Shortstops


RotoAuthority Rankings 2014: Shortstop

Shortstops are a pretty weak crew again (surprise!) Even the top options come with question marks, and the later guys, well. Ouch. The good news, though, is that this position does offer a lot of speed, so there's that. What's more, if you keep your expectations pretty low, there are a surprising number of interesting players who specialize in a category or have decent potential. So don't despair if you miss out  on the top options. In fact, maybe you should skip those top options altogether....

This is the last of our hitter rankings; in fact, all we have left to unveil are the Starting Pitchers, which will be coming out in two parts next week. Be excited. Be very excited. Then hurry up and draft.

Catch up on our whole series: OutfieldCatcher, First Base, Third Base, Second Base, and Closers.

As always, these rankings are the product of the entire team here at RotoAuthority.

Tier 1: Imperfect Superstars (Rounds 1-2)

1. Hanley Ramirez

2. Troy Tulowitzki

Ramirez came back with a bang last year, putting up the best half-season of any player in baseball. But this comes on the heels of back-to-back disappointing years. Tulowitzki gives you a first baseman-level bat at short whenever he's healthy...which isn't nearly often enough. Personally, I like either one in the second, and neither in the first. But these two are unquestionably the class of shortstop.

Tier 2: Very Good, Still Imperfect (Rounds 3-5

3. Jean Segura

4. Ian Desmond

5. Jose Reyes

Segura's splits and short-porch homers were cause for worry, but his season would still have been great without double-digit homers. And he's young enough for skill progression to even out luck regression. Desmond has some strikeout-related red flags, but you have to love his power-speed combo. Reyes isn't a good bet to be healthy, but he is a good bet to produce while he's on the field. A full season in Toronto, and we might be using the power-speed label on him too. If only he could play a full season....

Tier 3: Run, Run, Run (Rounds 6-8)

6. Everth Cabrera

7. Elvis Andrus

8. Ben Zobrist

Cabrera and Andrus are very similar, but Cabrera's stolen base history is actually more encouraging. You might not see them in this order in a lot of drafts, but I'd take Cabrera before Andrus goes off the board. Zobrist doesn't fit the category theme, but if you aren't looking for speed, he's your only good choice at this point.

Tier 4: Off a Cliff (Rounds 12-15)

9. Starlin Castro

10. Brad Miller

11. Andrelton Simmons

12. Jonathan Villar

13. Xander Bogaerts

14. J.J. Hardy

15. Jed Lowrie

16. Jurickson Profar

17. Alexei Ramirez

18. Brian Dozier.

The rankings take a nosedive here, but the names are still interesting--moreso than in years past. The order here could get controversial, so consider these guys to be options to pick from more than a list to run down. You've got young players with potential, speed, power, and possible rebound types. Pick your poison.

I can't bring myself to take a risk on Castro any earlier than this. Yeah, he'll probably bounce back, but he was...just...so...bad. Miller is a very interesting guy and could produce even more with Robinson Cano around. Simmons is getting plenty of hype, but he may not be a 20-homer guy just yet. Villar has crazy wheels, but won't do your batting average any favors. Bogaerts is brimming with potential and has more upside than anyone here but Castro. Hardy is a consistent source of power, though he doesn't offer anything else. Lowrie is a balanced hitter with a long medical record. Profar is as interesting at short as he was at second. Come to think of it, he's up there with Castro and Bogaerts for upside. If Ramirez reallyhas transformed from power to nothing to speed, then his 30-steal upside is very interesting. Dozier worth taking a chance on because anyone with a little power and a little speed is interesting at this point.

Tier 5: Old Reliables?

19. Asdrubal Cabrera

20. Jimmy Rollins

21. Jhonny Peralta

22. Erick Aybar

Cabrera doesn't offer any upside at this point, but his personal brand of mediocrity is pretty safe. Rollins is only this high because maybe he'll get another boost before sliding all the way into oblivion. Peralta shouldn't be a BABIP hero again next year, but he should deliver some counting runs and RBI in the Cardinals' lineup. Aybar is probably the last of the guys you should consider giving your starting MI job to, but his floor seems to come with a decent average.

Tier 6: Hopefully These Guys Are on Your Bench...Or Your Opponents' Teams

23. Derek Jeter

24. Nick Franklin

25. Alcides Escobar

26. Zack Cozart

27. Jordy Mercer

28. Stephen Drew

29. Yunel Escobar

30. Mike Aviles

Jeter probably doesn't have much left in the tank. But this late in deep leagues, it's worth a try. Franklin gets more valuable with a trade or surprise Spring Training takeover of short...right now he's a bench player. Last year, Alcides Escobar went from my speed target to the worst player in baseball. In retrospect, his batted ball profile says I shouldn't have been too surprised. He'll bounce back, yeah, but how far? Cozart and Mercer look to have double-digit power. Drew would be a tier above on a decent team...but he doesn't even have a bad team right now. Yunel Escobar...at least plays every day. Aviles offers positional flexibility and not much else. It's better than nothing, though, I guess.

Shortstops wraps up our hitter coverage; next week we roll out the starters. Also, keep an eye out for convenient list-only versions of these rankings and melded middle and corner infield lists. 


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Draft Round Battles: Reyes Vs. Segura

This is another one of those battles where, if you're in a legacy league, it's no contest.  Take Jean Segura as a keeper for the next several years without thinking about it, no worries.  Just looking at 2014, however, it's much more of a question between Segura and the player to whom is he often compared, Jose Reyes

Segura didn't quite make "the Leap" to superstardom last season but he at least made "the leap" (ah, lowercase!) to being a productive Major League regular in his first year as an everyday player.  Segura hit .294/.329/.423 with 12 homers, 49 RBI, 44 steals and 74 runs in 2013 --- solid numbers, sure, but if you were Segura's fantasy owner last season, you felt the pain from June 1 onward.  Segura hit .354/.393/.550 with eight homers and 31 runs scored over 224 PA in April-May.  Afterwards, he was borderline unplayable, hitting just 261/.292/.354 with four dingers and 43 runs over the last four months.  Even his speed took a hit; Segura was 15-for-16 in stolen base attempts in the first two months and then only 29-for-40 after June 1.

So basically, if you value Segura as a top 50 pick,* you're doing so on the basis of two hot months.  As my Roto Authority colleague Andrew Gephardt recently noted, Segura's power numbers may also have been slightly deceiving, so another 12-homer season could be asking for much given that Segura never even hit as many as 11 dingers over a full minor league campaign.  (Though it's not like he was a poor hitter on the farm, judging from Segura's .313/.367/.439 slash line over 1755 minor league PA.)

* = as Mock Draft Central just barely does in their latest average draft position reports, with Segura clocking in at a 50.03 ADP.  Reyes is right behind at 51.46.

Consider that Reyes' numbers last season (10 homers, 37 RBI, 58 runs, .296/.353/.427) were comparable to Segura's and Reyes did his damage in 204 fewer PA.  So with that in mind, it seems pretty clear that Reyes wins this draft battle.  Boy, that one took much shorter than usual, eh?  I guess I'll fill the rest of the space by listing my Oscar predictions.  It's anyone's guess as to whether 12 Years A Slave or Gravity will take the Best Picture prize, as both films...

...what's that?  Oh yeah, I forgot the big elephant in the room when discussing Jose Reyes.  The reason he only made those 419 PA is because of a badly-sprained ankle that cost him almost two and a half months of the season.  Reyes missed just 15 games total between 2005-08 but his durability has since taken a major hit.  Over the last five seasons, Reyes has appeared in 36, 133, 126, 160 and 93 games, respectively.  It's hard to like his chances of staying healthy as he enters his age-31 season and spends his home games on the Rogers Centre's artificial surface.

On the bright side for Reyes, playing in the Rogers Centre does help his power profile, as his home run rate jumped to 9%, his highest total since 2006.  While he only stole 15 bases last year, that's actually not a bad total over 93 games for a guy who played most of his season in the wake of a severe ankle injury, so I'd pencil Reyes in for his usual 30+ steals in 2014.

If you could guarantee me that Reyes would be healthy for all of 2014, I'd have no trouble taking him ahead of Segura.  Heck, even if you think Reyes will miss 20-30 games, there's still a case for taking him over Segura given the veteran's comparable offensive stats despite the fewer PA last season.  With the lack of depth at shortstop, however, having Reyes on your team means that you'll also likely have to factor in the replacement-level production of whatever dude you pick up off the waiver wire to fill in at short when Reyes makes his usual stints or one extended stint on the DL.  If you're able to get another solid shortstop for your bench as a semi-handcuff then that's great, though that's one fewer roster spot you'll have to work with for the rest of your draft. 

I'm focusing the draft battle argument so much around Reyes' health that it's worth noting that Segura is certainly capable of improvement himself.  Don't forget about Segura's minor league numbers or his solid pedigree as a prospect --- while he likely isn't as good as he was in April/May of 2013, he also clearly isn't as bad as he was in the last four months of the year either.  If he continues to develop as a Major Leaguer, it's not hard to see Segura posting numbers that Reyes will need a full season to reach.

It's a very tough call between 12 Years A Slave and Gravity the two players but, as I did in another veteran vs. youngster middle infield draft round battle, I'll go with the younger option as the better prospect for 2014.



The Market Report: Shortstops

The Market Report is a weekly analysis of player valuations in the fantasy marketplace in an effort to find undervalued commodities.

Another week closer to Opening Day. Let's take a look at shortstops this week. As usual, ADP values are provided in parentheses.

Tier One

1. Troy Tulowitzki (8)

2. Hanley Ramirez (9)

Tier Two

3. Jose Reyes (28)

4. Ian Desmond (31)

5. Jean Segura (33)

Tier Three

6. Elvis Andrus (57)

7. Ben Zobrist (74)

8. Everth Cabrera (77)

9. J.J. Hardy (88)

Tier Four

10. Andrelton Simmons (104)

11. Starlin Castro (107)

12. Xander Bogaerts (109)

13. Jed Lowrie (114)

Tier Five

14. Alexei Ramirez (148)

15. Jhonny Peralta (154)

16. Asdrubal Cabrera (160)

17. Jimmy Rollins (166)

18. Brad Miller (180)

Undervalued

Alexei Ramirez (ADP 148)

From a fantasy perspective, Ramirez had a strange season last year, but he was valuable nonetheless. After never getting more than 20 SB in any of the first five years of his career, he somehow managed to swipe 30 bags. Meanwhile, his power continued to decline, as his ISO fell for a third consecutive season. Despite only hitting six HR, though, Alexei finished just outside the top five at the position. Even if we assume some regression in the SB category, it's still rather difficult to explain his current ADP. Ramirez is a durable player who consistently puts the ball in play at a high rate. The days of 20 HR are behind him, and the counting statistics may not be great in a poor White Sox lineup. Even so, Ramirez is still a good bet for 20-plus SB along with an AVG along the lines of .270. Those numbers may not jump off the page, but Alexei still holds plenty of value at the weak shortstop position.

Erick Aybar (ADP 220)

Here's another boring yet likely undervalued target at the position. In fact, upon closer examination this duo is quite similar. Like Ramirez, Aybar is apt at making contact at a high clip. In an environment in which the frequency of strikeouts continues to rise, this skill becomes even more valuable. While he lacks much pop, Aybar does come with some speed. On the surface, his measly total of just 12 SB last year may suggest that's no longer the case. Keep in mind, however, that the Angels shortstop suffered from a variety of leg injuries over the course of the season. If you're looking for a breakout campaign, speculate elsewhere. Having said that, this is a reliable option at middle infield currently available for mere pennies. 

Overvalued

Jean Segura (ADP 33)

As fantasy expert Ron Shandler has noted previously, "regression and gravity are the two strongest forces known to man." When comparing value accrued to Draft Day price, few players were more profitable than Segura last year. Hold on; let's stop right there. In general, simply knowing this about a player makes it a good bet that he regresses significantly the following season. Name any breakout player from last year: Chris Davis, Jose Fernandez, Yasiel Puig, whomever. If you forecast a disappointing season for any of them relative to their current market value, you're going to be right more often than you're wrong. Meanwhile, think of the most disappointing players from 2013 - Starlin Castro, C.C. Sabathia, B.J. Upton, whomever made you stick to your stomach each day. If you speculate on this group of players, you're going to profit more often than not.

But let's get back to Segura. As the top shortstop in all of fantasy baseball last year, he may look like a player on the verge of consistent fantasy superstardom. I see a player who has nowhere to go but down. Yes, the speed is certainly for real, but I'm not buying the power. Just one of his 12 HR was of the No Doubt variety, and I wouldn't count on double-digits again this year. Half-season statistics should be taken with a grain of salt, but it's tough to overlook how poorly Segura performed after the All-Star Break. Entering the break with a triple-slash line of .325 / .363 / .487, the young shortstop then struggled down the stretch, hitting just .241 / .268 / .315.  Maybe the hit tool really is that good here, but I'm not willing to pay such a steep price for a player currently going ahead of more proven commodities like Albert Pujols and Justin Verlander.



Go Bold or Go Home: Everth Cabrera Cheats and Steals, but Doesn't Lie

You don't like shortstops. They're inconsistent. They're fragile. They put defense first. Let's face it: you wish for the days of Nomar Garciaparra and Miguel Tejada, the days of pre-geriatric Derek Jeter and not-yet-disgraced Alex Rodriguez. Heck, you miss Cal Ripken, Robin Yount, and Ernie Banks. You miss Honus Wagner.

You even wish for those days not long ago when Hanley Ramirez and Jose Reyes were sure things. Well, those days are dead and gone, but I've got a shortstop you can trust: Everth Cabrera.

Trust him? But he got suspended for PED's! Yeah, yeah, but he served his time and he'll be back on the basepaths and (probably) the top of the Padres' order in 2014.

Look, I'm not saying you should let him babysit your kids or pick up your prescriptions from the drugstore.* But you can trust him to do his thing, and his thing is stealing, at which he is very, very good. Last year he swiped 37 bags in 95 games; he was caught 12 times, but that still leaves him with a 76% success rate. No way the Pads slow him down for that. In 2012 it was even better: 44 steals in 115 games, with just four CS. That's a 92% success rate, for those of you keeping score at home. Very, very good.

*Neither am I saying you shouldn't. I do not know Mr. Cabrera and cannot accurately evaluate his character.

Billy Hamilton gets all the press (except from me, I guess) for speed, and rightly so, but there are serious questions about whether or not he'll really start. Why? Because there are serious questions about whether or not he can hit. Most of these questions seem to come from inside the Reds organization, so they're worth taking paying attention to. Cabrera, however, already has the trust of his team, and predictability is a valuable thing in our unpredictable game.

The nice thing about Cabrera is that he can hit. I mean, he isn't Joey Votto or anything, but he brings more bat to the table than most of your speed-first players and most of your shortstops. The steals are elite, and the bat doesn't hurt. That adds up to a very useful player. Not a star--he'll never produce in HR or RBI, but Cabrera looks like he could be a plus in AVG and Runs, to go with his elite status in SB.

The San Diego offense isn't top-notch, but you don't have to be amazing to drive in a run when Cabrera is already on second base. Between Yonder Alonso's singles, the power of Jedd Gyorko and Carlos Quentin, and the wild hope that Chase Headley can be awesome again, Everth ought to be crossing home plate pretty often for the Pad People. Oliver projects him for 81 Runs in 521 AB, but I'll take the over on that number. Steamer sees 600 AB, but just three more Runs, but that sounds low for a leadoff man.

How well will he lead off? Well, Cabrera posted nearly-identical BABIP numbers in 2012 and 2013 (.336 and .337) but his batting average increased by .037 points. Why? Probably because he reduced his K% from 24.5% to 15.9%. His BB% nearly held steady (just a 0.2% drop from 2012) and his OBP was a very respectable .355 last year. These are the markers of a player adjusting to the big leagues and learning to hit at the highest level. I think his hit tool is here to stay, and he'll be an asset in AVG, and the times he's on base will keep his Runs total up too.

So, Everth is good--but why him? Becasue it seems like every other shortstop has even more serious questions than he does and position scacricy demands high draft picks and auction dollars be spent on these questionable characters. I'm not saying I'd draft Cabrera in the first round, just that I'd rather draft him a round earlier than wherever his ADP stabilizes at (about 170 right now, for what that's worth) than spend an early pick on the "elites." Let's take a look at who's above him and their questions:

Hanley Ramirez -- his amazing half-season comeback is erasing the disasters that were 2011 and 2012. I don't think he's going to be a disaster next year, but the risk is too high for a first round or early second round pick.

Troy Tulowitzki -- Made. Of. Glass. If he weren't, he'd be a top five draft pick, but he's a big risk wherever you take him.

Ian Desmond -- Actually, I like Desmond a lot. But that isn't very bold, and it's well worth noting that he lost nearly 60 points off his slugging percentage from 2012 to 2013.

Jose Reyes -- His speed went way down, he isn't very heathy, and he isn't very young. 

Jean Segura -- This guy has one amazing half-season under his belt. I'm a believer, but I'm wary of drafting him next year.

Elvis Andrus -- Yeah, he stole 42 bases last year, but it was half that in more plate appearances the year before. That isn't trustworthiness.

Starlin Castro -- Uh...yeah.

Andrelton Simmons -- He's got upside, but the average is pretty rough and he's no sure thing.

At this point, we're getting to the players currently rated below Cabrera, so I guess it isn't very bold to say I prefer him to them. 

It's paradoxical, I suppose, to boldly suggest that you mitigate some risk, but there you go. Cabrera looks like a very safe option compared to the shortstops that are valued more highly, and the steals are as elite as they come (non-Hamilton division, I suppose). The boldness isn't in the player, it's in the fact that you should do what it takes to get him on your team. In a draft, grab him before all the higher-rated shortstops are off the board to make sure you get him. In an auction, be that owner that just keeps going the extra dollar. Let everyone else get scared off the the PED's or the 2012 average, or enticed by the idea of taking their chances with Elvis Andrus. You just enjoy the results.



Stock Watch: Scandalmakers and Struggling Shortstops

This week on Stock Watch, we're trying out something a little different. Not a lot different--don't worry--but there's been a bit of news out there that might affect your fantasy team....

Biogenesis Scandal

By now, you've probably heard more about this scandal than you care to, and--unlike the witch-hunting masses--your main worry is probably about whether your fantasy stars will be suspended and for how long. You're probably wondering what to do with players like ****** and ****, let alone *******. That's right--I didn't include their names! Why? Because none of the players involved has yet been proved guilty of anything, and none of them need their reputations tarnished by me any more than already has been. But I also need to provide useful fantasy advice, so I'll take the via media of linking to an article that mentions the players you should be concerned about. Among them are superstars, minor leaguers, rookies, veterans, and just about everyone else. 

Who will be suspended and for how long? I can't say. How long will the process take? Still don't know. Will players who've already received PED suspensions get more punishment? Tough to say, but the one bet I wouldn't make is for this process to be carried out in a way that's transparent or fair. Maybe I'm overly pessimistic about MLB's anti-PED unit, but that seems the safest route to me. While the players implicated haven't failed tests, they don't need to to get suspended. Many are mentioned by name in Tony Bosch's ledgers, but others are in by code name or mere association. It might be worth mentioning that Mr. Bosch has plenty of incentive to roll on Major Leaguers, the bigger the names, the better. More worrisome for owners is the report that MLB has" tons of witnesses" to corroborate the allegations. (Report from RotoAuthority alum, Mike Axisa.)

What to do if you own these players? I own several across a few leagues (though I did shy away from most during drafts), and I'm standing pat. Right now will be a very difficult time to trade these guys, because your leaguemates will be watching as much ESPN as you, and you aren't likely to get much value from them if you shop them. Trading for them doesn't seem like a great strategy either, as you may be paying for useless assets. If you want to shoot off some lowball offers, go for it, as the strategy could pay off big, despite a low probability of success. By the same token, if someone offers you, say, 70-80% value on a big-name player, make that trade and hope for the best. And, of course, keep following along with the news to see what happens next.

One guy you might not have to worry about--and whose name I don't mind mentioning--is Gio Gonzalez. Reportedly, he is mentioned but exonerated by the evidence found at Biogenesis, having only purchased legal and unbanned substances. Good news for Gio owners. If you happen to find yourself looking at a good deal for him, pull the trigger.

A final thought is that the suspensions handed out may be lengthy--perhaps 100 games, perhaps more--but they will probably not include lifetime bans. This may be a great opportunity to get quality players on your keeper roster for a low price--especially if you're already out of contention this year. Note that this is a pretty long-term plan, as some of the repercussions of the scandal may last into next season.

The most important thing to do is not to panic and make a bad deal, as any suspensions handed out may take a long time to end up happening--others may not happen at all.

Struggling Shortstops

Most shortstops are bad fantasy players--we all know this. That's why we spend so much auction money or used high draft picks to get the few who can hit. This year, not only are several injured (Jose Reyes, Derek Jeter, Asdrubal Cabrera), most of the other top choices have been pretty terrible.

Ben Zobrist
After putting up consecutive 20-HR seasons and enjoying Swiss-Army position flexibility, Zobrist was one of fantasy's hottest commodities going into the season. He's on most of my fantasy teams, making me glad that I decided to diversify and stay away from him in my final draft of the season. His slugging is down over .100 points, as he's hit just three homers. His batting average is down significantly, despite a BABIP in line with his career norms. His LD% is down and his HR/FB rate has absolutely cratered. The only good news is that his K%, BB%, and OBP haven't taken big hits, but the Rays care more about those numbers than our fantasy teams do. While Zobrist might well bust out of his protracted power slump, his age might be catching up to him. He may only be 32, but he didn't break out until age 27. Late  success is often an indicator of early decline. Sell him if you still can.

Starlin Castro
Another well-hyped early-rounder, Castro was drafted a bit for the success he's already had and a lot for the success he was expected to grow into. He may still grow into a superstar, but maybe the fantasy community was a bit premature drafting him like he already was one. His steals are down, his homers are down and his low-walk nature has kept him from getting on base in spite of his low average. Like Zobrist, his BABIP isn't bad (it's a nearly-average .296). Compared to last year, Castro is hitting slightly fewer line drives, popping up less, and grounding out a bit more. It's tough to be sure why his average is struggling so much, but slumps are a part of playing baseball, especially for young players. He's a good (but not slam-dunk) candidate to improve, so I'd call him a cautious buy.

Jimmy Rollins
At 34, Rollins is a pretty old shortstop, but unlike Ben Zobrist, he came up to the Majors at a young age and had a strong peak as one of the game's top stars. His years have been pretty up-and-down lately, but last year was an up, with 23 homers and 30 steals. This year has not been so good, with just four homers and six steals, despite a batting average and OBP better than what he put up last year. At .293, his BABIP is the highest it's been since 2007, but his HR/FB is his worst since 2003. Shortstops aren't expected to carry power or speed into their mid-30's and it's entirely possible that Rollins' bat and legs have slowed down. Then again, he gave us that impression for all of 2010 and managed to bounce back. Still, I'd say he's a cautious sell.

I was going to talk about Ian Desmond next, but his recent homers put his numbers in a pretty decent place--enough to make him one of the better shortstops this season.

Good luck navigating this week's muddy waters--and pick up Zack Wheeler and Gerrit Cole  if you still can.

 



Go Bold or Go Home: Ben Zobrist Is a Top-30 Fantasy Pick

You may have read about the ongoing campaign to have a Robocop statue built in downtown Detroit, a project I fully support, by the way.  More cities totally need to build tributes to their pop culture icons; there is no good reason why we couldn't have a bronze Heisenberg erected in downtown Albuquerque by the end of the year.  Besides, a Robocop statue would be a nice companion piece to the Zobocop statue that fantasy owners built in 2012 in honor of Ben Zobrist's three-position eligibility.

Ah, Zobrist as a shortstop.  Just remembering that wonderful day last summer when the Rays experimented with moving the Rock Zobster back to short brings a smile to my face.  Zobrist began his career as a shortstop, of course, and took to the position again with little issue, making Joe Maddon a hero to fantasy owners everywhere. 

Now, I may be praising this situation because it specifically helped me out of a fix in a league last year, but I couldn't have been the only one.  I'd drafted Troy Tulowitzki as my starting shortstop and watched in horror as his season was halted at the end of May.  That left me with a big hole at SS and given that Yunel Escobar (my backup) was also struggling and the middle infield waiver wire was as barren as ever, I was in a tight spot...until Zobrist began getting starts at short.  Zobrist owners the world over joyously counted down the days until he officially gained eligibility and then, my shortstop problem was solved; I just slid Sheriff Zobo from outfield to short and boom, I was set. 

There's nothing that fantasy owners appreciate more than options.  We all love to embrace our inner Joe Maddon and mix and match our lineups whenever possible since (let's be honest) it's kind of an ego boost.  This is why, with apologies to Jose Oquendo, Zobrist became the Secret Weapon of the 2012 fantasy baseball season.  His dual eligibility as both an outfielder and a second baseman was already valuable, and adding shortstop to the mix just shot his usefulness through the roof.

It's for this reason that I would jump on Zobrist as quickly as possible in your upcoming draft.  It blows my mind that the Mask of Zobo only has a 72.23 ADP in Mock Draft Central's most recent average draft position report and is, on average, the 68th player taken.  That means in your standard 12-team league, Zobrist is still available by the sixth round, making him an incredible bargain at that stage of the game. 

If you're in a league with no bench spots on your roster, I'd argue that Zobrist could be a second-round pick given that his versatility will allow you some precious flexibility in a roster setup that specifically limits flexibility.  Even in a standard 5x5 league with bench spots, however, I'd say that Zobrist should go no lower than the third round based on sheer production alone.

While everyone was fixated on the "SS" designation next to his name last season, let's not overlook the fact that Zobrist hit .270/.377/.471 with 20 homers, 74 RBI, 88 runs and 14 steals.  That's a good season no matter where you play on the field, but it's particularly valuable at the middle infield spots.  Zobrist's .848 OPS was topped by only two second basemen (Robinson Cano and Aaron Hill) and exactly ZERO shortstops; Ian Desmond came closest at .845.  Even at the deeper outfield position, only thirteen outfielders posted higher OPS marks than Zobrist in 2012.

The warning signs on Zobrist are his age (he turns 32 in May) and the fact that he has been having greater difficulty hitting at Tropicana Field in recent years, as evidenced by his large home/road splits (.916 OPS away/.773 home in 2012, .897 away/.738 home in 2011).  That said, I'll worry about a decline when I start to actually see signs, and to me, Leelee Zobieski seems like a pretty safe bet to at least replicate his 2012 numbers in 2013. 

That alone would make him arguably the top fantasy shortstop given how many question marks surround the other top-rated SS candidates, though I suspect the continually-improving Desmond and a healthy Tulowitzki will be at the top of the heap come season's end.  Amongst the top second basemen, I'd put Zobrist behind only Cano and Hill, as I agree with Alex Steers McCrum's evaluation of Hill and I've already outlined some of the concerns facing other highly-drafted second basemen.

Taking Zobrist early means you can essentially cover two of the traditionally-shallowest positions right off the bat and then focus on middle infield help later if one of your sleepers is still around in the ninth or tenth round.  Like real-life general managers, your draft strategy can become "picking the best player available" without worrying too much about position since you've already got the Swiss Army Zobrist on your roster.  Given the volatility of those middle infield spots, Zobrist can also be shifted partway through the season if that sleeper you liked in your draft never actually wakes up during the season.

It's just simple fantasy logic that a player who can play three positions is more valuable than a player who can play only one, if everything else is equal.  Dustin Pedroia may hit as well as Zobrist in 2013 or even better but I'll still take Zobrist first since Zobo The Greek has more innate value within the actual game of fantasy baseball.  His versatility can help you as much as it helps the Rays in real life, so don't hesitate to jump on Zobrist early in your draft.  If my advice pays off, you can build a statue in my honor.



Draft Round Battles: Starlin Castro Vs. Jose Reyes

"Mark, is this seriously your matchup?"

Yep.

"Geez, this column will be pretty short.  It's Jose Reyes, man!  All-Star staple, centerpiece of the offseason's biggest trade, playing in a stacked lineup in Toronto...heck, if Troy Tulowitzki struggles coming back from injury or Hanley Ramirez's career continues to stall, Reyes is probably the best shortstop in the game.  This one is a no-brainer!"

Or is it, imaginary straw man character I invented for the purposes of this post?

"Wait, I'm imaginary?"

Well, yes, but... 

"AHHH, I'M FICTIONAL!  OH, THE UNIMAGINABLE SORROW OF LEARNING THAT ONE'S EXISTENCE IS A LIE!"

Huh.  Who would've thought that a fantasy baseball column would contain such existential pathos?  Then again, for all the Cubs fans reading this, you're used to questioning the meaning of life, right?  #1908 #BillyGoat #Cheapshot 

Anyway, let's end this little skit and get down to business.  (Plus, as a Maple Leafs fan, I have no right to mock another team's championship drought.)  This is a matchup that, as noted, seems pretty clear on paper.  Reyes has been a good-to-superb fantasy option for a decade while Starlin Castro has had a very good start to his Major League career but, in the words of Roto Authority's own Alex Steers McCrum, is "a little bit overrated" in terms of what he brings to the table, fantasy-wise.

So, it may surprise you to learn that Castro and Reyes are neck-and-neck on Mock Draft Central's latest average draft position reports.  Castro has a 36.57 ADP, making him the third shortstop and 35th player taken overall.  Reyes is literally right behind, as the 36th player taken overall and the owner of a 36.91 ADP. What gives?  Is this a case of fans continuing to "overrate" Castro or thinking Reyes is going downhill since he didn't duplicate his all-world 2011 season?

It might not be that stark but rather simply a case of fantasy managers drafting for the future rather than the past.  In picking Castro over Reyes, you're picking a shortstop who has put up a .297/.336/.425 line over his first three Major League seasons, with 162-game averages of 10 homers, 67 RBI, 81 runs and 21 steals. Castro doesn't even turn 23 until later this month, so it's possible he's only just scratched the surface of his potential. 

Castro does indeed get a lot of hype as the Cubs' next great hope and star of the future, so fantasy owners who draft him on that basis tend to be let down since they're expecting the second coming of Derek Jeter.  Yet, as noted, Castro has been pretty good; this isn't an Alex Gordon or Eric Hosmer case, when you have a guy that's dead weight in your fantasy lineup while you're waiting for the breakout to happen. Castro has helped many a fantasy squad and could become a cornerstone player if he makes the leap in 2013.

And even if the leap doesn't happen quite yet, there's a certain stability in Castro since you know what he'll bring to the table.  He might not get significantly better but I highly doubt he'll get worse --- at a minimum, he'll repeat his .753 OPS, 14 HR, 78 RBI, 25 SB season from 2012.  Castro still has Wrigley Field to work with, he has the security of a long-term extension and he'll have a full season of Anthony Rizzo hitting behind him, even if the Cubs lineup isn't so hot overall.

Compare this stability to Reyes' situation heading into 2013.  I should note that, despite my forthcoming devil's advocate arguments, I still expect Reyes to have a very good season; it's just that more things could go wrong for Reyes this year.  His move to Toronto indeed puts him atop a deep batting order so there's plenty of room for run-scoring opportunities, but it's also a move to a brand new league and an artificial surface, so Reyes could have trouble adjusting.  While Reyes has spent his career hitting in pitcher-friendly ballparks in Queens and Miami, he'll be moving to a good hitters' park in Toronto but it's worth noting that Reyes' game (based around gap power and speed) was very well suited to his past stadia and he has only a career .748 OPS in away games.

Perhaps the most worrisome number associated with Reyes, however, is the fact that he'll turn 30 years old in June.  It's a red flag age for any player but particularly a player like Reyes whose game is so reliant on his legs.  According to Fangraphs, Reyes had the lowest full-season speed score (7.1) of his career in 2012.  Reyes' base-stealing is his biggest edge over Castro (40 SB to Castro's 25 last season) but if that gap continues to narrow, then they're basically the same offensive player, with Reyes holding an edge in runs but Castro ahead in the power numbers.  And of course, Castro's power numbers are likely to only go up, while it's not like Reyes will suddenly get faster as he ages.

As I said, I still think Reyes will be a good player in 2013.  While I hate to dabble in intangibles, he could be energized by playing for a Jays squad that should be in the playoff hunt all season long.  If both he and Castro are on the board when you're picking at the end of the third/start of the fourth round, however, I might bite the bullet and draft Castro just for pure ceiling reasons.  I submit that Reyes is unlikely to revert to his .877 OPS form from 2011 and will probably resemble the player he was last year with the Marlins.  Castro, on the other hand, already came close to matching Reyes' numbers and has nowhere to go but up.

"WAIT, SO NOT ONLY WAS MY REALITY SHATTERED BY MY DISCOVERY THAT I'M A FICTIONAL CONSTRUCT, BUT I PICKED THE WRONG SHORTSTOP FOR MY FANTASY TEAM?!?!"

Well, not the 'wrong' shortstop, just maybe the slightly riskier....

"AAAAHHHHHHHH!" 



2013 Position Rankings: Shortstops

You know what I hate? Drafting a shortstop. When you go with a top quality guy, you're still getting a player with some kind of serious flaw. When you wait until late in the draft, you get someone who doesn't even have the bat for second base or catcher. My solution: create your own league, in which shortstops are disallowed. Until then, enjoy our tiered rankings.

Just as we've done previously, with Third BasemenSecond BasemenFirst BasemenOutfielders, and Catchers, these rankings come from a team discussion, featuring Tim Dierkes and the entire RotoAuthority staff; they go 30 players deep this time. They're divided into groups of similar value, and tiered by where they deserve to be drafted in a standard league. If you're bidding in an auction, consider players in the same tier to be of similar price. If a player has other positions in parentheses, that means you can draft and start him there. Since they're shortstops, at the very bottom of the position scarcity barrel, this ranking will reflect their real draft value. If you're taking, say, Ben Zobrist, as an OF, discount his price a little.

2nd Round

1. Troy Tulowitzki, COL

You know things are rough at the position when the top guy missed essentially all of last year. He's either a bargain, as a player with top-of-the-first-round value, or a huge overpay, thanks to another massive injury. Go for it.

3rd Round

2. Hanley Ramirez, LAD (3B)
3. Jose Reyes, TOR

Hanley could be in the middle of a long return to form, so I could see him improving to something near what we used to see with the Marlins. Reyes should be a three-category beast at the top of Toronto's lineup, but he'll be a liability in HR's and RBI's.

4th Round

4. Ben Zobrist, TBR (2B, OF)
5. Starlin Castro, CHC

Zobrist does a bit of everything and he can back you up at second and in the outfield, if you somehow need that. Castro is a very good player, and a little bit overrated. He could improve, but I'd rather pay for the guy he actually is: good average, good speed, a few homers, and a lousy lineup to keep down the Runs and RBI's.

5th-6th Rounds

6. Ian Desmond, WAS

Desmond broke out like crazy last year, placing himself with the top power hitters in the middle infield, while still stealing 21 bases. He's going in the 7th round in mock drafts, and I think it's worth the risk that he falls back to earth to get him on your team.

7th-8th Rounds

7. Jimmy Rollins, PHI
8. Danny Espinosa, WAS (2B)

Rollins, once among the shortstop elite, stole 30 bases and clubbed 23 homers last year. You'd think that would be enough for him to regain his former status, but a lousy batting average, increasing age, and the downward trend in his overall production are keeping his price down. Yes, I think he's going the wrong way, but I don't think that the end is here--he's got a lot of room to fall before he stops being useful. Espinosa is trending the other direction and he's still young, which is what keeps his value near that of Rollins. A 20-20 season is possible, and he'll benefit from hitting in a good lineup, if probably from the back of it.

12th-13th Rounds

9. Derek Jeter, NYY
10. Asdrubal Cabrera, CLE

Jeter is old, yes. Jeter isn't the player he used to be, yes. And I'd still want the batting average and runs scored that he brings to the table over anything you'll see below him on this list. Cabrera doesn't hurt you anywhere--not even in home runs--but he doesn't really help, either. Pronunciation aside, is there any more boring name you can call out in your draft? A player like this shouldn't be reached for.

15th-16th Rounds

11. Elvis Andrus, TEX
12. Alcides Escobar, KCR

You know what you see here? The brand name and the generic version. No power, decent average, good steals and a place at the top of the order. Escobar was more valuable last year, but Andrus gets a slight nod for setting the table for better hitters.

17th-18th Rounds

13. J.J. Hardy, BAL
14. Everth Cabrera, SDP
15. Josh Rutledge, COL
16. Andrelton Simmons, ATL

Since the position's starters are presumably taken by the time you get to these guys, consider them the shortstops worth using at MI. Hardy has better power than most of the players above him, and Cabrera could be an impact base stealer, to the tune of 50 or more. Rutledge is a Colorado guy and he'll probably gain 2B eligibility. The chance that he hits more than a few homers isn't bad. Simmons is being given the keys to Atlanta's shortstop job, and he could end up being a speed and batting average type of player.

19th-20th Rounds

17. Marco Scutaro, SFG (2B)
18. Alexei Ramirez, CHW
19. Erick Aybar, LAA 

Scutaro will almost certainly regress next year. That's okay, though, because he still gets value from his versatility. Ramirez took a big step back last year, after being one of shortstop's more dependable players for the past couple years. His new level is still capable of backing up your starter. Aybar is a pleasantly harmless backup, but don't wait so long that you're starting him, event at middle infield.

21st-22nd Rounds

20. Jed Lowrie, OAK
21. Zack Cozart, CIN
22. Jhonny Peralta, DET
23. Stephen Drew, BOS

Lowrie may not get full playing time, and he isn't the healthiest kid in school, but he sure can hit. Cozart and Peralta don't do much, but you don't ask that much of a backup, which is strictly what you should be looking for with them. Drew is like Lowrie, but with less upside. Importantly, it isn't zero upside. As a side benefit, everyone in this tier but Lowrie should be able to enjoy the benefits of hitting in a powerful lineup.

23rd Round and Beyond

24. Jurickson Profar, TEX
25. Jean Segura, MIL
26. Hiroyuki Nakajima, OAK
27. Yunel Escobar, TBR
28. Cliff Pennington, ARI (2B) 
29. Jamey Carroll, MIN (2B, 3B)
30. Tyler Greene, HOU (2B)
 

If you're in a shallow league, I wouldn't bother with prospects with no job, like Profar or Billy Hamilton. If you're in a deep league, the time to take those guys is when all the shallow-leaguers are gone. If someone else wants to overpay, let 'em. Segura isn't a huge upside player, but he does have some, and he makes a good end-game play because he should have the starting job on Opening Day. Nakajima is in a similar vein, but even harder to predict, being from Japan and all. Escobar has a higher floor than most of the players out here. Pennington, Carroll, and Greene are only here because they can back up multiple positions, but even that's better than nothing. 

Shortstop is a rough place to be a fantasy drafter, but you can find some decent values throughout the draft. In some ways, I think it's actually a little easier to manage than second base, simply because your expectations are (fairly) set so low. Hits a few homers and does nothing else. Cool. Steals a ton of bases but kills my power categories. Great. Missed all of last season. All-Star.

There are four shortstops ranked as third or fourth-rounders, but if you can, I'd probably avoid all of them. The overall scarcity of power makes me prefer to go after a slugging outfielder or third baseman at that time. Instead, I'd probably want to be among the later teams to get a shortstop, but double up on players with disparate skill sets, like J.J. Hardy and Everth Cabrera, or Alcides Escobar and Josh Rutledge.



Sleepers & Busts: Shortstop Speedsters

Elvis Andrus, TEX - ADP 130

One year ago, Andrus entered the season ranked as a Top 5 shortstop by most rankings. A year later, he's dropped to the No. 8 shortstop over at Mock Draft Central, and while that's more accurate, I still feel like if you draft him at his current position you're paying for the name more than the production.

Andrus' average has risen steadily each of the past three years, but that doesn't mean it's safe to expect growth from last year's .286. Andrus' jump from 2010-11 was the result of a markedly increased line-drive rate (19.3 percent to 23.1 percent) and a reduction in his infield pop-ups. Both of those numbers took steps back last season, but his average leapt again based on his .332 BABIP. That's a healthy jump from the .312 mark he carried into last season.

Andrus' stolen base total dropped to 21, and it did so thanks to a paltry 67.7 percent success rate in 31 attempts. Since going 33-for-39 (84.6 percent) in his rookie season, Andrus has gone 90-for-127 (70.8 percent) from 2010-12. While he runs a lot, he's not exactly a great base stealer, and last season was the worst of them all.

He'll also lose the added benefit of Josh Hamilton driving him in. Mike Napoli, too, is gone. The Rangers' lineup in general doesn't look as threatening as it once did, given Hamilton's departure and an aging Nelson Cruz. It's still solid, but it's fair to expect a decrease in runs for Andrus given the changes.

Elvis is still just 24 years old, so he could surprise with some power, but over four years he's basically been a steals-and-runs shortstop, and there's plenty of reason to believe he'll disappoint in both of those categories in 2013. Still, he comes off the board before Dan Haren, Greg Holland, Matt Moore, Salvador Perez and a host other players, including the comparable Alcides Escobar. I'd pass at his current slot.

Final Ruling: Bust

Alcides Escobar, KC - ADP 215

Speaking of Alcides, he's coming off the board a full 85 picks later. That's seven full rounds of difference between shortstops who went .293-68-5-52-35 (Escobar) and .286-85-3-62-21 (Andrus).

Andrus clearly wins in the runs and RBI departments, but Escobar stands to make up a lot of ground as the Royals' projected No. 2 hitter in 2013. After spending the first three months of the year primarily in the 7, 8 and 9 spots for Kansas City, Escobar jumped to the two-hole and never looked back on July 1. He scored 39 of his 68 runs in those 81 games (58 percent) and picked up 32 of his 52 RBIs (62 percent).

Unlike Andrus, Escobar is an 81.3 percent base stealer since being traded to Kansas City (61-for-75), and last season's 35-for-40 (87.5 percent) effort was remarkable. It's fair to expect a step back in last year's 23 percent line-drive rate, which would lower his .344 BABIP and .293 average. Still, Escobar finds himself coming off the board in the late 17th round -- after the likes of Hisashi Iwakuma, Trevor Cahill, Wade Miley, Mark Reynolds, Justin Ruggiano and Dustin Ackley. If you're looking for a shortstop and/or speed in the tenth round, wait back and grab Escobar three or four rounds later instead of taking Andrus. 

Final Ruling: Sleeper

Everth Cabrera, SD - ADP 269

Cabrera is primarily a one-trick pony in his own right, but it's quite the trick. The 25-year-old led the National League in stolen bases last season despite playing in just 115 games. Cabrera swiped 44 bases in 48 (!) attempts -- good for a mind-blowing 91.6 percent success rate.

Cabrera only hit .246 last season, but he did so with a solid enough 9.6 percent walk rate that he got on base at a .324 clip. Even if he repeats his ho-hum batting average, he'll reach enough to burn up the base paths and set the table for Chase Headley, Carlos Quentin and possibly Jedd Gyorko.

There's reason for optimism with Cabrera's average, though. He's a strict line-drive (19.1 percent) and ground-ball (60.7 percent) hitter. Cabrera only hit fly balls 20.2 percent of the time -- an excellent trait for someone with his skill set. Granted, it means he's not likely to take advantage Petco Park's new hitter-friendly right field dimensions, but if you're drafting E-Cab with power in mind you've erred somewhere along the way.

Cabrera's .702 batting average on liners last season was below the league average. If he can raise that number and cut down on his strikeouts as he did in Triple-A (17.3 percent K-rate vs. 24.5 percent in the Majors), there's room for him to improve his average. His main problem is that he simply needs to be more aggressive. Cabrera doesn't swing outside the zone because he simply doesn't swing much at all. He swung at just 41.2 percent of the league's offerings (46 is average).

With a full season near the top of the order, Cabrera could surpass 70 runs and 50 steals. With an uptick in average, he has a great shot to outperform his 22nd-round ranking. Yet Cabrera is coming off the board around the same time as minor leaguers Mike Olt, Leonys Martin and Travis d'Arnaud; non-closers David Hernandez and Vinnie Pestano; and innings eaters like Jason Vargas and Brett Myers. He's worth reaching on several rounds early, as the upside is far greater than most of his peers at that stage in the draft.

Final Ruling: Sleeper



Three September Call-Ups To Watch For

The calendar turns over to September this Saturday, meaning clubs will expand their rosters and call-up extra players for the stretch run. Most September call-ups are spare parts - third catchers, extra left-handed relievers, etc. - but every so often a team will bring a top prospect to the big leagues and give him a month's worth of playing time. David Price and Francisco Rodriguez are the two most notable September call-ups in recent memory, as both went on to become key components of a deep playoff run. Impact like that is the exception though, not the rule. Here are three high-end prospects who could make their way to the big leagues next month and actually have some fantasy value...

Jurickson Profar | SS | Texas Rangers

The 19-year-old wunderkind from Curacao has emerged as baseball's top prospect this summer. Profar has hit .280/.367/.452 with 14 homers and 16 steals in Double-A this season, which is insane production given his age relative to the competition. It's worth noting that he's played some games at second base lately and in each of the last two games, he was used off the bench as a pinch-hitter. It's very possible the Rangers are preparing him for a call-up, though Jeff Wilson of The Fort Worth Star-Telegram says it may not happen until the end of the Double-A postseason.

Fantasy owners should keep the plight of Mike Olt in mind when considering Profar's fantasy impact. Texas called up their other elite prospect in early-August and he's gotten just 32 plate appearances so far, including only six starts in 26 team games. Perhaps things will be different later in September after the Rangers clinch a playoff berth, but I would be skeptical right now. Profar is a definite keeper long-term, but his 2012 impact may be severely limited.

Wil Myers | OF | Kansas City Royals

After starring at the Futures Game in Kansas City and for most of the season in Triple-A, the 21-year-old Myers may finally get a chance to crack the outfield in Kauffman Stadium next month. He's hit a whopping .307/.384/.589 with 35 homers in 568 total plate appearances, pretty much confirming that he's ready for the next level. Calling up Myers could require the team to either finally bench Jeff Francoeur or sit Lorenzo Cain, the latter of whom might actually have a future with the team. If he does get the call and does play everyday in some outfield position, Myers could be a nice little late-season boost for fantasy owners, potentially chipping in something like 5-6 homers the rest of the way. That's nothing to sneeze at.

Shelby Miller | SP | St. Louis Cardinals

Earlier this week Joe Strauss of The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported (on Twitter) that there is a "strong sentiment" within the organization to promote Miller, the 21-year-old flamethrower who's pitched to a 4.89 ERA with 10.4 K/9 and 3.4 BB/9 in 130 2/3 Triple-A innings this year. Those numbers aren't all that impressive overall, but the right-hander has a 57/4 K/BB in his last eight starts and seems to have figured some things out.

If the Cardinals do recall Miller next month, they'll have the option to use him out of the bullpen or instead of Joe Kelly in the rotation. I wouldn't count on him replacing Jason Motte as closer, so he would have the most fantasy value as a starter. The September schedule is loaded with intra-division games as always, meaning a whole lotta games against the lowly Astros and Cubs. St. Louis also has a West Coast swing through San Diego and Los Angeles on their slate, adding two top pitcher's parks into the mix. Miller definitely offers some impact potential going forward, assuming the club actually decides to call him up and insert him into the rotation down the stretch.





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