Shortstop tiers for Draft Day 2014
Stop me if you've heard this before: Shortstop is the weakest position in Fantasy this year.
Or maybe "shallowest" is the more accurate way to describe it. The average shortstop will still outscore the average catcher since the average catcher gets fewer at-bats, but in terms of keeping pace with the competition, you'll have a harder go of it at shortstop.
Tiers are designed to deliver the most efficient draft possible by
using player rankings to reveal the distribution of talent at each
position. A new tier begins whenever the next player down in the
rankings has a vastly different projected outcome from the one
preceding him. Reducing a position to five or six tiers instead of
30 or more individuals gives you a blueprint to follow as your
league's draft unfolds. Naturally, the position to target is the one
whose active tier is closest to completion. -- SW
Quite simply, there aren't enough to go around in a 12-team league, whether yours uses an extra middle infield spot or not. The top three tiers at the position -- the ones that might actually give you some kind of advantage in a mixed league -- go only eight deep compared to 13 deep at catcher, 19 deep at first base and 14 deep at second base.
In other words, if you don't fill your shortstop void early, within the first half of the draft, you're either hoping to get lucky with a player who has yet to meet the full extent of his potential or resorting to second-rate production at the position. That approach isn't necessarily doomed, but if the key to success in Fantasy is creating advantages over your competition, you'd rather not begin the year at a disadvantage.
So let's figure out how to avoid that.
The Near-Elite: Jean Segura , Jose Reyes , Ian Desmond , Ben Zobrist
The Next-Best Things: Elvis Andrus , Everth Cabrera
The Fallback Options: Brad Miller , Andrelton Simmons , Jed Lowrie , Starlin Castro , J.J. Hardy
The Last Resorts: Asdrubal Cabrera , Alexei Ramirez , Jhonny Peralta , Jimmy Rollins , Erick Aybar , Derek Jeter , Stephen Drew , Chris Owings , Jonathan Villar , Dee Gordon
The Leftovers: Alcides Escobar , Javier Baez , Zack Cozart , Yunel Escobar , Rafael Furcal , Jordy Mercer
One complication at an already complicated position is the fact that so many of the best shortstops have obvious bust potential. Tulowitzki, Ramirez and Reyes are perennial injury risks, and Zobrist began showing signs of decline at age 32 last year. All are worth drafting at a certain point, but if you choose to play it safe in the early rounds and avoid them entirely, the position becomes that much shallower.
Where Ramirez and Tulowitzki -- or Tulowitzki and Ramirez, as I have them -- go off the board is pretty much set in stone: late in the first round or early in the second. So depending on where you pick, you won't even have a shot at them. Both offer legitimate first-round production when they're able to take the field, but because they so infrequently do, I anticipate getting better value from The Near-Elite.
Still, they go where they go for a reason. After a certain point in the first round, usually Pick 8 or 9, no one in the discussion is particularly safe, making gambling at a weaker position not really gambling at all. When saddled with one of those later picks, I usually take the bait and hope for the best, pairing whichever of Tulowitzki and Ramirez lasts to me with a low-risk second-rounder like Prince Fielder or Adam Jones . At least then I know I won't have to reach at the position later on.
Of course, the ideal approach is to land one of safe first-rounders -- the ones who go off the board with the first eight picks -- and then target one of The Near-Elite shortstops three or four rounds later, most likely Segura or Desmond. You'll know the time is right when Reyes goes off the board.
At ages 23 and 28, respectively, Segura and Desmond still have their legs under them, making them the safest of the high-end shortstops. And Segura showed in the first half last year that he may even have the potential for more. If you get one of them in Round 4 or, by some fortuitous turn, Round 5, you've done the one thing most likely to set your team apart on Draft Day, provided you didn't blow the picks leading up to it.
If you're one to avoid players coming off PED suspensions, Cabrera is out of the running for The Next-Best Things, further limiting your options at the position. PEDs or no PEDs, I think he steals bases either way, and considering Andrus doesn't stand out in any other area, the two are almost interchangeable in my mind. Of course, because the tier is so small, it could easily pass you by, making The Fallback Options your more likely target if you miss out on Tulowitzki, Ramirez, Segura and Desmond.
All three of Simmons, Castro and Miller have upside. All three could perform like the players a tier or two ahead of them if everything breaks their way. Drafting one as your starting shortstop is like drafting Jurickson Profar as your starting second baseman, which I don't mind if the value is right. But while Profar often goes in Round 14, these three could begin going as early as Round 8, given the lack of alternatives at the position. Clearly, that's a reach.
And clearly, you don't want to reach, especially if it's for something less than assured. But if you wait at shortstop, all too often that's what you have to do. Hold out any longer, and you might as well punt at the position, taking whatever remains of The Last Resorts in the late rounds.
Again, you can't expect Rollins or Aybar to bring much to the table at this stage of their careers.