You're going to see a lot of information this week on individual shortstops, whether it's player profiles, rankings or prospect information. But before we get into those specifics, it can be very helpful to take a step back. The idea behind this State of the Position series, which will run at the beginning of each week of coverage, is to give you a sense of what to expect from the position as a whole in various types of leagues.
Whether it's fair or not, shortstop has generally been viewed contextually with second base as far as shallow positions without much firepower. However, just as I wrote last week that we've seen a continuous tick down in the overall quality of the second base position, the opposite is true of shortstop.
Even if you just look at this year versus last year, the position as a whole has clearly improved. The hold steadies like Hanley, Reyes, and Tulowitzki remain firmly on the early round radar, and have been joined by still-only-22-year-old Starlin Castro. Jimmy Rollins and Derek Jeter both had nice bounce back seasons in 2012, which buoy their status for at least another year. And as you go further down the list, you get many newer faces who hinted at the potential they hold in their bats (and legs) like Ian Desmond, Alcides Escobar, Jean Segura and Zack Cozart.
In fact, the best way to see where SS has come as a position when compared to its middle infield counterpart is to take a look at Marco Scutaro's ranking (he's eligible at both positions). Once upon a time, when determining eligibility for cheat sheets, everyone who was eligible at both 2B and SS automatically got grouped with SS as their primary position. When I did my rankings, I had Scutaro at #18 among 2B and #17 among SS -- which means we've almost come back to even. This will only cement itself as the fresh faces of the position start to make their impact felt -- and that's not even mentioning the strong crop of SS prospects which Jason and Craig will talk about tomorrow.
The League Breakout
In the official Fake Teams consensus ranks (which will be coming out in subsequent posts), the National League leads the American League in our top-25 by a score of 13 to 12. For the American League, the place you notice the difference is right at the top -- although it's much better than last year. Ben Zobrist gaining eligibility for 2013 and Jose Reyes being traded to Toronto, saves the position for AL-only leaguers, as without them, you're looking at a top tier of Elvis Andrus and Derek Jeter. Ouch.
In NL-only leagues, you're probably going to want to grab one of the top five options at the position -- Hanley, Starlin, Tulo, Rollins and Desmond -- as there is a big dropoff from them to the Rutledge/Cozart/Cabrera/Segura range. Not to say that one of those guys can't break out, but if you choose poorly, it's going to be a big hole to climb out of. On the other hand, in AL-only leagues the middle tier of shortstops is larger, so you can pick your price point and go with where the value is. Obviously, Reyes and Zobrist will be expensive, but don't press -- you can always grab perfectly solid options like Alcides Escobar, Alexei Ramirez and Asdrubal Cabrera, as they go deeper in the AL.
The Speed Anchor
More than any other specific position, shortstop is a place where if you don't draft speed, you're going to need to make it up elsewhere. Last season, 5 shortstops stole 30 or more bases and 11 stole 20 or more. In fact, if you look at the ESPN Player Rater for 2012, you need to go 18 guys deep at the position just to find the first player who stole fewer than 9 bases on the season.
You might look at this and say "well, maybe I'll buck the trend and draft power here to gain an advantage over the other owners who are acting like sheep." To that, I only have one response -- where are you going to get this magical power from? The only shortstop who hit even 17 HR in 2012 and stole fewer than 14 bases was J.J. Hardy, and I am not a big fan of his. Otherwise you're just talking about someone who you hope can give you 15 HR. There's more upside in the power department at almost any other position.
The Strategy in Mixed Leagues
Last year, my strategy was to try and get either Tulo or Hanley in all of my redraft leagues. Fortunately, I had Hanley as the better buy, so I didn't actually own Tulowitzki on any of my teams. But this year, the strategy has changed. Hanley is still my #1 at the position, but as I mentioned earlier, the depth of the second and third tiers at the position have gotten strong enough that you can wait on a SS and be completely OK. So in general, I'm going to set my prices and see where the value ends up. If it's Zobrist, great. If it's Desmond, that's fine.
In shallow leagues, that's more or less what I'd be doing. I would be waiting until one of the SS on the board is undervalued, or if that doesn't happen, I'd just be waiting until the end of the draft to grab a player at the back-end of the top-12 (the one I'd probably target in that range is either Asdrubal Cabrera or Alcides Escobar, depending on need).
In deeper leagues, you're probably going to want to pull the trigger a little quicker than that. Not to say that I'd make a drastic move for one of the top guys, but you don't want to be the owner who's leaving the draft with Jhonny Peralta, Josh Rutledge or Erick Aybar as your starting SS. But regardless of who you grab first, there are some later round guys with real upside at the position who you can grab as backups who won't require much of an investment. My personal favorite end-game fliers are Jean Segura, Andrelton Simmons and Cliff Pennington.
The Rest of the Week
Now that we've covered the position from a macro perspective, it's time to dig into the players. Ray will be bringing you the first part of our 2013 consensus positional rankings next (in just a few short hours), so stay tuned for that - along with our shortstop prospect coverage which starts tomorrow morning with Jason and Craig. The rest of the writing staff here will be working on bringing you in-depth profiles and sleeper picks. We've got a lot of information coming your way for both the rest of this week and the rest of the off-season, so empty some space in your brain and be prepared for an informational avalanche. Remember, if you haven't started your 2013 draft prep yet, you're already behind someone in your league (especially if you play in a league with me).