Contributing Writer : Albert Lang
For awhile there it seemed that shortstop wasn’t going to continue to be the perennial runt of the litter when it came to fantasy baseball positions. But, really, it’s back to being the dregs. There are about three trustworthy stars at the position (and that includes Hanley Ramirez and injury-risk extraordinaire Jose Reyes). In addition, unlike second or third base, there doesn’t appear to be a cadre of young players waiting in the wings to take over.
In reality, I’m actually going to tab an ancient one (who really has no business playing short) as the best value for your buck: Derek Jeter. If you think quickly, Jeter had a bad year, right? Well, not so fast. He scored 84 runs (the sixth most at his position), had 61 RBIs (ninth best among SS), and batted .297 (fifth best). Over the last three years, he has averaged a .300/.367/.408 line with 101 runs, 65 RBIs and 21 SBs. Now, as his age has gone up, his SBs have gone down. Still, he did manage 16 thefts in just 131 games last year. I see no reason why a healthy Jeter can’t bat .295 with 10 HRs and 18 SBs. He’ll score 90 – 100 runs and add a decent amount of RBIs. In addition, even if he slacks off a bit, the runs will be there. He could be the safest fantasy baseball shortstop there is.
The rest of the shortstop pack is pretty uninspiring. Elvis Andrus has the speed and runs you like to see; Starlin Castro racks up the hits and runs but doesn’t have overwhelming power or speed; Jimmy Rollins is getting old, tends to bat poorly, but should hit 15 HRs and steal 25 bases; Asdrubal Cabrera will be solid across the board; Erick Aybar will add some steals and a decent average; etc. etc. It really is a Pu Pu platter from five – 12 in my ranks. You draft what statistics you need, there’s not much more to it.
Outside of the top 12 options, I’m finding myself to be a pretty big Marco Scutaro fan. The trade to Colorado does nothing but help him. He remains in a hitter friendly park, but goes to the easier league. In addition, he gets to play second base, a position he prefers. Scutaro also had an under-the-radar year last season, batting.299/.358/.423. In 2012, he’ll bat .280 at worst and add 12 HRs and 10 SBs. He walks at a decent clip and should find his way to 80+ runs. That sounds like an underrated shortstop that can contribute across the board.
If you miss out on the top, there are a few guys lurking who might be able to help you out.
I’ve long made the case that Emilio Bonifacio is just not a good fantasy performer (all the while I rode him to an NL-only championship last year). He’s a one-trick pony without the supporting skills (ability to get on base) to help him optimally use that trick (speed). Yes, he batted well last year (.296/.360/.393), yet he had a .372 BABIP (.339 for career). That’s going to come back to earth. However, he’s going to get at bats for the Marlins at any number of positions (CF, SS, 3B, etc.) which gives him opportunity. Even if he hits .275/.340, with 615 at bats, he’ll steal 33-35 bases. That’s solid and all sorts of useful. Bonifacio is a terribly flawed player, but think of him as Juan Pierre at shortstop.
Speaking of someone who will slot in all over the place for his team, Eduardo Nunez should fill in admirably around the infield for the Yankees. Over the past two seasons, in 391 plate appearances, Nunez has a .267/.314/.382 line but has added 50 runs and 27 steals. With near 400 plate appearances (which is totally attainable), Nunez could swipe 20+ bases and bat .280/.325. He’s still relatively young (not 25 until June) and has some promise. He’s one major injury to a brittle old fogey from being a starting caliber fantasy shortstop.
If there is one young player who can rival his cohorts at second and third, it’s the Cincinnati Reds’ Zack Cozart. In 2007, the Reds drafted Cozart in the second round (they also drafted Todd Frazier and Devin Mesoraco – what a haul). Last season, Cozart started the year at AAA, but with the Reds SS hitting horribly, Cozart got the call. In his first game, on July 7, he went 1/3 with a run scored. Through his first 11 games, Cozart was batting .324/.324/.486 with two HRs. He didn’t walk and had six strike outs. Unfortunately, he hyper-extended his left elbow just 16 days after his debut and had Tommy John surgery; he should be ready for Opening Day, though. I think Cozart will struggle with the stick, perhaps batting .260. That said, he has some upside to the .280 or so range. He should provide 15 or so HRs and could steal 17-20 bases. That looks a lot like Danny Espinosa to me. He has some risk, given the injury and lack of track record; however he also has some upside. As a flier, late in drafts, Cozart makes a fantastic gamble.
For a downloadable version of the rankings, please visit here.