OK, well, we know how this is going to go.
Every year, we hope for better at shortstop, and every year, we get the same four Reachy McReachersons who put their owners in a hole from the get--
Is this the change we were hoping for? Has the prophecy of the great shortstop awakening been fulfilled!?
Top 10 shortstops for 2016:
2. Troy Tulowitzki, SS Blue Jays
3. Corey Seager, SS, Dodgers
4. Francisco Lindor, SS, Indians
5. Xander Bogaerts, SS, Red Sox
6. Jose Reyes, SS, Rockies
7. Jung Ho Kang, 3B/SS, Pirates
8. Ian Desmond, SS, Nationals
9. Brandon Crawford, SS, Giants
10. Addison Russell, 2B/SS, Cubs
You know, for as good Correa was as a 20-year-old rookie -- and at 3.47 Head-to-Head points per game, he was far and away the most productive player at the position, kind of like Manny Machado if his shortstop eligibility could carry over to next year -- he would seem like the obvious top choice, except that the Jason Heywards, Brett Lawries and Yasiel Puigs of the past have taught us to beware of the surging rookie a year later.
Well, we don't have that luxury. Tulowitzki, who had one of his healthier seasons even with the cracked shoulder blade late, wasn't his usual studly self and was just plain bad in 41 games after coming over to the Blue Jays in a midseason trade. He's 30 now, which is an age when shortstops typically show decline. His strikeout rate rose, and his walk rate fell -- also tell-tale signs. So while it's hard to imagine he'll be buried at what's still a shallow position, I'm not confident he'll get back to being what he was in Colorado.
But he's obviously more trustworthy than Seager, who's already getting enormous benefit of the doubt only 98 at-bats into his major-league career. Granted, they were 98 of the most impressive at-bats you'll ever see, and since he was widely considered the top prospect in baseball at the time of his promotion, the optimism is warranted. But again, 98 at-bats are practically inconsequential, and I can't shake those thoughts of Rusney Castillo and his wowie September a year ago.
So why not Lindor ahead of Seager? After all, the Indians rookie was even better than Correa after the All-Star break. He batted .345 with a .930 OPS, demonstrating tremendous bat-on-ball skills, moderate base-stealing ability and never-before-seen power. But it's the never-before-seen quality of that power that should make us skeptical. And I'm a little more open to the idea than some, recognizing that Lindor is a wiry 21-year-old who should only get stronger as he fills out and remembering that shortstops who profiled as similar hitters, such as Reyes, Starlin Castro and Rafael Furcal, quickly emerged as 12-to-15-homer types. Still, that feeling of "he can only go down from here" with Lindor has me leaning toward Seager's upside.
I'm at least putting Lindor ahead of Bogaerts, who by now should have similar questions about his power even though he was presumed to be the better power prospect coming up through he minors. For now, I'd say they profile as similar players: good contact hitters with plenty of room for growth still in their early 20s. Bogaerts has already shown that's enough to stand out at the position.
There's a fourth rookie who probably would have cracked the top five at the position if he hadn't cracked his leg first in mid-September. Kang was giving Kris Bryant a run for NL Rookie of the Year honors, batting .291 with 12 home runs and an .840 OPS in 81 games after assuming everyday duty in mid-June. If I could trust he'd be ready for the start of the season, I could move him up at least a spot, but since his recovery could extend into May and beyond, I think the safer bet is to rank him as the last of those capable of elite-level production, which includes a declining but now Coors Field-aided Reyes.
Desmond and Crawford fall just outside that group, but they're not exactly chumps. Well, some Desmond owners may describe him that way after he burned them with an early-round pick this year, but he finished strong, batting .262 with 12 home runs, eight stolen bases and a .777 OPS after the All-Star break to make him a top-10 shortstop in Head-to-Head points leagues during that time, proving he's still better than the average shortstop even if he's not what he once was. Crawford, though, may not be capable of a better season than the one he just had, more than doubling his previous career high in home runs with 21.
Russell is kind of the barrier between the high-end players at the position and everyone else, and he fills that spot because he's the most likely of the also-rans to ascend to that better group in 2016. You're putting blind faith in his upside, basically, recognizing that he ranked up there with Correa, Seager and Lindor coming up through the minors and that struggles are more common than not for 21-year-old rookies. He did show improvement the final two months, compiling a .735 OPS compared to .671 in the first three-plus.
Next 10 shortstops for 2016:
11. Ketel Marte, SS, Mariners
12. Jhonny Peralta, SS, Cardinals
13. Eugenio Suarez, SS, Reds
14. Marcus Semien, SS, Athletics
15. Jedd Gyorko, 2B/SS, Padres
16. Jean Segura, SS, Brewers
17. Asdrubal Cabrera, SS, Rays
18. Elvis Andrus, SS, Rangers
19. Alcides Escobar, SS, Royals
20. Wilmer Flores, 2B/SS, Mets
That's not to say these back 10 don't offer any upside, but the ones who do are kind of one-dimensional and riskier as a result. I'm thinking specifically of Marte and Suarez, the former profiling as a slap-hitting base-stealer and the latter as an impatient slugger. They both looked good in 2015. In particular, Suarez's 13 home runs in 372 at-bats stand out, but because he's not as disciplined as Marte, he has the lower floor. He aspires to be the player I rank just ahead of him, Peralta, who's typically a good but not great Fantasy option.
I suppose if you operate under the assumption that he won't get any better, Semien is too high here. But he's only 24 and just completed his first full major-league season. All things considered, his 15 home runs and 11 stolen bases are pretty impressive. I think he's hurt by the fact he had a job from the beginning and had to endure the ups and downs that some of the other first-time starters avoided altogether.
Time to get excited about Gyorko again? In one of the biggest surprises of the second half, the 27-year-old became the Padres' starting shortstop and hit 11 home runs over the final two months, reclaiming the power potential that got us so excited about him as a second baseman a couple years ago. We know he's all-or-nothing and infuriatingly streaky, but a 25-homer shortstop is a rare find indeed.
And that's where the excitement ends. Shortstop after the top 15 goes back to being the stinkfest we all remember, with Segura occupying the top spot just because, well, he did show us a little something more once upon a time. Cabrera had a killer second half, batting .328 with 10 home runs and a .916 OPS in 2014 at-bats, but he hadn't been relevant in so long that you're right to be skeptical of it.
Andrus and Escobar offer some speed, and Flores, if he plays, offers some power, but you'll always be looking to upgrade from them. And with Correa, Seager, Lindor and Russell all coming up this year, the next wave of talent is a good ways away.
Still, those four have done a good enough job changing the tone of the position. It's certainly not deep, but now you don't have to sell out for Tulowitzki to feel like you're getting adequate production there.