We continue the 2019 Pitcher List rankings today with shortstop, the most existentially fraught position on the baseball diamond. Shortstops have no place to call home, no small piece of white rubber or corner of the field to which they can lay claim. There they stand, between second base and third base, forever adrift. Trees with no roots. Men with no country. I’m giving myself anxiety just thinking about it.
This past year really was the year of the shortstop. Several already established players kicked things into another gear (Alex Bregman, Javier Baez, Trevor Story, Tim Anderson, Jose Peraza), while a bunch of fresh faces made big splashes in their first seasons in the majors (Gleyber Torres, Adalberto Mondesi, Willy Adames). Shortstop is the most heavily tiered infield position among our rankings, with seven distinct tiers that I have named after what I feel are the appropriate deadly sins. Why? Because I needed a theme, I’ve never seen Seven Samurai, and I couldn’t think of anything else that there were seven of.
Wait, DWARVES! Dang it!
A few notes before we jump in: These rankings are for standard category formats that use Avg., R, RBI, SB, and HR. These rankings were determined by consensus during a rankings roundtable with several Pitcher List staff members. The “*” indicates a player who is not currently shortstop-eligible in non-Yahoo! league, but likely will be soon after the season starts. The “y” indicates a position that the player is only eligible at in standard Yahoo! leagues. That having been said, let’s jump in.
Tier 1: Greed
Drafting a shortstop from this tier is an absolute luxury that you should lord over everyone else in your league like the greedy son-of-a-gun that you are. Congratulations: This is what being a part of the 1% feels like.
No. 1: Francisco Lindor (SS, Cleveland Indians)
After suffering a serious calf strain last week, Francisco Lindor is in danger of missing the first week or two of the regular season. It’s really a testament to how good he’s been that the injury doesn’t impact his ranking here because even 90% of a season from him is better than what you’ll likely get from the guys below him. Steamer currently has him penciled in for 146 games with 30 homers, 20 stolen bases, 102 runs, 90 RBI, and a .286 average. It’s worth pointing out that Lindor improved both his line-drive rate and hard-contact rate last year but still ended up with a sub-.280 BABIP for the second consecutive season. Nothing in his profile supports that, so expect the average to creep back up as long as he doesn’t have any lingering effects in his calf. His rehab will definitely be worth monitoring throughout the spring — and any setbacks should be weighed accordingly — but for now he’s still the no-doubt top option at the position.
No. 2: Manny Machado (SS/3B(y), Unsigned)
Obviously this ranking is dependent on Manny Machado actually signing with a team and playing baseball this year, as opposed to pursuing what’s obviously his true dream of becoming an MMA fighter under the moniker Manny “The Ankle Breaker” Machado. It was nice to see him get to double-digit steals again last year for the first time since 2015, though where he’ll settle in the category in any given year is still a mystery. Still, he’s a safe bet for a .290 average and 35 homers, so don’t let your moral compass get in the way of grabbing him with one of your first picks.
No. 3: Alex Bregman (SS/3B, Houston Astros)
Power. Speed. Contact ability. After giving us just a taste of what he could do in 2017, Bregman broke out in a big way in 2018. He took huge strides in hard-contact rate, and the 31 homers were backed by a very reasonable 14.1% HR/FB. He also walked (13.6%) more than he struck out (12.1%) this past year, a rare feat that’s worthy of your praise and adoration. The 17 bases he stole in 2017 might be the high-water mark for him considering he never ran a ton in the minors, but there’s still plenty of room for growth here in his age-25 season. Draft him with confidence and enjoy the ride.
No. 4: Trea Turner (SS, Washington Nationals)
Over the course of Trea Turner’s 360 career games, he’s posted a 162-game average of 19.8 homers, 55.8 stolen bases, and a .289/.346/.456 triple slash. There isn’t another player in the game right now that you could peg to put up numbers like those in a given season, primarily because few players possess speed as elite as Turner’s without also featuring glaring holes in other facets of their game (see: Mondesi, Dee Gordon, etc.). And it’s important to keep in mind that those 162-game averages don’t factor in the growth you’d expect to continue seeing from a 25-year-old. In fact, his contact and walk rates have been trending up significantly for two straight seasons now and paint the picture of an elite talent who’s only going to get better. There are valid concerns about his power being totally legit, but he did smack 19 homers this past year despite a 49% ground-ball rate and not-untenable 11% HR/FB. xStats pegged him for 15 xHR last year and a .289 xAVG; excellent numbers for a guy who could also lead the league in steals. Turner is one of the only players you can realistically expect 70 HR+SB from in a given season, and for that reason, he’s firmly entrenched as a top-tier offensive weapon.
Tier 2: Pride
“Pride goeth before a fall.” That’s Proverbs 16:18, according to Google. And obviously what’s being warned against is drafting shortstops such as the ones found in this tier and expecting 2018-level production. Verily, their talent is elite. But be aware that there’s a wider range of outcomes for them compared with the players in Tier 1.
No. 5: Trevor Story (SS, Colorado Rockies)
Trevor is a cool Story, bro. Especially after the tremendous strides he made in 2018. He actually significantly improved his swinging-strike, contact, and chase rates to the point where they were essentially in line with the league averages in each category. This resulted in him cutting his strikeout rate from 34.4% in 2017 to just 25.6% last year. And he did all this while still making a veritable butt-ton of hard contact (45.6% according to Baseball Savant). xStats had him pegged for 32 xHR last year, so he may have gotten a little lucky in the category. And to be sure, his contact ability and strikeout rate still don’t necessarily qualify as “good.” But if the changes he made last year stick, 30 homers, 20 steals, and an average around .280 aren’t an unreasonable expectation.
No. 6: Javier Baez (SS/2B/3B, Chicago Cubs)
It might seem crazy for a guy who hit 34 homers, stole 21 bases, batted .290, and both scored and drove in more than 100 runs to not be in the top tier of shortstops. But Baez’s free-swinging ways mean there is a TON of risk baked in if you decide to draft him. He posted a 17.9% whiff rate, 68.5% contact rate, and 45.5% chase rate last season. Those are very scary numbers for those expecting Baez to be anything close to a batting average asset again. To this point, he’s been able to overcome his shortcomings thanks to a .337 career BABIP. And maybe luck will continue to be on his side. But because he hardly walks at all, he’s going to need those hits to continue falling. Otherwise we could see a domino effect that results in his average, stolen base totals, and run-scoring opportunities all taking a nosedive. On top of that, Baez has always posted mediocre hard-contact rates, so repeating the 24.3% HR/FB he posted in 2018 might prove difficult. The sky’s clearly the limit for the 26-year-old; just don’t be too quick to assume 2018 is his new baseline.
Tier 3: Lust
It’s hard to resist, isn’t it? That all-consuming hunger bubbling up inside you. The upside of the players in this tier is super seductive. And while it may feel good to see these guys’ names on your roster, there’s a chance you’ll regret giving in to your base desire to draft them once you have your wits about you later in the season.
No. 7: Xander Bogaerts (SS, Boston Red Sox)
Xander Bogaerts‘ production has been all over the map to this point in his career. He’s stolen as many as 15 bases in a season and as few as two. He’s hit as high as .320 and as low as .240. He’s popped as many as 23 homers and as few as seven. The good news is that Bogaerts finally seemed to settle into a good place last year, boosting his barrel rate from an embarrassing 1.3% in 2017 up to an impressive, career-best 9.8% rate. A lot of this was the result of a huge jump in hard contact, which went from 31.7% to 41.5%. Best of all, his contact ability didn’t suffer as a result of any of these improvements. Bogaerts is essentially the physical embodiment of Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, so trying to pin down expectations for him is impossible. But a .280 average with 20 homers and 10 steals seems like a fair baseline.
No. 8: Carlos Correa (SS, Houston Astros)
The hype has finally started to die down on Carlos Correa after four seasons of good-but-inconsistent production and myriad injuries. As Dave Cherman mentioned recently on the podcast, back issues are no joke, especially for athletes, and the pain Correa was dealing with last year impacted his ability to comfortably stand and sleep. He’s apparently healthy now, and at just 24 years old, we likely haven’t even glimpsed what he’s truly capable of. But he’s definitely worth monitoring in spring training to ensure he’s not dealing with any lingering back issues and to see if his running game — which has all but evaporated over the past two years — might be coming back.
No. 9. Adalberto Mondesi (SS/2B(y), Kansas City Royals)
Mondesi is one of the most talked about names in fantasy right now, and for good reason. He managed to swat 14 homers and amass 32 steals in just 291 plate appearances while posting a respectable .276 batting average. As a result, he’s currently being drafted as a top-50 player and in some leagues is even going inside the top 30. It’s tempting to prorate what he did in 2018 and see a guy who could hit 30 homers and steal 60 bases, but beware: Mondesi has some serious work to do when it comes to his plate approach. He posted a dreadful 18.2% whiff rate and 67% contact rate while chasing pitches outside the zone 37% of the time. That doesn’t bode well for his batting averages, and because he doesn’t walk at all (he drew just 11 free passes in 2018), he’s going to live and die by the BABIP. Fortunately, he’s one of the fastest players in the sport, posting the 11th-highest sprint speed this past season. So that will smooth over some of his warts. And what’s more, he’s only 23 years old, so there may be some maturation on the horizon. The range of outcomes is absolutely massive, but so is the potential value. How lucky are you feeling, punk?
Tier 4: Envy
You’re halfway through the draft, and you haven’t drafted a shortstop yet. You look around at everyone with their shiny new Bregmans and Turners and you start to feel a little … envious. Well fret not because the shortstops in this tier are plenty capable of returning tons of value if you can stomach the uncertainty that comes along with them.
No. 10: Corey Seager (SS, Los Angeles Dodgers)
Corey Seager is working his way back from both Tommy John surgery and hip surgery to repair a torn labrum. Rehabbing two major injuries at the same time is no joke, and consequently, it’s hard to know what to expect from Seager. What we do know is that he’s still just 24 years old and that he seemed well on his way to establishing himself as one of the premier shortstops in baseball prior to getting hurt. He was always adept at spraying line drives to all fields, so if he’s truly healthy, you can probably expect a really solid average with 25-homer pop. He’ll be someone to pay close attention to in spring training.
No. 11: Jean Segura (SS, Philadelphia Phillies)
Jean Segura moves from the yawning expanse of T-Mobile Park to the friendly confines of Citizens Bank Ballpark this year, which should help his power output. Considering his 50-plus% ground-ball rates and waning hard contact, it likely won’t be enough to get back to the 20-homer plateau he reached in 2016. But hey, every little bit helps. It’s hard to imagine Segura hitting anywhere except at the top of the order, so he should contribute admirably in every category except RBI. Low-teens homers with 25 steals and a high average make him a nicely balanced option to snatch up once the big names are off the board.
No. 12: Gleyber Torres (SS/2B, New York Yankees)
Torres put together an impressive rookie campaign, accumulating 24 homers and six steals in just 123 games. He did most of that damage in the first half, riding a 21.4% HR/FB on his way to racking up 15 of those homers. He faded down the stretch though, with just a .249 average in the second half, and there are some red flags in terms of his contact ability. Still, it’s hard not to give the benefit of the doubt to someone with his pedigree who only just turned 22.
Tier 5: Gluttony
Don’t think the irony of the “gluttony” tier being filled with a bunch of burners who cumulatively weigh about 200 pounds is lost on me. This tier is feast or famine in terms of the potential outcomes, but your stat lines will be looking pretty fat and happy if things break right.
No. 13: Jonathan Villar (SS(y)/2B, Baltimore Orioles)
The season Jonathan Villar posted in 2016 is the season most people are dreaming Mondesi will put together this year. And based on his bounce-back 2018, it’s clear Villar still possesses the same skill set as Mondesi. So why the huge disparity in where they’re going in drafts? Villar is still just 27 years old and plenty capable of smacking 15 homers while stealing 40-plus bases. He’ll likely be at the top of the punchless Orioles’ lineup this year, so his run and RBI totals won’t wow you. But if you want someone with Mondesi-like upside who’s going 60 picks later, Villar is your guy.
No. 14: Tim Anderson (SS, Chicago White Sox)
The hype on Anderson this year is notably muted considering that the 25-year-old shortstop hit 20 homers and stole 26 bases last season. Anderson actually took a step back in 2018 in terms of his barrel and hard-contact rates, which makes the 20 homers somewhat surprising. However, he did begin elevating the ball a lot more, improving his launch angle considerably while hitting more fly balls. The poor plate approach and about 25% strikeout rate likely mean he won’t hit much higher than .260 at best. But considering where he’s going in drafts at the moment, the mid-teens power and 20-plus stolen bases could be a real value.
No. 15: Jose Peraza (SS, Cincinnati Reds)
While it’s becoming clear that we may never see the 70-stolen base upside that Peraza flashed as a prospect in the minor leagues, he might still be a real fantasy asset if he can produce double-digit homers the way he did last season. The problem is, the chances of him accomplishing that again seem pretty slim when you take into the account how poor his barrel rate (2.9%) and hard-contact rate (23.5%) were. Now he did lift his launch angle up to 13 degrees last year and began pulling the ball a bit more. But even with those changes, xStats had him pegged for just 8.8 xHR. Getting a handful of homers from a guy with decent speed and elite contact skills is still pretty dope though, and he should score plenty of runs hitting atop the Reds’ revamped lineup.
No. 16: Jonathan Schoop (SS(y)/2B, Minnesota Twins)
Was 2018 an aberration or a testament to Jonathan Schoop’s year-to-year inconsistency? His batting averages and hard-contact rates over the past five seasons have swung up and down so wildly it’s enough to make you dizzy. Maybe it’s true that Schoop was hampered by injury throughout much of this past season. Maybe it’s true he was in a bad mental state after good friend and teammate Machado was traded away. There’s certainly upside for a serviceable average and close to 30 homers, but the floor here is pretty low.
No. 17: Amed Rosario (SS, New York Mets)
Amed Rosario completely salvaged his (fantasy) season in the second half of 2018, racking up 18 steals and swatting five homers over the course of just 63 games. He had entered the break with just six steals, four homers, and a .246 average on the year, but the hot finish has made him something of a sleeper heading into 2019. He’s the epitome of a free-swinger but might have the contact ability to make it work, as evidenced by the fact that he produced a solid 76% contact rate despite swinging at 41.2% of the pitches he saw outside the zone. And he was one of the fastest players in the game last year by sprint speed, which should help him turn all the middling contact he makes into hits. There’s a very raw product here but worlds of potential as well.
No. 18: Elvis Andrus (SS, Texas Rangers)
A broken hand robbed Elvis Andrus of nearly a third of his season, but even when he was healthy, he didn’t show any signs of being the 20 homer/25 stolen base guy we saw in 2017. Bear in mind that the huge power outburst from 2017 wasn’t backed by any major improvements in hard-contact, fly-ball rate, launch angle, or barrel rate, and relied on a HR/FB nearly twice his career average. Now 30 years old, even expecting double-digit homers and 25 steals may be a bit of a stretch. There’s still enough upside to be worth a gamble, just realize that 2017 was the outlier here.
No. 19: Dee Gordon (SS(y)/2B/OF, Seattle Mariners)
Given that Gordon is entering his age-31 season, betting on his speed to help him overcome his other shortcomings might no longer be prudent. Gordon walked just nine times last season over 588 plate appearances, which normally wouldn’t be a huge concern for him. But his speed has taken a bit of a step back, meaning he can’t manufacture hits the way he used to. He ranked 56th last year in sprint speed, which contributed to his pedestrian .304 BABIP, the lowest total he’s posted in the category since his breakout in 2014. If Gordon isn’t walking and he’s not beating out hits the way he used to, that not only drags down his batting average but impacts his stolen-base and run-scoring opportunities as well. Those stats have historically been his bread and butter, so things could start getting ugly. He’ll still likely be a solid resource for those in need of speed, but things appear to be trending in the wrong direction.
Tier 6: Wrath
So you got sniped on some of the higher-upside guys in the tiers above. It’s OK. Take a deep breath. Don’t give in to your rage. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to the dark side. The players in this tier will serve you just fine. They won’t be the reason you win your league or anything. But they’ll hold things down until the anger subsides.
No. 20: Garrett Hampson* (SS/2B(y), Colorado Rockies)
This ranking was made under the assumption that Garrett Hampson will be the Rockies’ Opening Day second baseman. Hampson had a really appealing minor league profile, pairing 70-grade speed with enough pop to scrape 10 homers and great zone recognition and bat control. Any decent prospect is worth getting hyped about when he plays half his games in Coors, and while he’ll likely have to address the strikeout issues he had during his cup of coffee last year, there’s potential here for across-the-board contributions.
No. 21: Jurickson Profar (1B/2B(y)/SS/3B, Oakland Athletics)
Profar finally broke out in 2018, batting .254 with 20 homers and 10 stolen bases. While he never flashed that kind of power at any point in his career prior to this past year, the 20 homers were supported by a big jump in hard contact and a very reasonable 13.2% HR/FB. Moving to Oakland won’t do him any favors in his attempt to repeat the power outburst, but his batting average should come up a bit with some better luck on his batted balls. You’re likely looking at a guy who will hit .270 with 15 homers and 10 steals and qualifies at several infield positions, which makes him quite an asset.
No. 22: Andrelton Simmons (SS, Los Angeles Angels)
When it comes to avoiding the strikeout, nobody is better than Andrelton Simmons. His 7.3% strikeout rate was the lowest in baseball among qualified hitters last year by more than 2 percentage points. Considering that, he has one of the safer batting average floors in the game. Simmons made much more hard contact last season, posting a 36.2% hard-hit rate, which helped him produce the most barrels of his career. He still hits the ball on the ground too much to take full advantage of all that, but low-teens homers and stolen bases with a super safe batting average is still worth rostering in most formats.
No. 23: Marcus Semien (SS, Oakland Athletics)
Is the 27-homer power Marcus Semien flashed in 2016 ever going to come back? Honestly, probably not. Semien’s hard-hit rate and barrel rate were roughly league-average that year, and it was the only season where his HR/FB (14.7%) exceeded single-digits. All that to say you can probably stop holding your breath for that 25 homer/15 stolen base season you’ve been waiting for. Still, he could go 15/15 with an average around .255. For a middle infielder, that plays.
Tier 7: Sloth
Chances are, if you’re depending on any of these names to hold down a roster spot, you got kind of lazy when it came to securing the high-end talent. You were unmotivated. Slow-moving. Slothful, even. It’s OK though: There’s hope for some of the names here. Not much, but … you did this to yourself.
No. 24: Jorge Polanco (SS, Minnesota Twins)
Jorge Polanco makes a ton of contact and started spraying more line drives to the opposite field last season, which helped him turn in a .288 average after returning from his PED suspension. Neither the power nor the speed are anything to write home about, but he’s a good high-floor, low-ceiling player you can count on to contribute a little bit toward every category except RBI.
No. 25: Paul deJong (SS, St. Louis Cardinals)
Will deJong be deBomb this year? Will he hits lots of deGongs? Maybe even a few off deGrom? The answer, emphatically, is yes. But it’s not the homers you’re worried about with deJong, it’s the batting average. Considering his 28% strikeout rate and .349 BABIP in 2017, nobody was shocked that he didn’t hit .285 again last year. However, the .241 average he produced overshadowed some meaningful improvements he made at the dish. He cut down on his swinging strikes and his chase rate, and consequently improved his strikeout rate. And he did this while sporting the same barrel rate and hard hit percentage he did in 2017, when he smoked 25 homers in 108 games. The real deJong likely exists somewhere between the 2017 and 2018 versions we’ve seen. And considering that he’ll likely be a fixture in the heart of the Cardinals’ lineup this year (he mostly hit 3rd and 5th in the order last season), he’s a great bounceback candidate.
No. 26: Eduardo Escobar (SS/3B, Arizona Diamondbacks)
Aside from making a lot more hard contact last year and getting a full slate of at-bats, there wasn’t a huge change in Eduardo Escobar’s profile that coincided with his breakout. At 30 years old, there probably isn’t much room for growth, but a solid average with 20-homer power plays in most leagues.
No. 27: Asdrubal Cabrera (SS/2B/3B, Texas Rangers)
Asdrubal Cabrera has been one of the more underrated middle infielders in recent years, and he now has a chance to show what he can do in Texas, which was the friendliest hitters park in baseball last season (yes, even better than Coors). Lower-body injuries and age have robbed him of his speed, but he’s still a good bet for an average upwards of .275 with 20-plus homers.
No. 28: Willy Adames (SS/2B(y), Tampa Bay Rays)
It’s tempting to look at Adames’ 2018 line, project it out over a full year, and see a guy who will go 20/15 with a .278 average. Don’t allow yourself to be tempted though, lest you find yourself facing down a lifetime of ETERNAL DAMNATION. Sorry, that was extreme. Adames has a decent contact profile but hits a lot of balls on the ground, and the quality of contact was middling last year. Considering that, the 16.9% HR/FB was likely a little inflated, and you’re probably looking more at mid-teens power and speed with a volatile average.
No. 29: Chris Taylor* (SS/2B(y)/OF, Los Angeles Dodgers)
It wasn’t quite the follow-up many were expecting after Chris Taylor’s breakout 2017 campaign. The 29.5% strikeout rate is scary, and even though he made much more hard contact and hit more line drives, those only helped the .345 BABIP pull his average up to .254. The second base job appears to be his at the moment, and there’s power and speed here. But if the batted balls don’t keep falling for hits, he could be a big drain on your batting average.
No. 30: Ketel Marte (SS/2B, Arizona Diamondbacks)
Ketel Marte is a bit of a sleeper this season on account of his excellent contact rates and the fact that his hard contact jumped way up to 36% this past year. The fact that he hits more than half his batted balls on the ground should temper expectations for 20 homers, but an average in the .270 range with double-digit power and speed can get the job done in most formats.
Photo by: Juan DeLeon/Icon Sportswire