Highlighting top SS prospects for '11

For a position that so often leaves Fantasy owners high and dry, shortstop is loaded with minor-league talent. The problem is most of it is years from contributing at the major-league level.

Maybe that's not so unusual. Maybe these shortstops just haven't had time to outgrow the position and move elsewhere on the diamond. Maybe the best athletes, who are by nature the best prospects, tend to start at shortstop before flopping defensively or flopping period.

Or maybe we're on the verge of the greatest influx of talent at the position since the mid-90s, when Alex Rodriguez , Derek Jeter , Nomar Garciaparra and Miguel Tejada all broke through.

Whatever the case, you'll find plenty of names here to fill out a keeper-league roster. The hard part is deciding which is the best, particularly for Nos. 4-6.

Note: This list has been adjusted for Fantasy purposes. Long-term potential is one of several factors that influence the order and is arguably less important than the player's expected role in 2011. Not every one of these players profiles as a superstar, but they're the names most worth knowing in Fantasy right now.

1. Grant Green , 23, Athletics
Where played in 2010: Class A
Minor-league stats: .318 BA, 20 HRs, 87 RBI, .883 OPS

Green has drawn comparisons to Troy Tulowitzki early in his professional career, and his 2010 numbers certainly back it up. But before you pencil him in for the All-Star game, keep in mind he put up those numbers in the hitter-friendly California League. He also had 117 strikeouts compared to 38 walks -- a gap he'll have to close before he can break through in the majors. Still, you have to like his pedigree. He was the 13th overall pick in 2009 and was named the California League's third-best prospect by Baseball America. The Athletics are desperate for offense, and Green is at the age when most prospects get their first taste of the majors. Don't be surprised if that taste comes this summer. His inexperience and free-swinging ways might lead to some growing pains, but because he plays shortstop, he'll be worth watching right out of the gate, perhaps even deserving a pick in AL-only leagues.

2. Dee Gordon , 22, Dodgers
Where played in 2010: Double-A
Minor-league stats: .277 BA, 53 SBs, .332 OBP, .687 OPS

The numbers haven't always matched the talent for Gordon, which is understandable considering he didn't pick up baseball until his senior year of high school. He has yet to develop more than gap power and is still learning pitch recognition, but if nothing else, we know this much is true: Gordon can fly. His stolen bases will be what define him early in his career. Speed doesn't slump, so even if his transition to the majors is a bumpy one, he should still contribute in Fantasy, especially at a weak position like shortstop. The Dodgers have a broken down Rafael Furcal there now, so if Gordon continues his steady climb up the minor-league ladder, a midseason debut is possible. You'll want to keep his name in mind in deeper Rotisserie leagues, and he's obviously worth owning in long-term keeper leagues. If he develops even a little pop, he'll be a Fantasy starter for years to come.

3. Nick Franklin , 20, Mariners
Where played in 2010: Class A, Double-A
Minor-league stats: .283 BA, 23 HRs, 25 SBs, .841 OPS

Franklin didn't get much credit as a prospect entering 2010, with Baseball America listing him among the team's top 10 more because of his defense than his offense. But he opened his eyes with his performance at Class A Clinton, becoming just one of three players in the minors to put together a 20-20 season. His numbers make him look like a product of the heavy-hitting California League, but he did his damage in the fair-playing Midwest League. In fact, he set a 49-year-old Clinton record with his 23 homers. He's looking like much more of a power hitter than the scouts initially projected, making him potentially a Fantasy find at the power-thin shortstop position. He still has a perception issue to overcome, but he could potentially reach the majors in 2011. He ranks higher than some of the can't-miss prospects on this list because only Josh Wilson stands in his way at the major-league level.

4. Manny Machado , 18, Orioles
Where played in 2010: Rookie, Class A
Minor-league stats: .306 BA (36 at-bats), 1 HR, .831 OPS

If you follow the draft at all, you're probably familiar with Machado. He's the guy who formed a clear top three with Bryce Harper and Jameson Taillon in 2010, making him as close to a can't-miss prospect as you'll find on this list. He's going to hit. Nobody really knows how much given his youth, but a .300 batting average and 20 homers per season is a reasonable expectation. At 6-foot-3, he may have the upside for even more power than that. He barely reached Class A last year, putting him a few years away from the big leagues, but he's a no-brainer to own in long-term keeper leagues. Given the shortage of offense at shortstop, he's almost certain to become an impact player in Fantasy once he comes of age.

5. Jurickson Profar, 18, Rangers
Where played in 2010: Class A
Minor-league stats: .250 BA (252 at-bats), 4 HRs, 8 SBs, .696 OPS

Profar is a bit of a commitment -- he won't turn 18 until just before spring training -- but his upside makes him well worth stashing in long-term keeper leagues. It's all a guessing game with him right now. He has yet to put much muscle on his teenage frame, which makes his numbers practically irrelevant and puts us regular people at the mercy of the scouts when assessing him. But Baseball America rated him the No. 1 prospect in the Northwest League last year, and some experts have called him the best prospect in a loaded Rangers system. And really, what have numbers done for us anyway? Hanley Ramirez wasn't much of a power hitter in the minors. Profar has legitimate five-category potential and is pretty much a blank slate right now. A lot could go wrong for him before he reaches the majors, but rarely will you find such enticing potential at the weak shortstop position.

6. Wilmer Flores , 19, Mets
Where played in 2010: Class A
Minor-league stats: .289 BA, 11 HRs, 84 RBI, .758 OPS

For all of Profar's promise, some scouts rate Flores as an even better prospect. His potential may not be limitless, but he shows clearer signs of meeting it, managing to improve his power in the pitcher-friendly South Atlantic League last year. At 6-foot-3, he has the size to develop into a legitimate power hitter, though doing so could force him to change positions. He's still young, but if he continues to improve the way he did last year, hitting .300 in the step up to Class A St. Lucie, the Mets may have trouble holding him back. His lack of plate discipline is his Achilles' heel and what could keep him in the minors for a few more years, but with Jose Reyes holding down the job in New York, the Mets have no reason to rush Flores. He's a great pick in long-term keeper leagues, but not seasonal formats.

7. Christian Colon , 21, Royals
Where played in 2010: Class A
Minor-league stats: .278 BA (245 at-bats), 3 HRs, .705 OPS

Stardom isn't as certain for Colon as it is for some of the players on this list, but the fourth overall pick in the 2010 draft is on the fast track to the majors as he prepares to open his first full professional season at Double-A Northwest Arkansas. He turns 22 soon after opening day, so with a good showing, he could potentially reach the majors before the end of the season. He might not hit much more than 15 homers in his prime, but overall, he rates as a plus offensive player, which is more than you can say for Yuniesky Betancourt , the Royals' current shortstop. The biggest question for Colon is whether or not he'll be able to handle the position defensively. A September call-up is the most-likely scenario, but Colon is worth drafting in deeper AL-only leagues in the off chance something happens to Betancourt.

8. Jose Iglesias , 21, Red Sox
Where played in 2010: Class A, Double-A
Minor-league stats: .295 BA (261 at-bats), 0 HRs, 7 SBs, .719 OPS

Nobody doubts Iglesias' defense. If that's all he needed to play in the majors, he'd be there now. The issue for him -- and the source of much debate still -- is how well he'll hit. He proved in his first professional season he can make consistent contact and hit for a high average, but he rarely walks and probably won't hit many homers. With gap power and a free-swinging approach, he may top out as a glorified Freddy Sanchez . That sort of player would still have value in Fantasy, but it would make Iglesias something of a disappointment given his pedigree. Of course, he is only 21. He has time to develop if he becomes more selective. Chances are his glove will give him a chance to start for the Red Sox in a couple years, so if you're dying for a shortstop in a long-term keeper league, you could certainly do worse.

9. Andrew Cumberland , 22, Padres
Where played in 2010: Class A, Double-A
Minor-league stats: .350 BA (303 at-bats), 7 HRs, 21 SBs, .890 OPS

Cumberland doesn't come with the hype of most of the players on this list, but he made a name for himself in the Padres system last year, hitting .365 with decent power and 20 steals for Class A Lake Elsinore. Of course, those numbers came in the heavy-hitting California League, which devalues them a bit, but he posted a .386 on-base percentage for Class A Fort Wayne one year earlier. He seems to have the makings of a leadoff hitter and isn't completely devoid of pop, so you could make a case for him being the Padres' shortstop on the future. Considering the team has no real answers at the position now, he could conceivably compete for a job in spring training. More likely, he'll need more time at Double-A, having played only 15 games there before injuring his knee, but if he excels, a midseason arrival is possible. He's a sneaky pick late in NL-only leagues.

10. Zack Cozart , 25, Reds
Where played in 2010: Triple-A
Minor-league stats: .255 BA, 17 HRs, 30 SBs, .726 OPS

If the Reds still had Orlando Cabrera at shortstop, Cozart might not even sniff this list. But they currently have Paul Janish , who, as good as he is defensively, isn't anyone's idea of a long-term solution. Cozart has his shortcomings -- he strikes out more than twice as often as he walks and is a career .262 hitter in the minors -- but at least he offers something offensively. He seems unlikely to put together a 20-20 season in the majors, but his combination of power and speed is rare for a shortstop. He could surprise if promoted to play every day, or he could end up severely overmatched. If the Reds don't add anybody in the offseason, he'll be worth a late-round flier in NL-only Rotisserie leagues just in case of the former.

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Senior Fantasy Writer

Raised in Atlanta by a board game-loving family during the dawn of the '90s Braves dynasty, Scott White was easy prey for the Fantasy Sports, in particular Fantasy Baseball, and has devoted his adulthood... Full Bio

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