Shortstop prospects for 2014
Which up-and-coming shortstops should owners in long-term formats keep an eye on this spring and beyond? Our Scott White sizes up the Top 10 Fantasy prospects at the position.
Wow! Look at all the up-and-comers at shortstop! Guess the position won't be weak for long ...
If only it were that easy.
Miguel Cabrera was a shortstop in the minors. B.J. Upton was a shortstop in the minors. Chipper Jones was a shortstop in the minors. Jim Thome was a shortstop in the minors. Gary Sheffield was a shortstop in the minors. The list goes on and on.
In high school, the best athlete usually plays shortstop simply because he's the best athlete, but in the pros, it takes a little more than that. With so many candidates to play shortstop, organizations usually need a few years to figure out which of theirs actually deserve to. And sometimes even the deserving ones have to move just because of what's already in the majors. Look at Jurickson Profar.
That's not to say you should disregard the position when assessing prospects in Fantasy, but particularly in dynasty leagues, you shouldn't put too much stock in it, passing up better talent because it doesn't fit into the lineup you intend to have three or four years from now.
Fortunately, that's not an issue with these 10. Most have the kind of talent that would translate anywhere.
Note: This list has been adjusted for Fantasy purposes. Though long-term potential is a factor, it's arguably less important than the player's expected role in 2014. These prospects don't all profile as superstars, but they're the names most worth knowing in Fantasy now.
1. Javier Baez, 21, Cubs
Where played in 2013: high Class A, Double-A
Minor-league stats: .282 BA, 37 HR, 111 RBI, 20 SB, .920 OPS, 40 BB, 147 K
Any conversation about Baez begins with his bat speed, which scouts have described as ridiculous. Ridiculous bat speed begets ridiculous power -- the kind that ties him for second in the minors with 37 homers, including four in one game. By all accounts, the guy can smoke the ball, which is especially exciting for Fantasy owners given the position he plays. Of course, he may not play there for long. The Cubs have Starlin Castro locked up long-term and Arismendy Alcantara a step ahead on the organizational ladder. Either could go to second base or perhaps even another team, but unless both relocate, Baez is probably destined for third base. That's less than ideal in Fantasy, but his power makes him a prized prospect either way. He's overaggressive, which could lead to some unfavorable Pedro Alvarez comparisons, but he's still young enough to outgrow it. The Cubs seem to be in no hurry to promote their top prospects, which is why you shouldn't count on seeing Baez this season, but if he puts on as much of a show this spring as he did last spring, the Cubs may relent midseason. With shortstop eligibility, Baez is an option even for mixed leagues, but you're not guaranteed a return on your investment in single-season formats.
2. Francisco Lindor, 20, Indians
Where played in 2013: high Class A, Double-A
Minor-league stats: .303 BA (403 at-bats), 2 HR, 25 SB, .787 OPS, 49 BB, 46 K
Though his outstanding glovework makes him a better prospect in real life than Fantasy, Lindor made big enough strides at the plate last year to convince both circles he's a player to covet, hitting over .300 with a terrific strikeout-to-walk ratio. True, he didn't show much power and won't ever be mistaken for Baez, but keep in mind he was a scrawny teenager going against players two and three years older than him. Most scouts think he'll eventually develop power on the level of a Jose Reyes or Rafael Furcal, who have both had their years of Fantasy prominence. Throw in a high contact rate and decent base-stealing ability, and you have a potential high-end Fantasy shortstop. Given the trade rumors surrounding Asdrubal Cabrera, the Indians seem to be anxious to get Lindor's glove, if not his bat, to the majors. He has already reached Double-A, so despite his young age, a midseason promotion wouldn't be so far-fetched. Of course, he wouldn't be a finished product at that point, which is why owners in single-season leagues shouldn't be particularly enthusiastic about drafting him, but the shorter timetable also works to his advantage in keeper leagues.
3. Carlos Correa, 19, Astros
Where played in 2013: low Class A
Minor-league stats: .320 BA (450 at-bats), 9 HR, 33 2B, 86 RBI, .872 OPS
Correa's .320 batting average in his first year of full-season ball is all the more impressive when you consider he was 18 years old at the time. And while he has a good chance of hitting for average in the majors, it's not even his best tool. At an athletic 6-feet-4, he has the build of a middle-of-the-lineup force, one that will drive balls out of the park at a rate rarely known to the shortstop position. True, he hasn't done it yet, and seeing is believing, but the Astros wouldn't have selected Correa first overall in 2012 -- ahead of Byron Buxton, Mike Zunino and Kevin Gausman, among others -- if they didn't think he had that kind of potential. Just look at all the doubles he's hitting already. The guy can slug it. Of course, he may still be two or three years from slugging it in the majors, both because of his age and the Astros' slow-and-steady approach to player development, but in long-term keeper leagues, you won't find too many prospects more attractive than Correa, especially since he projects to stick at shortstop.
4. Addison Russell, 20, Athletics
Where played in 2013: high Class A, Triple-A
Minor-league stats: .269 BA (442 at-bats), 17 HR, 21 SB, .865 OPS, 61 BB, 125 K
Though Russell isn't as hyped as Javier Baez or Carlos Correa, his upside isn't too far off. He was a high draft pick himself, going 11th overall in 2012, and has done nothing but validate the selection in a season and a half of minor-league play. Despite being the youngest player in the California League at the start of 2013, he came within three home runs of a 20-20 season. Granted, it's a hitter's league, but the scouts have long rated him a five-tool player. Still only 20, his trajectory is subject to change, but right now he profiles as a slightly more patient version of Ian Desmond, which would of course make him a big-time contributor in Fantasy. He got a brief stint at Triple-A late last year, but he's destined for a lengthy stint at Double-A this year before potentially reaching the majors in 2015. Owners in single-season leagues obviously have no use for Russell, but in long-term keeper leagues, he's a must-have.
5. Chris Owings, 22, Diamondbacks
Where played in 2013: Triple-A, majors
Minor-league stats: .330 BA, 12 HR, 20 SB, .841 OPS, 22 BB, 99 K
Major-league stats: .291 BA (55 at-bats), 0 HR, 2 SB, .742 OPS, 6 BB, 10 K
At a time when walks are valued like hits and home runs aren't exclusive to corner infielders and outfielders, a prospect like Owings barely registers. Even now, you're probably thinking, "I don't want anything to do with that guy." But the fact of the matter is the Diamondbacks want something to do with that guy after watching him hit at every step up the ladder. They've even declared an open competition between him and superior defender Didi Gregorius, who was their main return in the Trevor Bauer deal last year. The questions about Owings' approach and the extent of his upside are legitimate, but he wasn't exactly exposed in his first taste of the majors. He probably won't hit .300 like he did in the minors, having benefited from both the California and Pacific Coast leagues, but if he can put up a Stephen Drew line, providing enough extra-base power to stick despite modest numbers overall, he'll be worth your while in NL-only leagues.
6. Arismendy Alcantara, 22, Cubs
Where played in 2013: Double-A
Minor-league stats: .271 BA, 15 HR, 36 2B, 31 SB, .804 OPS, 62 BB, 125 K
Alcantara is living proof of the prophetic ability of good, old-fashioned scouting. Lauded for his tools even while his numbers lagged in the lower levels, the 22-year-old broke through as a legitimate power-speed threat last year -- and at Double-A, no less. So now, he's considered as much a part of the Cubs' future as the higher-regarded (and yes, more talented) Javier Baez. The problem is both play the same position, with a similarly high-end type (Starlin Castro) already entrenched there in the majors. Recognizing the impending logjam, the Cubs shifted Alcantara to second base about halfway through the 2013 season, but a trade could still open the door for him at shortstop, particularly if Baez shifts to third base. And then there's the possibility of him playing sort of a rover role in the vein of Ben Zobrist or Martin Prado, which would only enhance his Fantasy appeal. The hope is Alcantara arrives at some point in 2014 and provides something like Jimmy Rollins or Rafael Furcal numbers somewhere down the line. You could take a flier on him in NL-only leagues, but understand that he still has a few hurdles to clear.
7. Alen Hanson, 21, Pirates
Where played in 2013: high Class A, Double-A
Minor-league stats: .274 BA, 8 HR, 27 2B, 13 3B, 30 SB, .755 OPS
After he broke out at low Class A West Virginia in 2012, Fantasy owners made a pretty hefty investment in Hanson only to see his home runs reduced by half in the next step up the ladder, his percentages declining across the board. But since it didn't prevent him from getting another promotion midseason, you get the sense the Pirates are taking a two-steps-forward, one-step-back approach to his development, promoting him faster than maybe he's prepared to handle. His skill set suggests his 2012 wasn't a mirage, at least as far as the power and speed go, but the next couple years will be crucial to his development. Because he's as raw in the field as at the plate, the Pirates have no reason to rush them, no matter how glaring their need at shortstop, so a full season at Double-A is probably in order. No matter how he performs, Hanson's diverse array of skills makes him an intriguing long-term keeper, but a return to big numbers would elevate him from an honorable mention to the Francisco Lindor-Addison Russell class or shortstop prospects.
8. Corey Seager, 19, Dodgers
Where played in 2013: low Class A, high Class A
Minor-league stats: .269 BA (372 at-bats), 16 HR, 10 SB, .824 OPS, 46 BB, 89 K
Seager is one of those shortstop prospects who most everybody knows won't actually stay at shortstop but who doesn't have a good enough reason to move yet. It's kind of misleading to Fantasy owners, who are obviously looking to fill a problem position for the long haul, but at least in Seager's case, the appeal goes beyond just the eligibility. You know his brother, Kyle Seager? Pretty good Fantasy option. Close to being a must-start at third base. This Seager profiles as the better Seager, so even if he winds up at third base himself, you won't regret the investment. He has a ways to go, of course, but even at 19, the power is evident. And most scouts project him to hit for average as well. Though he lacks the ceiling of a Javier Baez, Carlos Correa or Addison Russell and is perhaps even further away from the majors, Seager is still too promising to go unowned in dynasty leagues.
9. Hak-Ju Lee, 23, Rays
Where played in 2013: Triple-A
Minor-league stats: .422 BA (45 at-bats), 1 HR, 6 SB, 1.136 OPS, 11 BB, 9 K
The Rays acquired Lee in the Matt Garza deal -- the same one that landed them Chris Archer, incidentally -- intending him to be their shortstop of the future, and after some ups and downs in their minor-league system, he appeared well on his way two weeks into last season, becoming the gap-tastic, hit-to-all-fields player the scouts had long envisioned. But that's when he tore up his knee -- an injury that required season-ending surgery. The big question now is if he can pick up where he left off. At age 23, he's at the put-up-or-shut-up stage of his development, and the Rays may not give him more than this year to reclaim his standing. If he gets back to legging out doubles and triples and stealing bases at Triple-A, he may bump out Yunel Escobar midseason. But that's a big if. Considering he's probably no better than a second- or third-tier shortstop in a best-case scenario, he may not be worth the trouble even in AL-only leagues.
10. Rosell Herrera, 21, Rockies
Where played in 2013: low Class A
Minor-league stats: .343 BA (472 at-bats), 16 HR, 33 2B, 21 SB, .933 OPS
Herrera went from being a complete nobody to a pretty enticing long-term option at low Class A Asheville last year. Of course, that particular affiliate is known for its misleading stat lines, with Trevor Story being a perfect example from last year. But the scouts seem to think Herrera is the real deal, and they'd know better than anybody. They don't buy into every aspect of his performance. In particular, the steals seem unlikely to translate to the majors. But he has the build of a power hitter and may have taken his first step down that path in 2013. Fantasy owners certainly have time to figure it out. Having just turned 21 and most likely still a full season away from Double-A, Herrera isn't breaking into the majors anytime soon. But in dynasty leagues, now is the time to get in on a potential game-changer at a historically weak position.
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