Fantasy Baseball: Shortstop Primer
With fantasy baseball draft season beginning to pick up, this is a great time to survey the landscape at each position and figure out how we want to attack them this season. With the exception of the notoriously weak catcher group (yuck), position scarcity isn't something to be concerned with at other positions, but that doesn't mean there isn't value to be found by dissecting each one individually.
Our next stop is shortstop. All ADP numbers are from National Fantasy Baseball Championship (NFBC) drafts since February 1.
The Need for Speed
While it's true that you can find stolen bases at just about every point in the draft, it's definitely something you need to game plan for, whether it's focusing on a few elite options or parsing together an army of guys who can get you a handful here and there. Speed isn't something you need to reach for, but you also don't want to wait too long and then find yourself scrambling in the end game for scraps.
Of those elite base stealers, one of the few players capable of nabbing 50-plus bags while slugging double-digit home runs is Trea Turner (8), and it's no surprise he's firmly in the first round, arguably worth taking as high as third overall.
Washington Nationals manager Dave Martinez even went as far as to say he wants Turner to attempt "75-80" stolen bases, which we should obviously take with a grain of salt, but it's a reminder that few can match his stealing upside. Turner ranked sixth overall in sprint speed last season and has an 83% stolen base success rate over his career. He's stolen over 40 bases in back-to-back seasons, and in 2017 he did it in only 98 games. Martinez's bold statement might be a pipe dream, but there's no question Turner will have a bright green light.
As for the rest of his game, he might not hang with other first rounders strictly as a batter, but he's still a career .289 hitter and has shown enough home run power to get in the teens. Pair him with an elite power hitter in the early rounds, and you'll have an amazing foundation across all five categories to begin your draft.
Francisco Lindor (12) was a potential top-five pick earlier in the offseason, but a calf strain in early February has seen him tumble to the end of the first round or even into the second. With an initial seven-to-nine week recovery timetable, Lindor is expected to only miss a couple weeks at most to begin the year, but the trouble is calf strains are the type of nagging injury that can remain an issue for far longer. As one example, Josh Donaldson notably missed significant time the past two seasons due to lingering calf issues. Spending a first round pick on an already injured player -- no matter how great -- is a risky proposition.
Still, if Lindor drops into the mid-to-late second round, it might be hard to resist gambling on the 25-year-old making a swift recovery. Lindor was a a true five-category behemoth in 2018, posting 129 runs, 38 home runs, 92 RBIs, and 25 stolen bases with a .277 average. Even factoring in regression, he projects very similarly to teammate Jose Ramirez, who is generally going third in most drafts. If you decide to go here, be sure to plan accordingly in case Lindor suffers a setback.
Trevor Story (17) was quite the fantasy beast himself last year, busting out for 88 runs, 37 homers, 108 RBIs, 27 swiped bags, and a .291 average. Given those gaudy numbers, he looks like a fantastic second round buy if you believe he can maintain similar numbers in 2019.
And for the most part, Story sure looks the part, checking all the right Statcast boxes to support the dingers, and even recording a 97th percentile sprint speed, suggesting the stolen bases may not be a fluke, either. Hitting around .290 again could be a stretch, but he made noticeable strides in his strikeout rate, dropping an ugly 34.4% rate all the way down to 25.6%.
Best of all, Story still gets the ol' Coors Field boost that we all know and love. As long as he continues to steal bases -- and he should after registering an 82% stolen base success rate -- we could have a new five-category star for years to come.
Manny Machado (17) finally found a home in San Diego, which probably isn't how most people figured his lengthy free agent saga would conclude. Regardless of the team, though, this is the same guy who's slugged over 30 home runs four years in a row, owns a .282 career batting average, and typically sprinkles in a handful of stolen bases. Story's newfound stolen base upside arguably gives him the higher ceiling, but it's hard to argue with the strong floor Machado has established over the years.
Lastly, we can't forget Alex Bregman (13) and Javier Baez (14), who are both coming off breakout seasons. Both players are worthy of second round picks, and their respective situations are highlighted in the third base primer, with Bregman looking like the safer choice of the two.
To Mondesi or not to Mondesi
Perhaps the most debated player this offseason, deciding which side of the fence you fall on regarding Adalberto Mondesi (41) is a must before entering your draft.
The upside is obvious. In a mere 75 games last year, Mondesi churned out 14 bombs and 32 stolen bases, numbers that would already be excellent over a full season. The skills back up the production, too, as he registered a 99th percentile sprint speed and cracked the top 50 in barrels per plate appearance.
The downside? He also posted a 26.5% strikeout rate and 3.8% walk rate, and we're talking about using a top-50 pick based on a half-year of data. It's easy to make the comparison to Byron Buxton last season, who was similarly hyped up off the allure of small sample size success. We all know how that worked out.
Mondesi perfectly exemplifies a high-risk, high-reward pick. If he performs as projections predict, we're looking at around 20 dingers, 40-plus swiped bags, and a .250 to .260 batting average. The best case scenario could potentially return first round value.
On the other hand, his poor plate skills could get the best of him, leading to a crippling batting average and a failure to get on base often enough to utilize his speed. The worst-case scenario is a horrendous slump that leads a drop in the lineup or curtailed playing time -- maybe even a demotion.
Considering the upside, his ADP does feel about right, going alongside fellow upside pick Vladimir Guerrero Jr. when most of the safest bats and aces are already off the board. It's risky to pick Mondesi over established stars like Starling Marte, Anthony Rendon, or Anthony Rizzo, who you often find in the same range. But after guys like that, the talent slowly begins to taper off, so rolling the dice on a possible game-breaking talent like Mondesi is awfully tempting.
The exact spot you're comfortable taking Mondesi will vary, and it's something you should weigh carefully as you prepare. Just know the risks going in before committing.
The Best of the Rest
There once was a time when shortstop was consistently considered one of the most shallow fantasy baseball positions, but that's decidedly not the case in 2019. Much like third base, it's highly unlikely you'll feel bad about whichever shortstop you end up with as your starter.
Bogaerts made strides in the power department last year, hitting over 20 home runs for the second time in his career, while maintaining a high batting average (.288) and a respectable helping of stolen bases (8). With noticeable improvements in average exit velocity and launch angle, Bogaerts should maintain that pop, making him a reliable five-category player in a strong Red Sox lineup.
Correa and Seager are both intriguing bounce-back candidates, and there's a very good chance their best is yet to come. Neither one will provide much speed but have the potential to be four-category stars when healthy. Seager's situation is more tricky after coming off both Tommy John and hip surgeries, but that risk is baked into his lower draft cost.
At 22 years old, Torres is the youngest of these four and is coming off a promising rookie campaign for the Bronx Bombers, though he's the least likely to bat for a high average (25.2% strikeout rate). Beware the sophomore slump, but 20-plus home runs and double-digit stolen bases are a reasonable expectation with the potential for further growth. He's also eligible at a more shallow second base position.
Segura and Peraza are like poor man's versions of Trea Turner, providing double-digit homers and high batting averages, but with stolen bases topping out in the 20s. Even without elite stealing upside, they're solid choices to square away some speed without taking a huge hit in power like you would with a Dee Gordon or Billy Hamilton.
Anderson has 20-20 power/speed potential but could be a batting average liability (.240 in 2018), and he's never shown strong plate skills with an ugly career .286 OBP. Between that and likely batting low in the order, he doesn't have the greatest floor or ceiling, but this is still a useful fantasy skill set.
Rosario has a somewhat steep draft price if you just look at least year's stats, but the selling point is clearly the upside of a former top prospect. If you're willing to take the leap here, you'll need to believe something clicked when he hit .284 and stole 15 bases over the final two months, but trusting such small sample sizes is always troublesome. Still, given his 96th percentile sprint speed and minor league pedigree, with some improvements the 23-year-old could become a high-upside speed threat.
Jurickson Profar (120) can also be considered for your shortstop and has the added flexibility of manning first and third base, as well. However, he arguably makes the most sense at first base, which is easily the least top-heavy of the three positions.
Five More to Remember
Some quick thoughts on other notable names...
Paul DeJong (180): Once the top names are off the board, DeJong quietly looks like one of the better power bats at the position. Despite dealing with a fractured hand last year, he still managed to slug 19 home runs in 490 plate appearances, and he hit 25 in just 443 the year before. A fly-ball hitter slated to bat high in the order for the Cardinals, he'll probably only hit .250, but with a healthy season, he should reach a new career-high in home runs.
Elvis Andrus (184): Following a monster career year in 2017, Andrus predictably regressed, but an early elbow injury was the main culprit in a lost season, managing just six home runs and five stolen bases over 428 plate appearances. It's fair to assume he'll bounce back, but by how much? Although his power gains from 2017 still look like an outlier -- his only season to ever hit double-digit homers -- you're not paying a high price to find out, and even a return to something closer to the 2016 version of Andrus would be plenty valuable.
Garrett Hampson (198): Technically, Hampson hasn't even won the second base job for the Rockies yet, but that hasn't stopped drafters from chasing his speed upside. In 2018, Hampson stole 38 bases between the majors and minors, and he nabbed 51 in Single-A the year prior. He has all of 48 plate appearances at the MLB level, so he's hardly a sure thing, but he's shown the ability to hit for average throughout the minors and could be a worthwhile, albeit risky, gamble if you're hurting for stolen bases.
Jorge Polanco (217) and Marcus Semien (223): Two solid power/speed combos, Polanco and Semien are ideal fallback options who can provide double-digit home runs and stolen bases. Of the pair, Polanco gets the slight nod as career .272 hitter, compared to Semien's .249 career mark. Polanco may also bat leadoff for the Twins this season.