Hello and welcome (back) to the 2020 Pitcher List shortstop rankings. Initially created back in March, these rankings have undergone some slight tweaks in light of the 60-game season and recent news. Austin Bristow II wrote the original write-ups for these rankings. Here’s what he had to say:
Shortstop is debatably the deepest position on the infield, with massive star power at the top and plenty of reliable starters throughout.
These are not my personal rankings but rather the consensus rankings from the Pitcher List managerial staff. A lot of brilliant minds put this together over the course of the winter. That said, we want to hear your feedback. If you disagree, let me know!
A couple of things to note before reading: these rankings are for standard category formats that use AVG, R, RBI, HR, and SB. Also, whenever I report hard-hit rate, I am referring to the Statcast figure available at Baseball Savant, as opposed to the Baseball Info Solutions available at FanGraphs.
Tier 1: Uber Elite
No. 1: Francisco Lindor (Cleveland Indians)
Our pick for the top shortstop is the 8th player off the board in NFBC ADP, Francisco Lindor. Mr. Smiles had every reason to beam, as he slashed .284/.335/.518 with 32 homers and 22 steals. By all measures he was one of the best players in the game, finishing 26th overall on Razzball’s Player Rater. That may sound disappointing since he was drafted in the first round last year but remember: in the first round you are drafting floor, not ceiling.
Looking to 2020, I see no reason not to expect more of the same from Lindor. His expected stats back up the performance from last year and we now have three straight seasons of 32+ home runs and 15-25 steals. By all means, his age-26 season should be very similar; I’d project a .280 AVG with 10-12 homers, 7-9 steals, and plenty of runs scored during the short season. Lindor is a very safe and fun pick in the back half of the first round, and I’d consider taking him as high as 7th overall.
As just stated, I’d rank Lindor as high 7th overall. Clearly, the top five are some order of Mike Trout, Ronald Acuna, Christian Yelich, Cody Bellinger, and Mookie Betts. My personal pick for sixth overall would be the Rockies shortstop, Trevor Story. But Austin, Story is here at #2 and Lindor is at #1! Yeah, these aren’t my personal rankings and, also, it’s one spot apart. Lindor probably has a higher floor than Story, but I absolutely love his upside.
After he posted two years of 35+ home runs, 23+ stolen bases, and a .290+ batting average, I have him ranked fifth overall in my 2020 rankings. His power is undeniable, and he is among the fastest players in the game with a 29.2-feet-per-second sprint speed (the fastest player in MLB is D-backs outfielder Tim Locastro with an obscene 30.8 ft/sec). Story has all the tools to continue his superstar performance we’ve seen the past two seasons. Outside of Acuña and Yelich, Story is the most likely player to have a 10-10 season in this year’s 60-game season.
Trea Turner was a key component in the Washington Nationals‘ championship season. He put up an impressive .298/.353/.497 slashline with 19 homers and 35 stolen bases. For years, the fantasy baseball community has dreamed on a 60-steal season, but whether it be injury or other extenuating circumstances, we’ve yet to see him top 46 steals (in just 98 games!).
Turner is completely capable of a massive 20-60 pace over a full season. He is the second-fastest man in baseball, coming in with a wild 30.4 ft/sec that is bested only by the previously mentioned Tim Locastro. His xAVG of .282 along with his 41.5% hard-hit rate suggests all of his hitting results are legit. It seems we need only wait for that one beautiful season where he puts everything together and almost singlehandedly wins fantasy leagues.
Some may scoff to see Alex Bregman all the way down at fourth in our SS rankings, and, let me tell you, these top four were hotly debated by our managers! In the end, Bregman ended up the lowest of the best, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t dope. How could a guy that just hit 41 homers with a .296 average not be dope?
Bregman is essentially the new Joey Votto. He had the lowest O-swing% (18.8) of any player, was third in the league in walk rate (17.2%), and backs up his fantastic eye with an elite contact rate of 87%, the fifth-best mark in the majors. He’s as safe of lock for a .415 OBP as any player not named Trout. Because of this, I’d likely rank him 1st of this group in a points league, where his plate approach will directly benefit him.
Now, I’m not sure we’ll see Bregman hit 41 homers again, as he actually had a hard-hit rate below league-average in 2019. Although, as a right-handed hitter that hits a lot of line drives to his pull-side, he is basically tailor-made for Minute Maid Park. The stadium features sort of a mini version of Fenway’s “Green Monster”; the Crawford Boxes in Houston are 315 feet from home plate down the left-field line with a 19-foot-tall wall. 13 of Bregman’s 41 homers went to left field at home, so he’s clearly taking advantage of it, but he did do most of his damage on the road. In total, 25 of his 41 dingers came away from Houston. I’ve kind of talked myself into Bregman as a power hitter again (hope you all enjoyed that roller coaster ride), but the subpar hard-hit rate will continue to concern me.
Worth noting, I do not personally believe Bregman benefitted much from any Astros cheating in 2019. Inquiring minds may disagree, but I am not concerned about a drop in production due to any loss of outside assistance. Though, Bregman may see a lot of hit-by-pitches in 2020.
Tier 2: Elite
I feel like we’ve never really gotten to know who the real Xander Bogaerts is because he keeps evolving year after year. He’s gone from a contact hitter to a 20-15 threat, to a power-hitting, all-around stud. The 2019 version of Bogaerts hit .309 with 33 homers and 227 combined runs and RBI. All of his underlying metrics back up the performance, as his entire Baseball Savant profile is just short of elite.
As for what 2020 has in store, I honestly could not tell you. We’ve seen such different versions of the same player over the last five years, each very valuable but in unique ways. For all I know, Bogaerts may decide to start running again and steal a handful of bases in the shortened season. If I had to project a season for him, I’d expect 8-10 homers, a .295-.305 AVG, and 70+ runs and RBI combined over 60 games. We’ll throw in three steals for good measure. Whatever Bogaerts gives owners in 2020, I’m sure they be pleased to have taken him in the third round.
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Fernando Tatis Jr. was everything we wanted and more in his rookie season, slashing .317/.379/.590 while stealing 16 bases and hitting 22 home runs in just 84 games. People were discussing Tatis as a potential first-round pick at the mid-point of the season before his campaign was cut short by a back strain in August. Just see this piece I put together back in July, where he was taken 13th overall in a 2-round mock! It makes sense, as he has a clear 30-30 upside, but there is reason for concern.
The most glaring issue is Tatis’s .410 BABIP, which will likely regress in 2020. But even if his BABIP drops 40 points, that’s not too bad as it would make Tatis a .275 hitter instead of .317. The other concern I have lies in his health. Tatis is a young “plays with his hair on fire” type, which is why he’s seen as such a dynamic athlete. However, he’s already got a hamstring strain that shelved him for all of May, and a back strain that ended his season in mid-August. Both hamstring and back muscular injuries can be a recurring trend, which does give me pause when Tatis is a second-round pick at minimum. Though injury risk may not come into play as much in a short season, as I said with Lindor, the first two rounds are for drafting floor. So, while Tatis’s ceiling is tantalizing and could potentially help you win your league, there is some risk here.
No. 8: Javier Baez (Chicago Cubs)
After a near-MVP 2018, hopes were high for Javier Baez in 2019. He had a very productive season but regressed in essentially every category. His home runs dropped from 34 to 29, average from .290 t0 .281, steals were halved from 21 to 11. In a vacuum, that 2019 season was very good, but people had expected more.
Looking toward 2020, I think we ought to expect a season where he paces closer to his 2019 campaign. His xSLG (.503) and hard-hit rate (43.6%) are certainly encouraging signs that he’ll continue to be a productive power hitter going forward. But, his strikeout rate did creep back up to nearly 28% and his groundball rate increased to a 50% mark at the cost of his line drives. I’d like to see him reverse both of those trends this year. Who knows, he may even start running again with David Ross at the helm. At a 3rd or 4th round cost, he’s worth a pick in my book.
One of the main points of debate in the 2018-19 offseason was what to do with Adalberto Mondesi. Many thought his skill set was reminiscent of Trea Turner, capable of a 20-50 season, though clearly more volatile. Others couldn’t see past the abysmal 22.7% K-BB rate and weren’t willing to touch him with a twelve-foot pole. So, in 2019 Mondesi goes out and somehow proves both sides right. He struck out even more (29.8%), hit only nine home runs, but stole 43 bags while hitting .263. It was, by most accounts, a productive fantasy season for Mondesi. So, what do we do with him now?
I see Mondesi as very similar to Jonathan Villar. The two are both drafted primarily for their steals, but both carry a fairly low floor. I think we can see a 2020 season in which Mondesi hits .250-.260 while stealing 13-15 bags. However, his hard-hit rate is pretty paltry at just 33.4% (22nd percentile). With that in mind, I think it is important to plan ahead for a player like Mondesi. Just like I said with Villar, “Drafting Jonathan Villar will be a decision that an owner ought to make prior to the beginning of the draft. If you want to take a player like Villar, Adalberto Mondesi, or others whose main draw is their capacity to carry you in stolen bases, you should plan your draft around that.” Take players like Freddie Freeman or J.D. Martinez who will anchor your team’s HR and AVG, but don’t offer steals. This way, if Mondesi tanks his batting average, Freeman can make up for it.
My first article for Pitcher List was a Going Deep piece detailing how Marcus Semien might break out. Well, turns out I was just a year too early! Semien had the season I had always hoped he could, batting .285 with 33 homers and 215 combined R and RBI. His gains in plate discipline were among the best in the league, as he improved BB/K ratio from 0.47 to a stellar 0.85, the eighth-best mark in the majors. His xAVG (.275) and xSLG (.495) back up the breakout as well, so I am pretty much all in on Semien.
Semien currently has an ADP of 83rd overall. With price baked in, this may be one of the steepest discounts for an MVP candidate I’ve ever seen. The fantasy community may not be ready to fully buy into Semien, but I’ll be happy to grab him in the seventh or eighth round of every draft between now and Opening Day.
Tier 3: Near-Elite
In his first year in San Diego, Manny Machado had the worst season of his career. Many have pointed to his home-away splits in his years as an Oriole, which is an absolutely fair point, but I think there may be legitimate skill erosion here. Machado posted a career-high 19.4% strikeout rate this past year along with the lowest contact (77.4%) he’s had since his 2012 rookie season. His expected stats, which were among the best in the league in 2018, regressed across the board last season. His xAVG dropped 23 points from .289 to .266, and his xSLG fell 51 points from .517 to just .466. While he still impacts the ball very well, it is no longer at an elite rate. His hard-hit rate fell from 48% in 2018, to 43.7% in 2019.
All of this is to say that Machado’s 2019 struggles were not due to playing outside of Baltimore, but rather a drop in actual skills. Now, I’m not sure what exactly was the cause of this regression, as his plate approach seems to be mostly unchanged. It could be that Machado will be able to rebound back to his first-round performance, but I’ll let you determine whether that is worth investing a fifth-round pick in him.
Recurring back injuries (and a very odd rib fracture) have derailed Carlos Correa’s career, as he has played more than 150 games only once in his career back in 2016. The former first-overall pick did have a much better season in 2019 than his 2018 campaign, though that bar is admittedly low. In just 75 games, Correa batted .279 with 21 home runs, and his Statcast profile shows his skills are still quite impressive. He boasted a .290 xAVG, .559 xSLG, and a 42.2% hard-hit rate. It seems that Correa could be a great value if he is able to remain healthy for the entire shortened 2020 season (though even that may be asking a lot).
With an ADP in the middle of the ninth round, Correa may very well be worth the risky investment. One strategy that I’d recommend is making him your second SS, planning to have him as a middle infield or utility slot. If you don’t manage to draft a safer shortstop in the top of your draft, you could quickly follow up a Correa pick with someone like Elvis Andrus or Corey Seager, a safe but kind of boring option. In this way, you are mitigating the risk of owning Correa, while still giving yourself the opportunity of benefitting from a healthy season.
The breakout of Tim Anderson was due in a large part to a more aggressive approach at the plate. Anderson’s 58.5% swing rate was the fourth-highest in the majors in 2019, topped only by Jeff McNeil, Eddie Rosario, and Kevin Pillar. Anderson’s contact skills on pitches in the zone (90% Z-Contact%) led to a league-leading .335 batting average. Now, do I expect him to hit over .320 again? Absolutely not! However, his .294 xAVG was among the top 8% of the league. If his BABIP drops 30 points, he’d still finish with an average near .300.
Unfortunately, Andeson once again failed to deliver on his stolen base potential. Despite a sprint speed of 28.7 ft/sec, Anderson only managed to steal 17 bases in 22 attempts. It may simply be time to admit that we cannot expect Anderson to be a source of 20+ steals over a full year. If we get a pace close to it this year, awesome. However, I do not think you should be drafting him expecting him to carry you in steals.
The third member of the Baby Blues, Bo Bichette was the most impressive of the three young Blue Jays hitters in 2019. In his first 46 games of big-league experience, Bichette slashed .311/.358/.571 with 11 home runs, 18 doubles, and four steals. While his power is clearly more geared toward hitting doubles, it seems completely realistic that Bichette could provide 7-9 homers this season. He has also been a steals threat in the minors, swiping 32 bags in his 2018 AA season and 15 in his 56 games at AAA last year.
With a potential 20-20 full-season pace in store, it’s easy to see why Bichette has an ADP in the late fifth round. Keep in mind, we’ve seen a very small sample from Bichette and MLB teams and pitchers have had an entire offseason to study film on him. That’s the most realistic reason we see Sophomore Slumps, but that’s an article for another day. His 12.5% swinging-strike rate is a bit concerning, and I’d be surprised if we don’t see his .368 BABIP fall at least 15-20 points. The upside is exciting, but there are much safer shortstops available later in the draft, like Semien, Andrus, and Jorge Polanco.
Jorge Polanco has been another favorite player of mine for the past few years. I realized he had broken out before his PED suspension in 2018. Still, for whatever reason, I didn’t own him in any of my leagues this past year. Well, I played myself, as Polanco had a great year, with a .295/.356/.485 slashline, 22 home runs, and 107 runs scored. I honestly expected the #2 hitter for the best offense of 2019 to score more than 107 runs, but that’s alright. The underlying figures check out for the improved performance; he improved his plate discipline, hard-hit rate, and expected stats. It seems this pretty legit that this is the new norm for Polanco. I’d expect his 2020 season to look something along the lines of .280-.290 AVG, 7-8 homers, and a ton of runs scored. For a 12th or 13th round pick, that’s absolutely fantastic value.
Tier 4: Solid
Looking at Corey Seager’s Statcast profile is like eating a cheddar cheese sandwich on white bread. It’s fine, but absolutely no better than fine. Almost his entire profile place his statistics in the 45-55th percentile. But, this was his first season back from Tommy John and hip surgery, so I guess I can’t really complain too much about a .272 batting average. I will, however, complain about 19 home runs in the most power-friendly environment baseball has seen in decades.
One very encouraging improvement is in Seager’s approach at the plate. In past year’s I’ve been critical of his high groundball rate, but in 2019 he lowered it to a career-low 39% while posting a career-high 39% flyball rate. That should certainly bode well for his power production going forward, BUT it’s a two-way street as he still only managed 19 home runs with this new approach. All in all, Seager will probably give you a .275-.285 AVG, 7-8 home runs, and plenty of runs and RBI due to batting in the Dodgers lineup. He’s a safe but boring pick in the 12th round.
Pop Quiz: how many home runs did Elvis Andrus hit in 2019? How many bases did he steal? What was his average? I thought this was your job to tell us this stuff. Yeah, sure, but this is for the dramatic reveal! Andrus hit 12 home runs, stole 31 bases, and batted .275 last season, a performance worth the top 10 at SS. Another fun fact about Andrus: excluding his injury-shortened 2018 season, Elvis Andrus has stolen at least 21 bases in every season since 2009 while batting no lower than .258. If not for the 60-game season, I would see nothing in his profile that would have led me to believe this trend was about to end.
Andrus just posted a career-high 34.4% hard-hit rate, which isn’t great, but it proves that his skills are not eroding despite not being on the wrong side of 30. His .271 xAVG clearly supports his actual average, and his 91% Z-Contact rate was among the best in the league. I’d expect Andrus to bat between .270-.280 next season, with 3-4 homers, and 7-9 steals. To find a steals source that doesn’t kill you in the other categories in the 11th round is awesome, so Elvis Andrus is my 2020 sleeper pick at shortstop!
Tier 5: Fallback Options
In Didi Gregorius’s return from Tommy John surgery, he looked like he had barely missed a step. Sure, the batting average was only .238, but his .247 xAVG and .237 BABIP clearly indicate that it was not totally believable. What’s great to see is the power returning; he hit 16 homers in 82 games, a prorated pace of 30 in 155 games. He even posted a career-high 34.8% hard-hit rate, which, much like Andrus, is not great, but show the skills are still intact. Now in Philadelphia, he’ll have plenty of opportunity for RBI batting behind J.T. Realmuto and Bryce Harper. He’s going quite late in drafts, typically around the 16th round or later, and would make a fantastic middle infield or backup shortstop option.
I really wish I could quit Amed Rosario, but then he has a second half like in 2019 where he hit .319. For the whole year, Rosario put up a .287 AVG with 15 home runs and 19 steals. However, his .291 xAVG was among the top 10% of the league. He is also one of the fastest players in baseball, boasting a 29.2 ft/sec sprint speed. I want to believe that he is capable of a .300 AVG and 25 steals, I really do. Clearly the tools are there, but we’ve yet to see him put it all together. Rosario’s ADP has him being taken in the 11th round on average, a fair price, but not a bargain by any means. If you find yourself short on batting average or steals by the mid-point of your draft, Rosario may be a good way to get back on track.
With the addition of Didi Gregorius, Jean Segura will start off the season as the Phillies starting second baseman. However, he isn’t eligible there yet, so I’m writing him up as a shortstop where he will be eligible to start the year.
Jean Segura may be the most boring option at shortstop. While his .280 batting average is totally backed up by a .278 xAVG, he simply offers you nothing else. He hit 12 home runs and stole 10 bases in his first year in Philadelphia, and there’s nothing in his profile to suggest improvement in the near future. I really think this is a case of “what you see is what you get” with Segura. You can draft him in the sixteenth round for a .275-.285 AVG, 3-5 home runs, and 3-5 steals. It’s safe but very boring.
Unlike Segura, Dansby Swanson has a very interesting profile, and that’s not just the Braves fan in me talking. The former first-overall pick made improvements across the board last season, posting career-highs in hard-hit rate (41.6%), xAVG (.271), and xSLG (.480). There was a clear change in approach, as he dropped his groundball rate by seven points, with basically all of those gains going towards line drives. He also improved his plate discipline, drastically improving his O-swing% from 36.5 in 2018 to 28 last season.
The Braves are clearly committed to Dansby, and it seems that may be paying off. Swanson seems capable of providing a .270-.280 batting average while hitting near 7-8 home runs and stealing 3-5 bases. There may even be further development, but even if there isn’t, at a 21st-round price, you’re risking very little taking a flyer on him.
Nationals prospect Carter Kieboom looks to be in line to be the team’s everyday third basemen, especially now that the National League DH has cleared some more at-bats for his competitors. Besides an 80-grade name, Carter Kieboom has been touted as the Nationals’ top prospect for the past couple of years. Projected as an above-average contact hitter with 20-homer pop, Kieboom certainly impressed at AAA in 2019. The 21-year-old slashed .303/.409/.493 with 16 homers and 24 doubles in 104 games with the Fresno Grizzlies. I’m willing to totally throw out his 43 plate appearances with the MLB team last season. Such a small sample size really doesn’t have much predictive value. He has the pedigree of a future star–the question is whether the Nationals will hand him full-time at-bats or not.
Tier 6: Deep-League Options
Paul DeJong had a fantastic start to the season, batting .342 with 5 homers and 14 doubles in his first 29 games. Then he was pretty terrible for the last 130 games of the 2019 season. In that first month of the season, he was hitting line drives at an awesome 27.4%. Then he just stopped doing that and hit 15% line drives and 40% groundballs. I don’t understand what happened or why DeJong changed his approach from something that was clearly working. He still managed to hit 30 homers and score 97 runs throughout the season but provided little else. I’d much rather take a shot on someone like Swanson or Kieboom than DeJong, especially when he is being drafted ahead of both of them.
I have Garrett Hampson marked as 26A because he will only be shortstop eligible in Yahoo and Ottoneu leagues.
No. 26B: Luis Urias (Milwaukee Brewers)
. Despite a poor showing in the majors thus far, I am still confident that Urias can become a productive everyday starter for the Brewers. In 73 games at AAA last season, Urias batted .315 with 19 home runs and 19 doubles, giving him a .600 SLG. The tools are certainly there for a solid source of batting average at the very least, and it seems the Brewers are interested in giving him an opportunity at shortstop this season. I could see him providing a .265-.275 batting average with 3-5 home runs if given a proper shot at regular playing time in Milwaukee. Hopefully his recovery from his wrist injury is behind him, and he’s ready to battle with Orlando Arcia for the shortstop job.
Another cog in the crowded Rays infield, Willy Adames will avoid a lot of the mix-and-match platooning as his defense at shortstop is by far the best on the team. His bat, however, leaves a bit more to be desired. He batted .254 in 2019 with 20 homers, really not standing out in any particular skill. Adames will likely be a steady, yet mediocre presence.
Niko Goodrum made interesting improvements last season that saw him produce almost no notable results. He improved his hard-hit rate from 35% to a respectable 41.5%, while also increasing his line drive rate to 27.6%. Despite this, he still only managed a .248 average and 12 home runs. Oddly enough, he needed a .338 BABIP to reach that relatively low batting average, though this is likely due to a 29% K-rate holding back his overall numbers. With the increase in skill-based metrics, I’m tentatively hopeful that Goodrum may have more to offer in 2020, and with an ADP in the late 23rd round, he’ll probably be available as a last-pick flyer for your squad.
Last season, 29-year-old rookie Jon Berti was finally given a shot at the majors in Miami. He managed a .273 batting average with 17 steals in just 73 games. The overall skills are fairly lackluster with one glaring exception: Berti is very fast. His 29.8 ft/sec sprint speed was good for 13th in the majors, easily explaining his 30+ steal pace. Going undrafted in many drafts, you may be able to pick up Berti with the last pick of your draft as a flyer with the potential for a .250-.260 AVG and 8+ steals over 60 games.
Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)