Is shortstop truly the deepest position of all for 2021 fantasy baseball? I think I could argue third base if I chose to do so. But there’s no denying there are some electric options AND some values at this position. There’s also an uber prospect. So let’s get into it.
The “Nasty Nine”: Tatis Jr. to Tim Anderson
There are nine shortstops being selected inside the top 40 picks on average, so depending on your draft slot you’ll get to pick your poison. I view Fernando Tatis Jr. and Trea Turner as the clear-cut top two options, with Trevor Story and Francisco Lindor the 3A and 3B options towards the end of Round 1. If I miss on Story, I’m not crying too much with Lindor as a consolation, mostly due to a lesser Colorado lineup with no more Nolan Arenado.
Words can’t describe how hard I’m fading Adalberto Mondesi in typical redraft leagues. An ADP of 20 is just too rich for a player with his volatility. I’d happily pass on him for Bo Bichette or Xander Bogaerts, and both are being drafted afterwards. The real gem, however, is Tim Anderson. Per February NFBC ADP data, Anderson is the ninth shortstop being drafted, and the disrespect is ludicrous. White Sox skipper Tony La Russa confirmed on Wednesday of this week that Tim Anderson will bat leadoff for the stacked Chicago lineup in 2021, with all of his power and speed. Haters won’t believe the hype (or the high BABIPs) but a distinct change in approach makes me trust what Anderson is doing at the dish. In an age of pulled fly balls for homers, Anderson has given up pulling the ball for more base hits up the middle and to the opposite field. Here are his pull rates, BABIPs, and batting average marks for the first five years of his career:
Tim Anderson’s Pull%
For reference, Anderson’s xBA marks of 2019 and 2020 are both inside the top 10% of the league, and his Cent% ranks are 19th and 4th over the last two seasons. Also over the last two years, his strikeout rate has trended down, while his batted ball quality has risen. He’s on an upward trajectory in nearly every expected statistic, while also setting career marks in batting average and slugging. This is a more complete hitter, ladies and gentlemen—despite the fact that he’s a free-swinger. Give me ALL of the Tim Anderson bat flips and swagger on my fantasy teams in 2021.
Mid-round values: Gleyber Torres, Javier Baez, Carlos Correa
I trust both Torres and Baez to bounce back in 2021. Torres made some nice gains in 2020, namely his strikeout and walk rates. Those were backed by a less aggressive approach at the plate and a trimming of his swinging strike rate. As a hitter, I’d imagine he reverts back to more aggression in 2021, and I’d expect a rebound from 2020’s abnormally low 7.1% HR/FB rate. From a game theory standpoint, I really like the idea of pairing Torres with a guy like Whit Merrifield—though I’ll confess to not being able to land that duo so far this draft season.
As for Baez, due to his free-swinging approach and low walk rates, his luck on balls in play is always a threat to make him suffer highs and lows with batting average. In the short season, his .262 BABIP was the lowest since his rookie season, and it resulted in a .203 batting average. But over the course of a full season (or close to it) I expect the 28-year-old stud in Baez to rebound, and to have better luck on balls in play.
Carlos Correa is someone I view as a value relative to his ADP—he’s the 14th shortstop off the board per February NFBC ADP, just after Dansby Swanson and Marcus Semien. I like both of those guys, but I feel Correa has a bit more of a floor. He’ll bat in the heart of the Houston order in 2021, and he should see ample opportunities to compile counting stats to match his power and batting average contributions. A four-category contributor a pick 125 is just awesome. There’s no comparison between he and Tommy Edman, who is being selected just TWO picks later on average. If you draft Edman that aggressively, you’re likely doing so in a draft-and-hold format where his quadruple-eligibility is extraordinarily useful. But you’re not doing so because his bat is anywhere close to Correa’s. And sure, it’s a different profile. But still...you’re paying that for speed? I’d much rather pay up for one of the top nine guys or nab Torres, Baez, or Correa.
One to Avoid: Jonathan Villar
Villar is ticketed for a utility role on a suddenly deep Mets squad. I’m not really into paying for a part-time guy whose primary asset is speed, though. I’d prefer to just wait and grab Ha-seong Kim if that’s what I’m looking for. I think Kim could easily see the field more than Villar in 2020.
The Sleepers: Paul DeJong, Chris Taylor, Isiah Kiner-Falefa
DeJong is a solid mix of power with some chip-in speed, and he has the added bonus of being a plus defender who will be on the field every day possible. Add in the beefier St. Louis Cardinals lineup (Nolan Arenado, second year of Dylan Carlson, etc.) and I’m into him as a middle infield option in 2021. Taylor is a guy the Dodgers appear to love, so while there’s some mild concern over playing time, I think his 220 ADP makes him a value. Kiner-Falefa has already seen some love this week at Fake Teams, and he’s a plus speed option with a good glove who should see the field a ton for the Texas Rangers. The 3B/SS eligibility is a bonus, AND he’s apparently catcher-eligible in Yahoo?!? That’s a cheat code, folks!
The Prospect to Watch: Wander Franco
Franco will turn 20 years old in March, and he’s the No. 1 prospect for 2021 per Fangraphs. With an ETA of 2022, perhaps we won’t see him at all in the bigs this year. Here’s a snippet to give you just an idea:
“...last year Franco became the first 80 FV prospect of the Future Value era at FanGraphs, the best prospect on the planet, and the best I’ve evaluated during my tenure here at the site.”
Pretty high praise for the Tampa Bay Ray. Franco spent last year at the alternate site, so it’s not like he’s that far away from the bigs. This is a once-in-a-lifetime talent, says actual people who evaluate prospects (not me). He’s worth taking a dart on in league formats that allow you to stash prospects, or anywhere you have a large bench.