Previewing 2019 Fantasy Baseball Rankings: Top 20 shortstops looking stronger than ever with emergence of Trevor Story, Gleyber Torres and Adalberto Mondesi
Is it possible shortstop is now one of the deepest positions in Fantasy? The one-time wasteland seems to get a little better every year, according to Scott White.
Consider for a minute all that went wrong at shortstop in 2018.
Corey Seager succumbed to Tommy John surgery in April. Carlos Correa's back flared up midseason, and he was never right thereafter. Elvis Andrus fractured his elbow, missed two months, and ended up following a career-best season with a career-worst season.
That's three ruined seasons for players drafted in the top 75, which would normally be a disaster at any position, but particularly one with the reputation shortstop has of not having enough to go around.
But was that your experience when these three top options were rendered unusable? Was there a shortstop scarcity in your league? Did you have trouble filling the position after losing one of the three, or if you had a stud, were you constantly chasing away offers for him? If your experience was anything like mine, probably not.
Now add those three back into the pool for 2019, after an offseason of rest and rehabilitation. We're talking depth unlike I've ever seen at the position.
Part of it's because Alex Bregman, Manny Machado and Javier Baez made enough appearances there to retain eligibility, which may not be true in future seasons. But there was also Trevor Story's emergence, as well as Gleyber Torres and Jurickson Profar — studs we weren't counting on, all. Shortstop has become one of the most common positions to break in new talent, with a seemingly endless supply of minor-leaguers lined up to debut. And next year figures to be no exception with Fernando Tatis, Bo Bichette and Brendan Rodgers knocking on the door.
Spoiler alert: None of them made the cut here.
Not only did Francisco Lindor validate his curious power breakthrough of a year ago, but he also got back to stealing bases like he did in the minors and improved his overall batted-ball profile, suggesting there's room to grow in batting average. Outside of the Mike Trout, Mookie Betts and Jose Ramirez trio that will populate the start of most every draft, there's no one I'd prefer to this guy.
Alex Bregman appeared on a number of breakout lists heading into 2018, which seemed optimistic given how early he was already going in drafts. But it was dead on. If the power he showed in 2018 is legit, then it combined with his exceptional contact rate and plate discipline will make the 24-year-old an MVP candidate for years to come.
Manny Machado's numbers dipped after joining the Dodgers, but overall, he ended up having one of his best seasons, which is sort of nitpicking given how consistent the past four have been. The 26-year-old will be a first round-caliber bat no matter where he signs, though you'd almost rather see him sign as a third baseman so he can regain eligiblity at that position.
The last of the first round-bound shortstops in my mind is himself no lock to go so early, not even in traditional 5x5 leagues where stolen bases are so scarce. Sure, Trea Turner led the NL in that category, but with closer to 40 than the 60 or 70 so many thought he would reach. Meanwhile, his bat hasn't progressed beyond a middling batting average or home run total.
If the areas where Trevor Story made the biggest strides in 2018 — striking out at a much lower rate and running more than he ever showed an inclination to do in the majors — are legit, then he probably deserves first-round consideration. It's a big leap, though, for someone who looked like he might whiff his way out of a job last season. And besides, his late-season elbow scare also casts doubt on its structural integrity moving forward.
It's a neck-and-neck race between Story and Javier Baez, who both broke through this year in a way that doesn't seem entirely unsustainable but who both have similar drawbacks that could lead to a steep decline in production. Baez has the benefit of multi-eligibility, of course, but Story has the Coors Field advantage, which to me trumps all others.
Carlos Correa looked so pitiful at the plate after returning from a six-week absence for a back injury that you had to assume he still wasn't well — and in fact, he ended up missing time for the same issue in September. He has been a first-round fixture since breaking through with an .857 OPS as a 20-year-old rookie in 2015, so you wouldn't want to downgrade him too much for what's clearly an injury-marred season. Back issues are rarely straightforward, though, so assuming he'll be entirely in the clear next year is equally unwise.
One of my bust picks heading into 2018 has made a believer out of me, and he did it through pure growth, upping his power production in a way that's totally believable for a 25-year-old with a top-prospect pedigree. And now that there are even more studs available at the position, Fantasy owners are less inclined to overextend themselves for Xander Bogaerts anyway.
Corey Seager will return in 2019 part man, part robot, having not only undergone Tommy John surgery but also a procedure to repair a torn labrum in his hip. He gets a pass for his 2018 numbers, given all that was wrong with him, but let's not forget that his stud standing heading into this year was more theoretical than not, owed mostly to a freakish line-drive rate and presumed-to-be-still-developing power stroke.
If Didi Gregorius played all his games at home, he'd be an honest-to-goodness MVP candidate -- and of course looked like it in April of this year. But even after the inevitable downturn in May, he still turned in a solid performance. More and more over the past couple years, he has sold out for power, which has prevented him from making the most of his superhuman contact rate, but thanks to his home park, it's a worthy tradeoff.
After some early home run and BABIP luck, Gleyber Torres' numbers leveled off to something close to sustainable by the end of his rookie season. What shouldn't be lost on Fantasy owners is that he was a 21-year-old making a quick return from Tommy John surgery, and well, look what he did. He's not a stud yet, but the arrow is pointing that way, which likely he means he's off the board in the first seven or eight rounds.
This year's late-season breakthrough, formerly known by the same name as his father, Raul, finally began living up to the lofty expectations scouts set for him from his earliest days in the Royals farm system. Most notable, of course, were the stolen bases, which came at a rate that would have trounced the rest of baseball over a full season, but the power Adalberto Mondesi demonstrated in September would suggest there's early-round upside for the 23-year-old. Of course, the plate discipline is still pitiful and the BABIP unlikely something he can sustain, but you can't ignore the progress here.
In a points league, you'll probably want to slot Jurickson Profar ahead of Mondesi given the night-and-day contrast in plate discipline, but if Profar improves in the ways I think he can, he'll be flirting with stud status even in traditional 5x5 leagues. For all the progress the former top prospect in baseball made in 2018, he did it with a suspiciously low BABIP, especially for someone with his batted-ball profile.
The rest of the world may tell you I'm wrong to rank Jean Segura this low, but I'm tired of letting the rest of the world dictate my approach to what's clearly a middling Fantasy asset. Yes, he helps in stolen bases and batting average, which are two categories for which there's little help to be found, but he's not a standout in either and doesn't offer even adequate power playing half his games in Seattle. Points-league owners are hurt by the low walk rate, too.
My supposition regarding Jose Peraza has long been that he wouldn't amount to anything in Fantasy if he wasn't an elite base stealer. Well, he's still more like a competent base stealer than an elite one, but here he is amounting to something because it turns out he can drive the ball a bit, nearly tripling last season's extra-base hit total in about 150 more at-bats. He's still no slugger, but he's basically the second coming of Segura now.
In just a few months time, Elvis Andrus has gone from being the guy who's flirting with elite status, adding power to a steady track record of contact hitting and base stealing, to one who has suddenly stopped doing any of it. He's only 30 and had typical strikeout and hard-hit rates in 2018, so maybe his decline was mostly the fault of the fractured elbow that cost him two months near the start of the year. That's the hope, anyway.
Andrelton Simmons consistently has one of the lowest strikeout rates in all the majors, which makes for a considerable gap in how he's valued in points leagues vs. traditional 5x5 leagues. He closed that gap by running more in 2017, but that looks now like just a one-year blip. The at-bats will always be there for him, given his greatness as a defender, but outside of points leagues, you wouldn't be so crazy to pass him over for the two category standouts behind him.
Paul DeJong's power production as a rookie in 2017 seemed a bit too good to be true, and sure enough, fewer of his many fly balls carried over the fence in 2018. Problem is there's not much else for him to fall back on. His fly-ball tendencies predispose him to a low BABIP, and his high strikeout rate only makes things worse. If you need to get 30 home runs out of your shortstop late in a draft, DeJong is your guy, but it comes with some tradeoffs.
Tim Anderson owners are all too familiar with those tradeoffs. The 24-year-old was actually a 20-20 man in 2018, but he didn't contribute in enough other ways to ingratiate himself. He came into the season committed to running more and backed it up with eight stolen bases in his first 15 games, but he would have needed to sustain something close to a league-leading pace to make up for his horrid plate discipline. He'll help you spackle a couple categories late in Rotisserie drafts, but that's the extent of his value.
Marwin Gonzalez didn't live up to his 2017 breakthrough, when he delivered better than a .900 OPS and even garnered some MVP votes. But one of the keys to that breakthrough, the improved plate discipline, indeed carried over, and the power showed up again in the second half. He's probably something in between his 2017 and 2018 numbers. Where he signs this offseason and for what role will have the greatest say in whether he actually goes this high.
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