Below are my pre-season top 16 shortstop rankings:
- Troy Tulowitzki, COL
- Jose Reyes, TOR
- Hanley Ramirez, LAD
- Starlin Castro, CHC
- Asdrubal Cabrera, CLE
- Ben Zobrist, TB*
- Elvis Andrus, TEX
- Everth Cabrera, SD
- Ian Desmond, WSH
- Jimmy Rollins, PHI
- Alexei Ramirez, CHW
- Josh Rutledge, COL
- J.J. Hardy, BAL
- Danny Espinosa, WSH
- Jed Lowrie, OAK
- Alcides Escobar, KC
- With an average draft position of 6.7 in ESPN leagues last year, Tulowitzki was one of the biggest fantasy disappointments, playing in only 47 games due to elbow and groin injuries. The 30 home runs and .300+ batting average are still there, but 20+ stolen bases are no longer realistic. The biggest question about Tulowitzki is durability, only averaging 134 games the past five seasons prior to 2012.
- 2012 marked the first time in three seasons Reyes was able to play a full year, playing in 160 games. His power upside is no longer in the 20s, but, instead, is now in the mid-teens. His stolen bases are no longer in the 60s, but in the 40s. He’ll bat leadoff for one of the best offenses in the game so expecting 115+ runs isn’t crazy.
- Ramirez provides 20/20 upside at a premium position and just came off a season where he played the second most games in his career. However, the .300+ batting average and 50+ stolen bases he used to provide are long gone; if he continues to strike out 20% of the time, be happy with a .260 batting average.
- Castro’s home run and stolen base totals have increased year over year since he’s been in majors. The biggest question is will his home run and stolen base totals continue to increase? If he can improve his stolen base success rate, he may give fantasy owners the same fantasy value of Jose Reyes.
- Even though Asdrubal Cabrera had a down year he was playing through various nagging injuries during the second half of the year. With Terry Francona joining the Indians in the off-season I wouldn’t be surprised if Cabrera is hitting in the middle of a surprising revamped offense and could quietly provide 20 home runs with 90+ RBI with a .270 batting average.
- Zobrist’s greatest value is his versatility, qualifying at shortstop, second base and outfield. Last season, not only did his stolen bases drop dramatically, but his stolen base success rate was only 61%; the days of 20 stolen bases are gone.
- Andrus’ batting average, OBP and SLG have increased year over year the past three years. With the loss of Josh Hamilton and his power production, the Rangers may be inclined to run more. I still believe in his 40+ stolen base potential.
- Even though Everth Cabrera only received 398 ABs in the majors, Cabrera finished third in the league with 44 stolen bases. He struck out nearly 25% of the time so his .246 batting average could be hard to repeat. If he plays a full season he has the opportunity to win you a category; he’s on a team that had the most stolen base attempts in the league last year.
- Desmond has 20/20 potential which is great, but he could be a batting average risk. Before last year his career batting average was .262, 30 points lower than the .292 average he put up last year. I don't trust guys who strikeout more than 20% of the time to maintain an abnormally high batting averages. He’ll continue to strikeout a lot so expect a .265 average with 14-18 home runs and 20 stolen bases.
- I thought the 2012 season would be the start of Rollins’ decline, but I was proved wrong. His power numbers were aided a five year high in his HR/FB rate (15.6%). His strikeout percentage increased five percentage points compared to the last six seasons. The steals may taper off, but I don’t foresee a massive drop-off.
- In 2012 Ramirez had a career high in stolen bases and a career low in home runs. The power outage could be due to an extremely low in HR/FB rate (6.6%). He’s an extremely reliable fantasy player who can easily provide 15/15 production. If he can increase the walk totals to his pre-2011 levels, he could steal 25+ stolen bases.
- Rutledge leaped from Double-A to the major leagues last year, hitting .274/.306/.469 with 8 home runs and 7 stolen bases. There are two reasons why I like him: A) he plays in Coors, which added 20 points to his batting average. B) his swing, which is short and simple, will allow him to make consistent contact at home and on the road. He’ll provide small contributions with the power but he’ll provide a nice average with 15+ stolen bases.
- In 2011 Hardy saw a career high in his HR/FB rate, which, not surprisingly, lead to a career high in home runs. Last year Hardy came back down to earth, hitting only 22 home runs with a .238 batting average. The 2012 season is more representational of Hardy’s fantasy value than 2011. Prepare for a .240 batting average and be delighted if he can hit .265.
- Espinosa loves to swing the bat and has a poor approach. Therefore it’s no surprise he strikes out a lot; last year was he had the highest strikeout percentage in his career (28.7%). His batting average could become a bigger liability in 2013, limiting his fantasy upside. However, he provides legit 20/20 upside and that’s hard to find. Also, he tore his left rotator cuff at the beginning of September and has decided to play with the injury instead of getting surgery.
- Lowrie has never played in more than 100 games. Last year, he missed two months of the season because of a freak injury suffered at a collision at second base. If he can play a full year, and that’s a big if, he could hit 20+ home runs.
- Entering the 2012 season Escobar was seen as a glove only shortstop, but he turned in one of the best fantasy seasons for shortstops. His primary asset is his stolen bases. His ability to steal bases is dependent on him getting on base. His .293 batting average could be a result of a high BABIP, which could lead to a regression to his batting average, which could lower his OBP. If his OBP decreases, his stolen base upside will be limited.
Overall Draft Strategy
Other than Hanley Ramirez, Starlin Castro and Ben Zobrist there are huge question marks surrounding every player. Can Tulowitzki, Reyes and Lowrie get 580+ plate appearances? Can Hardy, Ramirez and Asdrubal Cabrera bounce back? You may be wondering why Derek Jeter is not on the list despite being the 3rd best fantasy shortstop last year. I’m concerned about his age and how good he'll be after recovering from a fractured ankle he suffered in Game 1 of the ALCS.