Shortstop is typically a fantasy wasteland, and there are some pessimists that would say that’s true currently. There are only a few elite producers at the position, and those guys tend to have some major injury issues. That said, there are a number of young players who have emerged in the last two years that combine elite defense and solid fantasy contribution.
1. Hanley Ramirez, Los Angeles Dodgers – While many recall Yasiel Puig‘s magical run in 2013, few remember that Ramirez had a better and longer run at the plate than Puig and was the team’s MVP. Hanley has been oft docked for his defensive lax and his lack of effort at times on the basepaths, but no one can debate the talent. Ramirez has the most talent of any player at shortstop, even more than #2, who has been considered the elite SS for a number of years now. Ramirez has been breaking down each season and missing time, but when he’s on the field, he’s a solid power hitter with good speed as well.
2. Troy Tulowitzki, Colorado Rockies – He’s been ranked #1 for many years, but you start to see a step lost just a bit in 2013. His first step out of the box and especially on the basepaths was just a tick slower than it used to be, and it showed in his steals numbers. I think there could still be 5-10 steals here, but at a position with elite steals guys, this ranks him near the bottom of the whole position. That said, when he’s healthy, Tulo has as much power as anyone at the position and can give you a good batting average, but he misses a lot of time every year.
3. Jean Segura, Milwaukee Brewers – Okay, I might be jumping him a bit early, but the skills are just undeniable. Segura has made himself into an elite defender at short, and he’s got elite speed to go with good contact. He showed surprising power in 2013, and there’s likely some fall back in his HR numbers, but playing in Milwaukee, he certainly could post double-digit home runs each year, but likely 10-15. He’s one of the most exciting players on the field to watch, and if he can keep from exhausting himself through the season, he could be an elite fantasy option, and not just at shortstop.
4. Jose Reyes, Toronto Blue Jays – When healthy, Reyes put in a great season in Toronto, but he also struggled with health. He could rack up 30-40 steals with double-digit home runs, and he could end up scoring big time runs in that lineup in Toronto. Be prepared and back up Reyes if you pick him, but he could be the best shortstop in the league if he’s healthy for 150+ games.
5. Elvis Andrus, Texas Rangers – While he doesn’t rack up big power numbers, Andrus give you most other stats. He gives you 150ish R/RBI with elite steals and solid average. There’s upside in that average, especially when you look at how Andrus was overswinging at times last season trying to create power (it didn’t work). If Andrus works his speed and keeps the ball on the ground and moves himself through steals, he could be an elite fantasy player.
6. Ian Desmond, Washington Nationals – After Desmond, there’s a major tier cliff, one of the most severe in a position ranking that I’ll post. Desmond has legit 20/20 ability with an average that won’t hurt you. Depending on his placement in the lineup, he could give you big runs or RBI based on his diverse skillset. Desmond has also made himself into a serviceable shortstop, which means the worries in previous years of Desmond moving off the position should be gone. I truly think anyone in the top 6 could end up the #1 SS in fantasy baseball in 2014.
7. Everth Cabrera, San Diego Padres – Cabrera is here for one reason – speed. He can flat out fly, possibly the fastest guy not named Billy Hamilton in all of baseball. He’s worked hard at shortstop and is a passable shortstop as well. He could give you 40+ steals. The concern here is whether his average will be .280 or .250 and what effect his PED suspension will have on him coming into this season.
8. Starlin Castro, Chicago Cubs – Castro was preached patience in 2013, and he showed his infamous stubbornness by completely ignoring his coaching staff, costing manager Dale Sveum his job. Castro is one of the current cornerstones for the Cubs, and they need a bounceback from him in 2014. Castro has solid speed and good power that should give you 10-15 homers and 20+ steals with good average, but he has some major motivation issues. He’s one of the few guys who has legitimate non-statistical issues that influence his fantasy value.
9. J.J. Hardy, Baltimore Orioles – Hardy is akin to Ben Zobrist. He isn’t flashy, though his home run totals are among the top at the position. He gives a mediocre .250-.270 average, but can knock out 25+ home runs for your team. If you pick Hardy, you know what you’re getting, and you simply plug him in and know that the stats will be there at the end of the season.
10. Asdrubal Cabrera, Cleveland Indians – Cabrera has quickly dropped down this list from a legit top-3 shortstop just a few years ago. He may even be too high here. I’ve seen projection systems that have him with a 10-15 homer, 5-10 steal season with .250-270 average. I see the average, but I still think there’s 15-20 home runs there and double-digit steals. The main reason I keep Cabrera here is that he’s being placed in a good spot in a solid lineup to rack up R/RBI.
11. Andrelton Simmons, Atlanta Braves – Many places are jumping on Simmons as a power source due to his 17 home runs in 2013. I don’t see it. I posted a season preview for Andrelton Simmons earlier this offseason where I explored what Simmons does well offensively, which is bat control hitting and using his speed on the basepaths. I could see anywhere from 5-15 home runs, but keep in mind that of all players with 15+ home runs in all of baseball, Simmons had the least amount of combined home run distance, meaning his home runs were barely going out. I think leveling his swing will allow him to still hit those line drive screamers and also rack up a lot more R/RBI using his bat in the solid Braves lineup.
12. Alexei Ramirez, Chicago White Sox – A very underrated player, Ramirez is not a guy who does anything remarkably well, but he is solid across the board. I’d expect a .260-.280 average with double-digit home runs, 20+ steals, and 130ish R/RBI, which isn’t going to stand out, but in the end, it will rank very high in the position for contributions in every category.
13. Jimmy Rollins, Philadelphia Phillies – Rollins, like most of the Phillies roster, is aging, and he’s not aging gracefully. Rollins lost a significant amount of fantasy production in 2013. He’s still viable as a fantasy starter, but you need to be expecting a .250ish average, 10-15 home runs, and hope for 20+ steals at this point, and with the drop in production in 2013, you could also see a similar drop in 2014 that would knock Rollins completely off this list going into 2015.
14. Brad Miller, Seattle Mariners, and 15. Xander Bogaerts, Boston Red Sox – These two young guys come to the league in different ways, but both could be very viable fantasy starters in 2014. Miller’s glove carried him to the big leagues and then showed surprising skills with the bat and could be a legit double-digit home run and steal guy with a solid batting average. Bogaerts came up with an elite bat and some thoughts that he would have to move off of shortstop, but he showed impressive glove work in his time in the major leagues, which included time in the postseason where he handled the best of the best of major league pitchers with seeming ease. I’d probably figure on a .265-.280 batting average for Bogaerts, but his power should give you 15+ home runs, and he’s athletic enough to get you a few steals as well.
Position strategy: Unlike other positions where I’ve preached the mantra of waiting after the very elite, this is a position to go big or go home. After the top 6, things fall off HUGE, so get your guy from that top group. One could gamble on a Miller or Bogaerts to back up injury risks in Hanley, Tulo, and Reyes, but those top six should be the focus.