Targeting Shortstops in 2018 Fantasy Baseball
I understand the angst when you are trying to be patient while a draft day run is in progress. I also understand the fear of having a black hole at a scarce position. Nobody likes to punt a position. That’s what makes drafting so important, and at times difficult, but it is getting easier. Shortstop lacks a lot of “impact” offensive producers and because of the physical demands of the position, it probably always will, but it is becoming a deeper position when it comes to “viable” offensive producers and that makes it a lot easier to be patient when it comes to drafting them.
I consider a player to be a potential “impact” offensive producer if they can hit 25-30 home runs or steal 30 or more bases. If they can contribute in both, that makes them an elite impact player, regardless of where they qualify on the diamond. I consider a player to be a “viable” offensive producer if they can produce 10-15 home runs and 10-15 stolen bases. If they don’t have the ceiling to hit 25 home runs or steal 30 bases then to remain “viable,” they need to contribute a little bit of both. For years, shortstop was a position with only a couple of “impact” players at the top and a handful of “viable” players, leaving as many as half of a league’s owners in the precarious situation of starting a shortstop who was doing more harm than good, never mind leading them to a title.
In 2010, only one shortstop hit more than 20 home runs (Troy Tulowitzki - 27) and only five hit more than 10. And, of those five, only one stole 14 bases or more (Jose Reyes - 30). In 2013, the position was slightly better. Two shortstops hit 25 home runs (J.J. Hardy and Troy Tulowitzki), but only eight hit at least 10 homers, and of those eight, only two (Jean Segura and Jose Reyes) also stole 14 bases or more. Entering the draft that year, owners had the choice of overpaying for Troy Tulowitzki and/or Jose Reyes, or punting the position and hoping they could cover their weakness at shortstop by being better elsewhere. The lack of “viable” Fantasy shortstops is why position scarcity has been such a primary discussion point in Fantasy Baseball drafts. It wasn’t because of the lack of “impact” players in the middle of the diamond, a problem we still have; it was because of the lack of “viable” ones. That is how Fantasy Baseball has changed at the Major League level and how it is definitely changing in the minor leagues too.
Drafting Shortstops for 2018 Fantasy Baseball
Looking at the current state of the shortstop position, the number of “viable” contributors is rising significantly. If you played in a points league, there were 17 shortstops that scored at least 400 points in 2017. If you’re in a 10-team league, that meant there was a viable shortstop to rotate over to the MI spot. If you’re in a 12-16 team league, you could draft the 16th-worst shortstop and not feel like you punted the position.
In 2017, in the heart of the juiced ball era, only three shortstops hit 25 home runs or more (Francisco Lindor/Paul DeJong/Didi Gregorius), but 22 hit 14 or more and seven of them also stole 14 bases or more. On the bases, where players are making fewer attempts and stealing them in far fewer numbers, Trea Turner was the only shortstop to steal more than 25 bases, while only six stole 20 or more. However, there were 13 shortstops that stole 14 bases or more and 12 of them hit at least 10 home runs. There were 16 shortstops that hit double-digit home runs and stole double-digit bases, and seven of them hit .275 or better.
Before we get too excited let’s not forget that shortstop still lacks depth in “impact” pop, especially compared to other positions. There wasn’t one shortstop with 100 runs batted in and only Francisco Lindor hit 30 home runs or scored over 600 Fantasy points in 2017. Third base had thirteen 500-plus point Fantasy scorers and the outfield had 27. Shortstop had only three. As many outfielders mashed their way to 700 or more Fantasy points as shortstops that scored 500 points or more.
What this means is that shortstop isn’t where you go to load up in bunches in the power categories, but what it also means is that you don’t have to pay a premium to guarantee that you don’t punt the position anymore. You can wait until the middle and late rounds of your draft, settle for a respectable “viable” option, and have a significantly better overall lineup because of it. If you want to duke it out with me about position scarcity at the catcher position; well, I will fight that fight until my last breath, but it at least has a place for a reasonable discussion there. At shortstop, position scarcity simply won’t fly.
There are a few ways for owners to adapt to the new Fantasy Baseball landscape, the new normal. In redraft leagues, it’s pretty simple. Don’t use a high pick on a shortstop unless you believe they can be every bit as productive as their other positional counterparts. That basically means, if you believe in Francisco Lindor or Trea Turner, then they might justify a Top 12 pick. Otherwise, stay away from the middle of the diamond until you get to the middle of the draft. You aren’t maximizing your draft picks when you reach for 25 home runs at shortstop. You can wait until the 16th-20th round to acquire 15 home runs and 15 stolen bases along with a .275 batting average. Let the lesser middle men fall to you rather than pay a premium for the top guys.
Shortstops To Avoid
Francisco Lindor, SS Cleveland Indians
Last season, even with the juiced ball, was beyond what Lindor profiled from a power perspective. If you believe the new Lindor is the long-term one, then use your first pick. At the very least, 2017 is his ceiling. You will be paying for a repeat performance while adopting the risk that he regresses by 10 home runs. I like to pay for upside, not for risk.
Carlos Correa, SS Houston Astros
Correa is more of a name than a reality right now. He is too big to expect meaningful stolen base totals and he still hasn’t hit 25 home runs in a season. I expect a breakout year in 2018 and still can’t recommend using a Top 25 pick on him.
Corey Seager, SS Los Angeles Dodgers
I am a big Seager fan. He hits for power and is one of few that can hit .300 in a game that doesn’t care about that skill anymore. However, the price is too high for a player that doesn’t contribute stolen bases.
Paul DeJong, SS St. Louis Cardinals
Didi Gregorius, SS New York Yankees
Zack Cozart, SS Los Angeles Angels
Shortstops To Target
Elvis Andrus, SS Texas Rangers
Regression is coming for Andrus and that plays into your hands in yearly leagues. Andrus has stolen 24 bases or more every season except one, and he is a career .277 hitter. It all depends on where his Average Draft Position turns out to be as draft day approaches, but if he only hits 10 home runs, steals 24 bases and bats .280 he would be regressing and still should be a good value.
Trevor Story, SS Colorado Rockies
There are flaws to his game, mostly strikeouts, and that’s why he should fall far enough to be a value. Story will provide a handful of stolen bases with 30 home run potential, and with that lineup in Coors Field, he could be one of those few shortstops to knock in 100 runs. His batting average could make you wince, like it did in 2017, or it could rebound and be an acceptable .265-.270, which would make him a draft day steal.
Tim Anderson, SS Chicago White Sox
You may be noticing a trend here. Shortstops with flaws should fall far enough to be values and Anderson is another. He is overly aggressive at the plate, but he has an above-average hit tool that resulted in a .301 career minor league batting average. Last season was tough in the batting average category, but he is due for improvement in 2018. What I value is when he is drafted and the confidence I have that he will hit 15 home runs and steal 15 bases with the upside to dream on a 20/20/.280 season.
Drafting Shortstops in Dynasty Formats
In Dynasty leagues your approach is less black and white and more circumstantial. With the explosion of viable Fantasy shortstops in the minor leagues and the ridiculous explosion of home runs at the major league level there are a few divergent strategies owners can adopt to adapt.
First, if you’re a consistent contender for your league title, you likely have a deeper organization than your co-owners. In that situation, you are justified in targeting one of the elite shortstops because you have the depth of assets to afford to overpay for an upgrade at a position that truly is thin when it comes to “impact” players. However, if you’re scratching and clawing in the middle of the standings or in a rebuilding phase, you need to be doing two things to incrementally improve your overall roster.
Shop your Elite Power Hitting Shortstops
The fastest way to transition from rebuilding to competing is adding above average quantity at the expense of your most expensive quality, and shortstop is the second-best place to do it behind catcher. When shopping Correa, Lindor or Seager types, you should be targeting top prospects that are close to contributing at the Major League level. Prospects with high ceilings and limited risk are the fastest way to contending, and elite power hitting shortstops have the cache to accomplish this objective.
Load Up on Shortstop Prospects
Prospecting is a math game. You can be the best scout in the world and still be wrong 90 percent of the time, so give yourself plenty of opportunities to be right. The more shortstops you have in your minor league system, the better chance you have of developing both a viable one and hitting a home run on a potential star. Middle infielders rarely have the 30-home run, 30 stolen base raw tools to profile as Fantasy stars, so more often than players at other positions they start slow and pop up quick. Roster several of them and be patient while you wait to see which ones develop into viable Fantasy contributors.
I believe that you win championships with stars, so I prefer prospects with high ceilings rather than safe floors. When I evaluate prospects, the first thing I look at is whether they profile with the raw “impact” tools to potentially hit 25-30 home runs or steal 30 or more bases. Unfortunately, there aren’t many shortstops that profile with this kind of ceiling. The next thing I look at when it comes to shortstops, especially in today’s game in which home runs are flying out of the park – whether it’s juiced balls or for some other reason - is their hit tool. Prospects with a plus hit tool like Jose Altuve, Francisco Lindor, or Dustin Pedroia for example, exceed projections more than any other tool. Carlos Gomez finally figured it out, but it was short lived. Wily Mo Pena never did, and Joey Gallo is finding it difficult to find full time at bats because he looks more like Chris Davis and Khris Davis rather than David Ortiz or Paul Goldschmidt. Load up on shortstops and be especially aggressive about targeting the ones with a plus hit tool.
Trevor Story Photo Credit: AP Photo/David Zalubowski
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