Reality Check: Early look at shortstop
Oh, what beautiful disaster shortstop historically tends to be. And 2014 is looking no different. Our Scott White provides an early set of rankings for next season.
Shortstop. Grrrah ... shortstop!
What a whole pitiful bunch of nothing.
Every year it turns out this way. I thought 2013 would be different, that the position had built up enough depth to sustain a 12-team league. But then came the underachievers. Starlin Castro, Asdrubal Cabrera, Jimmy Rollins, Alcides Escobar -- they made sure shortstop stayed in the pits.
It's like it's cursed or something.
Using controlled sensory deprivation to invoke the full extent of my brain power, I've managed to uncover 13 shortstops I'd be OK with slotting into my starting lineup to begin 2014 ... if I had to.
But after that? Oy.
Top 10 shortstops for 2014:
1. Troy Tulowitzki, SS, Rockies
2. Hanley Ramirez, SS, Dodgers
3. Jose Reyes, SS, Blue Jays
4. Jean Segura, SS, Brewers
5. Ian Desmond, SS, Nationals
6. Ben Zobrist, 2B/SS/OF, Rays
7. Elvis Andrus, SS, Rangers
8. Everth Cabrera, SS, Padres
9. Jed Lowrie, 2B/SS, Athletics
10. Andrelton Simmons, SS, Braves
My main takeaway from this first list is that I have two tiers to lock up my shortstop before having to settle at the position. The first is the familiar Tulowitzki-Ramirez tier. We could quibble over the order, but now that Ramirez is back playing up to his potential, presumably because he's in an environment where he can actually enjoy the game, it all comes down to health.
Both players are perpetual injury risks. I feel like Ramirez is more likely to relive his injuries -- a base-stealer with hamstring issues is nothing we haven't seen before -- but even if you disagree, I don't know that it makes a difference. I have Tulowitzki projected to go 12th overall and Ramirez projected to go 14th overall, so unless you have a swing pick, you probably won't have the luxury of choosing. Of course, given their injury histories you may wonder why you'd target either that early, but just look at the rest of the position. A truly elite shortstop is still the most valuable commodity in Fantasy, provided he's able to take the field.
At times in his career, Reyes has been a third wheel in that tier, but I don't think he belongs anymore, not coming off an injury-plagued season in which he couldn't even scrape out 20 steals. I don't why he couldn't. It's like the Blue Jays acquired him and Emilio Bonifacio just so they could keep them from doing what they do best. Basically, the only player they trust to steal bases with any regularity is Rajai Davis. It's annoying, but I don't think we can assume it'll fix itself next year, especially with Reyes turning 31. For a shortstop, he's past his prime.
Frankly, I wouldn't have a problem with anyone taking Segura or Desmond over him, and I don't think Zobrist, Andrus and Cabrera are too far behind. Together, they comprise the second tier. Again, we could quibble over the order without coming to any real consensus (which is precisely how to identify a tier), but I imagine my choice of Segura over Desmond will draw the most ire. After a blistering start to the season, Segura hit only .241 with a .583 OPS in the second half. That stinks.
But one thing that didn't change was often he made contact. While Desmond's whiffs put a cap on his batting average, Segura's hint of him being a consistent .300 hitter, as does his minor-league track record. The Brewers have repeatedly blamed fatigue for Segura's second-half struggles, and while that could just be a convenient excuse, it's also perfectly feasible for a 23-year-old in his first full big-league. Desmond is what he is, and what he is is great, but if 2013 is just the tip of the iceberg for Segura, I'm thrilled to see what comes next. If nothing else, I know the steals will be there.
Speaking of steals, I could see how the PED skeptic would drop Cabrera behind Lowrie and Simmons in his first year back from suspension, but the bottom line is, on a per-game basis, he was the fourth-best shortstop in Head-to-Head leagues in 2013. And nothing about his performance was unsustainable. The batting average was reasonable. The power numbers were down to earth. The steals were on par with what he did in 2012. I'm willing to buy it, particularly since none of the choices after him are particularly safe.
One last note before jumping to next 10 at the position: If shortstop has an ace in the hole, it's Xander Bogaerts, who's in line to take over there for the Red Sox in 2013. For Fantasy purposes, he'll have to regain eligibility at the position after playing mostly third base down the stretch this year, but I'm mentally ranking him ninth here for when he eventually does. Even as a 21-year-old rookie, I wouldn't be surprised to see him finish just behind Tulowitzki and Ramirez in terms of Head-to-Head points per game.
Next 10 shortstops for 2014:
11. Starlin Castro, SS, Cubs
12. Brad Miller, SS, Mariners
13. J.J. Hardy, SS, Orioles
14. Asdrubal Cabrera, SS, Indians
15. Alexei Ramirez, SS, White Sox
16. Jimmy Rollins, SS, Phillies
17. Derek Jeter, SS, Yankees
18. Jonathan Villar, SS, Astros
19. Jhonny Peralta, SS, Tigers
20. Javier Baez, SS, Cubs
You thought you could dump Castro on the corner and never look back, didn't you? Heh, not by a long shot.
I'm as surprised as anybody he wound up back in my top 12. It's probably the greatest testament to the lack of quality at shortstop. The only justification for ranking him that high is ... well, that's how high he used to rank. Granted, he didn't show any signs of recapturing that form over the course of 2013, actually losing points on his OPS in the second half, but, well, he's only 23 and, you know ... pedigree.
That's it. That's all I have. Encouraged? Neither am I. So you can bet I'm doing what I can to fill my shortstop spot before the draft reaches that point.
Fortunately, I do have one fallback option in Miller, who I might actually take ahead of Castro, believing him capable of Lowrie-like production already. But I think Castro deserves to go first, if that makes sense. Hey, I have to save some players for the sleepers column.
Miller still has something to prove at the major-league level and, for some owners, doesn't have a high enough ceiling to justify the gamble. But he has that Matt Carpenter-Martin Prado type of skill set that I find ever so appealing -- a decent batting eye, enough power to keep people interested and, more than anything, crazy bat-on-ball ability. My one fear -- and it's far more rational than it sounds -- is that he'll disappear into whatever black hole sucks up every other Mariners hitting prospect, leaving me to wail Dustin Ackley's name in a pool of my own tears.
I imagine some Rotisserie league owners will prioritize Hardy just for the novelty of having a shortstop who consistently hits 20-plus homers, but that's all he does. I prefer not to invest in a one-trick pony if I can help it. That one trick goes south for him, and he's useless. It's not like his Head-to-Head production is all that special anyway.
But at least it's adequate, which is more than I can say for any of the players after him. I could see Cabrera bouncing back at age 28, but because I don't know what went wrong for him in the first place, I wouldn't necessarily expect it. Ramirez only ranked where he did in 2013 because of his career-high 30 steals -- an outlier that I wouldn't trust a 32-year-old middle infielder to repeat. I don't have any faith in Rollins or Jeter anymore and halfway wonder if I included them just for nostalgia's sake. Villar should steal some bases, but I don't know that he'll hit enough to keep his job, and Peralta still has to find a job to justify his ranking.
Given that heaping helping of mediocrity, you can understand why I'm willing to extend myself for Baez late in drafts. No, I don't really expect him to contribute right away. He has yet to turn 21, and I doubt the Cubs believe they're close enough to contending to force the issue. But he hit 37 homers between Class A and Double-A in 2013 as a shortstop. What if he blows everyone away in spring training, forcing the Cubs' hand? Crazier things have happened. Nobody saw Jose Fernandez coming this time a year ago. The possibility makes Baez worth a flier over Erick Aybar, Stephen Drew, Zack Cozart or whatever other dime-a-doze option you could pluck off waivers down the line.
I might even go for the Diamonbacks' Chris Owings over that underwhelming trio. He doesn't have near Baez's pedigree and showed deplorable plate discipline in the minors, but I'll admit he looked better than I thought he would during his brief stint in the majors. And unlike Baez, he has the inside track on a job. Whether it's a full-time job or a split role with Didi Gregorious will determine if he remains in the discussion.
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