TDG 2023 RISERS AND FALLERS: SHORTSTOP
Every year, we at the TDG office identify Risers and Fallers from our consensus rankings. But how did we get here!? And what’s real and what’s noise? Well, the Gurus are here to help. In each “Risers and Fallers” article, the Gurus will take you on an explanatory journey as to why four players have seen a fortunate rise or an unfortunate turn toward their demise. Thanks for reading!
RISING: Jeremy Pena, Houston Astros (AGE: 25, RANK: 13, PREVIOUS SEASON RANK: 39)
At the end of the 2021 season, no one was quite sure how the Astros would handle the vacancy left by Correa would be plugged. When they didn’t go after any shortstops in free agency it became apparent, they were going to roll with Pena who had just had a blistering end of the year in Triple-A where he put a .944 OPS with 10 homers in thirty games. Drafted out of cold weather college in 2018, Pena was billed as a glove-first prospect with great make-up that could make solid contact. Since being drafted his in-game power has developed and may now be ahead of his hit tool. Over 558 plate appearances last year, he slugged .426 with 22 homers while hitting a respectable .253. There`s a caveat here of course if you are even a little familiar with Pena, his OBP was a paltry .290, the man just refuses to take a walk being in the bottom five percent last year. He has shown an ability in the past though and as he gets acclimated to the league that number should creep up to a respectable level. Pena should continue to be a dual threat in fantasy putting the fears behind us that the power he showed in `21 was a fluke while still having elite speed. No one quite knows how the new rules and bigger bases will affect game strategy for teams but it’s not out of the question that Pena could put together a 20/30 season with solid rate stats this year if you can stomach a below-normal OBP.
Rising: Ezequiel Tovar, Colorado Rockies (AGE: 21, RANK: 18, PREVIOUS SEASON RANK: 62)
Oh boy. Lots of shortstops on the rise last year. Lots.
I really wanted to go with my guy Ha-Seong Kim, but I decided to pull away from my Padres fandom for a hot second to chat about a prospect I have a lot of faith in. And that, right there, is the weirdest sentence I’ve said all year.
It’s gonna be a weird year, people!
Ezequiel Tovar is a stud. Let’s get that out of the way. Dude had a .927 OPS and compiled 14 homers with 17 steals across AA and AAA last season, and while he only hit .212 in his 35 MLB plate appearances, a barrel rate of 12.5% for a fresh new rookie is a nice start. It’s not everything, but it doesn’t hurt to know that one out of every 8 batted balls from Tovar is already getting crushed.
Now, I don’t think he’ll be a bonafide star right away this season, but he’s high up on my list of guys to keep an eye on in the first month or so of the season.
That’s right, I have a list!
If he struggles, which is definitely a possibility, it’ll be time to pounce and pounce quick. There were real plate discipline changes for him from 2021 to 2022, and there’s no one else out in front of him on that Rockies team. I want him on all my teams.
FALLING: Javier Baez, Detroit Tigers (AGE: 30, RANK: 27, PREVIOUS SEASON RANK: 12)
Glancing at Baez`s Baseball Savant page kind of reminds me of the winter we`re currently going through in the North, a whole lot of cold with a few days of heat that are often shadowed by rain or heavy wind. If you have played fantasy baseball in the past five or so years you know the book on Baez, he will hit some absolute moon shots and go through truly tantalizing stretches of awesomeness but then turn right back into a frozen and decayed pumpkin that was tucked behind the garbage can that you forgot about for the past few months. Last year pitchers found Baez`s weak spot by throwing sliders at him until he corkscrewed himself into the ground. Thirty-four percent of all pitches thrown to him last year were sliders and he whiffed on almost half of them! He posted the worst OPS of his career (besides the weird COVID year) and most of the metrics have gone from a nice warm fall day to below-freezing and with wind gusts of up to fifty miles an hour. The most troubling aspect of last year is his hard-hit rate, average exit velocity, and barrel rate all fell off a cliff so a lot of the contact he did make was weak and ineffectual. He`s not so far removed from some truly good seasons for fantasy baseball that if you squint through the snow hard enough you might be able to see a slight rebound in 2023 but I wouldn’t count on it.
FALLING: Noelvi Marte, Cincinnati Reds (AGE: 21, RANK: 25, PREVIOUS SEASON RANK: 15)
I’m not gonna lie, readers. We may have done Noelvi Marte a disservice this off-season. Pretty much any way you look at it, the stats themselves were either better in 2022 than they were in 2021, or static across the two seasons. And we dropped him 10 spots in our rankings!? What gives?
The truth really isn’t apparent in the statlines. So did the mid-season trade across the country throw us off? I should hope not, as he only continued to dominate for the High-A Dayton Dragons after his trade into the Cincinnati Reds organization. He put up a .293/.397/.443 slash with 4 dingers and 10 steals in 126 plate appearances after he moved almost 2,500 miles off the west coast, for Pete’s sake.
I guess you could say there was also no petering out, for pun’s sake.
So then what? Are we all just sleep-deprived? Possibly. It’s more than possible. Sure. But I don’t think that’s the root here. We’ve been sleep-deprived for years.
Here’s my honest opinion: Marte’s drop in the rankings had nothing to do with him. Absolutely nothing. If you’ve joined our Discord or spent any time discussing trades with our writers lately, you know there’s been a significant push toward valuing MLB production over future production. And there definitely was an abundance of shortstop production in 2022 (see: Nico Hoerner, Jeremy Pena, Amed Rosario, Dansby Swanson, etc. all who jumped him from ‘21 to ‘22). Not to mention solid seasons from Ezequiel Tovar, Elly De La Cruz, Jackson Holliday, Jordan Lawlar, Marcelo Mayer, and Anthony Volpe. Hey! There’s ten guys for ten dropped ranking spots right there!
Who knows. Maybe Marte deserved the drop. Maybe other shortstops just had great seasons. Maybe rankings are just hard. The world may never know.
I stand by our rankings. But honestly, Noelvi Marte is still a target for me, both in startups and in trades this off-season. Go get him.