The Dynasty Guru’s Top 50 Dynasty Shortstops, Nos. 1-20
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The shortstop list might be the most prospect-heavy one thus far, and there’s good reason for that. There’s ample talent at the position in the minor leagues that has yet to move off for defensive purposes. The ranks will thin out as that happens, but for now, it’s a well stocked position. To that end, some of the weaker fantasy options at the major league level won’t appear on this list. This isn’t for lack of consideration, but rather the eminent availability of such types make them less valuable than someone with even a glimmer of hope.
1) Troy Tulowitzki, Colorado Rockies (Age: 30, Previous Rank: 1)
He’s the best shortstop in fantasy baseball, until he inevitably gets hurt. There is always the chance that Tulowitzki stays healthy for an entire season, but as he turns 30 and continues to miss extended time every season, those odds continue to diminish. He managed to rack up otherworldly numbers last season, slashing .340/.432/.603 (fueled by an incredible .355 BABIP) with 21 home runs, 71 runs scored, 52 RBI and one stolen base in just 315 at-bats before a torn labrum in his left hip in July forced him out for the remainder of the season.
If you draft Tulowitzki you are getting one of the best hitters in baseball, but make sure that you have a solid backup or are prepared to scour the wavier wire for a replacement in-season when he misses time. Despite being one of, if not, the biggest injury risk in fantasy baseball, the production you get when he is on the field is in another stratosphere.
2) Ian Desmond, Washington Nationals (Age: 29, Previous Rank: 5)
A member of the exclusive 20/20 club for three straight seasons now, Desmond’s greatest attribute and what separates him from the other elite fantasy options at the position is his ability to stay healthy, playing in over 150 games in four of the past five seasons.
Desmond has gotten more aggressive at the plate recently as evidenced by a huge jump in strikeout rate last season (28.2 percent and a precipitous decline in batting average (.255), but the counting stats are still there and will continue to be for at least the next couple seasons. Desmond isn’t going to help in batting average anymore, but there isn’t another shortstop that possesses the ability to hit 20 home runs and steal 20 bases consistently.
3) Xander Bogaerts, Boston Red Sox (Age: 22, Previous Rank: 3)
The most important thing to remember right now is that Bogaerts is only 22 years old and remains the most-talented long-term shortstop prospect in baseball. You can write off 2014 as a lost season for Bogaerts, who got off to a slow start, and when his defense at shortstop tanked mid-season, the team panicked and brought in Stephen Drew to replace him, moving him to third base.
It’s not unreasonable to suggest that there were some other factors that impacted his performance (high expectations coming off an impressive post-season, struggles making adjustments at the plate, the pressure of playing shortstop everyday, the Drew situation) that adversely affected his performance last season.
Once the Red Sox were out of contention we got a glimpse of the Bogaerts we saw in the World Series, who was as cool as the other side of the pillow, as he hit .313 with four home runs and 16 RBI over his final 96 at-bats in September.
4) Starlin Castro, Chicago Cubs (Age: 25, Previous Rank: 8)
Castro bounced back from a disastrous 2013 season and cemented his status as an elite fantasy producer by hitting .292/.339/.438 with 14 home runs in 569 plate appearances last season. He was on pace for a career year until a high ankle sprain ended his season prematurely on Sept. 4.
The speed has steadily declined in recent years for Castro, who stole just four bases (only eight attempts) last season. There is a good chance that the speed isn’t coming back, but he looks like a safe bet to continue to hit above .280 with double-digit home runs annually at a scarce position.
Fantasy owners must remain aware of the fact that a glut of elite infield prospects are slated to arrive at Wrigley Field very soon in Kris Bryant, Javier Baez and Addison Russell, but as long as Castro continues to hit, he should remain the Cubs primary shortstop going forward.
5) Jose Reyes, Toronto Blue Jays (Age: 32, Previous Rank: 7)
Reyes managed to stay relatively healthy last season, racking up 655 plate appearances while batting .287/.328/.398 with 94 runs scored, nine home runs, 51 RBI and 30 stolen bases. There is some long-term risk with Reyes from a fantasy standpoint. A sinking walk rate (5.8 percent) and increased strikeout rate (11.1 percent) are both causes for concern and as he enters his mid-thirties, with an already lengthy injury history, both the power and speed will likely begin to decline.
There is reason for optimism however, since Reyes will be hitting atop a loaded Blue Jays lineup, which added even more firepower this offseason with the acquisitions of Josh Donaldson and Russell Martin. As long as Reyes continues to stay healthy, he should be a reliable source of runs scored and stolen bases going forward.
6) Carlos Correa, Houston Astros (Age: 20, Previous Rank: 11)
The No. 1 overall selection in the 2012 MLB Draft, Correa is not far away from making his MLB debut as we enter 2015. Correa destroyed High-A pitching in 2014, hitting .325/.416/.510 with six home runs and 20 steals in just 62 games before a fractured fibula in June required season-ending surgery. Correa may not hit for a ton of power at the big-league level immediately, but he projects as a future five-category producer and is one of the most valuable and coveted dynasty assets in fantasy baseball.
The Astros have made some moves this offseason to indicate that they are serious about contending in the near future and while he will likely start the year in Double-A, if Correa tears the cover off the ball and shows no lingering affects from surgery, he will be knocking on the door by the end of the season.
7) Addison Russell, Chicago Cubs (Age: 21, Previous Rank: 10)
Dealt to the Chicago Cubs in exchange for Jeff Samardzija by Oakland mid-season, Russell hit an impressive .294/.332/.536 with 12 home runs and two steals in 205 plate appearances in Double-A Tennessee last season. With a short, compact swing, capable of hitting for both average and power, Russell might be the safest shortstop prospect in fantasy baseball.
The Cubs offseason acquisitions indicate they are going all in for a playoff push and there is no reason to hold Russell back in Triple-A all year if they want to win now. Don’t worry about where he’s going to play right away once he gets called up, because long-term, Russell projects as an everyday shortstop with the realistic upside to hit over .280 with 20-plus home runs annually. Dynasty league gold.
8) Hanley Ramirez, Boston Red Sox (Age: 31, Previous Rank: 2)
Ramirez signed a four-year, $88 million deal with the Boston Red Sox this offseason and is expected to be their everyday left fielder. He may only retain shortstop eligibility for one more season, but he’s one of the truly elite hitters in the game and his right-handed power should be a perfect fit in the hitter-friendly confines of Fenway Park.
If you are concerned about his abrasive personality and effort level, which were concerns for him in the past, he should mesh well with the Red Sox clubhouse where the presence of mentor David Ortiz should keep him focused and motivated. The bigger issue for Ramirez is staying healthy.
In 2014, Ramirez played 128 games, his most since 2010, hitting .283/.369/.448 with 13 home runs and 71 RBI in 512 plate appearances. When Ramirez is on the field, he’s one of the best bats in the game and his stock only increases long-term with the move to Boston.
9) Javier Baez, Chicago Cubs (Age: 22, Previous Rank: 6)
Here is the complete list of players who have accumulated at least 220 at-bats in the last ten years (Baez had 229 last season) and struck out more often than the Cubs middle infielder: Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, Chris Capuano, Edinson Volquez, AJ Burnett, Jonathan Sanchez, Charlie Morton, Doc Halladay, Josh Johnson, Paul Maholm. The lesson? Madison Bumgarner is easily the best-hitting Giants pitcher of the past decade.
You could put Baez anywhere you want on this list and get complaints from everyone. Unless of course, you rank him at second base. Where you put Baez in rankings like this is really just an exercise in risk tolerance. If you can swallow it, he still has one of the highest raw fantasy upsides in baseball. If you can’t handle the risk, the next prospect on this list is more suited to your tastes.
10) Corey Seager, Los Angeles Dodgers (Age: 21, Previous Rank: NR)
The younger brother of Mariners third baseman Kyle Seager, Corey broke out in 2014, smashing 20 home runs while batting .349 between High-A and Double-A. Seager is without question one of the best hitting shortstop prospects in the minor leagues, but there are some legitimate questions about his defense and whether or not he can stick at shortstop full-time.
The Dodgers trade for veteran shortstop Jimmy Rollins in the offseason, blocks his path to big-league at-bats in the near future, but for those among us who are “bat speed” enthusiasts (you know who you are), Seager is your kind of prospect and a guy who is going to hit no matter where he plays once he reaches the Majors.
11) Jean Segura, Milwaukee Brewers (Age: 25, Previous Rank: 4)
After nearly three years and over 1,300 big-league plate appearances, we still don’t have a clear picture of who exactly the real Segura is. In 2013, Segura got off to a blazing hot start, hitting .325 with 11 home runs and 27 steals in the first half of the year. In the second half, he hit just .241 and just one home run and 17 thefts. Segura’s second half slump carried over into 2014 as he batted just .246/.289/.326 with just five home runs and 20 stolen bases. It would be easy to blame Segura’s struggles on an extremely low .275 BABIP, but when you look at his batted ball profile, he doesn’t hit a ton of line drives (18 percent) and has to rely heavily on his speed to get on base with a 59% groundball rate.
Most concerning for fantasy owners has to be the fact that after a year in which he stole 44 bases on 57 attempts, Segura swiped just 20 on 29 attempts last year. If the speed rebounds, which could easily happen, he’s among the most valuable fantasy shortstops in the game.
12) Francisco Lindor, Cleveland Indians (Age: 21, Previous Rank: 17)
When shopping for fantasy prospects in your draft, it is not unusual to get caught up in going after high ceiling prospects regardless of how high the risk associated with them may be. The type of players that are often passed over or treated as an afterthought are high floor/moderate ceiling guys like Lindor. He played 38 games at Triple-A last year and should begin the season refining his approach at the level. The strengths to his game lie in his defense and his advanced approach at the plate which he uses to walk frequently and strikeout at a very low rate. The young switch hitter should approach double digit home runs and post 20 plus steals when he comes up to the Show. The average may take a few years to come along but I expect Lindor to hit between .270-.290 at his peak. With so many guys higher on this list that may eventually move off shortstop it’s nice to draft a player like Lindor whose defense assures he will stay there forever.
13) Jhonny Peralta, St. Louis Cardinals (Age: 32, Previous Rank: 18)
As a lifetime member of the “More Athletic Than They Look All-Star Team,” Peralta continues to surprise us with his durability and defense at the position. Peralta has played in less than 141 games just once over the last ten years and even at the age of 32 he finished last season as the third best defensive shortstop. Over that same 10-year span, Peralta has never failed to hit over 10 home runs and routinely puts up run totals in the mid-60s with RBI figures in the mid-70s. Peralta is certainly not the sexy option at the position but there are few players who are more dependable. Peralta is signed with the Cardinals through 2017 and should continue to produce at a high level for at least that long.
14) Jimmy Rollins, Los Angeles Dodgers (Age: 36, Previous Rank: 21)
I figured it out. The reason behind Jimmy Rollins’ putrid, terrible, and evil 2013 season was the devil himself, as he finished with exactly 666 plate appearances—the mark of the beast. Since undergoing an off-season exorcism, Rollins has returned to being his normal productive self all while finishing up a fantastic career with the Phillies by setting numerous team records. Rollins now gets a chance to finish his career out in LA for a club that is a legitimate World Series contender. Expect Rollins to lose some power moving to Dodger stadium but he should still eclipse the double-digit home run mark. The average has suffered in the last few years but he continues to take walks and get on base at a reasonable clip. Rollins is slated to bat leadoff for his new team and could experience a real renaissance in the run department.
15) Alexei Ramirez, Chicago White Sox (Age: 33, Previous Rank: 26)
The White Sox had been rumored to be shopping Ramirez this off-season before they went ahead and added Melky Cabrera, Adam LaRoche, David Roberston, and Jeff Samardzija putting them in the conversation for best team in the AL Central. Keeping the band together means we get to enjoy at least one more season of Ramirez’s bat at U.S. Cellular Field where he put together a top-five fantasy season at shortstop. Ramirez hit 15 home runs and stole 21 bases while batting .273. He’s been playing in MLB for seven years now and has never posted an average worse than .265, he has also stolen over 20 bags in each of the last three seasons. While he is not a sexy name, Ramirez remains a productive and durable player whose value outperforms his ADP year in and year out. With an athletic build and a low strikeout rate, expect Ramirez to remain productive for years to come.
16) Ben Zobrist, Oakland Athletics (Age: 33, Previous Rank: 7 at 2B)
The man who has won so many people their fantasy leagues with his versatility and productivity is finally starting to lose some his gifts. The power has been the first part of Zobrist’s game to go, as last year confirmed that he won’t be approaching the 20 home run mark again. He has now dropped a little less than nine feet of distance on his average fly ball over the last four seasons, resulting in 12 home runs in 2013 and just 10 in 2014. On the plus side Zobrist’s contact rate of 86.9 percent from last season is the best of his career and he remains as sure a bet as ever to hit .270 with an OBP well north of .350. Zobrist moves from Tampa bay to Oakland but shouldn’t lose any additional power from the move as all the homers he hit at the Trop would have also left the Coliseum.
17) Chris Owings, Arizona Diamondbacks (Age: 23, Previous Rank: 20)
Now that Didi Gregorius is in New York with the unenviable task of being the first man to replace Derek Jeter, Owings finds himself with a full-time job as the shortstop for the D-Backs. In 91 games played last season Owings displayed power, speed, and the ability to hit for a decent average, which he showed during his time in the minors. Owings will not take a walk but given a full-slate of at-bats he could challenge for a 15/15 season. Over 473 minor league games Owings slashed .291/.321/.438 so while the OBP won’t be anything to write home about, a .270 batting average should be very possible.
18) J.P. Crawford, Philadelphia Phillies (Age: 20, Previous Rank: 30)
Since being selected by the Phillies with the 16th-overall pick in the 2013 draft, Crawford has come along better than most could have hoped. When he was drafted to be the replacement for Jimmy Rollins there were glowing reports about his defense and make-up but doubts about his bat as an impact tool. So far Crawford has slashed .292/.384/.404 across three levels showing great patience at the plate and a low strikeout rate that suggests he will continue to hit for a high average as he sees more advanced pitching. Another unexpected development to Crawford’s game has been his power, as he swatted 11 homers and 23 doubles this past season. Crawford could rocket up this list with another good showing in 2015.
19) Tim Anderson, Chicago White Sox (Age: 21, Previous Rank: 35)
Tim Anderson possesses the highest ceiling in the White Sox system. He has only played in 83 games so far but has shown elite bat speed, good foot speed, and an above average hit tool. Anderson is already in Double-A but in order to continue to advance he needs to become more patient at the plate and work on his defense. Anderson is athletic enough that to stay at shortstop, but doesn’t get the best reads off the bat and could ultimately end up in center field or at second base. The upside for a 20/20 player with a batting average over .270 remains no matter the position.
20) J.J. Hardy, Baltimore Orioles (Age: 32, Previous Rank: 13)
Last season J.J. Hardy had a year he would like to forget. After three straight seasons of hitting over 20 home runs, Hardy only managed to hit nine during his contract year. The Orioles saw this as an opportunity to buy low on Hardy signing him to a three-year deal in the off-season in hopes that he will bounce back. Hardy lost some power dropping his average fly ball distance from 283 feet in 2013 to 277.7 last year, but the most troublesome sign was his contact rate falling from 87.8 percent to 81.5 percent. If Hardy continues to lose power and make less contact the Orioles and fantasy owners will both be regretting having him on their team.
Commentary by George Bissell and Jake Devereaux