Hey everyone! It’s March! That means regular season baseball starts THIS MONTH! I can’t wait, but you know what I’m really ready for? DRAFTS! The most wonderful time of the year kicks into full gear this month with many a draft commencing nightly. Hopefully, you’ve gotten something from my previous positional breakdowns to help you prepare for this hallowed day. In fact, here are links to my 1B, 2B, and 3B previews. Now, on to shortstop!
This week, we finish off the infield with a preview of the Top 20 shortstops. This is probably the thinnest position we’ve covered so far, and I see a pretty steep drop-off after the 2nd tier. My advice here is similar to what I’ll be preaching next week with catchers. If you miss on the top 2 tiers, wait. There’s not all that much separating the tiers after the top 7 players. And with that, let’s begin!
TOP 20 SHORTSTOPS FOR 2018
Tier 1: Boss Babies
Note: Last week, we did a national anthem theme for our tier names. This week: Oscar-nominated films.
1. Trea Turner, Washington Nationals
I will start off by saying I do not agree with the Trea Turner truthers who are leaving sluggers like Goldschmidt and Bryant on the board and taking Turner 4th or 5th overall. Turner is elite, it’s true. However, I will not be sacrificing my elite power base for the steals, runs scored, and high average that Turner provides. It may be your jam, but it’s not mine. Let’s do some actual analysis, though. Turner has been limited to no more than 447 plate appearances each of the last two seasons because of injury, and that just stinks. Despite the injuries last season, however, 46 SB was good enough to lead the position. It also almost doubled what the next man down had at 25. Like I said earlier, the skills are tremendous. Loads of runs scored potential, elite speed, and a high average. Health is the only thing that gives me pause, but it’s scary to think we are just scratching the surface of what he’s capable of. I contradicted myself in this blurb, didn’t I? Ugh.
Projection: 95 R/16 HR/65 RBI/50 SB/.295
2. Francisco Lindor, Cleveland Indians
A year ago, Lindor shocked the world by leading all shortstops in home runs and RBI. Also, his runs scored (99) was second best only to Elvis Andrus. As if that wasn’t enough, he added in 15 SB. When he was coming up, no one anticipated more than 10-12 HR per year, but he’s now morphed into a 20+ HR threat to pair with those wheels we knew he had. Increases in flyball percentage, HR/FB rate, contact percentage and hard-hit rate all support the spike in power. And while those metrics are nice to point out, simply looking at his growing counting stats the last three years further supports the gains. Basically, this is legit, everyone. He’ll bat at the top of what should be another good Indians lineup, and while I anticipate minor regression in the power department, Lindor is one of the premier options at shortstop.
Projection: 97 R/24 HR/85 RBI/17 SB/.280
3. Carlos Correa, Houston Astros
It’s hard to choose between Lindor and Correa here at the top, and in my mind, they’re more like 2A and 2B than 2 and 3. Correa is coming off his third consecutive 20+ HR season, and it’s worth noting that 2 of those seasons saw him make less than 482 plate appearances. He’s making it count, folks. Even with the injuries last year, he finished in the top 5 of all qualified shortstops in HR, runs scored, and RBI. Oh, and his triple slash of .315/.390/.550 was the best for all shortstops in 2017 as well. The biggest “concern,” or should we say a change in expectations, are the steals. In his half-season in 2015, he hit 22 bombs and stole 14 bases in 432 plate appearances. In 2016, the steals fell to 13. Last season, he stole exactly 2. Don’t worry, though. When we consider that he hits 4th behind Springer, Bregman, and Altuve, we can clearly see that he’s traded speed for jackin’ dongs in the heart of the order. I think we can live with that. Correa is an excellent option in all formats and worthy of his current ADP.
Projection: 95 R/28 HR/110 RBI/6 SB/.295
Tier 2: Three Shortstops Right Outside the Top Tier
Note: There’s actually four. I had to make it work to fit the theme. Leave me alone.
4. Corey Seager, Los Angeles Dodgers
Have you guys noticed how young this position is? Everyone we’ve covered so far is like 12. Anyways, Seager posted another rock-solid season with a line of 85 R/22 HR/77 RBI with an outstanding triple slash of .295/.375/.479. As good as that was, it was a bit of regression from 2016 as he scored 30 fewer runs and dipped his slugging down to .479 from .512 in 2016. He also inflated his strikeout rate to over 20% for the first time in his short career and experienced a slight dip in contact percentage. Regardless, he did see increases in flyball and hard contact (44%!) rates, and so the 20 HR still feel safe. Although last year was a bit of a regression statistically, some of that can be credited to just plain bad luck. Seager is brimming with talent at age 23 in a good lineup, and he should produce a safe floor with a fair amount of upside.
Projection: 88 R/25 HR/80 RBI/4 SB/.295
5. Alex Bregman, Houston Astros
I covered him in last week’s 3B rankings. KEEP UP.
6. Elvis Andrus, Texas Rangers
Where the hell did his 2017 come from?! We all knew he could swipe bags with the best of them, but this traditionally light power hitter defied all odds for a monster fantasy season last year. In fact, Andrus hit more home runs last year than his 3 previous seasons COMBINED. He had never hit more than 8 in his career, and he’s been around for more than a minute. And before you guys poo-poo and call for regression, hear this: Andrus has shown power growth each of the last 4 seasons. For instance, his HR/FB ratio has grown each of the last four years and is now at 11.6%. It was a measly 1.8% in 2014 for comparison. The contact rate has remained above 80% in that same time frame and he’s surged to over 30% in hard-hit rate as of last year. Sure, there will be a regression, but 15 HR power is not out of the question. This may be the new Andrus.
Projection: 85 R/13 HR/75 RBI/25 SB/.289
7. Jean Segura, Seattle Mariners
Segura’s 2016 came out of nowhere with a 102 R/20 HR/64 RBI/33 SB season in Arizona with a .319 batting average to boot. After landing in Seattle last season, he came back down to Earth a tad with a line of 80 R/11 HR/45 RBI/22 SB and a triple slash of .300/.349/.427. Without a lingering ankle injury that shaved off about 100 plate appearances from the year before, he probably would have come close to his stellar line from 2016. While I don’t expect him to cross the 20 HR plateau again…after all, look at the 2.00 GB/FB ratio…he has the skill set to provide some decent pop with those steals. Like Andrus, he’s closing in on crossing the 30% hard contact rate, which adds to my optimism. He’s similar to Andrus with the speed and developing power, but he doesn’t quite have the track record just yet.
Projection: 85 R/12 HR/55 RBI/25 SB/.285
Tier 3: Get Out.
8. Xander Bogaerts, Boston Red Sox
Here’s his 2016 line: 115 R/21 HR/89 RBI/13 SB with a .294/.356/.446 triple slash.
Now, here’s his 2017: 94 R/10 HR/62 RBI/15 SB with a .273/.343/.403 triple slash.
Who is the real Bogaerts? Considering both his 2014 and 2015 seasons were similar to last year, I’m thinking that’s the real guy. I know we want to believe based on the 2016 breakout, but I just don’t think he’s THAT good. For one, his strikeout rate has been climbing each of the last three seasons while his batting average has fallen in that same time frame. Also, his 11% HR/FB rate from 2016 definitely feels like an outlier as he returned to 7% a year ago. He did have some slight gains in opposite field power and hard contact rate, but I still don’t think 20 HR is repeatable. I know there’s a slightly negative tone to this blurb, but I’m just wanting you to keep expectations in check. 2016 was an outlier, but he’s still a 15/15 threat and a usable fantasy option. See? I can be nice to Bogaerts.
Projection: 85 R/15 HR/73 RBI/15 SB/.280
9. Trevor Story, Colorado Rockies
Interestingly enough, Story followed up his breakout 2016 with something pretty close to it counting stats wise in 2017. However, it feels like the bottom dropped out because the triple slash fell pretty hard…as many expected it to. He went from a .272/.341/.567 in 2016 to a .239/.308/.457 a year ago, and that’s not surprising considering his 34% strikeout rate in 2017. That was worse than the 31% from 2016. Ouch. To put it simply, a lot of the fluky stuff from 2016 vanished, and the poor plate discipline caught up with him. Despite the strikeouts, there is still value to be had especially with the power in his bat. He’s registered over 40% in hard contact rate each of the last two seasons, and he’s got a contact rate just below average, which won’t kill you. If he could become slightly less of a hacker at the plate, that triple slash should get closer to .250/.330/.500. 30 HR upside is undeniable, and I’m seeing him as a bit underrated this season.
Projection: 75 R/29 HR/85 RBI/9 SB/.245
10. Chris Taylor, Los Angeles Dodgers
After being a part-time player and bouncing around the league, Chris Taylor took off with the Dodgers a year ago to the tune of 85 R/21 HR/72 RBI and 17 SB. He also had a triple slash of .288/.354/.496, and that was so insanely better than anything he had ever done before. Taylor’s first taste of significant playing time led to those eye-popping stats as well as an increased hard contact rate of 32% up from 26% the year before. He stayed consistent with a mid-70s contact rate, and now we must decide how much we believe. I think it’s fair to anticipate a power regression, but the 15 SB potential isn’t going anywhere. Also, he profiles as something closer to a .270 hitter than the .288 from last year, but that’s the difference of a few hits per month. Even with regression baked in, Taylor is a budding star with multi-positional eligibility that gives you a nice floor across the board.
Projection: 75 R/15 HR/60 RBI/15 SB/.270
11. Didi Gregorius, New York Yankees
The Yankee infielder has really taken a big step forward in terms of power now having jacked at least 20 dongs each of the past two seasons. He topped his career-best 2016 with an even better 2017 to the tune of 73 R/25 HR/87 RBI. He also made some nice gains in his triple slash, which went up to .287/.318/.478. Also, the strikeout rate has shrunk each of the last 4 seasons. Not only is he becoming a better hitter, but he’s continuing to tap into his power every single year. In fact, his flyball percentage has made a gradual 10% increase over the last four seasons to the mid-40s where it finished last year. He’s basically doubled his HR/FB rate in that same four-year span. I’d assume that growth will plateau at some point this year or next, but it would seem Didi is now an annual, legitimate 20 HR threat. He’s only behind Taylor because of Taylor’s multi-positional eligibility.
Projection: 69 R/20 HR/75 RBI/5 SB/.270
Tier 4: Darkest Hour
12. Javier Baez, Chicago Cubs
I covered him in the 2B rankings two weeks ago. WHERE WERE YOU?!
13. Zack Cozart, Los Angeles Angels
Cozart was added to the mix in Anaheim this off-season and will bump over to third to form a wall with Andrelton Simmons on the left side. Though he has profiled as a shortstop with modest power in his career, his home run total spiked to 24 a year ago. It was easily the best offensive season all-around of his career as he posted an impressive 80 R/24 HR/63 RBI line. He also posted his best triple slash with a .297/.385/.548. The former .260ish hitter had never posted anything close to that, and the .548 slugging was 100 points better than his previous best of .459 in 2015. Besides those stats, Cozart also had a large uptick in walk rate to 12%. In fact, the walk rate has been on a steady ascent each of the last five years. Improvement! Get into it. It was also the second year in a row he improved his hard contact rate and HR/FB rate. So, why so low here? Well, he rode a massively inflated .312 BABIP that screams for regression, posted career highs in almost every way at age 31, and has battled injuries each of the last four seasons. He’s also moving from one of the friendliest hitter parks to one of the hardest. Still, I wouldn’t be surprised if he blew past these projections.
Projection: 65 R/15 HR/55 RBI/2 SB/.250
14. Paul DeJong, St. Louis Cardinals
DeJong gets to add his name to the list of little-hyped Cardinals’ prospects that burst unexpectedly onto the scene. His surprisingly good line of 55 R/25 HR/65 RBI with a triple slash of .285/.325/.532 was good enough to at least get him in the conversation for Rookie of the Year. The things we can get excited about moving forward with the youngster include the 0.79 GB/FB ratio and the 19% HR/FB rate. Neither of these numbers is all that different from his profile in the minors, so we should see him continuing to build off those marks. On the flip side, he has posted below average contact rates all through the minors and last year. He also had an inflated 28% strikeout rate last year and a walk rate that has shrunk at every gradual step in his career. Those most definitely need to improve for him to crack the top 10 at short. He’s also slated to hit 8th for the Cardinals, which could limit his RBI opportunities. However, the ceiling could be 30 HR.
Projection: 68 R/27 HR/70 RBI/2 SB/.260
15. Eduardo Nunez, Boston Red Sox
He’s old hat at this point. 2B rankings.
16. Marwin Gonzalez, Houston Astros
What position CAN’T he play?
17. Orlando Arcia, Milwaukee Brewers
The former top prospect’s first full season with the big boys went pretty well with a line of 56 R/15 HR/53 RBI/14 SB with a triple slash of .277/.324/.407. That was more power than most were expecting from him. I’d love to see him improve on that 6% walk rate in his second full season, and as long as he keeps the K% in the high teens, we could see much better OBP numbers in a hurry. He’s a big-time groundballer with a 1.81 GB/FB mark a year ago, but I’m very encouraged by the 13% HR/FB rate. Also, there was a 5% increase in hard-hit rate from his cup of coffee the year before. I wish he was hitting higher than 7th in the Brewers lineup, but they’re pretty stacked with Yelich and Cain up top. Still, Arcia is a fine backend option at middle infield.
Projection: 60 R/15 HR/65 RBI/19 SB/.265
Tier 5: The Disaster Artist(s)
Note: James Franco is a creep, and this film would have been nominated had that all not gone down. But thank goodness it all came to light, and James Franco was exposed. #TimesUp
18. Marcus Semien, Oakland A’s
It feels like he’s 36, but he’s actually just 27. I’ve always felt that Semien was an underrated source of power and speed with a low average, and last year just proved me right after he returned from injury. He will never be under a 20% strikeout rate, but it was encouraging to see his walk rate climb above 10% for the first time in his career in 2017. As you can expect, that also led to a career-best 0.45 BB/K mark. Injuries limited him to just 386 plate appearances a year ago, but when he’s healthy, he’s got the pop to club 20 HR annually. He’s got his warts especially with the average and amount of strikeouts, but I’d take him in 12-team leagues or larger.
Projection: 70 R/19 HR/60 RBI/13 SB/.245
19. Addison Russell, Chicago Cubs
There’s no denying the talent he brings to the table, but it still feels like he’s yet to put it all together and maximize the potential. He’s a modest power option at the shortstop position, but the average is going to be the albatross with him. The 23% K rate does him no favors either. He’s got league average contact rate, saw a drop in his BB/K rate, and pretty much mirrored his mediocre 2016 triple slash with a .239/.304/.418 mark. Improvements in his plate discipline would unlock the superstar potential we all feel is there. There’s 20 HR talent in that bat and a lineup poised to do damage. If he can just put it all together now…He’s just 24, so be patient. I’ll be holding off drafting him until it all comes together.
Projection: 60 R/15 HR/65 RBI/.239
20. Tim Anderson, Chicago White Sox
It’s an amazing thing when a player makes it to the major leagues. It’s very hard to do, and even harder to stay in the majors and then be known for something. It takes a true talent that is extremely rare. Tim Anderson, however, is known for having the worst plate discipline in all of baseball. Last year, Anderson had a 26% strikeout rate with a 2% walk rate. That is not a typo. 2%. That means he took like…13 walks all season. My eyes are literally offended when I look at his .276 OBP from a year ago. AND A 0.08 BB/K! 0.08! I didn’t even know that was possible. .679 OPS?! Oh for Pete’s sake. Stop the madness. All that being said, Anderson is a dirt cheap source of 15 HR and 15 SB. And as bad as he is, he still somehow manages to post a batting average around .250. I’m going nowhere near him unless I’m in a super-deep league.
Projection: 60 R/15 HR/50 RBI/15 SB/.250
That’s the Top 20 shortstops! The preview was anything but short, I know. Please join me next week as I talk catcher! It will be a challenge to find 20 that I actually want to draft, but somehow, I’ll manage. Thanks for reading!
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