From the 21st of January to the 20th of February, the writers at TDG will be taking you through our rankings position-by-position. As I mentioned in the primer, this year we’re doing things a little differently. Instead of having my personal rankings up on this site, like last year, these rankings for 2014 are of the consensus variety and being brought to you by all of the TDG staff. Everyone put a lot of work into this project, so we hope you enjoy the end result. And if you are looking for my personal dynasty league rankings, you can find them this off-season at Baseball Prospectus.
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Shortstop is a position very much in flux these days, as once you move past the obvious names, you get a lot of players who have pretty serious flaws. On the other hand, the shortstops coming up through the minor leagues right now are the strongest crop we’ve seen in almost twenty years (the famed A-Rod, Jeter, Garciaparra, Tejada class). There are four guys right now who slide into those spots, and you’ll notice that they are all in the top-11 here. And what else is slowly happening over time is that the position is moving back towards one where you can get power, instead of just speed-based players. And this is all with a couple of big name players who are off the position for right now (but may end up back there soon) in Jurickson Profar and Manny Machado. Incredible.
Now the 20 best shortstops in dynasty leagues, starting with the player who eked out a very close race for number one between two NL West stars:
1) Troy Tulowitzki, Colorado Rockies (Age: 29, Previous Rank: 4)
One of these years it’s bound to happen. It has to happen. Tulo will stay healthy and play 155 games. Right? Right. Thing is, his offense is so good that even if it never does happen 120 games of Tulo and 40 of a waiver wire replacement still gets you one of, if not THE best SS production in fantasy. His career per-150 numbers are a .295 average with 27 homers, 95 RBI, and 94 runs. And he’s still got a few more years left in his prime. There’s also that whole part where he has one of the more immovable contracts in baseball and will be locked in to playing half his games in a park where he owns a career .934 OPS for the foreseeable future.
2) Hanley Ramirez, Los Angeles Dodgers (Age: 30, Previous Rank: 2)
In barely a half season’s worth of AB’s last season he put up the 5th best season of any shortstop and registered a Top 10 MVP vote (he finished 8th). It was a nice reminder of the kind of player Hanley Ramirez can be when healthy and motivated, and if he can stay healthy for the whole season the sky is once again the limit for his offensive value. It’s not the best ballpark for right-handed power, but when Hanley’s going right it doesn’t much matter.
3) Xander Bogaerts, Boston Red Sox (Age: 21, Previous Rank: 7)
Wait, what? Yes, a 21-year old with a grand total of 50 big league plate appearances cracks our top-3. He does so because he really is going to be that good. His approach at the dish is mature beyond his years, and by all accounts his make-up is off the charts. It’s a great combination for a young player in one of the most demanding markets in baseball, and it should allow his plus offensive profile to take shape rapidly at the big league level. This is a kid with legitimate .290/30/100/100 peak potential, and given positional scarcity he’s the best prospect in fantasy baseball.
4) Jean Segura, Milwaukee Brewers (Age: 24, Previous Rank: 14)
Segura’s 2013 was an interesting case study in real vs. fantasy value. He posted the top season by a shortstop and the 16th best year overall in fantasy baseball, yet his 107 wRC+ was just 59th among qualifying hitters. He’s a high-contact hacker with a surprising amount of pop for a player with his batted ball profile. Given a paltry 4% walk rate last year (7.7% career minor league) his stolen base opportunities will be largely dependent on his batting average. Given he managed to hit .294 on the strength of a should-be-sustainable .326 BABIP though, that shouldn’t be too much of an issue. He should be a solid AVG and R provider with elite SB potential and some bonus low double-digit HR power for a long time, and that’s an elite package for your fantasy shortstop.
5) Ian Desmond, Washington Nationals (Age: 28, Previous Rank: 11)
Despite taking a couple steps back in the power department last year after an insane 25 homer, .218 ISO campaign in 2012 Desmond still posted a second consecutive 20/20 season with a solid batting average. He puts enough balls in the air that even last year’s repeatable-enough 12.9% HR/FB rate should be enough to see him flirt with the number again next season, and his steals have been steady as they come in the 20 range for 4 straight years now. More seasons like the last two should be a reasonably safe bet over the next few years for the 28 year old.
6) Javier Baez, Chicago Cubs (Age: 21, Previous Rank: 10)
If you want generational upside, look no farther than the young Cub phenom. Baez crushed 37 long balls and stole 20 bases in 130 games between A+ and AA last year, and he’s a decent bet to stick at shortstop for the first half of his career at least. The hit tool should be solid enough to where 30+ home run power should play in the majors, and despite a rather pedestrian raw speed tool his 83% career stolen base rate points to a guy who should be able muster sneaky double-digit stolen base potential as well. The whole package is monstrous, and Baez is right there with Bogaerts among the top prospects in all of fantasy baseball.
7) Jose Reyes, Toronto Blue Jays (Age: 30, Previous Rank: 3)
After serving as the centerpiece of the much-ballyhooed blockbuster trade last off-season that sent him and half of Miami to the Blue Jays, Reyes suffered a severe high ankle sprain just 10 games into the season and missed the next 2 ½ months. When he returned he was still missing the one thing fantasy owners care most about: his speed. After averaging a stolen base every 13.55 plate appearances in his career before 2013, that number ballooned to a bag every 27.9 PA’s post-injury. On the positive side, Reyes did receive what has become something of a standard HR/FB rate bump to 9% from his career mark of 6.1%. He’s at an age when elite base stealers typically begin to slow down, but if the ankle injury’s behind him and he can get those SB numbers back into the 30+ range he’ll still be plenty valuable. And if he can sustain the HR/FB boost, you’ve got yourself an elite SS for at least another couple years.
8) Starlin Castro, Chicago Cubs (Age: 24, Previous Rank: 1)
Boy was Castro’s 2013 a disaster, eh? After entering the year ranked as our #1 shortstop on the strength of over 500 MLB hits before his 23rd birthday Castro tanked across the board and took many a fantasy season down with him. It was revealed after the season that he was involved in a messy legal dispute which may explain some of his regression. Still, given what’s coming up behind him in the Cubs system this will be an important season for him to regain his footing. It’s important for dynasty owners to not lose sight of the big picture for Castro: he’s only 24, he’s locked in to an extremely team-friendly long-term contract, and that upside we all drooled on last spring of a .290+ hitter with 20 home run power and 20 steal speed annually is still there.
9) Elvis Andrus, Texas Rangers (Age: 25, Previous Rank: 8)
If you had any question about the value of speed and lineup construction for fantasy baseball, look no further than Elvis Andrus. Despite a career .060 ISO (not a typo) and a .271/.328/.331 line with 4 homers, Andrus’ 2013 rated as the 2nd best by a shortstop on account of his elite SB (42) and R (91) production atop the Ranger lineup. Toss in won’t-kill-you AVG and RBI numbers, factor in age (25), and you’ve got yourself one of the better bets around to post top 10 numbers at short for the next half a decade.
10) Addison Russell, Oakland Athletics (Age: 20, Previous Rank: 13)
The third prospect to crack our top 10 list, Russell is further proof that the future of the position should be in excellent hands. Russell dominated three levels in 2012 after being taken 11t overall in the draft out of high school, leading to an aggressive promotion to A+ ball as a 19 year old this past season. He was indeed the youngest player in the league and after a lukewarm adjustment period over the season’s first few weeks he rebounded with a scorching second half to finish the year with a .275/.377/.508 line, good for a 131 wRC+ even in the hitter-friendly California League. He should open the season in AA, and he profiles as a true five-category contributor – true fantasy gold from a middle infielder.
11) Carlos Correa, Houston Astros (Age: 19, Previous rank: 12)
Correa showed in his full season debut why the Astros took him 1-1 by slashing .320/.405/.467 and showing he can stay at short for a while. While there remains some debate over his power potential Correa crushed 45 extra-base hits, including 9 homers. He has only average speed, but it looks like he can contribute in four categories at the very least. Correa is firmly among the top 5-10 prospects in baseball and should make the leap to AA this year at which point we will get a better sense of how fast his track to the majors will be, but it won’t be long so this may be your last chance to get him.
12) Everth Cabrera, San Diego Padres (Age: 27, Previous rank: 28)
Cabrera was having his best season when he was suspended for 50 games for his association with Biogenesis. His speed is not in question as one of the few legitimate 40+ steal threats in MLB, but that’s where his value will end. Unfortunately, PEDs or not, Cabrera will not give you much in the power departments. Cabrera improved in his contact rate by cutting down his K rate by almost nine percentage points to a reasonable 15.9%, so if his BABIP hovers near his career mark he might lose some average, but he will reach base enough to take advantage of his speed.
13) J.J. Hardy, Baltimore Orioles (Age: 31, Previous rank: 31)
Hardy has, somewhat quietly, been a consistently useful fantasy shortstop since arriving in Baltimore. He has posted three consecutive seasons of more than 22 homers and is usually good for a .260 average or better with solid run and RBI totals. Hardy is set to be a free agent after 2014 and figures to be in demand, which could mean leaving cozy Camden Yards where home runs fly freely. Keep that and his age in mind if you draft him with more than this season in mind.
14) Brad Miller, Seattle Mariners (Age: 24, Previous rank: 34)
Miller made his way from AA to the majors in 2013 on the strength of strong OBP with some pop and speed. His 335 plate appearances in Seattle were less robust on the OBP side as his walk rate dropped, but he still hit .265 with 8 homers and 5 steals. Miller is probably capable of a dozen homers and steals with a good average with a healthy run total hitting lead-off for the Mariners. That has value, but Miller is more of a solid floor than high ceiling guy.
15) Andrelton Simmons, Atlanta Braves (Age: 24, Previous rank: 27)
Simmons has made his name with his glove and arm, which are so good they can overshadow an interesting fantasy profile. He clubbed 17 bombs and scored 76 runs in 2013 and, while he will never be an on-base machine, his .248 average should float up as his BABIP (.249 in 2013) does thanks to a strong contact rate and minimal swing and miss in his game. Simmons could also flash double-digit steals to go with the homers, which would push him up the ranks with the reasonable potential for a few seasons of 70, 15, 50, 10, .270.
16) Asdrubal Cabrera, Cleveland Indians (Age: 28, Previous rank: 16)
The farther we get from 2011, when he hit 25 homers and stole 17 bags, the more it looks like Cabrera’s career year. Two straight down seasons and 26 games lost to an assortment of injuries in 2013 are legit causes for concern. It’s time to think about Cabrera as more of a 15 HR, 10 SB, .270 guy. Those are still useful numbers, just not elite. His salary and top prospect Francisco Lindor could push him out of Cleveland by the time the 2015 list is prepared.
17) Francisco Lindor, Cleveland Indians (Age: 20, Previous rank: 22)
Many think Lindor is ready for the majors defensively already, but that’s not what most fantasy players care about. Lindor exemplifies the notion of “more valuable in real life than in fantasy.” As a teenager in high-A and AA, Lindor showed control of the strike zone (.380 OBP, more walks than strikeouts) and stole 25 bags, but only hit 2 homers. This is his likely profile – decent average, 20-ish steals, not many homers or RBI. He will probably start back at AA and be ready to take over at short for Cleveland in 2015.
18) Jhonny Peralta, St. Louis Cardinals (Age: 31, Previous rank: 41)
Peralta was also having a good season when he was suspended as a result of the Biogenesis “investigation.” Peralta’s career has yo-yo quality – alternating good seasons and mediocre ones. The “good Peralta” can hit 65, 20, 85, .275-.280. The “bad Peralta” is more like a 55, 12, 65 .250 guy. He will gain an advantage moving to the NL with a good lineup, but perhaps a slightly worse home park making predicting if he is on the up or the down swing tough with the PED angle. One thing to consider is that Peralta may not be a #BSOHL guy now that he is no longer with Biogenesis.
19) Jed Lowrie, Oakland Athletics (Age: 29, Previous rank: 32)
Finally able to stay on the field for almost every game, Lowrie predictably had his best season. Expect his average to come down a few points as his BABIP (.322 compared to a career .302) evens out, but he has consecutive double digit home run years in wildly different amounts of playing time and home parks, so he should be good for about 15 bombs again with 75-80 runs and RBI. All of this is of course dependent on him staying healthy again. Check your crystal ball to figure out whether that will happen.
20) Chris Owings, Arizona Diamondbacks (Age: 22, Previous rank: 40)
Owings seemed like the forgotten man when the Diamondbacks traded for Did Gregorius. Instead he turned in a 104, 12, 81, 20, .330 performance at AAA and made the majors late in the season. Owings is clearly a better hitter than Gregorius with double-digit pop and 20 steal speed in his bag. He has a very aggressive approach, which could lead to a drop in his average, but the question is whether his skill at the plate will outweigh Gregorius’ in the field. If it does, he could make his way even higher up the shortstop ranks in 2015.
Commentary by Wilson Karaman, Noel Baldwin and Bret Sayre.