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.


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