The infield positions seem to have benefited the most from the offensive explosion in baseball this year, and shortstop is no exception.
In fact, it might be the poster child.
Last year, the only shortstops to average more than three Head-to-Head points per game (in a reasonable number of at-bats, of course) were midseason arrivals Carlos Correa and Francisco Lindor. This year, they've been joined by Manny Machado (who will retain eligibility at the position), Jean Segura, Trevor Story, Xander Bogaerts, Jonathan Villar, Aledmys Diaz, Corey Seager and Eduardo Nunez.
So that's new.
What isn't new is that shortstop still doesn't compare to the other infield positions in terms of depth. It may not seem that way early in the draft since outfield trails every infield spot in high-end options -- a historical rarity, to be sure -- but if anyone drafts a multi-eligible shortstop to fill some other position in a 12-team league, then at least one owner is going to be less than satisfied with his starter.
And because so many new players have been introduced to the position in such a short period of time, the number of promising unprovens is fairly low as well. In other words, this isn't the position to hold out for that late-round sleeper.
Top 10 shortstops for 2017:
1. Manny Machado, 3B/SS, Orioles
2. Corey Seager, SS, Dodgers
3. Carlos Correa, SS, Astros
4. Xander Bogaerts, SS, Red Sox
5. Francisco Lindor, SS, Indians
6. Jonathan Villar, 3B/SS, Brewers
7. Jean Segura, 2B/SS, Diamondbacks
8. Trevor Story, SS, Rockies
9. Aledmys Diaz, SS, Cardinals
10. Addison Russell, SS, Cubs
Having played the 20 games necessary to retain eligibility next year, Manny Machado is a pretty easy choice for the top spot. He's a surefire first-rounder, after all, and at age 24, he likely will be for years to come. But would you believe he actually hasn't averaged the most Head-to-Head points per game at the position this year?
Corey Seager hasn't either, which I guess makes for a theme here in this first grouping of 10. We're drafting for 2017, remember, not 2016, so you shouldn't expect me to rank players in their exact order of finish. It stands to reason that the ones who still have unrealized potential would get a nice bump in a forward-thinking column such as this one, and as bunched as the top 10 or so shortstops are this year, that bump could essentially turn this year's order upside-down.
If not for Kris Bryant, Seager might well be the MVP of the National League as a 22-year-old rookie. He's not as highly regarded in Fantasy because a curiously low RBI total has pushed him down the rankings, but batting in the middle of a playoff-caliber lineup, that's bound to change, especially as his power continues to evolve.
Of course, we were saying similar things about Carlos Correa a year ago, and he has ended up taking a step back before (presumably) taking several forward. Yet even with that step back, the separation between him and the top options at the position is narrow enough that I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, not wanting to miss out on the upside.
That's easier to do given the shortcomings of Xander Bogaerts and Francisco Lindor. Bogaerts has actually put up better numbers than Correa this year, but they were front-loaded and largely dependent on an unsustainable batting average that his second half has harshly, if not completely, corrected. His .334 BABIP is still on the high side, so he almost needs to take another step forward power-wise (a plausible scenario at age 24) to justify this ranking. Lindor, who was nearly the revelation Correa was last year, actually produced at a similar clip this year, but it just wasn't as valuable in this year's hitting landscape. And since power hitting isn't his calling card, it kind of makes you wonder just what his upside is, even at 22.
Still, knowing how good they've been in the short-term and how good they were expected to be in the first place, it's hard to bet against that young foursome in the long-term, which is why Jonathan Villar and Jean Segura (the one who has outperformed Machado on a per-game basis this year, for what it's worth) have been downgraded. I feel comfortable saying those two won't ever be this good again. They'll be good, in all likelihood, but each player's performance was unexpected, especially in terms of power, and dependent on a high BABIP.
All right, time to start talking SS rankings for 2017. Which surprising power/speed source would be your preference?— Scott White (@CBSScottWhite) September 27, 2016
Choosing between them was actually the greater challenge than deciding where they fit, and in the end, it may be a question of format. Because Villar has doubled up Segura in stolen bases, he has the advantage in Rotisserie leagues, where that stat is of greater significance, but Segura's greatly reduced strikeout rate gives him the edge in Head-to-Head points leagues.
And would you still prefer Francisco Lindor to those surprising power/speed threats?— Scott White (@CBSScottWhite) September 27, 2016
Speaking of strikeout rates, Trevor Story's is ghastly, so even though he amazed with his power in 372 at-bats before succumbing to season-ending thumb surgery, his floor is the lowest of any of the players mentioned so far. Aledmys Diaz is kind of the polar opposite. His high contact rate earns him the benefit of the doubt, but as with Segura, few saw the power coming. And unlike Segura, he doesn't have the speed to go along with it.
Knowing where the shortstop position stood just two short years ago, players like Story and Diaz are still a dream come true for Fantasy owners and fully capable of hanging with anyone at the position other than maybe Machado. They're just a little riskier.
Next 10 shortstops for 2017:
11. Troy Tulowitzki, SS, Blue Jays
12. Eduardo Nunez, 3B/SS, Giants
13. Brad Miller, 1B/SS, Rays
14. Dansby Swanson, SS, Braves
15. Jose Peraza, SS/OF, Reds
16. Elvis Andrus, SS, Rangers
17. Orlando Arcia, SS, Brewers
18. Asdrubal Cabrera, SS, Mets
19. Marcus Semien, SS, Athletics
20. Didi Gregorius, SS, Yankees
Hey, it's Troy Tulowitzki! Remember him? He's still a perfectly adequate starter in Fantasy, but he has had to sell out for power away from Colorado -- which may have just as much to do with his 31 years of age, honestly, not to mention his extensive injury history -- and is decidedly less than elite.
It's why I dropped him behind even Addison Russell, the fifth wheel of that Seager-Correa-Bogaerts-Lindor group and the only one who hasn't translated his elite pedigree into elite production yet. He's only 22, though, and did make some big strides this year, such as cutting back on his strikeout rate and improving his home run pace while still curtailing his fly balls. In fact, the strides were so significant that it's fair to assume he suffered from some bad luck this year.
Here's a fun one for 2017. Your preference?— Scott White (@CBSScottWhite) September 27, 2016
Eduardo Nunez is about the last in this list who I'd be comfortable drafting as my starting shortstop in a standard mixed league, and really, "comfortable" isn't the best word to use there. I still have plenty of doubts about the 29-year-old following his out-of-nowhere breakout, but he does put the bat on the ball and runs well. Between that and having no threats to his playing time in San Francisco, I imagine he has a pretty high floor.
Being dual-eligible, he and Brad Miller further demonstrate the lack of depth at the position. Nunez ranks 16th for me at third base, and Miller ranks 20th for me and first base. They're 12th and 13th here, and already, that's where the position begins to fall apart.
It's not that there's no upside beyond the top 12 or 13. It's just that it's limited and mostly theoretical. Dansby Swanson checks in at 14 almost entirely because of upside. The former first overall pick has certainly held his own as a 22-year-old and has a bright a future, but does the power he has shown suggest he's on the verge of being an impact contributor in Fantasy? I don't think so.
It's worse than it looks, too. One of his home runs was an inside-the-parker.
I may be selling Jose Peraza a little short on the upside. As a starter this year, he has performed about on the level of Lindor in terms of Head-to-Head points per game. But seeing as he doesn't hit for power and can't take a walk, he pretty much has to hit for average to get the most out of his speed and perhaps even to keep his job. That's a lot of pressure to put on one of the more volatile skills. The next name on this list, Elvis Andrus, ranks this low precisely because he settled into what I fear Peraza will become.
Orlando Arcia gets a bump because of upside even though he has only disappointed since arriving in the big leagues. I wouldn't have a problem with someone opting for Asdrubal Cabrera instead even though I feel like we've seen this act from him before. His last two months are almost certainly too good to be true, but at the same time, he has hit at least 14 home runs in six straight seasons, averaging nearly 18 during that stretch.
The one exclusion that I suspect might be jarring for some Fantasy owners is Brandon Crawford, but that 2015 season in which he hit 21 home runs is looking like an outlier for the 29-year-old. His average fly-ball distance, which ranked among the elite last year, has been middle-of-the-pack this year, and his home run-to-fly ball rate has returned to normal. This version still might have ranked among the top 12 in years past, but the recent influx of high-end talent at the position pushes him all the way out of the top 20, if only by one spot.