NOTE: Every year, fantasy experts, enthusiasts, and rookies alike trot out their opinions for each position. Explaining that Hanley Ramirez and Jose Reyes are top shortstops or that Carlos Lee falls somewhere in the top tier of outfielders is not ground-breaking advice.
As I preview each position leading up to the regular season, I will list my rankings and focus on several players who I believe are under- or over-valued.
1) Hanley Ramirez (FLA)
2) Jose Reyes (NYM)
3) Jimmy Rollins (PHI)
4) Rafael Furcal (LAD)
5) Derek Jeter (NYY)
6) Stephen Drew (ARI)
7) Alexei Ramirez (CHW)
8) Troy Tulowitzki (COL)
9) Michael Young (TEX)
10) J.J. Hardy (MIL)
11) Jhonny Pheralta (CLE)
12) Mike Aviles (KC)
13) Miguel Tejada (HOU)
14) Ryan Theriot (CHC)
15) Jed Lowrie (BOS)
16) Orlando Cabrera (OAK)
The shortstop position has been lead by a "Big Three" for the better part of the last decade. In 2009, Hanley Ramirez, Jimmy Rollins and Jose Reyes will carry on the tradition started by Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and Nomar Garciaparra.
There is no other position in fantasy baseball this season that has such a significant drop in product between the first and second tier players than shortstop. Here's a look at your alternate options should you come up short on the Three R's:
FIGHTING TO MAKE IT THE BIG FOUR
Rafael Furcal (LAD)
Furcal was having a monster year in 2008 before back surgery sidelined him until the postseason. The last time he played an entire season (2006), Furcal scored 113 runs, hit .300 with 15 home runs and 37 stolen bases.
After a productive off-season playing in the Dominican Republic Winter League, Furcal says he feels stronger than ever. The Dodgers were convinced, signing him to a three-year/$30 million deal.
A healthy Furcal, hitting in front of Manny Ramirez, Andre Either and Matt Kemp, could push 120 runs with decent pop (expect 15 home runs and 60-plus RBI). While his days of 40 stolen bases are probably over (Dodgers' brass have said Furcal will get a day off each week to keep him fresh), he's still only 31 and 30 stolen bases can be expected.
TAKING THE NEXT STEP
Stephen Drew (ARI)
Drew rebounded nicely in 2008 from his 2007 sophomore slump with a .291 batting average, 90 runs and 21 home runs. In fact, he became the first player since Robin Yount (1982) to record at least 40 doubles, 10 triples and 20 home runs in the same season. Drew's second half surge (.326 batting average and .927 OPS) coincide with his move to the lead-off spot in the order.
Going into 2009, look for Drew to build on his 2008 campaign. At 26, Drew is entering the prime of his career. Arizona's roster is young and there are several hitters, like Drew, looking to take the next steps in their careers.
Hitting in front of Chris Young, Conor Jackson, Justin Upton and Mark Reynolds should elevate his runs scored while some of those doubles and triples will turn into home runs. Look for 25 home runs and 100 runs scored to go along with solid peripheral stats from the younger Drew.
Jed Lowrie (BOS)
Boston's shortstop of the future, Lowrie was slowed in 2008 by a non-displaced wrist fracture, which sapped him of his power. Despite the injury, Lowrie drove in 46 runs in just 260 at bats while posting an on-base percentage of .339.
Lowrie was competing with Julio Lugo for the starting job. But Lugo left Boston's spring game on March 14th with a knee injury. Early whispers say torn meniscus, effectively handing the job to Lowrie.
Hitting in the lower half of Boston's potent lineup will provide plenty of RBI opportunities for Lowrie. 2008's RBI rate projects to 97 RBI based on 550 at bats. Throw in the chance for 10-plus home runs and Lowrie could turn out to be a steal as the 19th overall shortstop being taken in ESPN drafts.