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2015 Fantasy Landscape: Shortstop

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Ian Desmond took over as the No. 1 fantasy baseball shortstop in 2014. Can the Washington Nationals slugger do it again?

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

The average big-league shortstop slashed .251/.306/.363 in 2014, compared to .254/.308/.367 in 2013. Home runs at the position were nearly identical over the past two seasons (364 in 2014, 362 in 2013), while speed numbers were slightly down (456 steals in 2013, 433 in 2014). Only two shortstops finished in the top 50 overall, according to the ESPN Player Rater: Washington’s Ian Desmond and Toronto’s Jose Reyes. It was Chicago’s Alexei Ramirez, not Colorado’s Troy Tulowitzki (No. 93) or former Los Angeles Dodger Hanley Ramirez (115). who finished No. 3 overall the position.

The middle infield is not what it used to be, and Desmond, Tulo and Ramirez remain the power-preferred options at a severely lacking position. With full health, Tulo and Ramirez would, hands down, be the first two shortstops to take on draft day, but both come into the new season with question marks. While Tulo played in just 91 games a year ago, he still smashed 21 home runs with a ridiculous .603 slugging percentage, his highest mark in nine seasons. Hanley moves from shortstop to the outfield in Boston, and it will be tempting to chase the stats in Fenway.

If you don’t land one of the top dogs, the fall is long and hard. Fantasy baseball purists want speed from the shortstop position, and it still offers that to a degree, with eight eligible shortstops reaching 20 swipes in 2014. Only two, Alcides Escobar and Jose Reyes, made it to 30 in 2014, and it’s very fair to wonder if the latter still has the legs to do it again. Jimmy Rollins was also close with 28 swipes, but he’ll be entering his age-36 season. The two next closest to 20 steals were Everth Cabrera and Jean Segura, and the former is still without a job after busting in San Diego.

Shortstop isn’t pretty in 2015, so you’ll have to make the decision to either spend the big bucks early or wait for better value in the mid or late rounds.

The Great Divide (AL/NL)

The top three shortstops (Tulo, Hanley, Desmond) all used to reside in the Senior Circuit, but Ramirez has since taken his talents to Boston. I still believe the best of the position lies in the National League, but it’s not cut and dry. Starlin Castro has the talent to make the leap and join the elite class, but he has yet to demonstrate the power and speed many projected. Still only 24 and with a 200-hit season already on the back of his baseball card (!), the Cubs shortstop has a safe floor and high ceiling that has not yet been reached. I’m bearish on Castro, but that might be the Cubs fan in me. I still think he’s one of the best all-around shortstop in the game.

Rollins moves from Philadelphia to Los Angeles with the opportunity to join a winner, and the veteran still has something to prove. Jhonny Peralta got a big contract despite that Biogenesis thing and rewarded the Cardinals with 21 home runs and 75 RBI, his highest single-season totals since 2011. Segura made me look really stupid in 2014, and I will never co-author a Fake Teams post with Daniel Kelley ever again, and Andrelton Simmons showed why he’s probably a much better real-life shortstop than fantasy shortstop. But, oh, that defense!

The top shortstops in the AL are the aforementioned Ramirez and Reyes, but a few up-and-comers like Xander Bogaerts can really swing the pendulum to the American League’s side. Bogaerts was overhyped a year ago as the Red Sox top prospect, but a more reasonable outlook on the 22-year-old could provide plenty of room for value in 2015. I’ll be pessimistic on 33-year-old Alexei Ramirez again and probably regret it again, while Elvis Andrus has turned into a so-so fantasy option with zero power and questionable speed (two home runs and 27 steals in 2014).

Asdrubal Cabrera is now with the Rays, but his decline has been well documented. Om the surface, 14 steals, 74 runs, 61 RBI and 10 steals (his 2014 numbers) look very good, even Starlin Castro like, but he’s now hit in the .240s in back-to-back seasons. Similar to Jay Bruce’s consistent power in Cincinnati, J.J. Hardy burned owners who were banking on another 20-25 home run season. The Orioles shortstop finished with just nine home runs in 141 games, as his ISO plummeted from .170 to .104. Both Cabrera and Hardy still finished in the top 20 among shortstops, however.

Top-10 shortstops in the AL from a year ago also include Erick Aybar and Danny Santana, who emerged in Minnesota with seven home runs, 70 runs and 20 steals in 430 plate appearances. Of those not already mentioned, busts included the AstrosJed Lowrie and Jonathan Villar. Sorry, Houston.

The Draft Strategy

I ranked the top-five shortstops in our upcoming consensus rankings and walked away for the day. While I see the advantage of drafting Tulo or Hanley in the early rounds to secure the position, there’s also a giant risk involved of passing up other established players at say, the outfield, with less injury risk. If you’re not getting a top shortstop, the temptation to wait and wait some more will be strong.

Fortunately, I think there are some good values to be had after Tulo, Hanley and Desmond fly off the board in the first couple of rounds. Castro stands out to me with an average draft position of 109.30, according the NESN.com’s NFBC ADP. While I might poo-poo Castro as an elite fantasy player, the position is so weak that I think he makes a lot of sense as a seventh or eight rounder. You also have to take into account his batting average, which has been .284 in his career. Batting average is often one of the most overlooked 5X5 categories.

I also like Bogaert’s current 161.62 ADP, which makes him about a 13th rounder. Realistically, I see him going closer to the ninth or 10th, but his pedigree and upside make him worth the pick. Peralta (189.32) is also a good one, in my opinion. He’s currently going in the 13th/14th round and he’s played 146 games or more in every season since 2006 but one (2013). The Cardinals will be counting on Peralta to again be a significant source of RBIs in the middle of a strong lineup.  I would also take a chance at Chris Owings at a middle infield spot, especially if he’s cleared to be the Diamondbacks everyday guy. That looks to be the case now, and he has the upside to for double-digit home runs and steals with a very affordable price tag (245.66).

I don’t see a tremendous amount of value in Andrus (128.12), but he’s at least safe. The biggest gripe I have is with Segura (142.68), whose current ADP makes him a top-10 shortstop. Coming off a year in which he batted .246/.289/.326, that seems awfully generous. I’d also avoid Asdrubal Cabrera (214.31) and Simmons (283.67). A potential "sleeper" you’ll probably hear all about this offseason is Mets shortstop Wilmer Flores (368.80), who has 15-home run pop.

What's Next

We have a lot of great shortstop-centric content (!) coming up this week from a talented group of writers at Fake Teams, including rankings, "sleepers," targets/avoids, player profiles and much, much more. Be sure to check back real soon as Ray releases Part 1 of the Fake Teams consensus ranks. Let's play two!

Time Slot/Day

Monday 2/16/2015

Tuesday 2/17/2015

Wednesday 2/18/2015

Thursday 2/19/2015

Friday 2/20/2015

7am

State of the Position

Top 15 Shortstop Prospects

Top 30 Shortstop Rankings, Part 2

Shortstop to Target

Shortstop to Avoid

10am

Top 30 Shortstop Rankings, Part 1

Prospect Profile: Addison Russell

MLKT: Tigers Top 10 Fantasy Prospects

Prospect Profile: Carlos Correa

NL/AL-only Sleepers

12pm

Shortstop Profile Xander Bogaerts

Shortstop Profile: Jean Segura

2015 Shortstop Draft Strategy

Shortstop Profile: Danny Santana

Shortstop Profile: Jung Ho Kang

2pm

Shortstop Profile: Troy Tulowitzki

Shortstop Profile: Wilmer Flores

Shortstop Eligibility

Shortstop Projections from Steamer

Shortstop Profile: Chris Owings

4pm

Rankings Rumble: J.J. Hardy