Once upon a time, shortstop was considered arguably the weakest position of them all. After looking at offensive statistics per position for 2021, however, that no longer appears to be the case:
Only first base and outfield had better production last season, which you’d expect from two historically-strong offensive categories. However, shortstops had the highest batting average, and when you factor stolen bases into the equation, it is safe to the say that this position is the most valuable when it comes to fantasy production.
With that in mind, the bar for shortstops is much higher than it is at other positions. There is a lot of depth in the player pool that you want to capitalize on, but, at the same time, you want some certainty that you’re not taking a hit compared to other teams at such a strong position. Thus, the idea of attacking this position early and the strategy of waiting each have merit. In the end, though, it’s about being as flexible as possible.
Today, we will be taking a look at my personal five favorite shortstop targets. With a few players you can get earlier in the draft, as well as a few that you can wait on, these five players cover a wide range when it comes to average draft position (ADP). Thus, regardless of your strategy with the shortstop position is, I can assure you that at least one of these players can fit your roster construction plan. Which shortstops should you be targeting for the 2022 fantasy baseball season? Let us dive right into it!
ADP Data via NFC.shgn.com (Drafts since February 1st)
Stats via Baseball Savant and Fangraphs
Marcus Semien (TEX)
2021 Stats (724 PA): .265/.334/.538, 45 HR, 115 R, 102 RBI, 15 SB
ADP: 39.41 (SS6)
This is certainly a polarizing player to include right away as a shortstop target, but I don’t think it should be. Rather, I don’t see Marcus Semien as much of a risk at all.
Let’s start off with Semien’s 2021 season, which was absolutely marvelous. He posted a 131 wRC+, finished in the top five in runs and home runs, while his ISO also ranked in the top ten. Simply put, he was one of the best hitters in baseball, and more than produced the value of a first-round pick last year. In fact, considering he was being drafted after the top-100 picks, you can make a case he was the top league winner in 2021.
Why do I bring this up? I think it’s important to lay the foundation that Semien created last season. After all, I cannot deny that regression is coming. This was certainly was his best season from a power perspective, and the move to Texas doesn’t help – only 32 of his 45 home runs would have had the same result in Texas, per Baseball Savant. Meanwhile, a worse offense means fewer runs and RBI, which certainly hurts his offensive impact. All in all, this may have been one of his worse potential landing spots.
Yet, this is all baked into his ADP, and then some. Frankly, I believe there are too many unnecessary concerns about Semien as a player. Juiced ball or not, it’s not like he didn’t produce similarly strong numbers in 2019:
Really, 2020 looks like the outlier, and from everything we know about that season, taking much from it would likely lead to flawed analysis. That being said, he was laying down the groundwork for his strong 2021 season. In 2020, Semien lowered his ground-ball rate to 32.9%, while he was also more aggressive in the zone (70.9% zone-swing), and also appeared to be gearing for power with more whiffs. The results weren’t there, but the tweaks being made were encouraging.
In 2021, Semien lowered his ground-ball rate to 31.9% and continued with a more aggressive approach (69.7% zone-swing, 21.5% whiff). This time, though, those extra fly balls were covered into barrels (9.8%). Add in a career-high 47% pull rate, and he suddenly had all the makings of a power hitter.
Sure, Semien was extremely efficient in terms of converting fly balls into home runs (18.4% home run/fly ball), but wouldn’t you expect that from someone with this batted ball trajectory? Meanwhile, he’s exceeded 700 plate appearances in three straight full seasons, and also could be in line to steal 15+ bags playing for an aggressive Rangers team. Here, you’re getting a fine batting average, above-average power, and speed, while his runs and RBI will still be high simply from playing every day. When the market overcorrects itself too much, take advantage! That is exactly what you can do by drafting Semien at his current price.
Francisco Lindor (NYM)
2021 Stats (524 PA), .230/.322/.412, 20 HR, 73 R, 63 RBI, 10 SB
ADP: 50.67 (SS8)
When you get traded to a team in a big market like New York, and then proceed to sign a ten-year, $341 million contract, expectations are going to be at an all-time high. That’s what Francisco Lindor was facing in his first year as a Met, and what he’ll continue to face for the rest of his career.
Simply put, 2021 was not at all what the city of New York was hoping to see from Lindor. With a 103 wRC+, he was just 3% better offensively than league average, while, for fantasy, the poor batting average coupled with a career-low in stolen bases made him an early-round disappointment. Really, there wasn’t an area where he didn’t post-career worst numbers.
That being said, I’m not sure Lindor deserved such a low overall output. For instance, his .248 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) stands out as being extremely low and stems from a career-worst 21.9% line-drive rate. With a career 26% line-drive rate, we can expect some positive regression here, which will definitely help the batting average.
Furthermore, the 28-year-old also made some quiet improvements from the power department. Through June, Lindor had an 85 wRC+, was hitting for limited power (.143 ISO), but was making a lot of contact (9.5% swinging-strike rate). From there, though he posted a 132 wRC+, 10.4% barrel rate, and a .241 ISO. Ironically, with a 12.2% swinging-strike rate, it looks like Lindor may have been making TOO much contact, while his approach as a whole was quite passive. With a more aggressive approach, expect continued power from Lindor.
More strikeouts could impact Lindor’s batting average, but he still was only striking out 20.7% of his plate appearances during this power surge. With improved batted-ball luck, he’ll be able to post a .260+ batting average, while I’d expect him to steal more bases this season – he dealt with injuries last season. Add in that he’ll be hitting in the middle of what should be a productive Mets lineup with a boost in power, and there’s a lot to like with this profile.
Remember, this was a player who was scoring over 100 runs a year with 30+ home runs and a .270+ batting average as recently as 2019. I don’t think that, at 28-years-old, he’s suddenly lost that ability. Let recency bias be your friend here. I wouldn’t call Lindor a massive steal at his current price, but as the eighth shortstop, that definitely feels closer to his floor in terms of median projection. As long as that remains where he’s being drafted, make sure to target him!
Jorge Polanco (MIN)
2021 Stats (638 PA), .269/.323/.503, 33 HR, 97 R, 98 RBI, 11 SB
ADP: 75.25 (SS11)
When the Twins signed Jorge Polanco to a five-year, $25.75 million contract extension that included a $10.5 million option for 2024 and a $12 million option for 2025, it seemed like an interesting decision for a player worth just four Fangraphs Wins Above Replacement (fWAR) and a career 100 wRC+. Now, though, that contract is certainly looking like a bargain.
Right after receiving the contract extension, Polanco broke out with a nice season in 2019. In 704 plate appearances, he posted a 120 wRC+ and .352 wOBA with a 4.1 fWAR, while some of the numbers that are important for fantasy baseball – .295 batting average, 22 home runs, 107 runs – were quite strong. From that point on, it appeared he’d be an anchor for the Twins lineup for some time to come.
Then, 2020, happened. Polanco regressed to an 80 wRC+, while he showed zero power (.096 ISO) whatsoever. This destroyed his stock significantly, while the Twins moved him off of shortstop by signing Andrelton Simmons. Would Polanco split at-bats with Luis Arraez? What was his future with Minnesota? All of these were concerns for the general baseball population heading into 2021.
Naturally, Polanco had his best season yet. Playing time certainly wasn’t a concern with 644 plate appearances, and he responded in a big way – a career-high 129 wRC+, .235 ISO, and terrific fantasy (33 HR, 97 R, 98 RBI) numbers. Naturally, you’d think that this would lead him to be a very coveted commodity, but as someone who isn’t being drafted in the top-ten shortstops, that clearly isn’t the case.
Why? Well, it appears there might be some concern about Polanco’s ability to replicate his 2021 production. After all, this was a career year for him, so there could be an argument to not count on it again this year. This analysis, though, in my opinion, would lead you to miss out on a player on the rise.
There are clear reasons to explain Polanco’s power surge in 2021. For starters, his 10.1% barrel rate was a career-high number. Meanwhile, he hit more fly balls (32.8%) than ever, drastically increased his pull rate (51.9%), and even traded some contact quantity (19.7% whiff) for higher contact quality. In other words, he transformed himself on the fly to be a true power hitter. Since this was an intentional change, why would we expect anything to be different next season?
Of Polanco’s 33 home runs, 29 were pulled. That, in addition to more barrels, makes his career-high 15.8% home-run fly ball rate completely legitimate. Honestly, that’s not a very large number as is; assuming he continues to hit the ball in the air, a close repeat into the power department should be expected. Then, you add in 640+ plate appearances at the top of the Twins’ lineup, as well as around 10 stolen bases, and you’re getting a player who is contributing in pretty much every category. To get that player outside of the top-ten shortstops is uncommon. Believe in the Polanco breakout, and you could get an absolute steal in 2022 drafts!
Chris Taylor (LAD)
2021 Stats (582 PA), .254/.344/.438, 20 HR, 93 R, 72 RBI, 13 SB
ADP: 131.14 (SS19)
When you think of versatility, Chris Taylor should be the player that first comes to mind. After all, he’s played second base, third base, shortstop, and all three outfield positions throughout his career, and has never been set at one clear position. In fact, one could argue he was the straw that stirred the drink in terms of terms coveting players as versatile “Swiss-army” knifes like him.
By signing him to a four-year, $60 million contract right before the lockout, the Dodgers clearly demonstrated their faith in Taylor, who will likely have an everyday role next season, even if he’s shuffling around between second base and the outfield. For someone who has now posted a wRC+ over 105 in six straight seasons, and is coming off of a three-win season, this contract certainly appears to be deserved.
From a fantasy perspective, though, what should we make of Taylor? In 2021, he finished as the 12th-most valuable shortstop based on Fangraphs’ 5×5 value calculations. Thus, based on his ADP, the market is expecting a noticeable regression from last year. Yet, I don’t see it. In fact, Taylor’s 2021 season was nothing more than the status quo for one of the league’s most consistent players.
The foundation here is quite strong. Taylor’s 10.2% barrel rate was a career-high for a full season and adds onto the 11.5% barrel rate he posted in 2020. Meanwhile, he hit more fly balls (32.3%) than ever and stands to improve from some line-drive regression this year – his 24.7% line-drive rate compared to his career 29.3% line-drive rate.
Is it the .337 batting average on balls in play that is scaring fantasy managers? Sure, that’s a high number, but it actually was the lowest of his career, and with more line drives, I wouldn’t expect any BABIP regression. Sure, one year may come where the BABIP sinks, as does his batting average, but that’s the case for almost every player, isn’t it?
So, maybe it’s Taylor’s playing time that is the concern. That being said, with Corey Seager now out of the picture, it’s hard to see him not getting most of the reps at second base – Trea Turner will move to shortstop. Although Gavin Lux is still in the mix, he still wasn’t able to establish himself as a full-time player last year, and the team started playing him in the outfield. Add in AJ Pollock’s consistent injury history and the designated hitter coming to the National League, and I wouldn’t be shocked to see Taylor finish with more plate appliances as last year.
The playing time will be there, while he’ll contribute 20 home runs, close to 150 runs + RBI, as well as around ten stolen bases. Regardless of the batting average, which should still be around the league average at worst, he’s a steady contributor in multiple categories. Sure, he might not be the flashy type of player that gets pushed up draft boards. That being said, he’s the exact type of balanced skillset that you want on your team. Oh, and did I mention he’s versatile. Just like the Dodgers did, look to target Taylor to help fill out your roster ahead of the 2022 season.
Gleyber Torres (NYY)
2021 Stats (516 PA), .259/.331/.368, 9 HR, 50 R, 51 RBI, 14 SB
ADP: 145.35 (SS20)
For years, Gleyber Torres has been expected to emerge as the face of the Yankees franchise. After all, he was the centerpiece of the infamous Aroldis Chapman trade to the Cubs, was rated as MLB Pipeline’s #3 overall prospect in 2017, and was also a top-five prospect in 2018. When you have that type of prospect pedigree representing such a famous organization, the bar was always going to be set very high.
In his rookie season, Torres performed admirably, posting a 121 wRC+, .271/.340/.480 slash line, and 24 home runs in 484 plate appearances. Then came 2019, where he slugged 36 home runs, had over 180 runs + RBI, as well as a .358 wOBA. Those numbers from an up-the-middle in his second season are remarkably strong. Moving forward, it was fully anticipated that he’d continue his ascent to stardom; he was drafted just outside the second round in the NFBC Main Event, according to Rotoholic.
Unfortunately, 2020 didn’t go as planned for Torres. He still was an above-average hitter, but he regressed to a 106 wRC+, while he hit for little power (.125 ISO) or batting average (.243). Sure, his production was boosted by a 13.8% walk rate, but his fantasy output was very minimal. However, it was a shortened season, after all, so Torres would get back on track in 2021, right?
Considering he was still a top-60 pick, that certainly was what fantasy managers who drafted him were counting on. Instead, his power (.107 IS) declined even further, while his wRC+ plummeted to 94. Outside of his 14 stolen bases, he was essentially below-average in all four categories, particularly home runs, runs, and RBI. That certainly leaves a bad taste in the mouths of those who had shares of him last year, and you may be inclined to not make the same mistake again.
However, doing so could lead you to miss out on what should be a bounce-back season for the 25-year-old. For starters, luck certainly wasn’t on Torres’ side last year. He had just nine home runs on 28 barrels (32%), which was one of the lowest conversions of the league. With a 7.8% barrel rate, his 6.9% home run/fly ball rate stands out as being remarkably low, particularly since he gets to play his home games in Yankee Stadium; he had two fewer home runs than expected, and that doesn’t even account for his home park. With that in mind, even if he doesn’t get back to the elite power production he had at the beginning of his career, there is still reason to expect it to be much better than last year.
If so, Torres could be in a nice spot to be a quality fantasy producer. He posted the lowest strikeout rate (20.2%) of his early career for a full season, while he also added speed to his profile with 14 stolen bases. Meanwhile, although I’m not a big fan of using expected statistics to predict future performance, they can do a nice job in describing the quality of the player’s performance at face level. Thus, we can see some clear progression from Torres as the season went on:
Don’t let yesterday’s mistake force you into another mistake. Torres may have let you down in 2021, but you don’t want to miss out on a bounce-back in 2022. There is reason to still believe in his power, while the added speed and lowered strike-out rate to his profile are encouraging. As someone who can fill your middle infield slot and fill in at second base or shortstop if your starter there misses any time, you could do much, much worse. Hopefully, we see more “Gleyber days” this season!
Photos by Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Doug Carlin (@Bdougals on Twitter)