Positional Breakdown Preview – Shortstop
As fantasy baseball draft season is now going full bore, let’s go position by position and analyze some of the players we expect to exceed or underperform compared to their draft slots. Rather than writing up one sleepers & busts article, we’re going to give you some sleepers and potential busts at every position. Click here for a full look at our SS Rankings.
Shortstops To Watch
Because of the weakness as we move down the draft chart, the players at the top often go higher than their actual skill set would suggest they should. On an annual basis, Shortstop tends to be thinner than every position outside of Catcher. The top three options at the position should be gone inside of the first three rounds, and we'll note that there's a steep dropoff from #4 to #5 based on both the FIC 5X5 Score (112 points) and projected auction value ($7).
The Elite: Troy Tulowitzki, Jose Reyes, Hanley Ramirez
- Tulo isn't the most durable player in the league, but neither are any of the top options at SS. He makes the most of his time on the field, though. As he's generally been a 10 SB guy for most of his career, that's the one category where you can expect slightly below average production for the position. What he does do well is hit for average and power. Tulowitzki's 89 HR over the past three years dwarf the second highest finisher at the position (Hanley Ramirez with 55). Toss in that he's averaged a .304/.376/.554 line in that same span and we can see that he'll carry your average as well. Expect him to lead SS in HR and RBI while placing in the top five in batting average and Runs. He's the clear number one.
- Jose Reyes isn't the 60 SB guy he was earlier in his career after missing most of 2009 with leg injuries. However, he's still a safe bet for 30+ steals with double digit power and a high average. Batting atop an improving Marlins lineup, we can pencil a healthy Reyes in to score more than 100 runs as well.
- Hanley is the only player who can truly challenge Tulo as the top SS. A 30/30 man in 2008, Ramirez is the best player at the position in terms of his power-speed combination. While he's coming off of a season in which he hit a miserable .243, 2011 marked the first time since his rookie season that Hanley has failed to hit .300 or better. Expect a significant bounceback with the average and don't be shocked if he hits 25 bombs and steals 25 bases. His spot in the order (third) is more conducive to driving in runs than his teammate Reyes. He could challenge 100 runs as well. As he's moving to third base next season, expect a big season in Hanley's last hurrah at SS.
On The Rise: Starlin Castro, Elvis Andrus, Dee Gordon
- Castro is clearly the most balanced and highest impact of these three youngsters. He'll continue to hit for average - .304 average over his first two seasons - and unlike Andrus or Gordon, there's at least some potential for power. Castro's .125 ISO and 10 HR last season aren't what we're looking for out of a premium player, but he's still just turning 22 next Saturday and should fill out a little more. Expect big strides in the power department for Castro in 2012, as 15 to 20 HR aren't out of the question. It's possible that his average takes a bit of a hit as he adds power, but he still figures to be above average in the category. Castro doesn't run like Gordon or Andrus, but he swiped 20 bags in his first full season, which figures to become the norm.
- Andrus turned things around after a disappointing season as a soph in 2010. He matched the poor power that he showed as a rookie rather than notching the goose egg in the HR category that he had in 2010. He also upped his average just a touch while running a little more often (and succeeding when he ran a bit more often as well). Andrus' fantasy game is almost completely predicated on his speed, as he doesn't figure to ever develop into more than a 5 to 7 HR guy and he's not an elite average hitter. If he's stealing 35+ bases and reaching base at a decent clip, the loaded Rangers offense that surrounds him is going to drive him in more often than not. The fact that Andrus is our #5 SS speaks to how weak the position is, rather than how good Andrus is.
- Gordon should surpass Andrus in the next year or two. He may be one of the three players in the league that has less power than Elvis, as he looks so frail that a stiff breeze could knock him over. Still, he was 24 for 31 in SB attempts last season in just 56 games - he tacked on 30 more in 34 AAA attempts. If Gordon can slap hit his way onto the basepaths and increase his walk rate, there's the potential for a 60 steal guy here. At best, he'll be a three category (Runs, Average, SB) producer with elite production in one of those categories, though.
Steady As She Goes: Alexei Ramirez, Jimmy Rollins
- Ramirez actually had his worst season since coming to America last season, batting just .269 with 15 HR and 7 SB. All three set or matched career worsts. He was still solid enough in the run production categories (81 Runs, 70 RBI) to be plenty valuable as a middle of the pack SS. I'm not sure he ever returns to the 20 HR power he showed as a rookie, but he should bounce back and hit the upper teens again. The SB production should bounce back under first year manager Robin Ventura as well, while he's a .279 lifetime hitter even after last season. If he hits .280 with 18 bombs and a dozen steals, you could do a lot worse.
- At 33, Rollins should continue to show some signs of decline, but we'll take a 15+ HR, 25+ SB guy from the SS position even if .275 is the high water mark for his batting average. He should bat near the top of the order for the Phillies again, which means 90+ runs figure to be in reach as well. While we rank Andrus ahead of him, I'd rather have the more balanced bat of Rollins.
Declining Vets: Derek Jeter, Rafael Furcal
- After posting a career worst .270 batting average in 2010, Jeter at least bounced back there last season with a .297 average that's closer to what we're accustomed to seeing from him. Unfortunately, Jeter also saw his first DL stint since 2003, which cut into his production in the counting categories as well. Now 37, Jeter's power seems to be gone at this point. His ISO the past two years (.100 and .092 respectively) has represented the two worst showings of his career. He fell short of hitting double digits in HR for the first time in his illustrious career last season as well. While a slight bounceback in the power department is possible, most of this is probably age related regression. Because of his average and the fact that he'll score a lot of runs in the Yankee lineup, Jeter remains a viable play. He's no more than a borderline top ten option at this point, though.
- Furcal enjoyed a bit of a renaissance after a late season trade to the Cardinals last season, recovering his average a bit (.255 after the deal) while bringing back the modest power that he's shown when healthy. Health has been the biggest issue for Furcal the past couple of seasons, as he's played an average of just 92 games. Assuming he can stay on the field, there should be modest double digit power and 20+ SB in his future. When healthy, he'll lead off for the World Champs, so he should score a ton of runs as well. The average isn't going to be spectacular, but Furcal seems like a nice below the radar option.
Power Spike: Buy or Sell?
Rather than going with the sleepers and busts that we've done at some of the other positions, let's examine the handful of players who significantly exceeded expectations at the position a year ago.
Cabrera entered last season with 18 career HR in 1,415 at bats. He hit 25 HR in 604 AB last season. In his first four seasons in the big leagues, Cabrera never posted an ISO of higher than .138. It was .187 last year. If you're drafting Cabrera in hopes of 15 HR and 15 SB with solid run production numbers and an average that won't hurt you, he's worth it. Of course, if his ADP at Yahoo (Pick 69.5) is any indication, that means you're not going to get him. Cabrera is a borderline Top 100 player who will be severely overvalued based on a career year in 2011. Pass....
Hardy matched his career best with 80 Runs while setting a new career best with 30 HR last season. While his numbers were a bit more extreme in comparison with his previous two years, they seem a lot more sustainable than a guy like Cabrera's. Hardy was always looked at as a plus glove man with plus power whose biggest weaknesses were his average and speed. He hit 50 HR between 2007 and 2008 before his power production virtually disappeared for a couple of seasons. While Cabrera's power came out of nowhere last season, Hardy just found his power stroke again. I'm buying, though I don't like the fact that the Orioles seem to be considering Hardy - big power bat, little weak from an OBP standpoint, no speed to speak of - as a possibility in the leadoff role. He won't hit 30 bombs again, but 25 seems reasonable. Let's just hope he lands in a run-producing spot.
As is the case with Hardy, the power is for real. Peralta hit 21 bombs last season, which actually only matched the third highest total of his career. His .179 ISO was also the third highest of his career, so we should expect for him to hit with pop. The bigger question for Peralta is whether he can repeat his batting average, which helped to make him a more all-around productive player. His .325 BABIP was his highest figure in four seasons, but it was really only 11 points above his career average. Where Peralta really improved last season was something that actually started in 2010 (when he posted a career worst .275 BABIP and .249 Batting Average)... He's cut down on his strikeouts significantly the past two seasons. Peralta's career strikeout percentage remains at 20.6%, but he's struck out in just 16.6% of his plate appearances the past two seasons. As he's in his prime seasons, we can probably chalk this up to him maturing a bit as a hitter and improving his approach at the plate. While another .299 season probably isn't in the cards, I'm buying on him hitting over .280 again, which means he should see 80+ RBI to go with his 20 HR.
Like Cabrera, Aybar started hitting the ball with more authority last season, which made him a viable play in just about any format. After failing to post an ISO of higher than .111 in any of his first three full seasons, Aybar finished 2011 with a .142 ISO, doubling his previous career best with 10 HR while notching 51 extra base hits. He's just hitting his prime, so there's some reason to think that this trend may continue, but I'm a bit skeptical. Regardless, he should see an uptick in his runs scored this season while threatening double digit HR with 25-30 SB. As you won't have to pay the premium price that you will for Asdrubal (ADP of pick 163.2 at Yahoo), I think he's a safer bet to live up to his draft position.
Sleeper: Zack Cozart
Stacked lineup around him? Check. History of a nice power-speed combo in the minors? Check (17 HR, 30 SB in 2010 in AAA). I'm not sure Cozart is going to hit for a very high average, but he's nice and toolsy for a middle infielder and should have plenty of opportunities to do damage in the run and RBI columns even if he bats low in the order. On average, he's going at Pick 233 in Yahoo drafts this season. He's a safe bet to outperform that draft position. In fact, I'll venture to guess that he's the best SS in Ohio this season.
Prospect To Watch For: Hak-Ju Lee
Hey... I love Jurickson Profar and Manny Machado as much as the next guy, but neither are going to sniff the majors this season. There's a shaky situation at SS in Tampa, and Lee is more likely to see some time in the big leagues this season. The 21-year-old has a good batting eye, great speed, and an even better glove. As he figures to begin the year in AA Montgomery, there's not a high likelihood that Lee reaches the majors this season, but if he shows the progression that he did last season, a September cup of coffee is a possibility. There are a couple of high impact bats who look like they're a year behind Lee in terms of getting to the show and one kid with no big league experience who seems questionable in terms of finding fantasy value (Tyler Pastornicky), so we'll go with Lee.