Shortstop looks to be a little stronger in 2014 than it has been in years past. Hanley Ramirez and Troy Tulowitzki were back at the top of the position and are the cream of the crop heading into this year. Ian Desmond and Jean Segura are looking to join them as the elite at the position. Desmond is coming off his second straight 20/20 season and Segura shows a power speed combo slightly reminiscent of a young Jose Reyes (although the speed may be a notch below that). Add Reyes to this group and we have our top tier at the position. Some may disagree but I believe these players have similar upside and risk/reward potential, although different levels of each.
After the group above, the position sorts itself into groups pretty easily and it will be important on draft day to assess your team to see which type of player fits best. There is a collection of players who offer a ton of speed such as Elvis Andrus, Everth Cabrera, Jonathan Villar and Alcides Escobar. Obviously, these players differ in other categories and a little in their stolen base upside but they are connected in that speed is their primary fantasy draw. Andrus will score a ton of runs and probably post a higher batting average than the rest of the group and Cabrera has the most stolen base potential by far, but Villar and Escobar are late round options that will cost little and can bolster the category for you.
There are a few players that are relatively uninspiring but are reliable and have a good bit of value. These players include Ben Zobrist (who is the best of the bunch), Jhonny Peralta, Jed Lowrie and Stephen Drew. If you have question marks at other positions, these players may be a good fit. They probably won't surprise you with a 25 home run season or by stealing 30 bases, but you can go to the bank with roughly 15 home runs and decent counting stats. The only questions surrounding these players revolves around health but each showed that they could stay healthy last year and I am betting on them doing so again this season.
Alexei Ramirez, Jimmy Rollins, Starlin Castro and Asdrubal Cabrera offer some similar potential to the players in the first two groups but with a little more uncertainty. Every year I'm weary of drafting Ramirez because you never know what you will get. He showed decent power in his first few years in the US but the past two seasons have been relatively little power and increased SB production. He's 32 and speed is usually the first thing to start declining. J-Roll is only a year removed from a 23/30 season and 100+ runs scored. The stolen bases were still decent last year but the power was almost completely lost. I think he bounces back and puts up above average numbers across the board. Speaking of bouncing back, Starlin Castro was the player with the largest gap between potential and performance last year and I'm counting on him to get back to his old ways in 2014.
Andrelton Simmons and Erick Aybar don't really fit in with anyone else but they are decent players who are above average in terms of runs and stolen bases. Aybar will probably help in average as well but offers little in the power department and Simmons showed surprising power last year but he only hit .248. JJ Hardy is another player who doesn't fit with anyone else because home runs and RBIs are really the only categories that he offers but he does so among the elite at the position. He won't hit for a high average and is not fleet of foot but he's the perfect player for a team in need of power from a position that doesn't offer much outside of the top players.
I'll be looking to draft a top shortstop this year and Ian Desmond will probably be the number one guy I'll target. He will likely cost a pick outside of the top two rounds which is probably not the case for Tulo and Hanley and I think he has the chance to outperform both players given their injury woes. If you miss out on one of the top five guys, make sure you get a player that fits your team. Taking the best player available is normally the right strategy and with shortstop this year, I think the term "best" is relative to the construction of your lineup. Since there are so many players with so many different skill sets, I think you will be able to find a player to fit your team. If you identify that player, don't be afraid to reach a little for a guy you want in a snake draft if need be. However, in an auction you should still look for values and shortstop should be a place where you can find some this season.
You can follow Zack on Twitter at @FantasyNinja8.