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State of the Position: Shortstops in 2020

Heath examines the shortstop position with a fantasy baseball slant.

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Loaded. That is the state of the shortstop position.

Javier Baez has an ADP of 41 per recent NFBC data, and he is the 10th shortstop being drafted. So, on average, a quarter of the first 40 picks in your fake draft are shortstop-eligible players. And that number doesn’t even include Manny Machado, who has an ADP of 62. It also doesn’t include last year’s standout Marcus Semien (89), the studly but rarely healthy Carlos Correa (97), and the underrated 20/20 threat Tim Anderson (98). Again, loaded!

The list goes on, with upside plays like Amed Rosario and Jorge Polanco being drafted around picks 130-150. There’s also this very fine quartet that I ran a poll on yesterday, a group that can be drafted anywhere from picks 170-190:

Make sure you get your vote on. Anyway, Dansby Swanson and Jon Berti have some category juice and are being drafted after pick 250, to give you an idea of the depth. You’ll likely be finding your middle infield option among available shortstops if you’re playing in a format that requires such.

2019 World Series Game 4 - Houston Astros v. Washington Nationals Photo by Alex Trautwig/MLB Photos via Getty Images

The Elites: Francisco Lindor, Trevor Story, Trea Turner, Alex Bregman

The prize here is Trevor Story, in my opinion. He is the “faller” in this group on occasion, which is crazy to me with Coors as his backdrop. I really think it’s a coin flip between he and Lindor. If I’ve got to choose, I’m choosing to side with Coors. You’ll have to make your own decisions on a guy like Alex Bregman, given the entire Houston fiasco. Me, I’m a little more down on him than most (I’d rather wait on a guy like Bogaerts) so I probably won’t own him. All that said, I think there’s probably no way you go wrong in this tier—it’s just all about your preference.

Detroit Tigers v Chicago White Sox Photo by Ron Vesely/MLB Photos via Getty Images

“One” to Target: Manny Machado and Tim Anderson

This is a simple nod to his ADP, as I think pick 60 is too low for a man of Machado’s talents and consistency. Machado has five straight seasons of 30+ home runs. That’s no small feat, especially for a man who is shortstop-eligible. In fact, during that time frame of 2015-2019, Machado’s 174 homers rank 7th in all of the MLB...and there are no shortstops ahead of him. Francisco Lindor is the second shortstop on the list, and he’s 26th overall with 130 homers over said stretch. And sure, 2015 was abbreviated for Lindor (only 99 games) but he’s still nowhere close in general.

And sure, if you’re planning to use Machado as a third baseman, that’s cool. And it’s probably smart, given the relative dearth of talent at the hot corner compared to shortstop. So I’ll give you another target at shortstop, and for me it’s the disrespected Tim Anderson in a loaded-for-bear Chicago White Sox lineup. Anderson is one of the better 20/20 threats in the game, but his ADP of 99 overall doesn’t really reflect it.

World Series - Washington Nationals v Houston Astros - Game Seven Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

“One” to Avoid: Carlos Correa and Corey Seager

I couldn’t decide, so I’ll just be avoiding both. Correa’s argument is simple. He can’t stay healthy and his ADP is too high for my liking. Give me Tim Anderson instead. That said, if you’re in a format where you’re swinging for the proverbial fences and chasing upside, Correa definitely represents a way you could do so. He did bang out 21 homers in only 75 games last year, after all. I’d just prefer to take my shots elsewhere.

As for Seager, he’s kind of the same story. His playing time has suffered in the last two seasons due to injury, and he hasn’t been running lately (he stole one base in 2018 and 2019 combined). Sure, the surrounding lineup is loaded. But he’s basically Paul DeJong with less power and a better batting average. DeJong I can get about 50 picks later, and I’d rather go that way if I was searching for power from a middle infielder.

Divisional Series - Atlanta Braves v St Louis Cardinals - Game Three Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

The Sleeper: Dansby Swanson

He fits my self-imposed threshold of being outside the top 250 in ADP. He banged out 17 homers in the first half last year, but a heel injury in July disrupted the full-fledged breakout. He’s got 20 homers and 10+ steals written all over him if he can avoid the injury imp in 2020. That’s kind of his deal, though. In 2018 he suffered through a wrist injury. For just one year, I need some good vibes so Swanson can stay healthy. His 28.7 ft/s sprint speed ranks in the 88th percentile, for what it’s worth. And oh yeah—his entire Statcast page is red, in case you were wondering. You can even argue he was a bit unlucky last year, given that his BA was lower than his xBA, and his wOBA was lower than his xwOBA. I like him in a top-heavy Braves lineup. If he’s raking, I’d think he’s in a run-producing spot in the order.

Chicago Cubs v San Diego Padres Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images

The Prospects to Watch: Nico Hoerner, Carter Kieboom, Royce Lewis

Nico Hoerner was needed in Chicago at the end of 2019 when Javier Baez and Addison Russell both succumbed to injuries. Over a 20-game stint, he slashed .282/.305/.436 with three homers and 17 RBIs. His best pathway to at-bats is not at shortstop (Baez is there) but at the keystone, where he will do battle with David Bote, Daniel Descalso, and Robel Garcia for playing time. Ian Happ is also in the mix, but Happ is also competing for a spot in center field. Hoerner himself is also learning center field, in an effort to increase his versatility for the big league club. Anyway, that’s an uninspiring group of names for the young guy to contend with. It’s possible that Hoerner grabs the job prior to Opening Day and runs away with it. He’s never offered a ton of category juice (read: homers and steals) in the minors, but he’s ALWAYS had on-base skills. For reference, his worst OBP in the minors came last year at Triple-A, when he had a .344 OBP. Every other year was over .400. There’s definitely some upside here.

Carter Kieboom should be the bell of the ball for the Nationals at Spring Training. He could be the answer for the Nationals at the hot corner, but given the flurry of activity the Nationals made a few weeks ago in the infield (Asdrubal Cabrera, Starlin Castro) I don’t know how desperately his services will be needed early on in the season. Howie Kendrick could also play some third base, if needed. Overall I see a lot of moving parts in Washington, and for a team that expects to contend, Kieboom will have to really produce in order to siphon at-bats away from some established veterans. I probably won’t have many shares in 2020.

Yours truly just locked up his first NFBC 50 a week or so ago, and Lewis was my third shortstop drafted. So I’ve done a bit of homework. Lewis had a solid 2018, but mostly struggled between Class-A Advanced and Double-A in 2019 (.236/.290/.371). However, he was the MVP of the Arizona Fall League, leading all players in hits (30) and slashing .353/.411/.565. He tallied three homers and 20 RBIs over his 22 games. It’s safe to say he’s got some momentum heading into 2020, and the only question is where he fits into a stacked Twins team.

It seems like it would be a surprise to see Wander Franco or Jeter Downs in the big leagues this year, as the projected ETA for both is 2021. But there’s always the potential for later on in the season, so if you are in a draft-and-hold or another format that allows for some deep shots to be taken, perhaps Downs makes sense now that he’s in Boston. As for Franco, it’s that same argument as with Kieboom, only worse. I don’t even know how some Tampa regulars are going to find at-bats this year—much less the prospect who isn’t even in the bigs yet. I’d lean Downs over Franco if looking into 2020.

That’s it for me and the state of the shortstop position. It’s stacked, and there are tons of names I didn’t dig down into—but that’s why we spend and entire week doing so. So ask your questions now, so that we can get to them as the week rolls on...