Among the fantasy baseball positions, short stop has been known to be thin from time to time. But it hasn’t been this thin in quite a while.
Shortstop in 2011 is Pablo Sandoval seat cushion thin. And, again from a fantasy standpoint, the position is as top heavy as, well, Pablo Sandoval.
- Hanley Ramirez, FLA. Han-Ram has been the gold standard of quality fantasy shortstops for quite some time. And even with a slight dip in homers, RBI, runs scored and batting average in 2010, he still offered enough five-category goodness to be worthy of a high first-round pick.
- Troy Tulowitzki, COL. Troy continues to ascend to the top of his position from a fantasy sense thanks to five-category production. His .315 batting average in 2010 was his best yet, and even though his numbers were a little streaky when looking at the past several seasons of major league play, it is obvious that he is trending overall in the right direction. The one thing to watch, from a distance, is how his offseason mega contract signing affects his play. Let’s hope he is professional enough to not let it affect him.
- Jose Reyes, NYM. Once upon a time, you could count on Jose Reyes to remain healthy most of a season and produce some great speed numbers and respectable power stats to boot. Those days are over. Coming off a roller coaster season, he still produced 11 homers, 30 steals and a .282 batting average, all of which should provide a baseline projection for Reyes in 2011 if he were to remain healthy a full season. However, that isn’t a given.
- Jimmy Rollins, PHI. I’ve seen him ranked lower than Derek Jeter in a number of fantasy magazines so far, but I just can’t buy into that. He struggled through waves of injury in 2010, but still finished with very similar stolen base (17 to Jeter’s 18) and homer run (eight to Jeter’s 10) totals despite having 313 less plate appearances than the Yankees captain. Rollins was also victim to a bad BABIP(.246), which would suggest Rollins is due for at least somewhat of a bounce back.
- Derek Jeter, NYY. A major fan of Jeter the player, I was still tempted to drop him a little lower in my positional fantasy rankings here. He’s coming off a disappointing season in which his batting average fell drastically and he saw a dropoff in both homers and stolen bases. The plus for Jeter is that he’s still hitting in a very powerful lineup in a stadium that is great for hitters. I do expect his numbers to bounce back somewhat, and his runs scored in that lineup can’t be matched at the position with others as you go down this list. Just beware that in many leagues, Jeter will go higher than he should based on name value alone.
- Alexei Ramirez, CWS. An unsexy fantasy name, but a consistent fantasy producer at a shallow position, Ramirez again hit double-digit homers and stole double-digit bases while hitting a respectable .282. The White Sox added some more offensive firepower this offseason, which should help Ramirez take another step or two in the right direction. Just don’t expect him to have a major stat inflation.
- Elvis Andrus, TEX. I’ll get hammered for having Andrus this low, but the Ranger speedster is still very raw. He’s swiped 30-plus bases the past two seasons, and provides his own share of runs scored in a fairly strong Rangers lineup. However, look closer at the numbers. He hit just .265 in 2010 (.267 the year before), drove in five less runs, hit zero homers (he had six in 2009) and stole one less base than he did in 2009, yet had 108 more at-bats in 2010. There is little doubt that Andrus has potential to improve in other categories, and if you need a speed fix, he could be a decent option. I’m just not ready to buy into this guy until he shows me more at the major league level.
- Stephen Drew, ARI. Many have been expecting Drew to have a major statistical coming out party at some point. In 2010, he did continue to move in the right direction numbers-wise, but it was in baby feet. His .278 batting average was digestible, and 15 homers and 10 stolen bases were both improvements over 2009 stats, but you get a feeling he could be doing more. Still, at this position, he is worthy of a No. 8 ranking.
- Ian Desmond, WAS. Beware of Desmond if your league penalizes for errors, but there is little doubt that he has the offensive potential to see a solid rise in stock sooner rather than later. His 2010 year-end numbers weren’t super-sexy, but consider that he hit .326 with four homers, nine stolen bases and 19 RBIs from the month of August on, and you realize that he could be a nice sleeper option at this position. Too bad he’s in a such a bad MLB lineup. Still, he could be a nice later-round pickup.
- Rafael Furcal, LAD. Another tier drop here for me. A drastic one, highlighting my issues with depth at shortstop in 2011. At least we know Furcal can produce when healthy. Even in limited action last year (383 at-bats), he hit .300 with 22 stolen bases and eight homers. The jump in batting average may be linked to an elevated BABIP (.338), so don’t realistically expect another .300 campaign. The main question mark is how many games Furcal will play in 2011. He’s missed time in three of the past four seasons, and back issues that hampered him much of 2008 seemed to cause issues near the end of last season. With Furcal, you need a decent secondary shortstop option.
- Starlin Castro, CHC. Castro is already a historic figure in the majors. When he was called up last May, he became the first player in MLB born in the 1990s. Too bad that doesn’t help in fantasy stats. Castro’s youth showed last season. While he blistered Double-A competition with a .990 OPS and turned in decent numbers at the major league level last season, he still hasn’t shown the combination of power and speed that many scouts suggest he harnesses. The organization sees him as an eventual 15-homer, 20-steal guy, and his .300 batting average last season vs. major league pitchers was a nice sign, too. If nothing else, with that plate discipline, he is a poor man’s shortstop version of Martin Prado.
- Juan Uribe, LAD. A less-than stellar option on the surface to many fantasy baseball owners who don’t look at below-the-surface stats, Uribe was a vital cog for the Giants’ championship run. He logged career highs in homers and RBI last season (24 and 85, respectively) and only real knocks from a fantasy standpoint included batting average (.248) and steals (1). His career batting average through nine seasons is a .256, so I wouldn’t expect a vast improvement there, but he has hit an average of 16 homers per season, which proves his power is for real. The coolest stat for Uribe, in my opinion, is his 2010 at-bats per home run. Among all shortstops, he was second-best with 21.7 at-bats per home run, better than anyone outside of Troy Tulowitzki. He’s now with the Dodgers and will reportedly play full-time second base.
- Asdrubal Cabrera, CLE. Yet another dropoff in talent for my last three guys. All three are 2010 disappointments who have enough potential and opportunity to turn it around in 2011. Cabrera goes first because he has a more steady batting average. While his .276 was a decent dropoff from the .308 in 2009, some could argue that he never had a chance to get into a groove thanks to an injured quad, fractured forearm and a wrist sprain during the season. He comes from a solid pedigree of 20-plus steals and double-digit homers in the minor leagues, and has flashed that potential in short bursts at the major league level.
- Yunel Escobar, TOR. A groin injury and a sore back seemed to limit Yunel at the start of the 2010 campaign up until he was traded to Toronto. His stats quickly improved in the hitter-friendly Blue Jays environment, but was sidetracked by a number of other ailments. He does have a career batting average of .289 at the major league level. However, I’m more interested in how Alex Gonzalez petered out drastically in the same trade as he moved from Toronto to Atlanta in July. There is little doubt that Yunel is in a much better place to finally and fully break out. Staying healthy is the only potential hurdle.
- Alcides Escobar, KC. Before the fairly recent trade that saw Escobar and Zach Greinke switch teams, I wanted nothing to do with Escobar in 2011. His woeful batting average (.235) in 2010 and inability to produce better numbers in a lineup filled with solid offensive options were just parts of the reason why … the biggest being the Brewers’ non-interest in running the basepaths. Now in Kansas City, I’m expecting Alcides to be given the green light a lot more as the Royals try to scratch and claw their way to some victories, and as Escobar gains more confidence, his other numbers should eventually follow suit.
Who are your top shortstops for 2011? We’d love to hear about them, or debate on my list, in the comments below.