurry of trade rumors bantered about this offseason involving some of the senior circuit’s top shortstops, that core of players has remained intact in the NL thus far, keeping this position chock full of solid fantasy options. While traditionally a position loaded with speed, the 2015 NL shortstop pool provides more power options, in contrast to their AL counterparts. There were nine shortstops who hit 12 home runs or more in 2014, and seven were from the NL, including the players with the top four HR totals: Ian Desmond (24), Troy Tulowitzki (21), Jhonny Peralta (21), and Jimmy Rollins (17). While the AL has more top-end speed plays, the NL shortstop pool also has its share of players who can certainly help their fantasy owners in the SB category. Overall, the NL shortstop position offers a nice blend of both power and speed—and some potential bounce-back candidates, offering NL-only owners multiple opportunities to grab a solid fantasy producer to anchor their middle infields.
Tulowitzki still remains the cream of the crop in terms of fantasy NL shortstops. Despite the fact he has averaged only 88 games per year the past three seasons, Tulo will likely emerge as the first shortstop taken based on his elite production when he does play. While only appearing in 91 games last season, he still was able to crank out $23 in fantasy earnings in standard NL-Only 5×5 formats, which would slot him as the second-ranked SS in the 2015 NL shortstop pool. This type of production in limited time is nothing new for Tulo, as he earned $26 in 2013 over 126 games and $31 in 2010 in just 122 games. He went for an average salary of $30 last year (derived from the prices in CBS, LABR, and Tout Wars as prepared by Mike Gianella ), and there is no reason to think he will go for less than that in 2015, despite the injury/trade concerns. He is certainly fun to own when he plays—not so much when he takes his annual trip to the DL—and in the end is worthy of that high price for the potential reward if he can manage 500 AB.
Just a notch below Tulowitzki is Desmond, who like Tulo had his name linked in potential trade rumors to the Mets this offseason. Desmond’s overall slash line was not as good as his previous two seasons, but despite the drops in batting average, OBP, and slugging percentage, he still was able improve upon his HR, RBI, and SB totals to earn $27 in standard NL–only 5×5 formats, which has been his average earnings the past three seasons. He also earned $31 in 2014 in 4×4 formats, marking the third consecutive season he has topped $30 in earnings in those scoring leagues. Desmond’s jump in ground-ball rates would seem concerning, but his HR:FB rate jumped to 13.3 percent, helping to offset that and leading to those 24 long flies. While Tulo has the higher ceiling in terms of potential earnings, Desmond has proven to be the more reliable option; they should be the first two shortstops off the board.
Starlin Castro heads the next tier of shortstops, offering steady production across multiple categories. He missed a chunk of last season due to injuries but was still near the top of NL SS fantasy earnings, putting up $19 in NL-only 5×5 leagues. He stopped running last year, however he produced his career best SLG% and was on pace for a mid-$20s season until missing the last month with a high ankle sprain. His 2014 bounce back season affirms Castro as one of the top young shortstops in the game, and entering his age-25 campaign, he could emerge as a fantasy force this season.
Rollins and Jhonny Peralta are both often undervalued come draft day, yet always seem to put up numbers that make their fantasy owners smile. Rollins average salary was $15 as season ago but his 17 home runs and 28 steals proved to be a bargain. Rollins average fantasy earning the past four years is $22, and that should continue moving to the Dodgers lineup. Only Desmond ‘s 24 home runs and 91 RBI topped Peralta’s 21 HR/ 75 RBI totals by NL shortstops a season ago. Peralta won’t steal many bases, but will quietly be a strong three-category player and won’t hurt your batting average, making him worthy of a $15-$17 bid.
As mentioned earlier, there are not as many top-end speed plays in the NL shortstop pool compared to the AL, but Jean Segura could be the player to target if you are looking for the top SB option at the position. I wrote about Segura in Monday’s Fantasy Players to Target – Shortstops article on Monday, and I am expecting a bounce-back season from the 2013 All-Star. Expect a normalization of his 2014 .276 BABIP, leading to more SB opportunities, and it’s not out of the question that he returns to his 40-plus-SB form from 2013. With Didi Gregorius now with the Yankees, Chris Owings is penciled in as the Diamondbacks shortstop and brings a little speed with him. Owings stole 22 bases in 2013 between his time in Triple-A and with the Diamondbacks, and was 8-for-9 in SB attempts for Arizona last year in his 91 games. Owings has a little pop as well, making him an interesting mid-tier SS selection with potential as a double digit HR/SB player this season.
If you feel like rolling the dice on a couple of young shortstops with high upside but unproven major-league track records, Javier Baez and Wilmer Flores should be atop that list. Baez has the higher upside based on the power potential, but the Cubs have already publicly stated he "has to earn his playing time.” Baez qualifies at both 2B and SS, and is the favorite to start at second base for the Cubs, but his .169/.227/.324 slash line and 95 strikeouts in 52 games should temper expectations and his bid price a bit. Flores’ minor-league pedigree is impressive, and he hit with decent power at every level. That has not translated yet in his 105 games in the major leagues, but he is still only 23 years old. Over his final 24 games last season, Flores slashed .287/.320/.500, suggesting we might see some of that power in 2015. If you’re not a gambler and like safer options, then the steady-but-not-sexy Brandon Crawford and Jordy Mercer would be closer to your style. Both players earned $13 in 5×5 NL-only formats last year and are typically available at a discount. Crawford’s average salary was $3 last year and Mercer’s was $8, making them fine fall-back options later in drafts.
From a 4×4 vs. 5×5 value perspective, 4×4 should yield more earnings from the upper-tier shortstops available. The variance is usually $1-2 between the two scoring formats, but Desmond showed the greatest delta with a $4 bump in earnings in 4×4 leagues ($31 vs. $27). The lower-tier shortstops have shown a slight shift in favor of 5×5, but again the difference is minimal. Amongst those lower tiers, there are a handful of players who could quite serviceable and even profitable in deeper NL-only leagues. Below you will find a few options for consideration late in your respective auctions or drafts. “Earnings” are based on Mike Gianella’s Rotisserie-style, 4×4 and 5×5 formulas he provided in his Retrospective Player Valuation article from November 20th.
Andrelton Simmons – Braves
4×4 earnings: $8 / 5×5 earnings: $8
Simmons is a defensive wizard, and his 2013 season gave hope that the Gold Glove winner could also provide some pop from the shortstop position. While Simmons continued his fielding prowess earning his second consecutive Gold Glove, he regressed at the plate, posting an anemic .244/.286/.331 line last year. Simmons’ drop from 17 homers to just seven a season ago can be explained by a dramatic jump in his grounder rate (53 percent) and drop in HR:FB ratio (3.2 percent). The power potential is there, so if he is able to put the ball in the air a little more and recapture that power stroke, he’ll have value. He was also troubled by a .264 BABIP last year, giving hope with a little more luck that batting average will climb to a more respectable level. He has decent speed but that has not equated into success in swiping bases in the majors. He has averaged double digits in steals attempts the past two seasons so the potential is there provide moderate SB totals.
Adeiny Hechavarria – Marlins
4×4 earnings: $10 / 5×5 earnings: $11
Hechavarria has been a personal favorite of mine in my NL-only leagues the past two years, as I have drafted him in multiple leagues. Hechavarria is what he is and is by no means a fantasy staple, but he will come cheap and will help with the counting stats with killing your batting average. He went for an average salary of $2 last year and brought home $11 in earnings for his owners. He will play every day and even runs enough (33 SB attempts the past two years) to steal a few bases. Hechavarria is a solid end-game option as a cheap guy to fill your MI spot.
Jung-Ho Kang – Pirates
It was a bit of a surprise to many when the Pirates signed Kang to a four-year contract worth a reported $11 million with an option for a fifth year. The Pirates already seemed set in their middle infield with Neil Walker and Mercer, and Josh Harrison can play both MI spots, not to mention they added both Pedro Florimon and Sean Rodriguez this offseason. One thing is sure: For the Pirates to tender that kind of money for a player, they must believe he will be more than just a bat off the bench. Kang did smack 40 homers last year, but the KBO is very hitter friendly, so we cannot be sure how his power will translate in PNC Park, which is not the friendliest park for right-handed batters from a power perspective. Based on the reports about Kang’s defense at SS, I could see him in a super-utility role, much like Harrison was for Clint Hurdle last year. Kang is a bit of unknown at this point, but the power potential at MI is intriguing, so he is worth a bid in the $2-$5 range.
Here are some additional deeper SS plays to target very late if you are nearing the end of your drafts and still need that MI to fill out your roster, or your league allows for reserves:
Zack Cozart – Reds
There is no way to tip-toe around it… Cozart was plain awful last year. The Reds acquired Eugenio Suarez from Detroit in the Alfredo Simon trade this offseason, and there is speculation he could push Cozart for the starting shortstop role. Cozart is superb defensively so I am in the camp that Suarez will assume the role of backup. Cozart has flashed power, hitting 27 home runs and 63 doubles for the Reds between 2012 and 2013, so the big drop in his slugging percentage in 2014 could be the outlier. His .255 BABIP did not help his production either. His track record for providing a little pop makes him a worthwhile choice late to plug in your open SS or MI position.
Alexi Amarista – Padres
Amarista heads into spring training as the Padres top option to be their starting shortstop. Amarista is more of super utility type, starting games at five different positions last year, and qualifies at 2B/SS/3B/OF in 2015. Even if he does not win the everyday SS gig in San Diego he will still see plenty of playing time. His only real fantasy attribute is his speed, and he was 12-for-13 in SB attempts last season. If you are in desperate need to fill out you MI spot in the end game, you could do worse than Amarista.
Luis Sardinas – Brewers
The Brewers acquired Sardinas from the Rangers in the Yovani Gallardo deal this offseason to provide middle infield depth. There has been some speculation Sardinas could push Segura for playing time if Segura struggles. At 21 years old, Sardinas is very young but played well in his 43 games with the Rangers last season. From a fantasy perspective, Sardinas’ value will be tied to speed, so if does see any significant time for the Brewers, he’ll be a valuable piece. He’s an interesting end-game play or excellent grab-and-stash in leagues that allows reserves.
Freddy Galvis – Phillies
The trade of Rollins opens the door for Galvis to take over as the Phillies everyday shortstop. Galvis’ career .625 OPS in the minors is all you really need to know about Galvis. The only reason I am including him in this article is due to his starting status, which comes into play in deep -only leagues. Even in the deepest NL-only league, Galvis is not worth more than a $1 bid, and he’s better deployed as a reserve play for MI roster depth.