Elite vs. Fantasy-Viable Shortstop Prospects
One of the keys to managing a successful dynasty or keeper league team is consistently finding value in the trade market. Consistently overpaying to acquire talent puts a strain on an owner’s ability to maintain a deep enough organization to sustain winning over the long-term, and this is especially true when it comes to prospects. Prospects are, by definition, unproven and even the best ones have risk associated with their future. If you repeatedly overpay for unproven risk then regardless of how good you are at projecting performance, you are going to have setbacks and failures eventually.
In my previous article, I wrote about the depth of “viable” Fantasy shortstops at the Major League level, but I also pointed out that there is still a lack of high-end “Fantasy-impact” shortstops. It’s becoming easier and easier to find 10-15 home runs and 10-15 stolen bases, but it remains a rarity to find a 30-home run slugger at shortstop. Of course, this “new normal” at the Major League level started in the Minor Leagues.
Shortstop Position Depth
There are nine shortstops in the MLBPipeline.com Top 50 prospect rankings and 12 in their Top 75, but not on can be projected to consistently hit 25-30 home runs with any degree of confidence. Fernando Tatis Jr. “might” if everything goes right, even though he will be playing half his games in Petco Park. Brendan Rodgers might have a few 30 home run seasons if he can reach his power ceiling with the assistance of a juiced ball and Coors Field. Bo Bichette may pop a 30 home run season or two, but it appears unlikely that he will qualify as a shortstop. Lastly, Ryan McMahon has the power and the bat-to-ball skills, but it’s unlikely that he will qualify at a middle infield position (although MLBPipeline.com leaves open the possibility that he could be a second baseman).
If a player is ranked as one of the 5-10 best overall prospects in baseball but doesn’t profile to hit 25-30 home runs or steal 30-40 bases, it’s a struggle to justify the cost to trade for them. However, even in the current MLB sabermetric environment, in which stolen bases are devalued and attempts are declining, we can still project that as many as six of the 12 shortstops in MLBPipeline.com’s Top 75 will consistently steal 10-15 bases and hit 10-15 home runs annually.
The cost to trade for a Top 10 shortstop prospect is typically high, while the ceiling for most of them is relatively limited. On the other hand, there is an abundance of “viable” shortstops who lack the superstar tools that inflate price tags, and there are a lot of them to choose from. The best way to find value is to shop where there is depth and avoid what is rare.
Four Suggestions for Evaluating Shortstops
Here are four suggestions to remember when seeking value for your dynasty league team in the new middle infield environment and some prospects you should buy, sell, or stick with.
- Resist the urge to overpay for the more highly ranked middle infielders and target the pedestrian, 10-15 home run, 10-15 stolen base players that appear lower in most rankings. The top ranked guys aren’t worth the surcharge attached to being ranked at the top.
- Avoid overpaying for middle infield prospects whose value is tied exclusively to their bat and target those that have a lower offensive ceiling but can supplement their Fantasy contributions with stolen bases. If they contribute in batting average all the better.
- When scouting middle infielders, pay especially close attention to those with plus hit tools. The most common mistake made when projecting a player’s ceiling is underappreciating the potential impact a plus hit tool can have on their other tools. Consistent hard contact elevates modest to average raw power and can result in unexpected home run totals. We knew Francisco Lindor would be good, but he has exceeded his original power ceiling. Jose Altuve was always seen as a good player but nobody projected a league MVP and the same goes for Dustin Pedroia. The common tool among them was a plus hit tool.
- Allocate more Minor League roster spots for shortstops/middle infielders than you may have previously. For years, I have loaded my minor league systems with pitchers due to their injury risk and because of how difficult it is to project starting pitchers. However, the depth of “viable” middle infielders at the minor league level has me changing my tune.
Shortstops to Buy
Ryan McMahon, 1B/2B/3B/OF Colorado Rockies
McMahon is a “buy” because his hit tool and raw power profile to be a .280-290 hitter with 25-30 home run potential while the buzz surrounding him has been underwhelming, especially for a future Rockies player. One of the concerns that also represents potential upside is that he is blocked by a second baseman who fraudulently won a batting title (D.J. LeMahieu), a shortstop who could easily hit 30 home runs (Trevor Story) and one of the best offensive players in baseball (Nolan Arenado).
The logjam means that he may not contribute as soon as he should, and his value could be crushed if his future is at first base – where he is also blocked by high-priced free agent Ian Desmond – or it could be enhanced if he becomes a super-utility player who qualifies all over the infield. His tools are currently undervalued, and he has a good chance at being a super-utility weapon for Fantasy owners, which makes him a strong buy. It might not pay dividends until 2019, but now is the time to acquire him.
Willy Adames, SS Tampa Bay Rays
Adames is a perfect example of why it is difficult to fight the temptation to overpay for elite shortstops on the trade market. It’s difficult to get excited about a prospect with little sizzle in their profile because of a pedestrian ceiling. Adames has a good approach with enough raw power and ability to barrel balls that he could creep towards 20 home runs in career years, but he is not going to average 20-plus home runs per season or sniff 30 homers in even a career year. I’ll be honest, I don’t want to own Willy Adames. But it’s smart franchise management if you do.
One concern about Adames is that MLBPipeline.com ranks him #22 overall. A ranking like that could result in overly high expectations from another owner. His floor is safe and respectable, but the ceiling is low. Make sure your trade partner has realistic expectations and understands what Adames is and isn’t before you begin serious negotiations for his services.
Andres Gimenez, SS New York Mets
BaseballAmerica.com ranks him #94 overall, while MLBPipeline.com doesn’t have him in their Top 100 at all. I profile him here because he has the hit tool and intangibles to develop into a “viable” Fantasy shortstop that could provide 10-15 home runs and 10-15 stolen bases if he maxes out his potential. He is the perfect example of a prospect that in the past would probably be a free agent in Fantasy. In the new normal you should roster a few extra middle infielders and see who pops.
— New York Mets Fans (@MetsViews) January 26, 2018
Franklin Barreto, SS/2B Oakland Athletics
Barreto’s increased strikeout rate from Double-A to Triple-A and then his struggles to make contact in Oakland has me slightly concerned, but he is another good example of a viable shortstop that will satisfy an owner’s demand for an acceptable Fantasy middle infielder. He hit double-digit home runs and stole double-digit bases in both 2016 and 2017, with a career .292 minor league batting average. Where Barreto eventually uses the glove is still an open question, but he should remain in the middle of the diamond and his power/speed combination makes him an above average middle infield prospect.
Luis Urias, 2B/SS San Diego Padres
Urias lacks the ceiling to dream about, but his less than electric skill set plays up due to a good approach and a plus-plus hit tool. The raw tools don’t profile as a power hitter in the box or a burner on the bases, but he is the type of prospect to own to see if he exceeds the raw potential.
Scott Kingery, 2B Philadelphia Phillies
Kingery’s lack of sizzle in the rankings is explained by his position profile. Players who project solely as second baseman don’t typically have blustery love thrown their way in the rankings, but I like the profile. He has a plus hit tool (career .284 hitter in minor league baseball and he almost batted .400 in College) with average raw power that should play up because of his ability to consistently barrel up the ball. He also has the speed to average double-digit stolen bases. He is another 10-15 home run, 10-15 stolen base, .280-.290 batting average five-tool talent who is ranked outside the Top 30 by both MLBPipeline.com and BaseballAmerica.com.
Kevin Maitan, SS/3B/OF Los Angeles Angels
Maitan is almost entirely projection and the little performance we do have was disappointing. However, scouting reports project a potential middle-of-the-order offensive force and at 18 years old, he is already 6’2”, 190 lbs. It’s unlikely that he sticks at shortstop or even second base but wait and see if he can. If he does, we are looking at a Carlos Correa type ceiling with less stolen base potential.
It’s understandable to have significant doubts considering how raw and how far away he is, but that uncertainty is factored into his current ranking on the prospect lists. Maitan is ranked #87 by MLBPipeline.com and isn’t in BaseballAmerica.com’s Top 100 at all. He isn’t an example of the sort of prospect discussed here, but his ceiling is too explosive to pass up. He’s a player who could return nice value.
Shortstops to Sell
Gleyber Torres, SS New York Yankees
Torres is atop most prospect lists because he has a .282 career batting average, he profiles to hit 20 or more home runs per season, and he is still only 21 years old. My concern is the acquisition cost of an elite prospect that has never hit 12 home runs in a season and doesn’t profile to contribute in a meaningful way to stolen bases. Torres is going to be a good baseball player, but a good baseball player isn’t always going to make an impact in Fantasy. The price to acquire him is too steep and the odds of 30-plus home runs per season are too long.
Another concern is which position Torres ends up in and when. With the emergence of Didi Gregorius, Torres might move to second or third base. The bat projects well as a Fantasy second baseman while it would be more of a pedestrian profile at third base. My sense is that he will play the hot corner in 2018, but second base looks like his eventual position.
No. 6 prospect Gleyber Torres has a chance to be a perennial all-star with the Yankees: https://t.co/cZLdUGoxMm
— Baseball America (@BaseballAmerica) January 23, 2018
Nick Gordon, SS/2B Minnesota Twins
I have never believed that Nick Gordon would be Fantasy relevant with the bat or on the bases. He has been hyped as a top prospect since before he was drafted despite having none of the tools to justify it. MLBPipeline.com ranks him as their #30 prospect even though he profiles as a slap hitter with pedestrian stolen base speed. His ability to make consistent contact is a positive and that tool could elevate his other mediocre tools. However, there are doubts about whether Gordon will ever make an impact.
Bo Bichette, SS/2B/3B Toronto Blue Jays
The scouting reports love Bo Bichette and being ranked in the Top 15 reflects the level of excitement about his tools. He has the bat speed and bat to ball skills to generate 25 home run seasons and be a .300 hitter. In 110 games across three different levels, he has a .372 career batting average. That is incredibly impressive regardless of where a prospect does it.
However, you should sell Bichette because the excitement doesn’t accurately factor in the risk or justify what it may cost a Fantasy owner to acquire him. His lack of foot speed and agility suggests that he won’t be a base stealer, which could force a move to second base, third base or possibly even left field, where his power doesn’t profile as well.
In a “breakout” 2017 season he only hit 14 home runs, and his OPS has dropped after every promotion since the start of his minor league career. The drop in OPS isn’t an overly terrifying development considering he has only 530 at bats in two seasons, and we should expect a bump in the road when facing tougher competition. However, an improvement not regression is ideally what you want to see from a player. It’s one significant reason Miami Marlins second base prospect Isan Diaz’s stock plummeted from 2016 to 2017.
J.P. Crawford, 2B/SS Philadelphia Phillies
If Crawford was the player that his prospect profiles conclude he is, then he would be the type of plus-hit tool middle infielder recommended in this article. However, his scouting reports have been perplexing, and he doesn’t appear to be what some believe him to be. He doesn’t have good foot speed or impressive power and yet, scouts have consistently concluded that he is a plus defender, will be an above average offensive player, and that he should even steal some bases. Then, when you add an incongruous scouting history to a player who has been criticized for a lack of drive and interest in being a success, I can’t recommend Crawford now and I have consistently been against him in the past. The hit-tool and the friendly ballpark are in his favor. If you believe he will be a plus defender with above average home run potential like many scouting reports have consistently concluded, then you should target Crawford. However, I disagree with these reports, and while I like the devalued ranking of #37 overall by MLBPipeline.com, buying low is one thing, buying bad is another. Sell Crawford.
Prospects To Stick
Buy or Sell are easy labels to understand, but Stick? When I categorize a prospect as a Stick, I mean that they are neither over or under hyped/rated. Their perceived value is in line with their actual value. Stick means they are what the market says they are.
Fernando Tatis Jr., SS San Diego Padres
Scouts reported a significant improvement in his pitch recognition and approach in 2017, suggesting that the overall approach is beginning to combine with plus tools to make Tatis Jr. a potential star. Tatis is currently ranked among the Top 10 by both BaseballAmerica.com and MLBPipeline.com, making him an elite prospect that will demand an expensive price tag in trade discussions. I list him as a “stick” because if you are going to take a risk on any current middle infield prospect, Tatis Jr. is the one for me. He profiles to be a 20-25 home run hitter with a ceiling of 30 home runs and 10-15 stolen bases with the possibility of a few 20-plus stolen base seasons. There is some concern that he could move to second base or third base, but the overall profile plays in Fantasy. A position would diminish his value, but it wouldn’t destroy it. Target Tatis Jr. in trades this winter.
Brendan Rodgers, SS/2B/3B Colorado Rockies
Rodgers has a chance to be the best home run hitting middle infield prospect in baseball, but he isn’t ranked that way. MLBPipeline.com ranks him #15 overall, while BaseballAmerica.com has him at #22. He has plus bat speed, a plus hit tool and at least average raw power with a potential ceiling as a 30-home run, .300 hitter. He is lower in most rankings than Ahmed Rosario would be if he was still a prospect, and lower than Gleyber Torres, who is universally seen as the best middle infield prospect in the game. He’s also below Bo Bichette, who has some of the same weaknesses, more risk in his profile and who is much less likely to remain in the middle of the diamond.
One of the knocks on Rodgers is that he doesn’t walk enough, but his bat speed and plus hit tool allow him to consistently barrel the ball and generate plus power. There are mild concerns that the Rockies’ stockpile of infielders could push him to third base if Arenado leaves, but you should still consider him a buy/stick. The one knock on Rodgers is that he doesn’t steal bases.
Gleyber Torres Photo Credit: AP Photo/Matt Rourke