I bet Didi Gregorius (SS, New York Yankees) has a pretty sore back this morning after putting the Yankee’s offense on his shoulders last night (5-5, 2 R, HR, 2 2B, 7 RBI, BB). Ba-dum-tish.
In all seriousness, it had been a pretty slow start to the summer for Gregorius after his return from Tommy John surgery back in June. In the first month of action after his season debut on June 7, he slashed a rather ho-hum .275/.298/.429 in 94 plate appearances with four home runs, 14 runs scored, and nine RBI. That simply doesn’t cut it in the current fantasy shortstop landscape, where 27 shortstop-eligible players are rostered in 50% or more of ESPN leagues (including Gregorius). It’s an incredibly deep pool of talent, thanks in large part to an influx of young players over the past few seasons.
With limited stolen base upside (he stole 10 in 2018, but something between five and seven is probably a more realistic year-to-year projection), fantasy players have to rely on his bat skills to generate fantasy value. With three consecutive 20-home run seasons under his belt, Gregorius has shown some power potential, capped off by his 27-home run campaign last season that was cut short by the injury to his elbow. While I am still surprised by the amount of power he displayed, he does have a pretty good swing from the left side and plays in the second-best park for left-handed home runs in baseball (behind only Cleveland’s Progressive Field). As one of the few consistent southpaws the Yankees feature, he routinely finds himself in the heart of the order, giving him a plethora of batters to drive in, and he takes full advantage of the opportunities by avoiding strikeouts—his 13.2% strikeout rate over the past three calendar years is sixth-best among the 48 active shortstops with at least 300 plate appearances in that stretch. He scores a good amount of runs as well thanks to his above-average base-running skills and the depth of the Yankees lineup. In his 10 games since the All-Star break, he’s slashing a much more impressive .297/.333/.541 with 14 RBI, which is a better gauge of his upside than what he had done up until then.
Yet, despite all of the great things he brings to the table, I can’t call him a “must own” in 10- and 12-team formats unless you have a middle infield spot (like in the ESPN and CBS default formats) and your league uses batting average instead of OBP (his low walk rate keeps his OBP south of .320 most years, and the modest spike we saw in 2018 hasn’t been carried into 2019 as of yet). While someone in your league might have a spot for him because of some injuries or ineffectiveness from their primary shortstop, the position is just SO deep.
That’s probably the biggest takeaway I can give you today. Shortstop is deep. You’ve heard many “experts” say that, but I want to make sure it really sinks in for you. There are 53 hitters on ESPN’s Player Rater with a 2019 score above 6.00. Almost a third of them (17) are eligible at shortstop. Six of the top 15 hitters are eligible at shortstop. There are tons of them to go around, and unlike outfielders, you probably can’t start five of them at a time (unless you happen to have a bunch of Javier Baez-like players who are eligible all around the diamond). Shortstop-only guys such as Gregorius get lost in the shuffle in shallow formats, and that’s not necessarily an error in the way we are evaluating. Shortstops who produce, once the rarest of fantasy treasures, are a dime a dozen now. If you don’t have an elite one locked up, you could even stream them! It’s unbelievable to those who have been at this game for a while, but it’s the current reality. It won’t get talked about as much as the rise in home runs, but the rise of the shortstop is just as real.
Robinson Cano (2B, New York Mets)—4-4, 3 R, 3 HR, 5 RBI. This is somehow his second four-hit performance in his past eight games. Despite the disappointing season, he’s locked into the heart of the order for the Mets and has shown recent flashes of his power and bat skills. He took some time off because of injury in June, but since coming back on June 16, he’s slugging .500 with a .278 batting average, hinting that there might be some vintage Cano left in his 36-year-old tank.
Trea Turner (SS, Washington Nationals)—4-5, 2 R, HR, 3B, 2B, 2 RBI. His .494 slugging has been a pleasant surprise to those who grabbed him in the first round of drafts back in March, but the dip in walks and the increase in strikeouts aren’t quite as promising. It’s going to be a stretch for him to steal 40 bases for the third consecutive season because of the time he missed from injury, but he’s likely to be a first-round pick once again in 2020 because of his 20-home run power, .280 batting average, and 40-stolen base potential.
Kris Bryant (3B/OF, Chicago Cubs)—3-6, R, 2B, 2 RBI. He’s on track to finish the season with 30 home runs, a .400 OBP, and a sub-20% strikeout rate. The RBI total is a little light for an elite slugger because of hitting second in the vast majority of games, but 110 to 120 runs scored help offset that issue. He’s a top-tier talent at third base and outfield, and he’ll carry eligibility at both positions into 2020.
Kole Calhoun (OF, Los Angeles Angels)—3-5, 2 R, HR, 2 2B, 2 RBI. He’s been alternating good and bad months this season, with a wRC+ of 87 in March and April, 147 in May, 74 in June, and now a 162 in July. He’s a streamer in 10- and 12-team formats as a back-end outfielder, as you don’t want to be rostering a cold Cowboy Kole for any significant amount of time. The overall line will probably look deceptively good at season’s end, but his streakiness and limited upside are very real. Don’t be fooled!
Alex Gordon (OF, Kansas City Royals)—3-4, 2 R, HR, 2B, 2 RBI. He’s slowed down considerably since his incredibly spring, as this was just his second home run since June 6 and only his third since May 11. If you haven’t cut him in a 12-team league yet, you probably should.
Aaron Judge (OF, New York Yankees)—3-6, 2 R, 2 2B, 2 RBI. When he plays, he’s a 6’7, 282-pound tower of unmitigated power. The issue, of course, is that he doesn’t always play. He’s about to put up a second consecutive season with fewer than 115 games played, which is going to draw some intense comparisons to his teammate Giancarlo Stanton. The real question is what people will be willing to pay for the awesome-but-injury-prone outfielder in 2020 drafts.
Rougned Odor (2B, Texas Rangers)—3-4, 3 R, 2 HR, 3 RBI. Ha, of course he did. Back to back three-hit nights, right when I had given up. This is why he’s such a frustrating player to own—he alternates between flashes of his brilliant power potential and flashes of his potential to slog through a month with a sub-.200 batting average. As I mentioned yesterday, you can keep him in the deeper formats, but in 10-teamers and shallow 12-teamers (such as the Yahoo default), I would consider letting someone else ride this roller coaster.
Jorge Polanco (SS, Minnesota Twins)—3-5, 2 R, HR, 2B, 3 RBI. Instead of being a 15-home run, 15-stolen base guy with a pretty good batting average, he seems to have morphed into a 20-home run, eight- to 10-stolen base guy with a really good batting average. In either case, he’s a top-15 shortstop in my book.
Eugenio Suarez (3B, Cincinnati Reds)—3-4, 2 R, HR, 2B, 3 RBI. The hot streak continues and is already washing away memories of the awful cold spell he suffered. He’s an undervalued third baseman who should be locked into active lineups day in and day out. The batting average is a bit down from the .283 from last season, but I’ll take 40 home runs and 100 RBI all day long.
Miguel Sano (3B, Minnesota Twins)—2-6, 2 R, 2 HR, 5 RBI. He’s basically the reincarnation of Chris Carter—high walk rate, obscene strike out rate, and tons of power. There’s certainly value in that profile in OBP leagues, but it takes some intentional roster construction to roster him in batting average formats. With power being so plentiful these days, I tend to want to let someone else own him. I wonder how the Twins plan to deal with him in the future and whether they’ll seek out a less volatile third baseman?
Matt Olson (1B, Oakland Athletics)—2-5, 2 R, HR, 3 RBI. If you were worried about the hand injury and that it might sap power, I get it—that’s what everyone says about hand injuries. The problem, of course, is that every hand injury is different, and players respond to injuries differently. Olson’s 21 home runs in 69 games should be, if nothing else, a reminder to not assume that all injuries affect players in similar ways.
Jose Martinez (1B/OF, St. Louis Cardinals)—2-4, 2 R, HR, RBI. He’s shown impressive plate discipline and power this month while getting plenty of runs as the No. 2 hitter for St. Louis. That being said, the Cardinals have shown time and time again that they don’t appreciate his lack of skill with the glove and will routinely bench him, especially as they get healthier in the outfield. You can use him when he looks like he’ll be starting, but he’s tough to own in weekly formats. You may need to cut him when the Cardinals get fully healthy.
Justin Smoak (1B, Toronto Blue Jays)—2-5, R, HR, 2 RBI. He’s underappreciated in OBP formats and should put up a third consecutive season with a .350 OBP and 25 home runs. The batting average isn’t always pleasant, though, and I have largely ignored him in my 10- and 12-team leagues that use batting average. There are simply too many other options for my corner infield and utility spots.
Javier Baez (2B/3B/SS, Chicago Cubs)—2-6, 2 R, 2B, 2 SB. He’s just so much fun. He swings at everything, hits the ball hard, and is an absolute wizard with the glove (I saw him last Saturday when he tagged out a base-stealer ON THE BACK FOOT and wasn’t even looking at the runner; he was staring at the ump the entire time as if he knew he got him). Ignore the naysayers with respect to his plate discipline. This kid has elite hand-eye coordination that transcends common rules about swinging outside the zone.
(Photo by Jeff Chevrier/Icon Sportswire)