(Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire)
We continue the 2018 Pitcher List positional rankings today with a look at shortstop. Once a barren wasteland for fantasy baseball purposes, the position has seen an incredible influx of young talent over the last few seasons and runs deeper than it ever has before.
Tier 1: The Four Horsemen
1. Trea Turner (Washington Nationals) – I’ve seen drafts in each of the last two years where somebody took Turner with the first pick instead of Mike Trout. That’s certifiably insane, but Turner’s really awesome! Like, awesome enough to deserve the top spot at shortstop against some stiff competition. Turner could lead the league in stolen bases while batting around .300, scoring tons of runs, and popping 15 – 20 homers. The fact that he hasn’t played a full season yet hasn’t stopped fantasy owners from making him a top-five overall pick in early drafts. For real though, don’t take him or anyone else over Trout.
2. Carlos Correa (Houston Astros) – Correa stopped stealing bases last year, but he’s aces in all the other standard categories. Despite missing most of the second half with a torn thumb ligament, Correa batted .315 with 24 home runs, 82 runs, and 84 RBI in just 109 games. He’s also only 23 years old, which means there’s a decent chance we haven’t even seen the best he has to offer yet. This might well be the last time his ADP will fall outside the first round for a good long while.
3. Francisco Lindor (Cleveland Indians) – Remember when Lindor was supposed to be a glove-first shortstop? Yeah, me neither. The Indians’ superstar – like Correa, entering his fourth MLB season at just 23 – blasted 33 homers last season. That’s more than twice as many as he hit in 2016, and more than he hit in 2015 and 2016 combined. The power surge was fueled by a 50% increase in his fly ball rate. That increase in flies did cost him about 30 points of batting average, but it’s hard to complain about a shortstop putting up a 33 HR/15 SB season with excellent run production and still hitting above .270.
4. Corey Seager (Los Angeles Dodgers) – It says a lot about the current crop of shortstops that Seager could contend for the MVP award as a rookie in 2016, take only a small step back in his second season, and not even crack the top three. Seager is actually the fifth shortstop off the board in early drafts behind the three guys we have ranked above him and Alex Bregman. I’ll happily take an SS who will hit .300 with 25 homers and somewhere around 180 R+RBI in the fourth round.
5. Alex Bregman (Houston Astros) – As mentioned above, Bregman is going a few picks before Seager on average, which is somewhat surprising. Bregman’s plenty good and worthy of a high pick, but he’s also likely to trail Seager by about 20 points in batting average and five homers. Are the extra 10 stolen bases that Bregman might provide enough to make up that gap? Evidently the general populace thinks so. We’re a bit less inclined to believe it.
6. Elvis Andrus (Texas Rangers) – This is a bit higher than I would personally rank Andrus, because I’m skeptical of the power surge he enjoyed last season. You can safely bet on a quality batting average and around 25 steals, but if the homers tick back down toward the low double-digits as projections believe they will, that takes a decent bite out of his run production as well. Andrus set career bests with 100 runs and 88 RBI last year; he averaged 72 runs and 57 RBI the prior three seasons.
7. Xander Bogaerts (Boston Red Sox) – Bogaerts, if you can believe it, is the oldest of the seven shortstops we’ve ranked so far outside of Andrus…at a positively ancient 25. Either ageism is out of control, or owners are overreacting to his slightly disappointing 2017 performance, but his ADP is currently in the eighth round in 12-team leagues. His underlying numbers didn’t change much from his boffo 2016 campaign (.294-21-115-89-13) and presuming the Red Sox finally sign J.D. Martinez at some point, their lineup should perform better than last year’s middle of the pack showing. There frankly isn’t a significant enough difference between him and Bregman to justify a 50-pick gap in ADP.
8. Jean Segura (Seattle Mariners) – Segura’s numbers declined across the board in 2017, but A) he played in 30 fewer games than 2016 and B) he still hit .300, stole 22 bases, and scored at close to a 100-run pace. Segura should be a significant contributor in AVG, R, and SB, with enough pop to avoid hurting you in HR. I was a skeptic for too long after his 2014-15 nadir; he’s definitely worth an investment at his current 80 ADP.
Tier 3: Department of Redundancy Department
9. Chris Taylor (Los Angeles Dodgers) – We discussed Chris Taylor in the Top 25 Second Basemen in Fantasy Baseball for 2018.
10. Didi Gregorius (New York Yankees) – Gregorius hit a career-high 25 home runs despite missing the first month of the season. He also set new personal bests in batting average (.287), runs (73), and RBI (87). It’s fairly obvious that the current environment and juiced ball have been a boon to him. We can’t say for certain that either of those things will change, though. And if Greg Bird flops or gets hurt again, Sir Didi could find himself batting cleanup between Giancarlo Stanton and Gary Sanchez. That’s enough to slot him into the top 10 at the position.
11. Trevor Story (Colorado Rockies) – I was in Denver on vacation for the first week of the 2016 season and went to see the Rockies’ home opener, where Story homered twice in his major-league debut. It might have been the vibe of the crowd, or the copious amounts of weed and beer I’d consumed, but it sure felt like the birth of a superstar. He did nothing to dispel that notion as he raked for months before injury cut his season short. The hype was at a fever pitch, and fantasy owners bought in hard. Then Story ran a 34.4 K%, hit .239, and tallied fewer home runs than he had in his abbreviated rookie year. The current landscape does him no favors either, as low-average hitters with pop aren’t exactly tough to find.
12. Eduardo Nunez (Free Agent) –We discussed Eduardo Nunez in the Top 25 Second Basemen in Fantasy Baseball for 2018.
13. Marwin Gonzalez (Houston Astros) –We discussed Marwin Gonzalez in the Top 25 Second Basemen in Fantasy Baseball for 2018.
14. Paul DeJong (St. Louis Cardinals) –We discussed Paul DeJong in the Top 25 Second Basemen in Fantasy Baseball for 2018.
15. Javier Baez (Chicago Cubs) – We discussed Javier Baez in the Top 25 Second Basemen in Fantasy Baseball for 2018.
Tier 4: Varying Levels of Intrigue
16. Orlando Arcia (Milwaukee Brewers) – Hitting near the bottom of the Brewers’ lineup suppressed his run production, but Arcia quietly hit .277 with 15 HR and 14 SB as a 22-year-old. The additions of Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain probably preclude a bump to the top of the batting order, but Arcia remains a name to remember in the back half of your draft, especially if your league also employs an MI slot.
17. Andrelton Simmons (Los Angeles Angels) – Simmons has always been known for his defensive prowess, but he had the best season of his career at the plate in 2017. Like seemingly every other low-power player, he saw a sharp uptick in homers, nearly doubling his total from the previous two seasons combined. He also stole a career-high 19 bases. There probably isn’t much room for growth here, and you’d be forgiven for some skepticism after Simmons was well below average as a hitter the prior three seasons. If he can maintain this new level of production, though, he’s a steady all-around contributor.
18. Marcus Semien (Oakland Athletics) – Semien probably won’t hit any better than .250, but he’s a sneaky 20/20 candidate. The A’s shortstop hit 27 home runs in 2016, and last season he banked 10 homers and 12 steals despite missing nearly half the season with a broken wrist. Semien is also expected to bat leadoff for Oakland this year, which puts him in position to score plenty of runs. Early ADP has him outside the top 20 shortstops, so there’s some profit potential here.
19. Jorge Polanco (Minnesota Twins) – Polanco’s overall numbers aren’t overly impressive, but the way he arrived at them has him generating a bit of sleeper buzz. After struggling through a first half in which he hit .224 with a .596 OPS and just three home runs, Polanco made tangible changes to his approach that clearly paid off. He hit .293/.359/.511 after the break, with 10 homers and seven stolen bases in just 63 games. While we can’t simply extrapolate that into a full season, Polanco is one of the more interesting players outside the top 200 picks.
20. Zack Cozart (Los Angeles Angels) – Some skepticism is merited for a guy who broke out at 32 years old, especially since he’ll be moving to a less-friendly home park. Cozart will also be plying his trade in a new league and learning a position he’s never played professionally. Finally, he hasn’t topped 122 games played since 2014. The pop isn’t a mirage and the jump in walk rate was supported by underlying skills, but it would be a shock if he hit for average again; Cozart had never hit even .260 in the majors over a full season before last year.
Tier 5: The Kids Are Alright (Probably)
21. Tim Anderson (Chicago White Sox) – Anderson’s first full MLB season was a mixed bag. He hit 17 home runs and stole 15 bases, which made him one of only four shortstops to reach the 15/15 benchmark. However, he hit only .257 and his horrid plate discipline remained a problem. Anderson’s .276 OBP was worse than any qualified hitter outside of Rougned Odor and Alcides Escobar, and contributed to him scoring only 72 runs despite nearly half of his plate appearances coming in the top two spots in the White Sox lineup.
22. Gleyber Torres (New York Yankees) – Torres is only 21 years old and has just 235 plate appearance above A-ball to his name. He also does not really have any flashy plus tools and will slot into the bottom of the lineup, both of which might lead to him being a better real-life player than fantasy asset. That said, he has an advanced feel for the game in all facets that belies his age and inexperience. You also won’t have to invest heavily to land his services – his ADP is around 280 right now.
23. Addison Russell (Chicago Cubs) – Can you believe this guy only just turned 24 and is entering his fourth MLB season? We shouldn’t forget that, even if his bat hasn’t lived up to expectations so far. He’s at least made incremental improvements in contact rate and quality every season, so optimism about his long-term outlook isn’t misplaced. That said, 20 homers and a low average don’t really move the needle much in today’s environment.
24. Amed Rosario (New York Mets) – Rosario’s debut could have gone better. He struck out 49 times and only drew three walks while posting some ugly exit velocity and launch angle numbers. Last season was his first action above Double-A, though, and he was only 21. Not every prospect lights the world on fire immediately. His fantasy value in 2018 (and probably beyond) will be largely tied to his legs, since he’s never shown much pop as a professional. He didn’t run that much in the minors, either, but the speed is evident. In this day and age, basically anyone with a pulse who can swipe 20+ bags merits some degree of consideration.
25. Tim Beckham (Baltimore Orioles) – I’m just gonna come straight and admit that I have no idea what to make of Beckham’s outburst last year. While he’s a former first overall pick, he’d shown approximately nothing before last summer. He pretty much had one insane month, which just happened to be the only month where he didn’t strike out at least 30 percent of the time. But he has pop, and enough speed to rank among the league leaders in infield hits (which along with a high number of hard-hit balls helps him run above-average BABIPs). The good news is, if you buy the breakout, it won’t cost you much to run it back with him in 2018.
26. Jose Peraza (Cincinnati Reds) – We discussed Jose Peraza in the Top 25 Second Basemen in Fantasy Baseball for 2018.
27. Chris Owings (Arizona Diamondbacks) – We discussed Chris Owings in the Top 25 Second Basemen in Fantasy Baseball for 2018.
28. Brandon Crawford (San Francisco Giants) – Does your league count defense in some way? If not, you’re probably better off avoiding Crawford. He’s hit above .260, hit more than 15 home runs, or scored more than 65 runs just once each in his career, and he’s never stolen more than seven bags. For fantasy purposes, Crawford is basically the crappy restaurant you go to for a group office lunch because nobody can agree on anything else.
29. Ketel Marte (Arizona Diamondbacks) – Marte hasn’t shown much at the MLB level, but he spent most of 2017 working on his swing at Triple-A. That work appears to have borne some results, namely an increase in launch angle and batted ball quality. He’s never going to be a big power hitter, but he’s fast enough to take advantage of Chase Field’s deep alleys for lots of extra base hits. He also has good bat-to-ball ability and took some strides in plate discipline last year. Marte appears to have the inside track on the starting shortstop role in Phoenix, and there’s some sneaky breakout potential here if his gains from last season can stick.
30. Dansby Swanson (Atlanta Braves) – There’s no way around it – Swanson was a huge disappointment last season. That’s reflected in the fact that you can get him almost 200 picks later than you could last season. As lousy as he was, Swanson did still run a double-digit walk rate, so he’s clearly at least got a grasp of the strike zone. He’s a former top prospect and just turned 24, so there’s still some hope for him. He’s never going to be a fantasy star, though.