And now, we graduate into the real red meat sections of the series. This week’s look at shortstops, followed by upcoming digs into the outfield and starting pitcher mines, will produce limited space. The six spot draws the most elite athletes the low minors and amateur ranks have to offer, and the dynasty-relevant depths of the position extend accordingly well below some of the positions we’ve traversed so far. You can find the rest of the series here: catchers, first basemen, second basemen, and third basemen. And as always, before proceeding down low, be sure to check Bret’s Top 50 for the position.
There’s just an absurd amount of prospect talent floating around already at the position, and there’s a larger infusion coming in the next draft class. There’s some interesting depth to the college shortstop ranks entering the season, though no potentially elite players with separation from the rest of the class. The high school class, however, has a whole bunch of talent that at least currently occupies the position, and I’ve highlighted a couple potential first-rounders below.
Back-Up Types, But In (Or Close Enough To) Their Primes!
Adeiny Hechavarria, Miami Marlins – Hechavarria’s production was atrocious last season, though it’s worth noting that his batted ball profile really didn’t support the cratered BABIP that drove so much of his struggle. Quite the opposite, actually: he hit the ball significantly harder than he had in 2015, and sprayed it around a bit more to boot. He even chopped his whiff rate and took a few more walks for good measure, and yet…ugly. The poor BABIP was especially fatal from a fantasy standpoint, as he offers precious little in the power or speed categories, leaving him an AVG-dependent end-gamer in deep leagues. In spite of last year’s topline disaster, he should still be valued as a solid option in that mold, as his defense was quite good and he should continue to see something awfully close to everyday at-bats this year.
Jordy Mercer, Pittsburgh Pirates – Mercer cracked double-digit NL-only earnings last year, largely on the back of counting-stat accumulation, and he’s penciled in as the starting shortstop in Pittsburgh again. It is by no means a glamorous offensive profile, though he does have a bit of pop, he makes contact at a decent clip, and he posted a career-best walk rate last season. I wouldn’t recommend you try, but you could do worse in a mono.
Jose Iglesias, Detroit Tigers – Case in point, Iglesias, who is both already and somehow still only 27 years old. His BABIP cratered last year, though unlike Hechavarria he did not hit the ball harder, nor did he especially excel at using the whole field. He’s probably good for a rebound into .280-plus territory, but there isn’t much in the way of interesting secondary fantasy skills here, so outside of wrought accumulation if he stays healthy, the upside is really limited here.
Jimmy Rollins, San Francisco Giants – He… he earned three bucks in AL-onlies last year? He’s on the Giants now, and will probably hit .410 against LA just because? I dunno, that’s all I got.
Erick Aybar, San Diego Padres – The Padres signed him to a minor-league deal, and he feels like exactly the kind of player who will back his way into way too many at-bats in the majors this year. With apologies to my southern neighbors, I’m setting the over/under at 350 plate appearances. Avert thine eyes.
Christian Arroyo, San Francisco Giants – Is Arroyo’s profile boring as all anything? You bet! Especially if he does wind up sliding over to third base full time, which sure seems to be the direction in which things are trending. “Maybe you get Matt Duffy or Joe Panik if things work out” is not a sexy tag line, but if your league is deep enough it’s certainly a playable proposition. Arroyo’s a very good bat-to-ball guy, and while he won’t add much in the way of stolen bases there’s enough sneaky pop to threaten double-digit homers with a solid AVG.
Wander Javier, Minnesota Twins – Javier was a big bonus ($4 million) baby in the 2015 J2 class, and he played a whopping 9 games last summer in the Dominican thanks to a hamstring strain. So it’s, uh, going to be a while. But the good news is, he oozes power projection thanks to impressive bat speed and a frame that can wear good muscle without compromising athleticism. His tools number five, and he has a legitimate shot to stick at short with the potential for above-average hit and power tools, along with some usable speed, at his peak. He’s a kid who can really make a leap into the collective conscience this year if the Twins bring him stateside and he thrives.
Yairo Munoz, Oakland Athletics – It was something of a wash year for Munoz, at least the outset, as he suffered an offseason motorcycle accident that delayed the start of his season and likely contributed additional growing pains for a kid already tasked with holding his own against much older Double-A competition. Still, he showed flashes of the tantalizing bat that had him on my radar last year. He moved around the infield, and likely profiles better with some acquired versatility. Organization-mates Chad Pinder and Richie Martin are also in the conversation, but I like Munoz’s bat the best for fantasy purposes out of that crew.
Richard Urena, Toronto Blue Jays – Urena is a player whose bat caused a split decision among our own evaluators this past season, though it is widely projected that he has the goods with the glove to develop into a solid shortstop. Part of the reason for the difficulty in evaluating him at present is that he’s fairly new to switch-hitting, and the swing from both sides of the dish is still raw. He’s loose and whippy into the zone, but he’s long and undisciplined in his approach. So it goes, young man. Proponents see a kid that can grow into good man strength and already has some loft to the swing, but he’s probably got at least another few months of wait-and-see until he becomes a real dynasty target.
C.J. Hinojosa, San Francisco Giants – I wasn’t a huge fan of Hinojosa’s last summer, though that had as much to do with his defensive profile as anything. There’s some pull-side pop here, and he can work counts a bit and barrel some balls up. I’ll give a rare nod to the organization here as well, as the Giants excel at developing his profile of infield versatility. And Hinojosa fits the general mold, even with a tick of better-than-standard offensive projection for a typical San Franciscan.
Drew Jackson, Seattle Mariners – Jackson remains worthy of a highlight on account of his speed and very-likely shortstop chops, but I’m not a fan of his swing and don’t see it holding up very well against the best pitchers in the world. There’s almost no power to speak of here, so he’s really going to need to max out his hit tool to become fantasy-relevant. He’ll also need to get much more efficient utilizing his speed on the bases, as his base-stealing technique is very raw right now, which is not what you want to hear when you’re speculating on future steals.
Mauricio Dubon, Milwaukee Brewers – I liked what I saw from Dubon last summer, and he represents another in the (long) line of guys with enough bat to potentially generate deep-league fantasy value even from a part-time utility role. He puts the ball in play, and he will apparently steal exactly 30 bases (with seven failed attempts) every single year. The lack of power limits the ultimate ceiling here, but a good average and a bunch of bags when he plays is just fine for the positional profile.
Yu-Cheng Chang, Cleveland Indians – I was recently forced to cut Chang from my roster in a deep keeper league, and it hurt, man. This kid can flat-out hit, and he’s grown into some man strength that bodes well for future power output, too. While it leans towards unlikely that he sticks as a full-time shortstop, he can hack it at the position if a utility role ends up in his future, and there’s enough bat that he can develop into a useful deep-league piece, even if he’s never going to carry a lineup.
Yeyson Yrizarri, Texas Rangers – If you travelled to a hidden laboratory deep in the jungles of a secret island 20 miles due south of Hispaniola, you might just stumble into the chamber where the Rangers created Yrizarri, perhaps the finest Rangers Prospect™ to date. He has all of the tools, including the defensive ones to stick at short and pornographic bat speed that has no place in decent society. He also struck out 91 times, walked nine times, and got caught 15 times in 35 steal attempts as a 19-year-old at Low-A last year. He’s endgame flyer material in even the deepest of leagues right now, but just know that he has some of the best raw tools in Texas’ system, which is saying something.
Class of 2016!
Delvin Perez, St. Louis Cardinals – Perez may very well have been a top-five pick overall had he not been busted for a PED in the weeks leading up to the draft. The Cardinals didn’t blink when they jumped on the clock at 23, signing him at slot after a reasonably precipitous fall. The bat is considered to be more unrefined than the defensive skills, and as a prep schooler the lead time is going to be long. But there’s some raw material to work with offensively, and he’s got plus speed with the potential to steal a bunch of bases down the line.
Gavin Lux, Los Angeles Dodgers – Lux projects as one of the best defensive shortstops in last year’s draft class that has enough bat for it to matter. He hit well after signing, and there’s theoretical future power to dream on as well, to where we may be looking at 15-plus homers if he maxes out strength-wise. This is the kind of deep-league target with the potential to shoot up lists this year.
Carter Kieboom, Washington Nationals – Heaven help us if he (or his brother, for that matter) ever becomes a Yankee and we get subjected to a John Sterling call, but that apocalyptic scenario notwithstanding there’s a reason or three for fantasy managers to be hopeful about Kieboom. His physical projection suggests a future third baseman, but he boasted one of the better hit tools in last summer’s prep class, and if he does grow up too big and strong to stay at the six, that won’t be a bad thing for his power potential.
C.J. Chatham, Boston Red Sox – Chatham lacks for the kind of speed you’d typically like to see in a middle-infield prospect, but the swing looks nice and includes enough leverage that it’s possible to squint and see some decent power showing up in the future. He showed off quality contact skills in the NYPL after signing, and should be on track for a full-season debut this year.
Bo Bichette, Toronto Blue Jays – Well hello there, Son of Dante. Just like his old man, this Bichette is dense. He’s a big, strong hitter, with plus power potential and a track record of quality bat-to-ball in spite of non-traditional swing mechanics. It remains to be seen just how well those mechanics will continue to translate against better professional pitching, but Gulf Coast League pitchers have some stories after he hit .427/.451/.732 in 22 games. He’s probably a third baseman ultimately, and older brother Dante Jr. provides a cautionary tale, but the bat should raise at least one of your eyebrows.
Nonie Williams, Anaheim Angels – Sound the alarms, this is a power/speed combo alert. Williams boasts a speed tool that sits somewhere north of plus right now, and should still ultimately play to plus. The raw power’s not too far behind that, either. Problem is, he’s all athlete and very little baseball player at the moment. This is a long-term project in the truest sense, but he’s as good an upside play as any at the stage of your deep prospect draft that you’d be considering him.
Connor Justus, Anaheim Angels – No, you didn’t misread, that is indeed consecutive interesting Angels’ prospects in a column like this. Justus had been on plenty of radars already entering his draft season on account of quality defensive fundamentals, but then he went out and hit .324/.442/.486 for Georgia Tech and climbed up into the fifth round. He stalled out a bit after a promotion to the Midwest League, and he’s probably still more of a glove than a bat, but there’s a chance the first-half guy shows up again this spring and bumps his stock significantly.
Nicky Lopez, Kansas City Royals – The Royals’ fifth-rounder wasn’t supposed to have much power in his game, but he found some after signing and knocked six homers and eleven more extra-base hits in the Appy League. That’s an awfully interesting development for a kid who also stole 24 bases in just 62 games and projects as a true shortstop. Keep an eye on this’n.
Luis Curbelo, Chicago White Sox – Another in last year’s strong class of Puerto Rican middle infielders, Curbello is highly unlikely to remain at short – he was already splitting time at second after signing over-slot in the sixth round last summer – but he should be able to stay up the middle, and I wanted to highlight the bat here. There’s an extremely advanced combination of balance and leverage in this kid’s swing, and depending on how his body fills out the bat speed could very well produce above-average power at maturity. I like the hit-power combination as much as any down-ballot pick outside the first couple of rounds of this class, and he’s a guy I’ll be watching this year – especially given Chicago’s tendencies to promote aggressively.
Class of 2017 and Beyond!
Hunter Greene, Notre Dame Academy (CA) – I’m cheating a bit in talking about him here, as all early signs point to him getting drafted as a pitcher. But he could be a damn good hitter, and he’d definitely be a much more interesting fantasy prospect if whoever spends a high first-rounder on him decides they prefer him in the box. He boasts plus raw power already, at 17, with plenty of physical projection remaining that could add more, and he won the junior homerun derby during the All-Star festivities at Petco Park last summer. This is not your average two-way player.
Royce Lewis, J. Serra High School (CA) – Lewis is already being hailed as one of the best athletes in the class, and he has demonstrated it by playing capably all over the diamond in high school. He posts above-average run times and shows outstanding bat speed, and there’s enough approach and hit tool projection that he could wind up with impressive game power for an up-the-middle player. It’s anybody’s guess if he winds up at short or potentially in centerfield, but this is a potential first round dynasty pick.
Mark Vientos, American Heritage School (FL) – Vientos is very probably not a shortstop, but he blurs the line enough that I decided to include him here instead of among the third basemen. He can unleash some of the best bat speed in the prep class, and boasts elite physicality to back it up. The defense will be heavily scrutinized this spring, and if it appears there’s any chance he can stick at short he could easily shoot up to the top half of the first round. For our purposes, this dude’s got one of the higher offensive ceilings in the class.
Taylor Walls, Florida State – Walls may be the best of the college shortstops from a fantasy perspective. He ripped off a .355/.479/.516 line as a sophomore last year, and the switch-hitter also stole 12 bases to lead the team. He’s a probable shortstop with a bit of a Bregman-lite vibe to him, and he’ll be on display hitting leadoff for a top-ranked team in the nation. There’s first-round potential here, with some particular helium potential if his power takes another step forward.
Dalton Guthrie, Florida – Another kid with big-league bloodlines, Florida’s starting shortstop is the son of Mark Guthrie. Guthrie’s a prototypical better-in-real-life shortstop prospect, in that he’s a highly instinctual defender with above-average defensive tools across the board, but a bat that lacks for impact potential. He’ll likely rate well on draft boards this year, but dynasty players would be wise to look elsewhere.
Kevin Smith, Maryland – Smith is similarly glove-first by nature, but the Preseason All-American busted out in the Cape League last summer, when he hit .300 and won the league’s post-season MVP award. There’s just enough power potential to warrant long-term attention, but you’re buying positional scarcity more than you are an exciting fantasy ceiling at this stage.
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Yuli, Diaz, Juan Soto, Basabe, Yuni Gurriel (32yrs), Hunter Dozier, Josh Lowe?
What do you think?