The top three at shortstop is clear, but the order is not. Troy Tulowitzki is the #1 shortstop. Some people would have Jose Reyes second but he comes in at #3 for me for several reasons. First of all, Hanley Ramirez, my #2, is going to gain third base eligibility early on and if he plays to his talent level, then Ramirez will be one of the five most valuable players in all of fantasy baseball. So, Ramirez is coming off of a .243 season plagued by injury and slumps. Reyes is a month-long hamstring rehab waiting to happen.
Neither is “safe” but if you told me both would produce replicas of their best seasons, you’re probably looking at Reyes’ 2006 with a line of .300, 19 HR, 81 RBI, 17 triples, 64 SB, 122 runs. Meanwhile, which Han-Ram season do you want? 2007 through 2010 Ramirez averaged 27 HR, 83 RBI, 36 SB, and 111 runs per season, with a .319 average and .925 OPS. In there he had a season of 29 HR and 51 SB, batted over .330 twice, scored 125 runs twice and had over 100 RBI and 100 R in one season.
After the top three, things get muddy quick. In fact, if you were going to reach for one position, I’d say get one of the top three shortstops or wait for a long time. Some people will say I undervalue older players, but I’d rather be off the bandwagon a year early than a year too late.
That being said, I’ll take Elvis Andrus at #4 and Starlin Castro #5, and expect those two to be in the top five for the next eight years, barring injuries. Jimmy Rollins is at #6. If he stayed healthy, another year of 15 HR, 30 SB and 80 runs would be in store. Given the risks, I’d expect more like 12/20/65, which makes me tempted to drop him farther. In fact, Asdrubal Cabrera at #7 will climb a lot of rankings in the early weeks if he can prove the power production of 2011 wasn’t a fluke. I don’t see 25 HR, 92 RBI and 17 SB happening again, but at a shallow position, 20/80/15 is very valuable.
JJ Hardy hit 30 home runs last year. Let that sink in. Hardy hit the most home runs of any shortstop (tied with Tulo). Now, he’s a serious health risk, but at 29 years old, there’s no reason to expect a decline in the skills. Hardy is my #8 shortstop because getting power in the middle infield is almost unheard of.
Alexei Ramirez has 15+ home runs in each of his four major league seasons. He also had 13+ steals in the first three. He’s a career .279 hitter, has scored 80+ runs each of the last two years and had 68-77 RBI in all four years of his career. Perhaps most encouraging, he’s increased his games played each year, with 156 in 2010 and 158 in 2011. There’s value in safety and Ramirez is pretty safe.
Trying to round out the top-10 at the position, I am torn between Erick Aybar and Dee Gordon. I’ve got to go with Aybar at 10 because he has SOME power, and adding Albert Pujols as well as Kendrys Morales into the Angels lineup should present more scoring opportunities for Aybar. But Gordon hit over .300 last year and, while he’ll be in a home run race with Juan Pierre and Chone Figgins most of the season, chasing ONE, Gordon is a pretty good bet for .280 and 40 steals. There’s some run-scoring upside with Gordon and he might just fall a couple rounds below Aybar in your draft, making for good value.
Derek Jeter, one of my all-time favorite players for his class and consistency, defied the odds again, batting .297 at age 36 last year. Jeter has scored 80+ runs every year since 1995 and over 100 runs in 13 of those years, including 2009 and 2010. He has batted over .290 every year except 2010 and has stolen 15 or more bases 13 times, including the last three in a row and five of the last six. Before 2011, he had 10+ home runs every year of his career. I’m not betting against him this year either. Bankable .290, 10-12 HR, 60-70 RBI, 80-100 R and 10-20 SB. He falls out of my top ten basically because the down side is significantly higher with each season over 30 and he’s 37 now.
Don’t skim past the trio of 29-year-olds in the middle of the shortstop group. Jhonny Peralta, Yunel Escobar, Stephen Drew… Peralta hit .299 and 20 HR last year. Don’t expect it again, but he should score more than the 68 runs he brought home in 2011. Escobar hit .290 but his 11 HR and three steals were unimpressive and Stephen Drew is a bit of a wild card. The peripherals keep saying he should be a top-10 shortstop, but after .252, five homers and four steals in 2011, I’ll need to see it to believe. Nevermind, skim past this group.
Ian Desmond, Emilio Bonifacio, Alcides Escobar… 25 or 26 year old talents. Bonifacio will likely bat 20-30 points higher than the other two and steal the most bases. Desmond will hit the most home runs in this group, with potential for as many as 15, along with his 25 or so steals, but will probably have the lowest average. Escobar is a perennially disposable player, the kind of guy who is always one slump from being dropped. His average is a very “blah” .250-260. But he steals bases and scores runs, so there’s some value in deeper leagues. Pick your poison.
Finally, if you’re new to my blog, you will learn I have man crushes. Andrew McCutchen will be discussed in my outfield preview and I’ve man-crushed on him for two years now. Tim Tebow, who I was RIGHT about, by the way, was my sleeper of the year going into this past season.
Why is this relevant? Because I man-crush on Jed Lowrie. When the Red Sox made it obvious they were going to go into 2011 with Marco Scutaro as the starting shortstop, I labeled Lowrie as a deep-league sleeper and I was right. He batted .306 in April and May before getting hurt. After playing only nine games in June and none in July, he bounced back to hit .271 in August. Now he will get to play everyday in Houston and there’s serious upside. His .907 OPS in 2010 was the second among shortstops, and higher than Han-Ram. If he stays healthy, Lowrie could provide you 15 home runs with a .270 average. He might even add 70 RBI and 60-ish runs scored if anyone else on the Astros can knock him in. He’ll be there very late in drafts and is a good value.
Let’s get to some Q&A before we close…
Ken, Miami: It seems when drafting a shortstop, I have to choose between power (Tulo, Hardy, A. Cabrera, Peralta) or speed (Reyes, Gordon, Castro, Andrus, etc.). Other than Hanley Ramirez, are there any power/speed combo guys? And I know Alexei Ramirez can do 12-15 of each, but I mean 20+ homers and steals…
Ken, I share your enthusiasm for power/speed combination talent. You mentioned Asdrubal Cabrera as a speed guy, but 25 HR and 17 SB is fairly good to me. I’d expect less homers this year, but 20 and 15 isn’t bad. Ian Desmond only hit eight home runs last year, but he had 10 in 2010 and I supposed I could see him approaching 15 someday, with 20-25 steals, but I shudder to think what the extra power would do to his average.
Russell, Delaware: Second base has Dustin Ackley. Third base has Lawrie. What does shortstop have to look forward to?
Well Russell, many of the top young shortstops are very young right now, but if that’s not enough for you, check out Manny Machado in the Orioles farm system. The kid might be a couple years away, but what a talent. Scouts thought he might be too big to play second, seeing him more likely at third, but Machado proved last year he could move his body well enough to handle the position. Some see hints of A-Rod in Machado.
That’s it for shortstop. Moving to the outfield soon.