Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Fantasy Forecast: Shortstop

At most positions there is a consolation prize. By that, I mean there is always a player that you don't mind taking should you miss out on the top-shelf talent to fill that particular roster spot. Shortstop is the one area where that is not true.

There are two schools of thought on how to approach a thin position: One is make sure you get your guy early, and the other is to look for someone from the remaining pool that won't kill you in too many categories (like someone who will hit for decent average and steal some bags despite anemic power numbers).

I, for one, am a positional scarcity guy. When you get one of the top two shortstops, you then operate from a position of strength knowing that you don't have a roster spot that is a drain by default. You also don't have to check the box scores with cautious optimism every day, only to see that Steven Drew went 0-for-5 with four strikeouts.

1. Hanley Ramirez - Florida Marlins I bet they are kicking themselves in Boston for letting this kid get out of town six years ago. After an extremely short cup-of-coffee with the Red Sox in 2005 (two at-bats, two strikeouts), Ramirez, among others, was dealt to Florida in the Josh Beckett/Mike Lowell deal. Ever since he has been averaging 24.8 HR/112.4 runs/77.8 RBI/39.2 steals per season as the greatest shortstop in the game. He won a Rookie of the Year award, a batting title, and was selected to three All-Star games.
If he is available when you pick, and Albert Pujols isn't, you would have to be crazy not to take him.

2. Troy Tulowitzki - Colorado Rockies How is this for some pop from the shortstop? Tulo smacked 15 homers last season, in September alone! That is more than all but four shortstops hit ALL SEASON. In every season in which he played in more than 120 games, Troy has hit at least 24 long balls with at least 92 RBI. The numbers from his torrid final month last season have inflated his value slightly, but I believe a season of 29 HR, 110 runs, 88 RBI and 13 steals sounds very attainable for Tulo.

3. Jose Reyes - New York Mets If this were 2007, I would be very excited about landing Reyes to fill my SS slot, but ever since the 27 year-old hit 19 HR and tallied 81 RBI that season his power numbers have been in decline. Sure, his speed is elite, and he very well may return to the 100+ run and 50+ steal plateaus of his past, but that all depends upon him staying healthy and in the lineup. I look for Reyes to finish with an average around .280 with 118 runs, 62 RBI and 48 steals. I would be surprised if he hits more than 15 home runs.

4. Derek Jeter - New York Yankees The Captain will surpass the 3,000 hit plateau this season, a feat accomplished by only 27 men before him, 25 of which are in the Hall of Fame. A modest season of 150 hits would land him in the top-20 of all time for hits, a feat to be sure. At 36 years old, Jeter is in the twilight of his career, but I don't think he will go gently into that good night. He will have at least one more "Derek Jeter-like" season of 117 runs, 74 RBI and 14 homers, but his batting average (.282) and stolen base (16) numbers will fall from his career norms of .300+ and 20+.

5. Jimmy Rollins - Philadelphia Phillies Since J-Roll won the NL MVP award in 2007, his performance has been erratic to say the least. One disappointing sign is that his batting average has been in steady decline since that season, falling to a career-low .243 in his injury-plagued 2010 campaign in which he only played in 88 games. I look for Jimmy to bounce back in 2011 and post an average closer to his career .273. He may only hit 15 homers, but 108 runs and 72 RBI are not out of the question to go along with his 33 steals.

6. Alexei Ramirez - Chicago White Sox Sexy-Alexei has been an oft-overlooked option in the middle infield since his first full-time season in the bigs in 2008. He has been a consistent 15 HR/10 SB guy, with a solid career average of .281, and he also routinely drives in around 70 runs. None of his numbers point to a jump in any categories, especially at age 29, but he could surprise with a 25 HR/20 steal season. Even if he doesn't, 15/15 with 80 runs and 65 RBI is almost a given, so why not jump on one of the few reliable options left?

7. Elvis Andrus - Texas Rangers The 22 year-old Andrus can fly on the base paths, and in that Rangers lineup he should be penciled in for 75 runs at least. Andrus is primed to break out one of these years, but his break out will be more along the lines of 50 stolen bases, not 10 homers. Before he went yard this week, Andrus hadn't homered since September of 2009, so draft him expecting no pop, and take any long balls as a bonus. Elvis' on-base percentage rose last season (.329 to .342), but so did his strikeout numbers (77 to 96). If he can curtail the whiffs, he could be primed to hit in the neighborhood of .290 with 103 runs and 57 RBI. For a player that is also capable of swiping 40+ bags, that isn't too bad.

8. Stephen Drew - Arizona Diamondbacks I threw a barb out there at Drew in the lead to this article, but he still makes my list of top shortstops, does that tell you anything about the depth at this position? Drew is another player with a tantalizing season in his past (2008) but pretty mediocre numbers beyond that. Will you get the Drew that batted .291 in his career year, or the Drew that batted .238 the season before? I look for Drew to finish with 83 runs, 61 RBI, and 15 dingers. An average in the low .270's to go along with 10 steals may be slightly optimistic, but is possible.

9. Ian Desmond - Washington Nationals Desmond is another youngster to make the list with limited history to use to project. He certainly has a bit of life in his bat, swatting 10 homers in his first season of full-time duty, and he has some wheels too (17 steals). If he can keep his average up in the .270 range, he could surprise with 74 RBI, 66 runs, 24 steals and 15 HR.

10. Rafael Furcal - Los Angeles Dodgers Honestly, there are about six players I considered sliding into this final slot, but I went with Furcal due to his proven track record. He hit eight homers in just 97 games last season, and has surpassed the 12 HR plateau for four consecutive years from 2003-07, so double-digit long ball numbers is a probability. The main problem is he has only played 150 games once in the last four seasons. Should he stay on the field, I have him penciled in for 78 runs, 59 RBI and 25 steals, all to go with a .272 average.


Monday, April 4, 2011

Fantasy Forecast: Third Base

Third base has historically been one of the stronger and deeper positions on a fantasy roster. That pattern does NOT hold for this season, where there is a drop off after the first five or six options, and then a morass underachievers from 2010, and unproven candidates who may, or may not break out.

I apologize to my readers for getting this out so late, but I will have each of the remaining positions (SS, OF, SP, RP) up by the end of the week, in case you are in a league that drafts late, or are just looking for some insight before scouring the waiver wires.

1. Evan Longoria - Tampa Bay Rays Despite the recent oblique strain which has landed him on the disabled list for the immediate future, Longoria remains the cream of the third basemen crop. His power numbers did dip a bit last season (from 33 HR to 22), but that seems like an aberration, as his HR/Fly Ball ratio slipped to a paltry 11 percent. All the other numbers are headed in the right direction, and he should bounce back from this injury to finish as the top dog at the hot corner. I project 31 HR, 103 runs and 112 RBI, and a chance at double-digit steals, which sets him a cut above the other options.

2. David Wright - New York Mets Unlike Longoria, Wright's power returned last season (29 HR) after posting a career-low 10 homers in the inaugural season at Citi Field. Other than last season, Wright has consistently posted 25+ HR/100+ RBI/90+ run seasons since his first full-time season in 2005, so don't look for that to stop now. One negative to be aware of, Wright's strikeout numbers have risen in each of the last four seasons, as the Mets have gotten worse and worse, and he has felt the weight of the team more heavily on his shoulders. Don't let that stat deter you from taking what is sure to be one of the few elite options at the position. Look for 33 HR, 95 runs and 108 RBI.

3. Ryan Zimmerman - Washington Nationals A few years ago, Zim was touted as the poor-man's David Wright, going late or undrafted in most leagues, but posting solid power and average totals that surely pleased whoever took a flier on the young third baseman. Now, he stands on his own as one of the most solid options to fill the position. His batting average has risen in each of the past three seasons, and despite having slightly less pop and speed than the first two candidates, Zim should remain among the best in the league with a .309 average, 26 HR and 101 RBI.

4. Alex Rodriguez - New York Yankees He isn't the sure-fire first rounder he was over the past decade, but the 35 year-old Yankee deserves mention here as the final elite option at the hot corner. The average and power have slipped the past few seasons, and with his injury history he may never steal 15+ bags again, but the aging star should still have a few good seasons left in him. I expect at least 30 HR, and 115 RBI if he stays healthy, but low runs scored (82) and batting average (.272) projections keep him from moving higher.

5. Jose Bautista - Toronto Blue Jays Last season's home run king had a very middling start to his seven year career, never posting more than 16 homers before exploding for 54 bombs last season. Much has been made of an overhaul of his approach at the plate, and I, for one, am a believer. Bautista is a dead-pull hitter and he should continue to pepper the left field seats with souvenirs in 2011, but he will most likely hurt you in batting average, although he should finish above his career mark of .245. I expect 46 HR, and 117 RBI and 99 runs.

6. Adrian Beltre - Texas Rangers After a one-year stop in Boston, Beltre moves to the Ballpark at Arlington after enjoying his best season since posting a .334 average with 48 dingers in his last season in Los Angeles in 2004. While not having to clear the Green Monster might result in a bump in his power numbers, look for the batting average to regress to closer to his career average of .275, as the only two seasons in which he topped .300 were contract years. Expect a 25/95/85 (HR/RBI/R) kind of season from Beltre.

7. Casey McGehee - Milwaukee Brewers McGehee posted 23 HR and 104 RBI in 2010 batting behind the duo of Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder. For his first full-time season in the bigs (157 games played) those are very respectable numbers, and very repeatable numbers in that lineup. McGehee is 28, so he is still in his prime years, and he showed decent skill at adjusting to counter the adjustments made by pitchers after his breakout year in 2009. I expect a .290 average with 28 homers, 77 runs and 113 RBI.

8. Aramis Ramirez - Chicago Cubs Ramirez fought through an injured thumb for the first half of 2010, batting just .207 with 10 home runs before the All-Star Break. He came on strong in the second half, and has shown that he is a viable candidate to bounce back to his career norms if he can stay healthy. He could make a push for 30 long balls to go along with 100+ RBI and 80+ runs. Look for his average to rebound to the .280 plateau.

9. Pablo Sandoval - San Francisco Giants The Kung-Fu Panda had a disappointing 2010 campaign, but a rigorous off-season training program has in tremendous shape and primed to bounce back. Sandoval, who had never picked up a weight before this winter according to a recent ESPN the Magazine article, is capable of batting over .320, as he did in his break-out 2009 campaign (.330). I anticipate a return to his 2009 levels, with 28 HR, 77 runs and 98 RBI - Skadoosh.

10. Pedro Alvarez - Pittsburgh Pirates A mid-season call-up last season, Alvarez swatted 16 HR in 95 games, a very promising start for the 24 year-old rookie. Not as promising was the fact that he struck out in over a third of his at-bats (119 whiffs in 347 AB). Obviously, he will have to adjust to big-league pitching in order to avoid becoming the next Mark Reynolds, but his minor league numbers hint that he should be slightly less K-happy (27.8 percent of his 707 ABs). I think Pedro will turn in a solid sophomore campaign with 29 homers, 83 RBI and 75 runs scored.

~ K.