I don't know about you, but I feel more confident guessing Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez's age than I do projecting shortstop this season.
It isn't that I don't know a lot about the position—I like to think I do—but there are just so many questions this year.
Of the top 10 guys, you should have concerns about starting seven of them in your fantasy league—and the guys ranked seven through 17 could finish the season in any order and you wouldn't be surprised at all.
We saw two major breakout seasons last year, but can these guys make the next leap to overcome the veterans above them? More importantly, who are these guys I've vaguely spoken of?
So, what approach should you take in your fantasy draft? Simple. Get one of the top six at any cost. If you somehow miss out on them, sit back and enjoy the ride.
Our Five-Tier rankings are displayed below. You can also see our complete breakdown by position here.
Hanley Ramirez (FLA), Troy Tulowitzki (COL)
I've said it before and I'll say it again: Hanley Ramirez should go first overall.
When position scarcity is taken into account, the gap between Ramirez and Tier Two/Three at shortstop is much larger than the gap between Albert Pujols and Tier Two/Three at first base.
Yes, Pujols may have "HR/RBI/AVG/run-producing uber-god scarcity," as one of our readers so eloquently put it, but Ramirez isn't that far behind.
Hand lacerations were only one of the forks in Troy Tulowitzki's disastrous 2008 season. After a brilliant 2009, Tulo is second only to Ramirez on my patented Confidence-O-Meter this year.
Jose Reyes (NYM), Jimmy Rollins (PHI), Derek Jeter (NYY), Ben Zobrist (TB)
Pop quiz: How old is Jose Reyes: 24, 26, 28, or 30? If you guessed 28, you’re wrong. Reyes, only 26 years old, was a consensus first-rounder just one year ago, but after missing 126 games last season with a leg injury, his stock has plummeted.
It’s always very concerning when a speed guy suffers a leg injury, but you can use that to your advantage and get him when his value is lowest.
We don’t even have to leave the NL East to find our third-ranked shortstop, Jimmy Rollins. He’s been wildly erratic over the last three seasons, and projecting which Rollins you’ll get is just the first of many questions at the position.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is Derek Jeter. He’s tallied 200-plus hits in four of the last five seasons, scored 100-plus runs in five of the last six, played in 150-plus games in seven of the last eight, and batted over .300 in 10 of the last 12.
Ben Zobrist might be our most praised player so far this preseason. He doesn’t get the acclaim he deserves because people were caught off-guard by his success. Anyone who knows anything about peripherals knows he’s legit.
Elvis Andrus (TEX), Alexei Ramirez (CHW), Jason Bartlett (TB), Stephen Drew (ARI), Yunel Escobar (ATL), Asdrubal Cabrera (CLE)
Elvis Andrus is known for his speed and defensive ability. One of those will be very valuable for your fantasy team.
Alexei Ramirez has the tools, and his plate discipline actually improved last season. Plus, he has an outside shot at a 20/20 season.
Along with fellow Ray Ben Zobrist, Jason Bartlett is last year’s other breakout player. With a second-half OPS 101 points lower than that of the first half, there are definite concerns that his season stats may have been a bit inflated.
Stephen Drew isn’t very adept at getting on base, but he already has a 20-HR season under his belt.
With steady improvements over the last three years, Yunel Escobar is rapidly becoming a reliable option if you don’t have one of the elites.
Asdrubal Cabrera has had a tendency to have one year up and one year down. That doesn’t bode well for 2010.
Rafael Furcal (LAD), Erick Aybar (LAA), J.J. Hardy (MIN), Miguel Tejada (BAL), Jhonny Peralta (CLE), Alcides Escobar (MIL), Orlando Cabrera (CIN)
For Rafael Furcal, the comeback is never going to happen. Still, he’s a great guy to stash on your bench in the event he has a hot streak.
A career .312 hitter in the minors, Erick Aybar batted .312 last season for the Angels and threw in passable run and stolen base totals (70 and 14, respectively).
If I didn’t know any better, I’d think J.J. Hardy and Jhonny Peralta were the same person. Their ‘07 and ‘08 averages were quite similar before they both tanked in ‘09 (Hardy—84/.280/25/78/2, Peralta—96/.273/22/81/4).
Back in Baltimore, Miguel Tejada will continue to be a low-risk run-producer.
You can’t expect more than five HR and 50 RBI from Alcides Escobar, but you can expect him to approach .300 with around 30 SB if he gets 500 AB.
Orlando Cabrera scores runs, steals some bases, hits for a solid average, and even drives in some runners. Could be worse, like the guys in…
Marco Scutaro (BOS), Everth Cabrera (SD), Ryan Theriot (CHC), Clint Barmes (COL), Maicer Izturis (LAA), Luis Valbuena (CLE), Edgar Renteria (SF), Mike Aviles (KC), Ian Desmond (WAS), Cristian Guzman (WAS), Brendan Ryan (STL)
Marco Scutaro had a career year in 2009 and barely cracked the top 10 at the end of the season.
If you are looking for cheap steals, Everth Cabrera is your man.
Ryan “The Riot” Theriot entered 2009 with seven career home runs before hitting seven in that year alone. Unfortunately, five of those came in a 12-game span in May/June.
I like Clint Barmes, but I don’t like his .294 OBP last season.
Maicer Izturis doesn’t do well in any one category, but he doesn’t exactly do poorly in any one category either.
Luis Valbuena is all potential, but it’s a good risk this late in the draft.
If you had to choose a high-upside rookie or the fading Edgar Renteria, which one would it be? Exactly.
I was really excited about Mike Aviles last season. I forgot he was a prospect on a team that squashes potential (see: Alex Gordon, Luke Hochevar).
Speaking of potential, Ian Desmond had an impressive showing in a brief, 21-game stint with the Nationals last year, and he can steal bases.
Veterans like Cristian Guzman are a dime a dozen.
Like almost all of the guys in this tier and below, Brendan Ryan has no power but hits for a decent average and steals some bases. Shocking.
For more fantasy baseball analysis as your draft is nearing, check us out at Baseball Professor.
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