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Fantasy Baseball 2014: Ranking the Top 25 Shortstops

Jason CataniaMLB Lead WriterFebruary 26, 2014

Fantasy Baseball 2014: Ranking the Top 25 Shortstops

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    Hanley Ramirez is smiling because he's the No. 1 fantasy shortstop this season.
    Hanley Ramirez is smiling because he's the No. 1 fantasy shortstop this season.Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    With the top 150 fantasy baseball players all ordered and ranked on the inaugural Big Board, it's time to continue rolling out the individual position rankings.

    After providing some sequencing to the third basemen last time out, next up is shortstop, a position that poses two basic, fundamental questions from a fantasy point of view.

    The first one is whether you want to use an early pick on one of the three or four high-end names, like Hanley Ramirez (pictured) or Troy Tulowitzki, which will require such a steep investment.

    The second, then, is whether you'd prefer to build your roster with a focus on speed or power at this spot, because many among the next batch will offer either speed (like Elvis Andrus or Everth Cabrera) or power (like J.J. Hardy or Jhonny Peralta)—but not both.

    Ultimately, while there aren't many elite options here, the position does extend rather far in terms of offering serviceable starter-worthy shortstops that will keep owners satisfied enough. In fact, there are about 15 or so that fall under that umbrella, but just to cover all the bases, here's the top 25 overall fantasy shortstops and a few others you should watch.

     

    These rankings consider three factors:

    First, everything is based on 10- or 12-team mixed leagues with standard five-by-five rotisserie scoring (BA, R, HR, RBI, SB for hitters; W, ERA, WHIP, K, SV for pitchers).

    Second, lineup construction accounts for 22 active roster positions consisting of: one each for catcher, first base, second base, third base, shortstop, corner infield, middle infield and utility; along with five outfielders and nine pitchers.

    And third, to be eligible at a particular position, players either must have played at least 20 games there in 2013 or be in line to start there in 2014. Additionally, players are listed in the rankings at the position where their fantasy utility would be most useful.

     

    Statistics come from Baseball Reference and FanGraphs.

The Shortstop 'Watch List'

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Chris Owings, SS, Diamondbacks (pictured)

    Owings is a notch or two below some of the elite shortstop prospects (like the two names below), but he's much closer to the majors, which makes him more relevant for 2014 fantasy purposes. After hitting .330 with 12 homers and 20 steals at Triple-A, the 22-year-old looked solid in his 20-game cameo last September and could be a nice sleeper if he can beat out Didi Gregorius as Arizona's starter.

      

    Mike Aviles, 3B/SS, Indians

    Aviles is a poor man's Ben Zobrist in that he's capable filling in at multiple positions in your lineup and chips in a little here (22 HRs since 2012) and a little there (also 22 SB since '12). He's best used as an AL reserve, and he should find his way to 350-400 plate appearances yet again.

     

    Jordy Mercer, 2B/SS, Pirates

    In deep NL-only leagues that allow daily switches, Mercer is a good one to plug in at 2B, SS or MI whenever Pittsburgh is up against a lefty: In 101 career plate appearances against southpaws, the righty swinger is hitting .375/.424/.636. It's a small sample and a very specific usage, but hey, now you know.

     

    Rafael Furcal, 2B/SS, Marlins

    After a year off to recover from Tommy John surgery, Furcal is 36 and hasn't been all that good for about four years. But he's slated to start at second for Miami, so he'll play and could swipe 15 bases and score enough runs to matter in NL formats. Plus, he's likely eligible at both 2B and SS.

     

    Javier Baez, SS, Cubs and Francisco Lindor, SS, Indians

    These two top prospects are listed together because neither is likely to make his MLB debut until the second half of the season. Assuming they continue their rapid ascents, though, Baez could be a top waiver-wire add for his eventual 30-homer power in the bigs, while Lindor possesses more of a high-average, 20-steal skill set. Again, shortstop is shallow, so this duo needs to be monitored.

Nos. 25-21

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    Leon Halip/Getty Images

    No. 25: Alcides Escobar, SS, Royals

    Folks got much too enthused about the light-hitting, walk-averse Escobar after he managed to bat .293 with 35 steals in 2012. The 27-year-old's .264 BABIP brought his average back down to a ghastly .234 last year, and his swipes fell to 22 (albeit without being caught), so perhaps he can settle in around .260-.280 with 25-30 stolen bags, which might get him into MI territory in deeper mixed leagues.

     

    No. 24: Yunel Escobar, SS, Rays

    Escobar, 31, once looked like he'd turn into more than he has, which is a the kind of fantasy option that constantly leaves his owners in search of someone who does...something. His consecutive .250-ish, nine-homer, 50-RBI or so, 60-run (give or take) seasons are neither good nor bad, but merely consistent.

     

    No. 23: Brad Miller, SS, Mariners

    Currently battling Nick Franklin to be the starter, the 24-year-old Miller appears to have the inside track on the strength of his half-season rookie year (.265 BA, 41 R, 8 HR, 36 RBI, 5 SB). A 2011 second-rounder, he's hit all the way up the chain and could post 15 homers and 10 steals with a .270 average, if he gets the job—and hangs onto it.

     

    No. 22: Zack Cozart, SS, Reds

    Cozart, 28, has shown he can provide not-quite-average fantasy production for a shortstop, something in the range of 12-15 home runs, along with 50-60 RBI and 60-70 runs. That comes with no stolen base potential and a subpar batting average, and now the risk of new skipper Bryan Price dropping him in the order after Dusty Baker mistakenly kept deploying the career .287 OBPer at the top of the lineup.

     

    No. 21: Derek Jeter, SS, Yankees (pictured)

    You may have heard this is The Captain's last season, but if you pluck him to be your starter, you could go down with the ship. Jeter is unquestionably one of the best shortstops ever, but it's hard to know what to expect from a 39-year-old who missed virtually all of 2013. If he stays healthy enough to play 130-140 games, Jeter likely finishes as a top-15 option simply for the accumulation of certain stats, but that might be asking a lot.

Nos. 20-16

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    Brian Bahr/Getty Images

    No. 20: Erick Aybar, SS, Angels

    While it would help if Aybar could get back to stealing 20 to 30 bases, he's now 30 years old and might top out at half that (see: 12 SB in 2013). Still, he's scored between 67 and 70 runs each of the past five seasons and usually helps—or at least, doesn't hurt—in the batting average department. A useful MI.

     

    No. 19: Stephen Drew, SS, Free Agent

    If Drew, 30, weren't still languishing in no-team land, he'd be easier to move up the ranks, as his eventual surrounding lineup will impact his totals. Given the dearth of quality at short, though, he could be an intriguing late snag because his perception has been tarnished by his current state of unemployment.

     

    No. 18: Jonathan Villar, SS, Astros (pictured)

    A 22-year-old switch-hitter with plus speed, Villar has some skills going for him, and after thieving 18 bags in his first 58 MLB games upon a midseason debut, some see 30-40 steals. That's a possiblity, but Villar also whiffs a lot (29.5 percent last year) and can be more reckless than relentless on the bases (eight of 26 attempts were failed), meaning he's no sure thing to hang onto the job. Purely an SB grab.

     

    No. 17: Alexei Ramirez, SS, White Sox

    Oddly, as Ramirez has aged—he's 32 now—he's traded power for speed. He failed to reach double digits in homers in either 2012 or 2013 but did set consecutive career highs in steals with 20 followed by 30 last year, when he also hit a solid .284. Trouble is, owners no longer know what to count on from Ramirez, and if his steals dip closer to his career norm sans an uptick in power, he's suddenly very blah.

     

    No. 16: Jimmy Rollins, SS, Phillies 

    Rollins' drop in homers was even more precipitous than that of Ramirez, as the long-ago MVP muscled all of six out, setting a new career low. In fact, 2013 was the dreaded cliff campaign for the 35-year-old, who in 2012 had hit 23 homers, stole 30 bases and scored 102 times. Rollins is the type of vet who could have a dead-cat bounce in him, but don't bank on him as anything more than a middle infielder.

No. 15: Asdrubal Cabrera, SS, Indians

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    David Maxwell/Getty Images

    2013 Fantasy Stats: .242 BA, 66 R, 14 HR, 64 RBI, 9 SB (562 PA)

    In 2013, Asdrubal Cabrera was hampered by two things—a strained quad and a strained BABIP—that may have been somewhat related.

    His .283 BABIP, while not all that low by itself, actually was a career-worst and a far cry from his career mark of .313. Meanwhile, the 28-year-old lost most of the month of June with the right quad injury, which didn't do his legs any favors.

    Don't expect him to reproduce his breakout 25-homer, 87-run, 92-RBI performance of 2011—probably ever—but Cabrera is in a contract year and still young enough to prove he can once again be a starting fantasy shortstop, or at worst a middle infielder.

No. 14: Jed Lowrie, 2B/SS, Athletics

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    Leon Halip/Getty Images

    2013 Fantasy Stats: .290 BA, 80 R, 15 HR, 75 RBI, 1 SB (662 PA)

    If that's what a full season from the previously injury-riddled Jed Lowrie looks like, then his owners simply need to hope for health.

    While the 29-year-old doesn't offer anything in steals—a rarity among his SS brethren—Lowrie does bring something just as valuable, if not more so, in multiposition eligibility at second base, too.

    Lowrie may not top 75 in both runs and RBI in 2014, like he did last year, but he has the stick skills to provide above-average production for a shortstop in four categories.

No. 13: Andrelton Simmons, SS, Braves

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    2013 Fantasy Stats: .248 BA, 76 R, 17 HR, 59 RBI, 6 SB (658 PA)

    While Andrelton Simmons got his $58 million extension on the foundation of his phenomenal glove, he also showed he can do some surprisingly fine fantasy work with the wood, too.

    After totaling exactly six home runs in just more than 1,000 career minor league plate appearances, the 24-year-old smacked 17 out in fewer than 700 PAs in his first full season as a big leaguer. He also displayed real growth in the power department in the second half, notching five homers in both July and September.

    Simmons' average wasn't all that hot, but he makes a ton of contact—only 55 strikeouts—so there's room for improvement. The runs might drop a bit with Jason Heyward slated to bat leadoff, which could push Simmons down in the order, but as long as the pop continues to develop, his owners won't mind.

No. 12: Starlin Castro, SS, Cubs

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    Christopher Szagola/Associated Press

    2013 Fantasy Stats: .245 BA, 59 R, 10 HR, 44 RBI, 9 SB (705 PA)

    About the only good thing there is to say about Starlin Castro's 2013 season is that he played 161 games.

    Really, just about everything that could have gone wrong—except his health—did, and frankly, Castro might've been better off had he endured some injury or ailment to help better explain his abominable numbers.

    What to do, then, with a guy who is still all of 23 years old and was a third- or fourth-round fantasy pick this time last year? Savvy owners might notice that his .290 BABIP was well below his career mark (.323), which doesn't necessarily explain a 40- to 50-point plummet in batting average, but hey, it's something. Plus, it's not like Castro doesn't still possess plenty of the potential he did 12 months ago.

    Consider him a bounce-back candidate—how can he be worse in 2014?—but don't grab him as a fantasy starter at short if you can get away with plugging him in at middle infield instead. Otherwise, you could risk running with Yunel Escobar-like output when there are still better options available. 

     

No. 11: Xander Bogaerts, SS, Red Sox

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    Steven Senne/Associated Press

    2013 Fantasy Stats: .250 BA, 7 R, 1 HR, 5 RBI, 1 SB (50 PA)

    For owners who don't mind a little risk and covet the upside of a potential top-five fantasy shortstop, Xander Bogaerts is the pick at this position.

    A consensus top-three overall prospect in the game, the Aruba native shot through the Red Sox's system in time to make his debut last August at age 20. His PT was limited over the final six weeks, as Boston was jockeying for the top seed in the AL, but Bogaerts did damage across Double-A and Triple-A: .297/.388/.477 with 15 homers.

    He then had a mini coming-out party in October when he took over the starting third base job during the playoffs and in the World Series on the strength of his advanced approach. Despite facing the best baseball has to offer, Bogaerts did not, in any way, look overmatched or overwhelmed.

    Because of his discipline and maturity at the plate as well as his youth—he's 21—Bogaerts has the sort of profile that very likely will play up in the majors. Getting to hit in the Red Sox lineup and at Fenway Park will only help. Entrusting a starting spot in your lineup to an unproven player is always a gamble—and there's still a chance Stephen Drew re-signs to steal some of the action—but with Bogaerts in line to be Boston's everyday shortstop, he could be the same in fantasy.

No. 10: Jhonny Peralta, SS, Cardinals

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    Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

    2013 Fantasy Stats: .303 BA, 50 R, 11 HR, 55 RBI, 3 SB (448 PA)

    Last year was first great and then disastrous for Jhonny Peralta. The 31-year-old was in the middle of arguably his best-ever season with the bat, hitting a career-high .303, when he was linked to the Biogenesis investigation and promptly suspended for 50 games.

    To top the year off, Peralta inked a big-money contract with a new team, the Cardinals, which puts him in the NL for the first time in his 11 years as a big leaguer.

    Given all of the above, there are questions about how Peralta will perform in 2014, but he's a proven bat who can reach the high-teens in homers and post an average that will help if he adjusts to the new league. The Cardinals lineup is good, as usual, and that will help Peralta's cause as a fringe top-10 SS for fantasy.

No. 9: J.J. Hardy, SS, Orioles

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    Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

    2013 Fantasy Stats: .263 BA, 66 R, 25 HR, 76 RBI, 2 SB (644 PA)

    As a 25-homer threat from shortstop, J.J. Hardy is a rarity in fantasy. In fact, he's hit at least 22 homers in each of his three seasons with the O's, including 25 exactly last year—the most among his brethren in the sport.

    His 77 four-baggers over the past three years is not only the highest total at the position in that span, it's the most by a whopping 14, over Troy Tulowitzki's 63.

    Hardy's average is much less stable, as it's fluctuated from .238 to .269 over that time, but as long as he keeps hitting 'em out of Camden Yards in that powerful Baltimore lineup, he should approach 70-80 in both runs and RBI. 

No. 8: Ben Zobrist, 2B/SS/OF, Rays

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    Stephan Savoia/Associated Press

    2013 Fantasy Stats: .275 BA, 77 R, 12 HR, 71 RBI, 11 SB (698 PA)

    Fantasy owners love Ben Zobrist because of his all-over-the-place eligibility. Seriously, who else is eligible at second, short and outfield? Nobody, that's who.

    That love, though, might be a bit over the top by now, as Zobrist is entering his age-33 season and was more useful than productive from a fantasy perspective in 2013. Take a look at those stats above and try to argue that you would be thrilled if you draft him this year and he does the same.

    Because of his versatility and on-base prowess, Zobrist always was a player who was better in reality than in fantasy, but at this stage, the gap is widening, and yet his draft acquisition price isn't dropping to reflect as much. You should like having him in your lineup at SS, but you might not love it anymore.

No. 7: Everth Cabrera, SS, Padres

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    Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images

    2013 Fantasy Stats: .283 BA, 54 R, 4 HR, 31 RBI, 37 SB (435 PA)

    On one hand, the fact that Everth Cabrera was another player suspended 50 games last year as part of the Biogenesis investigation is a bad thing for his fantasy reputation, since it raises questions about his production and reliability as a starter.

    On the other hand, though, that might allow owners to obtain his speedy services a round or two later, which makes his fantasy value even better.

    Let's point out here that, prior to his ban, the 27-year-old was having a career year and was on the verge of a second straight 40-steal season. Provided he avoids any further controversy, Cabrera has a shot at pilfering 40 bases and notching 80-plus runs as the Padres leadoff hitter. That makes him a fantasy asset at SS. 

     

     

No. 6: Jean Segura, SS, Brewers

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    David Welker/Getty Images

    2013 Fantasy Stats: .294 BA, 74 R, 12 HR, 49 RBI, 44 SB (623 PA)

    For Jean Segura, the 2013 season was the best of times and then the worst of times.

    His overall line looks pretty spectacular, but here's how his output broke down by each half:

    First half: .325 BA, 54 R, 11 HR, 36 RBI, 27 SB (397 PA)

    Second half: .241 BA, 20 R, 1 HR, 13 RBI, 17 SB (226 PA)

    Suggesting that this soon-to-be 24-year-old tired down the stretch in his first full major league season isn't such a stretch, especially considering that he'd battled injuries throughout his minor league career and had played 100-plus games only twice in six pro seasons and never more than 130 (in 2010).

    The other thing that his minor league career showed? Segura's 12 homers last year came a little bit out of nowhere—his previous career high was 10 in A-ball—so if you're thinking of snagging Segura, consider it a speed selection.

No. 5: Elvis Andrus, SS, Rangers

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    .2013 Fantasy Stats: .271 BA, 91 R, 4 HR, 67 RBI, 42 SB (698 PA)

    While Segura was doing his good-first-half, bad-second-half thing, Elvis Andrus was doing the opposite. Before the break, the 25-year-old hit just .242 with 50 runs, no homers, 31 RBI and 19 steals; but after, he batted .313 with 41 runs, four homers, 36 RBI and 23 steals—in 126 fewer trips to the plate.

    In all, Andrus set new career highs in RBI and stolen bases while also coming close in runs scored. He's in position to do that again in 2014, as the likely No. 2 hitter in what should be a dynamic, potent, terrorizing Rangers lineup.

    Here's hoping his Abe Lincoln-like beard doesn't make the speedy Andrus any less aerodynamic.

No. 4: Jose Reyes, SS, Blue Jays

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    Patrick Smith/Getty Images

    2013 Fantasy Stats: .296 BA, 58 R, 10 HR, 37 RBI, 15 SB (419 PA)

    Early April brought yet another leg ailment to Jose Reyes, who has had many of them throughout his 11-year career. This time, it was an ugly looking ankle injury that cost the 31-year-old a whopping 66 games and kept him out until late June.

    When he was actually on the field, Reyes remained his usual productive self by helping owners (who had to wait quite a while) in four of the five categories.

    Therein lies the allure of Reyes, who has been a batting champ and stolen-base king and still possesses the giddy-up to swipe 30-plus bags, and who also displays above-average pop for a sinewy shortstop whose game has been built primarily on speed.

    Trouble is, over the past five seasons, Reyes has played more than 133 games only once (160 in '12), so even though he's still a second-tier fantasy shortstop with first-tier ability when healthy, it's that "when healthy" qualification that owners need to prepare for by drafting a capable fill-in for the inevitable injury.

     

No. 3: Ian Desmond, SS, Nationals

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    Alex Brandon/Associated Press

    2013 Fantasy Stats: .280 BA, 77 R, 20 HR, 80 RBI, 21 SB (655 PA)

    A shortstop with two consecutive 20-20 campaigns on his resume? Yes, please! Ian Desmond is the only player at this position at this stage who can reasonably be expected to tally 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases in one fell swoop of a season.

    In each of the past two years, Desmond also has hit .280 or better and racked up 70-plus runs and RBI. That's five-category production from a player who, at 28 years old, is still smack-dab in the middle of his prime.

    The one caveat here is that Desmond is a bit of a free swinger—he whiffed 145 times compared to just 43 walks last year—but he somehow makes it work. It wouldn't be a surprise, though, if his average dips some, so just be mindful.

    Still, there aren't many others owners should feel better about plugging in at SS. In fact, there are only two.

No. 2: Troy Tulowitzki, SS, Rockies

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    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    2013 Fantasy Stats: .312 BA, 72 R, 25 HR, 82 RBI, 1 SB (512 PA)

    By now, safe to say, Troy Tulowitzki comes with at least one DL stint of varying yet concerning length built in.

    Prior to now, the 29-year-old has been a first-round selection for many years simply because he's a beast at a premium position when he's on the field. No other shortstop is a consistent threat to go .300-30-100.

    Alas, no other shortstop is as big a risk to lose 30 or 40 games to injury, with the possible exception of Reyes.

    To that end, Tulo lost nearly 30 games last year with a fractured rib that kept him out from mid-June to mid-July. At least he came back, though: In 2012, a late-May groin tear kept owners waiting (and waiting) for a return that never happened.

    Because of all the maladies, Tulowitzki is no longer worth an owner's top pick, and even jumping on him in Round 2, especially early, could be asking for trouble. But if you don't mind drafting a durable backup in the middle rounds—and if you're the kind of owner who likes to push your luck—Tulo will give you an edge at SS. For as long as he's healthy, at least. 

No. 1: Hanley Ramirez, SS, Dodgers

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    Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    2013 Fantasy Stats: .345 BA, 62 R, 20 HR, 57 RBI, 10 SB (336 PA)

    One of the real shames of the 2013 fantasy season is that we'll never get a chance to know just what Hanley Ramirez's numbers might have looked like had he not missed half the year with injuries.

    Yes, that's right: Ramirez pulled off all of those incredible 5x5 statistics above in just 86 games.

    The 30-year-old's showing last year put an end to what had been a decline over the three seasons prior, so it's fair to wonder just how much of the gains he made are repeatable. For instance, while he's done it before, Ramirez is unlikely to hit .345 over a full season, nor should he be expected to hit 40 homers if he gets twice the at-bats.

    After all, Ramirez's BABIP was .363, and his HR/FB rate was 21.1 percent, the 12th-highest and 13th-highest in baseball, respectively. Then again, neither of those marks was completely out of nowhere, as he sports a .334 BABIP and 14.0 percent HR/FB rate for his career.

    Now that he's left his 20s behind, Ramirez is likely to maintain more of the power while giving up some of the speed from his once-30-30 skill set. As such, a 30-homer season seems realistic, and while he might not top 20 steals, if he reaches even double digits, Ramirez is providing a bonus for his owners.

    Aside from that, there's also the matter of his loss of 3B eligibility, but that's more of an inconvenience than a problem, since you're drafting him to be your SS anyway. With all of the damage he can do on offense from that position for your fantasy roster while hitting in the middle of a deep Dodgers lineup, Ramirez is back to being worth a first-round pick again.

     

    Here are the fantasy rankings at other positions:

    Catchers

    First Basemen

    Second Basemen

    Third Basemen

     

    To talk baseball or fantasy baseball, check in with me on Twitter: @JayCat11

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