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The Big Question: Is the shortstop revolution already over?

Mulder: They’re here, aren’t they?

Deep Throat: Mr. Mulder, they’ve been here for a long, long time.

That iconic scene from the second episode of The X-Files is an apt metaphor to describe the wave of young shortstops taking baseball by storm over the last few years. It’s hard to believe that the quartet of Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor, Corey Seager, and Xander Bogaerts have established themselves as elite fantasy contributors in less than two years. Adding an established superstar like Manny Machado to the mix, even if it’s only for a limited time, doesn’t hurt either.

The proverbial torch has already been passed to the next generation of fantasy superstars, but it’s worth noting that the depth at the staggering amount of depth at position beyond the elite tiers. The days of position scarcity where it was Troy Tulowitzki, Ian Desmond or a wasteland are clearly in the rearview mirror.

A higher number of major-league shortstops eclipsed the 20-home run plateau than any season in the last decade. It’s still not a premium power position overall, but it’s better now than at any time in recent memory. Shortstops still accounted for fewer home runs (493) and a lower OPS (.725) than any (non-catcher) position group in the game last season. The exponential power increase within the position over the last few years is exciting and it’s the main reason why positional scarcity has gradually faded from the fantasy lexicon.

Major-league shortstop positional splits, 2012-2016

Source: Baseball-Reference





























































As previously mentioned, the position is spearheaded by a group of six stalwarts, all of whom will be 25-years-old or younger on Opening Day. It’s really incredible and that’s before factoring in Trea Turner’s transition back to the shortstop. Before we go any further, let’s discuss each one in greater detail.

The clear headliner is Machado, the ultimate four-category monster at the position entering 2017. Over the last two seasons combined, he’s hit .290 with 207 runs scored, 72 home runs and 182 RBI. Even if the stolen bases don’t rebound to 2015 levels, the 24-year-old is still worthy of a first round investment this season.

Fantasy owners saddled Carlos Correa with unrealistic expectations by selecting him in the first round of drafts last season. It’s crazy to think that a .274 average with 76 runs, 20 home runs, 96 RBI and 13 steals could be viewed as a disappointing performance from a 21-year-old shortstop, but that’s exactly what happened in 2016. Correa’s long-term upside, batting in the heart of a loaded Astros lineup, is immense. He’s a virtual lock for 20-plus home runs and if the steals tick up even slightly, he’s a five-category beast. Did you know that Correa led all major-league shortstops with a 91.8 mph average exit velocity last season? That’s pretty, pretty good.

Francisco Lindor

There’s simply nothing left to say about Corey Seager at this point. It’s hard to fathom a scenario in which the 23-year-old fails to hit .300 with 25-plus home runs and 100 runs scored. The prototypical modern-era shortstop, even if he doesn’t contribute in stolen bases, he’s a virtual lock to return early round value for years to come.

I would never besmirch Xander Bogaerts, but it’s fair to wonder which version, statistically speaking, is going to show up in 2017. Is the 24-year-old going to hit the ball on the ground and return to being the .300-plus hitter we’ve grown accustomed to seeing, or will he continue the fly-ball heavy approach that led to more home runs and a steep decline in average over the second half of last season?

It’s a bit surprising to see Jonathan Villar in the five star group of BP’s tiered rankings, but it has more to do with the scarcity of stolen bases than anything else. The former Astro swiped a major-league leading 62 while hitting .285 with 92 runs scored, 19 home runs and 63 RBI last season. The power looks like a bit of a mirage, especially when you factor in a 56 percent ground ball rate. I’m not optimistic about the batting average either, considering that he struck out in a quarter of his plate appearances and ran a preposterous .373 BABIP. Even if we bake in some regression across the board moving forward, Villar gets on base and he runs. From a fantasy standpoint, that’s all that matters. He was one of just 14 players to steal 30 or more bases last season. Unless that number rises in 2017, Villar is going to be worthy of an early round pick.

The true wild card in the early rounds is Colorado’s Trevor Story. He was never considered a top prospect, mainly because of contact issues in the minor leagues, but there was never any doubt concerning his ability to drive the ball when he connected. The 23-year-old got off to an incredible start, hitting 27 home runs in just 415 plate appearances, before a torn thumb ligament sidelined him for the final two months of the season. Even if he continues to strike out at a 30 percent clip, the Coors fueled batting average and home run totals will be enough to provide fantasy value. The real question is how high Story’s realistic ceiling is moving forward.

Mixed League Strategy

There is unprecedented depth at the top of the position right now, with seven players going off the board within the first 31 picks of 2017 NFBC drafts. Only five players, Jean Segura, Javier Baez, Eduardo Nunez, Addison Russell and Jose Peraza, are going off the board between the third and 10th rounds. That’s a pretty small middle class and it makes devising a strategic approach to the position fairly simple.

The concentration at the top of the draft means that fantasy owners who fail to land one of the elite options in the first or second rounds are pretty much forced to wait until the 150th pick or later in 15-team mixed leagues to fill the position with someone like Elvis Andrus, Aledmys Diaz or Tulowitzki.

Constructing a roster around one of the five or six elite shortstops isn’t a bad strategy overall, but fantasy owners who elect to go in a different direction early on should be prepared to have a backup plan ready to go in the middle rounds.

The Breakout Candidate: Addison Russell, Cubs

Have you ever wondered why Brad Pitt hasn’t starred in more iconic films? Seriously, go look at his IMBD page. It’s a bit underwhelming, right? Let’s be honest, Moneyball is probably the highlight of his career so far. His portrayal of Billy Beane as a larger than life persona is one of the most compelling performances in sports movie history. You look at the rest of his acting choices and they’re just strange and underwhelming. How is it possible that Pitt’s career isn’t littered with more performances like Moneyball?

That’s how I feel about Russell. He’s the Brad Pitt of the aforementioned shortstop revolution. How is it possible, statistically speaking, that his career hasn’t turned out better? It’s a strange question to pose about a 22-year-old shortstop whose spectacular defense alone helped him make an All-Star team and played a key role in the Cubs first World Series victory in over a century last season. Since 1998, Russell is one of five shortstops age 22 or younger to hit 20-plus home runs in a single season. Yet, he’s been a relative disappointment at the plate, striking out a quarter of the time and posting a .240 lifetime average, through two seasons. Prospect development is rarely linear and Russell’s relative struggles at the plate reinforce that point. However, we know the talent is there. It feels like only a matter of time before Russell finds the right role, and delivers his own signature performance.

Long-Term Forecast

Even if Machado only retains shortstop eligibility for one or two more seasons, the wealth of superstar talent at the top of the position with Correa, Seager, Lindor, Bogaerts, and even Villar and Story to a lesser extent, is incredible. We haven’t even talked about some of the names that could factor into the mix in the upper tiers like Russell, Segura, Baez, Diaz, Peraza, and Tim Anderson. Even solid yet unspectacular veterans like Tulowitzki, Andrus, Eduardo Nunez, Asdrubal Cabrera, Brandon Crawford, and Brad Miller are mixed-league-relevant options.

Prospect Pulse

Dansby Swanson is still prospect eligible, which is really fun. I wrote about him as my target for our BP Fantasy Staff piece this week, so you should go check that out right now. I think he can morph into the statistical version of a poor man’s Lindor right out of the gate in Atlanta. Plus, he’s got the best hair in the game. It’s not even close.

The Big Apple is primed for a new era at shortstop with Gleyber Torres and Amed Rosario ascending into the upper echelon of elite prospects last season. Acquired from the Cubs for Aroldis Chapman, Torres garnered MVP honors in the Arizona Fall League after hitting an absurd .403/.513/.645 in 76 plate appearances. The 20-year-old cemented his status as one of the most exciting young shortstops in the game by hitting .270 with 11 home runs and 21 steals at High-A during the regular season.

It’s possible no prospect improved their fantasy stock as much as Rosario last season. The 21-year-old capped off his meteoric rise by slashing .341/.392/.481 over 237 plate appearances at Double-A to close out the year. The power potential hasn’t fully materialized, but scouts believe it’s on the way. In addition to the plus hit tool, he’s also added another dimension to his game with improvements on the base paths. Given the Mets injury question marks across the entire infield, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Rosario in Queens at some point this summer.

Brendan Rodgers would’ve been one of the most intriguing prospects in the game regardless of organization, but the fact that he ended up in Colorado was a major boost to his fantasy stock. There is some risk here. He’s still light years away, and there are legitimate questions about his defense. After hitting .281/.342/.480 with 19 home runs and six steals in 491 plate appearances at Low-A in his full-season debut, there are very few questions about Rodgers ability at the plate. His fantasy stock could explode if he puts up video game numbers at Lancaster in the California League this season. Get excited.

Willy Adames led all Southern League infielders in OPS (.802), hitting .274/.372/.430 with 11 home runs and 13 steals in 568 plate appearances at Double-A last season. The 21-year-old is extremely unlikely to factor into the mix for Tampa Bay this upcoming season, but his well-rounded offensive package should make him a fantasy asset the moment he does.

The pair of prospects that are unlikely to stick at shortstop, solely for defensive reasons, but have enough thunder in their bat to make a tangible fantasy impact in the future, are Franklin Barreto and Isan Diaz.

Acquired from Toronto as the crown jewel of the ill-fated Josh Donaldson trade, Barreto got off to a miserable start as one of the youngest hitters in Double-A, posting a .228/.282/.326 line over the first two months of the season. He quickly made adjustments and responded by hitting .320/.380/.476 with 27 extra-base hits (six home runs) and 17 steals over his final 298 plate appearances. 21-year-old infielders that hit double-digit home runs and steal 30 bases a year in Double-A don’t just grow on trees.

Diaz led the Midwest League in extra-base hits (59) and home runs (20) while swiping 11 bases and hitting .264/.358/.469 in 587 plate appearances. It’s worth noting that he also struck out 148 times, which is something he will need to address long-term. However, the 20-year-old generates exceptional leverage for a shorter hitter and drives the ball with authority to all fields. He has the potential to be a fantasy monster. The time to invest is right now.

Prospect Lineouts…

J.P. Crawford gets tagged with the “better real-life than fantasy asset” label and I have a hard time disagreeing with it right now…We are a long way from knowing anything definitive about Kevin Maitan, but the early reports from scouts are something else. He’s already a top 100 prospect and the buzz is only going to pick up once he gets on the field… Given the scarcity of stolen bases at the major-league level, Jorge Mateo is much more valuable in a fantasy context than the majority of lower minors prospects. He’s going to slide over to second base or to the outfield in favor of either Torres or Didi Gregorius long-term, but he needs to be on the radar… Other names to know: Nick Gordon, Kevin Newman, Delvin Perez, Ryan Mountcastle and Richard Urena

The Final Stat

Three major-league shortstops hit at least 15 home runs and stole 15 bases last season: Francisco Lindor, Jonathan Villar, and Freddy Galvis.

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