Sunday, March 17, 2013

The 2013 Fantasy Baseball Shortstop Tiers

posted by Jon Williams

No fancy intro this time nor is there a featured player. But the player comments are longer than usual.

Tier One Shortstops

Jose Reyes, Toronto Blue Jays - Many of you will be surprised to see Reyes ranked first. Reyes hits for average and is an excellent leadoff hitter.He also has better power than is apparent by his homerun totals. He has averaged just under ten homers the last three seasons but has a career high of 19 homers hit back in old Shea Stadium. He now moves into the newly stacked Toronto Blue Jays lineup and they play in Toronto's Skydome which is easily the most favorable hitters park Reyes has ever enjoyed. A possible 20 homer season with his usual stolen base totals makes Reyes number one.

Troy Tulowitzki, Colorado Rockies - He has averaged 103 games played over the last three seasons. Yet he remains the top choice at shortstop for most fantasy owners and analysts. This is partially based on his superior talent but also an indication of just how this this position has become. If he is healthy for close to a full season he is the best at the position. I am not willing to bet he plays an entire season but he has had at least 470 at-bats in three of the last four seasons.

Starlin Castro, Chicago Cubs - At just 22-years old Castro has three years of experience as a Major League shortstop. On the surface it does not appear that he has improved much from his rookie season. His power has improved seeing his ISO improve from .108 in 2010 to .147 last season. He is not patient but makes excellent contact despite swinging at too many pitches out of the strike zone. He has excellent speed and has begun to be more aggressive on the bases but Castro is not a very skilled base stealer. He has received a lot of attention from the Cubs coaching staff with the goal of improving his baseball skills. His placement in the top tier has as much to do with his incredible ceiling as a player as with his above average production as a shortstop. There is a breakout coming.

Tier Two Shortstops

Hanley Ramirez, Los Angeles Dodgers - Ramirez is a player that has proved capable of batting .300 or better, hitting 30-plus homeruns, and stealing 50 bases. Hanley Ramirez has been an excellent contact hitter in the past but in the last three seasons has begun to swing at more pitches out of the strike zone. Maybe because of his success with that approach in 2010 he has continued with that approach. He it could also be that he became bored playing for the Marlins, a team that never truly seems to be committed to putting and keeping a true contending team on the field. In any case he seems rejuvenated this spring playing in Spring Training and the World Baseball Classic. The Dodgers have certainly made an effort to make Hanley happy and his team has a ton of talent. We could see him bounce back to a higher level of performance. He is capable of being the best player on this list.

Ben Zobrist, Tampa Bay Rays - The Rays refuse to leave him at one position. He began the offseason as the starting shortstop but was moved back to second when they acquired Yunel Escobar. Then he was placed back in the outfield when the Rays acquired Kelly Johnson. He hits for average and is usually good for close to 20 homers and 20 steals.

Jimmy Rollins, Philadelphia Phillies - He is getting older but he still performs at a high level especially relative to his position. He is unlikely to bat for average but he should hit 10-15 homeruns and steal 30-plus bases. Rollins has been incredibly consistent. He may not be a top tier choice but he is easily one of the safer ones.

Derek Jeter, New York Yankees - Jeter will hit for a high batting average with a high on-base percentage and 10-15 homeruns with a similar number of stolen bases. The Yankees are beginning the season with more injuries than usual so his Runs and RBI rates could start slow, at least until Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira are back in the lineup.

Ian Desmond, Washington Nationals - If you have been cruising various fantasy baseball sites looking for information on Ian Desmond's breakout season you have probably seen similar reports. They celebrate his great season and predict that there will be some regression to both his power and batting average. While that is a solid approach there are some signs that his develop was more real than fluke. He has shown impressive power in small samples in the minors but he has been such an undisciplined hitter that he usually missed the opportunity to achieve better homerun numbers. Last season he started to take a more all-fields approach to hitting. He was no more patient and still swung at everything but learned how to better handle pitches on the outer edges of the strikezone. He sits in the middle of the second tier because he needs a lengthier track record to rank higher. But if he does indeed repeat, and I believe he has solid chance of doing just that, he will belong in the top tier of shortstops.

Asdrubal Cabrera, Cleveland Indians - Some owners were disappointed that Cabrera did not match the 25 homers he slammed during the 2011 season. His 2011 power was fueled by an uptick to his flyball rate and a surge in his HR/FB rate. In 2012 his flyball rate regressed closer to his typical levels and he had a HR/FB rate closer to the league average. Cabrera is a solid offensive catcher and should be good for at least a .270 batting average, 15-20 homeruns and 10-15 steals. He does have the potential for greater numbers. Perhaps the new coaching staff can help him reach it.

Elvis Andrus, Texas Rangers - Owners will not get much power out of Elvis (I like calling him Elvis) but he is a near lock for 30 stolen bases. He does have some power potential but he will never achieve it as long as he hits 60 percent of his batted balls on the ground. Most of his flyballs are mistakes but he does hit the ball hard. He is still very young and not yet in his prime. His very high potential is still available should he commit to being the best player he can be. Things like the tattoo incident this spring are an indication of his continuing immaturity.

Erick Aybar, Los Angeles Angels - Aybar is an aggressive swinger who makes excellent contact albeit with  little power. He usually manages to hit for a solid to very good batting average with the odd homer here and there. He is usually good for 20-plus stolen bases. This year he could see a boost to his Run and RBI totals based simply on the depth of talent in the Angels lineup.

Tier Three Shortstops

Josh Rutledge, Colorado Rockies - Everyone loves a Colorado shortstop who can hit. His debut with the Rockies went very well in 2012 until a hamstring issue slowed him down from August onward. His minor league track record (short as it is) seems to support his 2012 performance. He makes excellent contact but tends to swing at anything he can reach. He has 20-plus homerun power and the more speed than was evident by his 2012 stolen base total. He seems to have the speed and skill to steal 15-20 bases or more with an aggressive manager. He is not likely to be a draft day bargain but looks like a good bet to equal or better his current market price.

Alcides Escobar, Kansas City Royals - The only thing that changed between 2011 and 2012 was his batted ball rates. He hit fewer flyballs and hit more ground balls and line drives. The LD rate of 23 percent drove the increased BABIP which drove the increased batting average which drove the better on-base percentage which led to the increase in stolen base opportunities. If he he can maintain the same batted ball rates he should repeat. Better to bet that he regresses a bit towards his career averages. The stolen bases make him worth the risk.

Marco Scutaro, San Francisco Giants - Scutaro has the patience to draw walks and usually has a solid on-base percentage. Since becoming a regular starter his ability to hit for average has improved and has been above .275 the last four seasons. He does not have much power or speed but will hit 8-10 homers and steal 5-10 bases in a good season. At most positions the lack of power and speed would hurt your fantasy team. But the over a full season the average shortstop hits just ten homers and steals around 15 bases. Scutaro will approach those numbers while pumping up your team batting average. As I keep repeating, hitting for average is a fading skill in Major League you can make up the few homers and stolen bases if you are unable to acquire one of the top two tier shortstops. 
 
Alexei Ramirez, Chicago White Sox - He seems to be fading. His power numbers have gone down the last two seasons. His stolen bases rebounded a bit last season but that may have been the result of manager Robin Ventura's commitment to an aggressive running game. This is not to say that he will not steal 20 bases again but rather to emphasize that his base skills are fading.

J.J. Hardy, Baltimore Orioles - Hardy is a solid defensive shortstop. He has a solid contact rate and excellent power but is an impatient and undisciplined hitter. He is unlikely to hit for a great average but 20 homers are usually in the cards with a middling batting average.

 Zach Cozart, Cincinnati Reds -  He enjoyed a solid full season debut batting .246/.288/.399 with 15 homeruns and four stolen bases. His .282 BABIP seems rather low but we do not have much track record to go on. His combination of power and speed leads me to believe he can do much better. There is definitely some stolen base upside as well. He is no speed demon but he did steal 30 bases his first season at Triple-A. If you find yourself digging for a shortstop or middle infielder this far down the list at least Cozart still has some upside potential.


Tier Four Shortstops

Hiroyuki Nakajima - There are not many scouting reports (that I can actually read) on Hiro as he likes to be called. I expect him to hit for a solid average a steal a few bases. He should get on base at a decent rate and score a bunch of runs in the Athletics lineup.

Cliff Pennington, Arizona Diamondbacks - Simply moving from Oakland Coliseum to Chase Field should improve Pennington's fantasy stock. Oakland Coliseum tends to reduce offense in almost every category. It shrinks left-handed power by around 18 percent! Chase Field, the home park of the Diamondbacks, has the nearly opposite effect on hitters. Boosting offense in almost every category. With better BABIP luck and the change in ballparks, Pennington should hit for a much better batting average. He is not a great hitter but neither is he as bad as he looked in 2012. He has patience at the plate and will take a walk and has average plate discipline. He has a little pop that might allow him to hit around 10 homers in his new home park. He has the speed to steal 30-plus bases if he gets on base enough to make the attempts and the Diamondbacks love to run. It also does not hurt that he and hitting coach Don Baylor are working on shortening his swing this spring. Pennington is a decent late round choice.

Jean Segura, Milwaukee Brewers - He has become the favorite sleeper of many owners thus ensuring he will not be much of a bargain for those of us with late drafts this year. He has fantastic speed and will steal bases with every opportunity. He does have some power potential that seems unlikely to be reached any time soon. He currently slaps most balls down into the ground, he had a 65.6 percent groundball rate in 2012 and just a 19.2 percent flyball rate. Draft him for the stolen bases at this point and do not pay for anything else.

Jed Lowrie, Oakland Athletics - Injuries took a large toll on Lowrie's career. He might have been established as a star at the position if he could have stayed healthy. He has better power than most at the position and he had a great opportunity to establish himself with the Astros but he failed to stay healthy once again in 2012. The Astros traded him for a handful of players this spring including Chris Carter and Brad Peacock. Lowrie will be a full-time utility player playing often but without a position of his own.

Andrelton Simmons, Atlanta Braves - The Braves young shortstop has great speed and a great glove. Some question his bat but he seems to have some patience at the plate and makes excellent contact. He hit the ball fairly hard judging by his 17 percent line drive rate. His short minor league track record suggests he will hit for a solid batting average. He has been a dynamo during the World Baseball Classic. I think ten homers and 20-plus stolen bases with a solid batting average is a decent bet.

Dee Gordon, Los Angeles Dodgers -In re-draft leagues you can ignore him but in keeper leagues you have a few things to consider. First, the 25-year old was very good in each and every season in the minors. No, he does not have much power. However, Gordon has always made excellent contact and has shown solid patience at the plate. He has crazy, mad, ludicrous speed. In a full season given a decent OBP he would easily steal 50-plus bases. This spring manager Don Mattingly has insisted that Gordon work on his on-base percentage and defense. As of this writing he has a .400 on-base percentage. I have a hunch he'll make the team. He has nothing to prove in the minors and he is more talented than the players manning two of the three spots he could theoretically handle. Even off the bench he could steal 25-plus bases.

Stephen Drew, Boston Red Sox - Like his brother J.D. Drew, Stephen Drew cannot stay healthy. He should be able to hit .20 or better with 15-20 homeruns but that would be in an uninterrupted season. He's already struggling with injuries this spring in case you were wondering.

Jhonny Peralta, Detroit Tigers - The Tigers always seem to be searching for Peralta's replacement. Fantasy owners might agree due to his wildly inconsistent performance with the bat. But the Tigers are probably more concerned about how his lousy defense impacts their pitching staff. He should hit 15-20 homeruns but his batting average could be anything from .230 to .300 making him a difficult player to forecast.


Jurickson Profar, Texas Rangers - He is the best prospect in the game by most accounts and the Texas Rangers do not have a spot for him. He has a good glove, solid power and the speed to steal 20-plus bases. He isn't even 20-years old so another year spent mostly in the minors is not the end of the world for his development.

Tier Five Shortstops

Ruben Tejada, New York Mets - I have seen him get lots of love from fantasy owners but I really do not get it. He hits the ball hard as evidenced by his career LD rate of 27 percent. That alone drives his decent batting averages that last two seasons. He has a swing at everything approach but does not strikeout much. He does not hit homeruns or steal bases in any significant numbers. He ranks here based on BA potential alone.

Yunel Escobar, Tampa Bay Rays - His personality quirks and despicable attitude have resulted in him being a member of four teams in the last two years. He has some talent and could make some valuable improvements if he could  just shut up and listen to the coaches and players that try to help him.

Luis Cruz, Los Angeles Dodgers - Thanks to a very productive 296 at-bats Cruz is a near lock to start the season as the Dodgers starting third baseman. Even the Dodgers seem to realize that Cruz is not a long term starter. They tried to convince Scott Rolen to come out of retirement and take the job but they could not work it out with him. I think he is probably a fair hitter at this point in his career. Older players are still capable of developing new skills and improving their production at the plate. But the Dodgers are still likely to replace him the first chance they get.

Everth Cabrera, San Diego Padres - I hate to mention it but Cabrera was one of the players revealed in the Biogenesis mess. So there is some risk of suspension. Cabrera has little power and slaps everything on the ground which is not a horrible strategy for a player with his speed and lack of homerun power. He has improved his strikeout rate a bit but still strikes out nearly 25 percent of the time. If you draft him it is in hopes that you will receive 40-plus stolen bases on the cheap.

Alex Gonzalez, Milwaukee Brewers - He has good power for a shortstop and has a solid opportunity to receive at-bats with the Brewers. The Brewers have a rookie shortstop and an injured first baseman. Gonzalez is expected to fill in at first until Corey Hart returns. He does not walk much and swings at everything. He does make lots of contact but has little clue what to do with a pitch he can not knock out of the park.

Brian Dozier, Minnesota Twins - He has few exceptional tools. By few I mean none. Scouts like his approach and he is one of those guys that makes the most of his limited tools. He has pretty decent speed. He looks like someone that can hit for a decent average thanks to decent patience and contact skills. You could do worse as a one dollar MI in an AL-only.

Tier Six Shortstops

Mike Aviles, Cleveland Indians - He has decent power and the speed to steal 15-plus bases and despite some lousy BABIP luck the last two seasons should hit for a solid batting average. He doesn't have much patience at the plate but makes solid contact. He has been a beast during the World Baseball Classic and you may someone to overpay based on that. He is coming off the bench for the Indians but the Indians have an inexperienced third baseman and second baseman so he could find a decent number of at-bats. The new Cleveland manager is Terry Francona who is definitely a fan of Aviles.

Eduardo Nunez, New York Yankees - Despite all the Yankees' injuries and departures this season Nunez still does not have a starting role. He does not have a great glove but has a decent bat. He won't really hit for a high batting average but it should be a solid one. He can take a walk though it obviously is not his favorite thing to do. His best fantasy asset is speed. In a full season of at-bats he could steal 30-plus bases. He needs an opening at shortstop or third base to get a real opportunity to play.

Jamey Carroll, Minnesota Twins - A skilled hitter without any power, Carroll was usually good for a high batting average and around ten stolen bases. This year it appears he will lose his starting role and come off the Twins bench.

Tyler Pastornicky, Atlanta Braves - He is less tool laden than Andrelton Simmons and his glove is inferior and that was enough to push him to the bench. He is probably a more skilled hitter but unless there is an injury he is not likely to get the chance to prove it.

Tier Seven Shortstops

Clint Barmes, Pittsburgh Pirates - Boy this guy sucks. He is still living off his years with the Rockies. He has a good glove but nothing to offer a fantasy team.

Brendan Ryan, Seattle Mariners - Another all glove guy. He has a bunch of young talented shortstops eying him from the Mariners minor league system.

Brandon Crawford, San Francisco Giants - Proof that you can get to the major leagues with just a good glove, cuz this guy cannot hit.

Rafael Furcal, St. Louis Cardinals - He is out for the season after deciding to have TJS surgery this spring.


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