We, at Baseball Prospectus, have been talking about the six for a while now (three days and change to be exact, depending on when you are reading this) and the party continues to rage on. Yet before we rage, we shall calibrate—since rankings aren’t useful without knowing what you’re reading. The list you are about to read here presupposes a 16-team standard (read: 5×5 roto) dynasty format, in which there are no contracts/salaries, players can be kept forever, and owners have minor-league farm systems in which to hoard prospects. So feel free to adjust this as necessary for your individual league, whether it’s moving non-elite prospects without 2016 ETAs down if you don’t have separate farm teams or moving lower-risk, lower-reward players up in deeper mixed or -only formats.
This list is a good one. We’ve got elite current major leaguers, a nice plateau of depth, and top-100 overall fantasy prospects throughout. Even beyond that, the players towards the end are usable and the prospects are exciting. It’s like a dream, really. The catch here is that some of these players won’t stay at the position, which is why it looks deeper in this context than it might when these same players are revisited in three years. But because we can’t pretend to know with extreme confidence which ones are going move off the position, we assume they all will. We’re optimists!
Let’s not waste any more time on an intro:
This is by far the toughest decision I’ve had to make at the top of any of these lists, and considering the next two lists will be led by Mike Trout and Clayton Kershaw (shocking, I know), it’s the toughest of the ones to come as well. This decision would have been a little easier one year ago with Machado coming off a 20-steal season and looking like a five-category stud. Of course, we all know that number shot down to zero last year and while Correa was a relative disappointment compared to his gangbusters 2015, he still hit 20 homers and stole double-digit bases while still helping in batting average. I guess this is my way of saying that I think Correa has a better chance to repeat his 2015 power outburst than Machado has of repeating his 2015 theft outburst. That said, if you have either of these guys, you’re set at the position (or possibly another one) for a decade.
Speaking of being set at a position for a decade, the elite young talent doesn’t end there. Seager is the lone player in this tier whose steals will stall out in the single digits, but he more than makes up for it with the average and power. The ability to hit .300 consistently is real, and when it’s paired with 25-homer power, the results can be a consistent top-25 player in fantasy. Given his age, that makes him an easy top-10 player in dynasty formats. Meanwhile, Bogaerts may one day have more power than Seager, though he hasn’t fully tapped into it yet. Instead, he’s hit for more average and stayed at shortstop longer than most expected when he was a prospect. He’s even added 23 steals over the last two seasons. It’s the hint of something more that leaves him above Lindor, who is excellent in his own right but more or less tapped out from a fantasy standpoint. He’s not going to be a big power guy and he’s not going to get faster as he ages (though he may be able to hold those steals for a while due to extremely high baserunning acumen). In all seriousness, we haven’t seen a tier like this at shortstop since the Jeter, A-Rod, Garciaparra, Tejada days—and these guys could eclipse them as a group.
What to do with the breakout Brewer? There’s just too much current value to drop him below the still-very-exciting young shortstops behind him, but not enough underlying skill to rank near the tier above. He doesn’t have the contact rate to maintain the .285 batting average he put up last year, and his stolen base rate wouldn’t be satisfactory on a contender. However, he’s not on a contender and Miller Park will continue to help his middling power play up.
Another very difficult decision. You wouldn’t know it by how long you’ve known them, but Russell is less than a month older than Swanson. So when you’re getting excited about that shiny new toy, just remember that while the former Commodore was getting adoring praise during draft season and in his rise through the minors, the 2012 first round pick was slogging through two developmental seasons in the majors and winning a World Series. In the long-run, Swanson’s game will be built off his average and Russell’s will be built off his power, but the slight edge in safety and secondary skills lean towards the Cub.
The top prospect on this list that hasn’t showed up in the majors yet, Rodgers hasn’t even reached High A. The aggressiveness stems from a few places. First, he played just about the entire season in Low A as a teenager and gave a glimpse of the average and power tools he could have at peak. Second, reports of his defense (while not glowing) painted the picture of a player who could stay at shortstop during his 20s. Finally, well, Coors. That makes everything better.
10) Javier Baez, Chicago Cubs
11) Trevor Story, Colorado Rockies
There’s a LOT of upside in this tier, and probably more so than in the Russell/Swanson tier. We all know what Baez could have been when he was a prospect, and while he certainly hasn’t been all that, he’s kept his strikeout rate low enough to get some of the fantasy goodness to play. The rest? Well, that’s a story that’s yet to play out. Story took the league by storm in the first half and didn’t finish the season due to injury, so our data points are still sparse here. The power is real, especially in that park, but the strikeouts will have a dampening effect on his average and he didn’t translate his minor league stolen base success to the majors. If he can do that, he’ll deserve a bump up this list. Finally, Anderson shouldn’t be forgotten as a recent high-impact prospect who was far better in fantasy than in real life during his debut. The average/speed combo is great even if the player in question can’t get on base—and Anderson can even add 15-homer pop to that. If he can get the plate discipline just to fringy, he could be a fantasy superstar, but don’t bank on that happening.
The two NL East prospects are cut from different cloths—Crawford more of the steady, safer variety and Rosario more of the upside-in-a-box variety. The former is more likely to see noticeable time in the majors in 2017, but they should both be mainstays in their respective East Coast cities in 2018. In Tulowitzki, we’ve finally gotten to our first player above the age of 25. Yes, you read that correctly—that’s how stacked this position is for the next half-decade. The pull of his superstar days still exists, but he needs to bump up that batting average if he wants to be taken more seriously among the high-end names here in the short-term—especially in this new age of power. Andrus and Segura remain really strong steals plays, and the new Mariner shortstop will have to prove that he can have star-level seasons back-to-back for the first time.
19) Gleyber Torres, New York Yankees
With two Yankee shortstops in the top-20 of this list, you’d think they were organizationally set at the position for a while. However, it’s not difficult to imagine a scenario where both Mateo and Torres need to move off the position. Fortunately, they both can have fantasy impact if they move. Mateo has blinding speed and has 60-steal potential whether he’s an outfielder or second baseman. Torres is more of an all-around player, but a strong batting average should lead the way. That said, this offseason might not be a bad time to get feelers for Torres, as his value seems to be through the roof in dynasty leagues at the moment.
24) Aledyms Diaz, St Louis Cardinals
25) Willy Adames, Tampa Bay Rays
26) Isan Diaz, Milwaukee Brewers
There is just a ton of positional question marks in this tier, but a lot of fun bats nonetheless. Peraza and Marte offer the potential for 30-40 steals, but neither is guaranteed much by way of playing time this year if things don’t go well off the bat. Miller predominantly first base during the last seven weeks of the season and hit 30 homers. Those are two things I did not expect to write about him, but that eligibility could stick for longer than you think as the Rays did move him around down the stretch. Barreto is the best natural hitter in this group, and the bat alone is worthy of a higher spot, but his positional question marks push him down slightly.
27) Asdrubal Cabrera, New York Mets
28) Marcus Semien, Oakland Athletics
30) Kevin Maitan, Atlanta Braves
31) Brandon Crawford, San Francisco Giants
32) Didi Gregorius, New York Yankees
33) Jedd Gyorko, St Louis Cardinals
This part of the list is where the depth really feels astounding. Could Cabrera be the Mets’ next reclamation project? After returning from a knee injury in mid-August, he hit .345/.406/.635 with 10 homers in his last 41 games. Semien and Gregorius are both 26 years old and coming off breakout seasons, yet they linger here because of the newfound depth and star power at the position. Also because neither are particularly likely to hold the unexpected power gains they made in 2016. Nunez and Maitan are two of the biggest wildcards on this list, but for two different reasons. The former finally displayed the offensive potential he hinted at with the Yankees and added 40 steals for good measure. If he can hold even 80 percent of these gains, he’s probably a top-10 shortstop again. If not, he probably won’t have a starting job in August. Meanwhile, the 16-year-old J2 signee is the most overhyped fantasy prospect I’ve seen in dynasty leagues in at least a few years. Sure, he’s got a lot of potential, but he’s forever away and unlike many owners think, he’s also no lock to be Miguel Cabrera. Friends don’t let friends take Maitan with a top-five pick in dynasty drafts. Oh, and Gyorko hit 30 homers. That’s a thing that happened. He also might not have a full-time job in 2016.
36) Chris Owings, Arizona Diamondbacks
37) Orlando Arcia, Milwaukee Brewers
38) Anderson Tejeda, Texas Rangers
40) Fernando Tatis Jr, San Diego Padres
It’s like a clown car of top-101 prospects. Gordon and Newman aren’t the most exciting of dynasty farmhands, but they should be able to hit and hold down a starting position for most teams of medium depth in the near future. Arcia was supposed to do that and hasn’t, but still can—though even if he can’t hit for a decent average in the majors, he’ll always have that speed to fall back on. Tejeda and Tatis are the two most exciting names in this tier, but both have long lead times to pair with their power potential. Trying to predict what the Diamondbacks will do with their middle infield seems fruitless this early, but Owings should be able to sustain his 2016 performance if he’s installed at second base (or anywhere else, for that matter).
42) Zack Cozart, Cincinnati Reds
43) Jorge Polanco, Minnesota Twins
44) Derian Cruz, Atlanta Braves
45) Freddy Galvis, Philadelphia Phillies
46) Andres Gimenez, New York Mets
47) J.J. Hardy, Baltimore Orioles
48) Miguelangel Sierra, Houston Astros
49) Luis Almanzar, San Diego Padres
50) Andrelton Simmons, Los Angeles Angels
The major league names down here are eminently playable in deeper leagues. Espinosa is getting overlooked because of his low batting average, but if he can just hit .240 (which he did in 2015), he’ll be a solid middle infielder—and better in OBP leagues. Cozart and Hardy both have enough pop to avoid a waiver wire fate. Polanco can hit for average, but probably not much else. Galvis might not play once Crawford gets called up, but we can’t just ignore what he did in 2016. Then we’ve got the prospects, and even more lead time. Cruz has big-time speed and held his own as a 17-year-old in his stateside debut. Gimenez hasn’t made it to the states yet, but dominated the Dominican Summer League and has a strong hit-tool-based profile.