Shortstop is a perennially shallow position, but for quite some time Troy Tulowitzki, Hanley Ramirez and, to some extent, Jose Reyes have made it a top heavy position. Unfortunately, each one of those guys has an age that now starts with a three instead of a two, and they ain’t as good as they once was (yeah, that’s a Toby Keith link). More unfortunately, no one has supplanted them at the top of the positional ranks. There are a couple of young names that could significantly outpace every other shortstop at some point, but for now there is no one that seems likely to reach those heights. Assuming you don’t go with one of the aging, top options, you’ll be choosing between young guys with value potential but low floors, or more projectable, lower ceiling veterans.
TIER ONE: The Old-ish Guard
Could we count on Tulowitzki and Ramirez to stay on the field, they’d be in a tier of their own. In Tulo’s case, he could still be as good as he once was and have a place among the best hitters in the game. Steamer has him projected for a .394 wOBA, and just four other hitters have a wOBA projection of .390 or higher. The problem is that those other four hitters are all projected too exceed 600 plate appearances or come very close to it while Tulo is projected for a shade under 500 plate appearances. You can get Tulo in the second round and he could absolutely give you first round production, but last year when he played only 91 games he was about as valuable as Jimmy Rollins despite a .444 wOBA.
Desmond and Hanley can be had in the third round, but both have downside. Hanley has the same problem as Tulo as he has averaged just 475 plate appearances over the last four years. Again, there’s the potential for him to deliver on the cost to acquire him, or he could end up being about as valuable as Erick Aybar like he was last year. Desmond is a bit more bankable as he has played a full season in each of the last two years and gone 20/20 in three straight years. But his home run total was propped up a bit by an 18.2 percent home run per fly ball rate, and his contact rate fell for the third straight year leading to a disconcerting 28.2 percent strikeout rate. The projections have him bouncing back in the contact department, but there is downside in his batting average and home run total.
TIER TWO: The Tweener
Reyes is an approximation of his former self at this point. He still makes plenty of contact and hits for good average, but he’s not sporting the single digit strikeout rate he had a few years ago. And he can still run a bit, but he only stole 30 bases last year despite a relatively full season with 655 plate appearances. Perhaps most concerning, Reyes has really lost some power. His ISO has declined for three straight years and was all the way down to .111 last year. The good news for fantasy owners is that the real culprit there is a decline in triples, and he has still managed to stay at or near double digit home runs. There is some concern about injury, so he has some of that Tulo/Hanley downside, but he doesn’t quite have the upside anymore, so he’s a cut below at this point.
TIER THREE: The Guys You’re Actually Drafting
Punting is a viable strategy at shallow offensive positions, but this is likely the range where it makes the most sense to take a shortstop.
The Cubs in this range have the upside of the group. Castro had a nice bounce back last year after a disastrous 2013, but even a career best wOBA didn’t lead to an overly productive fantasy season. With just 14 home runs and four steals, Castro only clocked in as the 10th most valuable fantasy shortstop. That said, he hits for good average and might still have high-teens homer potential if he returns to playing 150+ games. It doesn’t appear the stolen bases are coming back given he was never efficient in that regard even when he stole 20 in a couple of years, but an improved Cubs lineup could lead to improvement in the other counting categories.
As for Baez, the power/strikeout conundrum is well covered territory at this point. As a quick restatement of that issue, ZiPS has him projected for 30 home runs in 650 plate appearances; his contact rate was 6.1 percent worse than Chris Carter’s last year. I can only envision drafting Baez if you’ve taken extra care to protect your batting average in the early rounds and are somehow lacking in power. Unless your team is filled with names like Robinson Cano, Buster Posey, Michael Brantley, Reyes or even someone like Andrew McCutchen, Baez’s risk may not be worth it.
The rest of the guys in this range are safe bets to hit for decent average, give you a handful of steals and home runs, and be decent in the other counting categories. With the exception of Andrus, they should all give you a little bit of everything. If you’re lacking in speed by the time you get to this point, Andrus is a name to keep in mind. Of the vets, Zobrist and his multi-position eligibility is most appealing to me.
TIER FOUR: Young Guys Who Might Have Upside
Bogaerts struggled with plate discipline in his first full season. Thankfully, that’s the area of his game we can feel most confident in seeing improvement. The projections feel that way with moderate improvements to his strikeout and walk rates leading to a batting average around .260, which is a touch better than average in mixed leagues. The projections also forecast a bit more power with a home run total in the mid-teens, though that may just be due to a projected HR/FB rate closer to league average. He’s going to have to beat the projections in either average or power to really breakout, but those moderate improvements make him worth his price in the 10-12 range among shortstops even if he doesn’t go ham.
I covered Flores in my bold predictions, but here I’d like to note the similarity in the Depth Chart projections for Flores and Bogaerts:
The biggest difference there is the playing time, which means Flores arguably has more upside. The other big difference between the two is draft day price with Bogaerts going 11th on average among shortstops and Flores going 34th. Bogaerts is a safer pick, but I might be willing to wait until the very end of the draft and hope to get similar production from Flores.
As for Segura and Santana, they’re the best arguments for not taking Andrus. They’ll provide the same type of production as Andrus but can be had three to four rounds later depending on where you’re drafting.
TIER FIVE: Veteran Middle Infield Slot Fillers
If you’re looking for somewhat reliable if completely unexciting production for your middle infield slot late in a draft, these vets are probably your best bet. Escobar and Rollins will give you some speed, but that’s somewhat offset by the fact that Escobar gives you no power and Rollins has become a drain on batting average. Peralta and Cabrera may not give you above average production in any category, but they should give you close to average production in four categories.
TIER SIX: The Not Completely Awful
Owings, Ramirez and Miller have some upside, while Simmons, Hardy, Lowrie and Crawford are more projectable vets who could be of some use in deeper leagues.
TIER SEVEN: Only in AL-Only or NL-Only Because They’ll Get to the Plate
If that looks like the exact order those players show up in the Auction Calculator, that’s because it is.