Shortstop Sleepers and Busts for 2020

Which shortstops are hidden gems, and which are overrated?

Shortstop is maybe the deepest position right now in fantasy baseball. There are a whopping 16 players with shortstop eligibility being drafted within the top-100 picks in Yahoo leagues, however not all 16 are created equal. Managers can’t go wrong with the studs at the top such as Francisco Lindor, Trevor Story, or Trea Turner, but within those players that come afterward, there are going to be some busts.

The shortstop position is also extremely strong even beyond those options going in the top-100, so managers can even wait a little bit and pick up some sleeper options as a good second option. One thing is for sure, there is a ton of depth at the position nowadays, and that makes it extremely fun to rank them. The shortened season adds even more to this intrigue, as managers may prefer to play it safe at the position or opt for a more risk-reward scenario. With that being said, let’s take a look at some shortstops that can provide great value late, as well as some that managers should maybe stay away from.

 

Sleepers

 

Kevin Newman (Pittsburgh Pirates)

ESPN: 207 ADP, #30 SS

Yahoo: 209 ADP, #30 SS

In his first extended run of Major League playing time, Kevin Newman quietly posted a .308/.353/.446 slash line, showing good contact ability with an 11.7% strikeout rate, and good speed with 16 stolen bases in 531 plate appearances. While the Statcast profile isn’t very strong, with a lot of red flags, like a .389 SLG, .312 xwOBA, an 84.7 miles-per-hour average exit velocity, and just a 24.4% hard-hit rate, there are rightly going to be some questions about whether or not Newman can replicate a slash line like that again.

Those are fair concerns, but the real intrigue about Newman is that he should be a plus in the batting average category, as he makes a ton of contact. His 92.7% zone-contact rate was the fourth-highest among qualified hitters in 2019, and his plus speed suggests that he should be able to maintain a high BABIP, and he should definitely contribute stolen bases.

Anything extra in the power department is a plus, and at his draft position, should provide a really strong value for fantasy managers. Also, consider that he should have everyday playing time and hit at the top of the Pirates lineup, who really have no reason to not let him run, and this looks like a really good opportunity for fantasy managers to snipe some good average and stolen base upside pretty late in drafts.

Keep in mind that a pretty similar player in Jonathan Villar (who we’ll talk about a little bit later) is going around the top-60 picks, and Newman might be a better option and so much later on, and Newman shouldn’t run such a high strikeout rate as Villar does. You’re not drafting Newman to be your starting shortstop, but at this spot, he should be a good value.

 

Dansby Swanson (Atlanta Braves)

ESPN: 246 ADP, #33 SS

Yahoo: 326 ADP, #38 SS

This is one ADP that I really don’t understand. The overall 2019 line from Swanson definitely doesn’t look too impressive upon first glance at just .251/.325/.422 and a 92 wRC+, but it definitely does not tell the whole story. Swanson was finally showing improvement before he suffered a foot injury in July that he likely didn’t fully recover from that cratered his performance:

Dansby Swanson: 1H 2019 vs 2H 2019

Until his injury, we were finally seeing improvements in the power department that we had been waiting for, as he was on a nearly 30 home run pace through the first half of the season, but he could just never find his groove upon returning from injury. His dreadful end to the season has tanked his fantasy cost. If he had maintained that first-half pace, along with his speed that ranked 88th percentile per Statcast, Swanson could have ended up being one of the top shortstops on draft day this year.

Even with that ugly end to the season, Swanson’s Statcast profile still looks extremely healthy, with his average exit velocity of 89.8 miles-per-hour being his career-high, as is his 41.6% hard-hit rate, .480 xSLG, and .347 xwOBA. I’ll also just leave a few of these here:


Swanson has already broken out, you may have just missed it. Jump back in before it’s too late, because I have a feeling his draft price won’t be this low for a while.

 

Willy Adames (Tampa Bay Rays)

ESPN: 400+ ADP, #54 SS

Yahoo: 326 ADP, #49 SS

Willy Adames is another hitter who had a quiet breakout in 2019 that doesn’t show up in the slash line due to some odd things in his profile. While it’s not because of an injury as in the case of Swanson, it’s more due to some flukish things that are not likely to happen again.

I wrote up Adames in full earlier this offseason that highlights in more depth what was going on with him in 2019, but the gist of it is that Adames had some extreme splits in 2019, which if they regress back to normalcy, we should see the true talent of Adames show up in his slash line. I’ll present some of the highlights of that post to you with some tables directly lifted from it to show more of what I mean:

Biggest Differences Between Home and Road wRC+
RHH with the Lowest wRC+ Against LHP

What these two tables show are the drastic differences Adames had when hitting at home and on the road as well as his weak numbers against the stronger platoon matchup against left-handed pitching. There’s no real rhyme or reason for either of these drastic differences and assuming some of this reverts back to normal, Adames should be a more complete hitter that should show up in his overall stats.

Adames also did manage to hit 20 home runs despite all of this weirdness while also increasing his hard-hit rate and getting a more desirable batted-ball split as well that saw him hit more line-drives. Adames still isn’t a finished product and isn’t the most glamorous name among an already deep position, but he is still worthy of more attention.

 

Busts

 

Adalberto Mondesi (Kansas City Royals)

ESPN: 93 ADP, #15 SS

Yahoo: 45 ADP, #10 SS

Mondesi at around pick 90 as he is going in ESPN leagues is not a bad option at all, but in most other formats, he is going around pick 40. I understand why, as managers can draft him and likely forget about the rest of the stolen bases category, but I still feel as though the rest of Mondesi’s game isn’t being looked at close enough. We all remember what he did at the plate in a short sample in 2018 on top of the speed, with a .276/.306/.498 slash line with 14 home runs in just 291 plate appearances.

He helped many fantasy managers win their leagues with that torrid stretch to end the year, and had many excited to see those stats over a full season. In 2019, the steals were still there with 43 and he nearly led the league despite only appearing in 102 games, but the bat regressed mightily, with a .263/.291/.424 line, with the strikeouts jumping to a 29.8% rate and his walk rate not improving enough, staying at a super low 4.3%. On top of that, he suffered a shoulder injury that required surgery, and it takes time for power to return after that type of injury, power that already declined in 2019 for Mondesi.

Yes, he has had some extra time due to the shutdown to recover from the injury, but the shortened season won’t give him much time to recover from a slow start, should he get off to a slow start. The counterargument to that is in a short season, if Mondesi gets off to a hot start, he could be one of the most valuable position players in the league. While that is true, the same could be said for a lot of other hitters, and I’m not sure Mondesi has the skills where I would bet on that happening.

In the end, it could all depend on how much a manager values stolen bases. While there is a late-round stolen base option at the position that was mentioned earlier in Kevin Newman, he has his own question marks, but the upside is that he is going at around pick 200 as opposed to the top-50 as Mondesi is in most formats. Stolen bases are important, but I’m just not sure that Mondesi at that ADP is the route to go towards.

If he had been able to show that he can get on base at a decent enough clip, I would feel much more comfortable, but as it is, I just cannot accept the potential volatility in what is already going be a volatile season. I get the allure of stolen bases, but I just need a player that is more reliable overall inside the top-50 picks.

 

Jonathan Villar (Miami Marlins)

ESPN: 63 ADP, #12 SS

Yahoo: 72 ADP, #12 SS

Speaking of stolen bases, another player most known for steals is also making an appearance here, this time in the form of Jonathan Villar. While Villar is likely to be playing the outfield for the Marlins this season, he still does not have outfield eligibility quite yet, so he will be drafted as a shortstop, so he will be included here. Villar quietly had an extremely valuable fantasy season is 2019 as he reached 24 home runs, 111 runs scored, and 40 stolen bases as he ended up a top-20 hitter overall in Roto value, which was definitely not expected coming off of his dismal 2018 season.

The thing is, those were all career highs for him (save for stolen bases), and there is no guarantee that he shows power like that again, especially because a strong second-half was required for him to end up there. He managed just a .259/.326/.421 slash line through the first half of the season for just a 96 wRC+ and was on the waiver wire in most fantasy leagues before a .291/.353/.490, 120 wRC+ second half made him relevant again. That’s definitely nice and useful, but there isn’t much in his profile that suggests those rates are repeatable:

Villar doesn’t make a lot of hard contact, and also doesn’t have super good on-base skills that would allow him to work around it. Plus, he is trying to learn a new position on top of trying to get ready for the season in this shortened time span, which may take his emphasis away from hitting. While he is going to be hitting at the top of a Marlins lineup that should be better than last season, it still isn’t an offensive juggernaut.

Additionally, with a slow start and a rebuilding Marlins team with a handful of outfield prospects that are ready for playing time, it is possible that they turn over the reins of centerfield over to a prospect such as Monte Harrison to see what he can do. A move like this would essentially kill whatever value Villar has, which is not something you want to say about any top-100 fantasy pick.

While the steals should be there when he is in the lineup, I’m not banking on an offensive performance that is line with his 2019 numbers, and that’s without getting into the change in home ballpark, as he’ll go from a hitter’s paradise in Camden Yards to the more pitcher-friendly Marlins Park. As was the case with Mondesi above, steals are important, but the rest of his game doesn’t appear to validate the steep draft price.

 

Elvis Andrus (Texas Rangers)

ESPN: 169 ADP #23 SS

Yahoo: 158 ADP, #22 SS

Is it possible to be a draft bust with an ADP of around pick 150 and around the 20th shortstop off the board? In the case of Elvis Andrus and the reason he is being drafted at this spot in the first place, I think it’s fair to include him here. In keeping with the theme here, Andrus is being primarily drafted for his stolen bases first, despite clear holes in the rest of his offensive game. 2019 was also the first season for Andrus since 2013 where he stole more than 30 bases, so I don’t think it is a lock that he runs to a 30-steal pace in 2020, especially as his sprint speed is in just the 47th percentile, and has been dropping as he has gotten older and now on the wrong side of 30:

This is also before we get into Andrus’ bat. He was a plus in the batting average category, but overall his .275/.313/.393 slash line is nothing to be excited about. Statcast paints an even bleaker picture with that .275 batting average paired with a .267 expected one, and a .394 xSLG that supports his actual one, and a .304 xwOBA that is right in line with his .300 actual one.

He doesn’t strike out a lot which is a plus, and he does hit at the top of the lineup, which could provide him some cheap counting stats, but overall this isn’t a very strong offensive profile. Yet again, steals are important, but committing Andrus to a spot in your starting lineup with so many great shortstop options just for those steals that may or may not actually be there looks to be a bold strategy, and not one that I would want to find myself in.

For reference, Byron Buxton has an ADP of exactly 30 picks later than Andrus right now, and he can provide steals with a better overall offensive profile. There are plenty of other options out there that it doesn’t seem necessary to jump the gun on a player like Andrus at his current draft position.

Matt Wallach

Matt writes for Pitcher List and Rotoballer and is a lifelong fan of the New York Yankees. He can be found always talking baseball on Twitter @Wallach18.

2 responses to “Shortstop Sleepers and Busts for 2020”

  1. Avatar Dave says:

    Does Luis Urias’ postive test for COVID-19 and subsequent recovery eliminate him from consideration? Or, you wouldn’t consider him anyway?

    Thanks

  2. Avatar Munson says:

    Although I agree Andrus isn’t what he use to be, his offense isn’t amazing, I think three of your points against him aren’t thought out enough.

    1. He hasn’t stolen 30 bags since 2013
    2. Byron Buxton is 30 ADP below him and can steal + offer offensive numbers
    3. Spring speed percentile isn’t that good

    The first point is misleading. You are looking at 30 steals and saying since the last time he did that was in 2013 it’s not a good look. As if his average of 27 steals (even counting his 5 in 2018) isn’t good value. Even if we take his last few years I think people would agree you could get 20 steals from him, and he’s been healthy for the most part.

    Second issue, why are you comparing Andrus to Buxton? Buxton is a guy who’s ADP is lower because the guy can’t stay healthy. He’s only had 1 year with 20+ steals. Maybe I’m missing the point, but I think you should have found someone else with lower ADP to say “see there are better guys out there that are cheaper”.

    Lastly you state his sprint speed being worse as he’s gotten older. Yet he’s still swiped a good amount of bags each year. And I’m pretty sure I’ve read articles here and on other sites that sprint speed isn’t the only factor with stealing bases.

    All in all good article, just my thoughts towards Andrus.

    Thank you,

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