I love Cal Ripken (platonically, of course, unless he said something…). He was a steady, predictable, trusted shortstop (and later third baseman). Though his numbers might never have been completely dominating (with the exception of his MVP year of 1991), his fantasy owners were always happy to have him.
The evolution from Cal to Hanley Ramirez/Jose Reyes/Jimmy Rollins began in the mid-to-late 1990s with players like Alex Rodriguez, Nomar Garciaparra, Miguel Tejada, and (to an overrated degree) Derek Jeter. As scoring exploded in this era, teams with offensive-minded shortstops setting the table and driving in runs appeared to be more successful.
Over were the days of great defense being king – or even valued (witness how difficult it is to ascertain Adam Everett’s true value). This new age has ushered in a new bread of fantasy superstars: the well-diversified offensive shortstop (be it via the stolen base, high batting average, runs scores, or, yes, homes runs/RBIs). Having this type of SS on your squad has become essential to the success of a fantasy squad.
The top three fantasy shortstops are pretty easy to predict (barring significant injury): Hanley Ramirez (#3 overall), Jose Reyes (4) and Jimmy Rollins (16). Given their numbers, you can make a case for taking either Hanley Ramirez or Jose Reyes with the top pick overall. Personally, I like Hanley Ramirez a bit more (and this really is splitting hairs) because his HR production has steadily improved from 17 to 29 to 33, while his batting average has stayed consistently around .300. My only concern is if his stolen base production continues to decline. In his first two full seasons, Ramirez swiped 51 bags, while last year he stole only 35. So long as he maintains that production, he will be the best fantasy shortstop for a long time (provided the Marlins hold off moving him to CF).
Jose Reyes doesn’t provide the pop that Hanley does, but he more than makes up for it with his legs and knowing how to use them. He has averaged 113 runs in each full season with at least 56 stolen bases each year. His batting average is a bit more suspect than Hanley’s, though it has hovered between .280 – .300 for the last three seasons. I don’t really like the Mets, but I love Jose Reyes. If they have any interest in Cesar Izturis, I’m sure the Orioles would be happy to make a deal (provided Izturis isn’t an Angelos favorite yet).
Outside the big 3, if you’re looking for a dependable player with decent upside, might I suggest Jhonny Peralta (66)? For someone I thought would have a comparable 2008 season to Khalil Greene, he put up very un-Greene-like numbers. Aside from 2006 (.257 and 13 HRs), Peralta hasn’t hit lower than .270 or less than 21 HRs in a full season. He should also get you 70+ RBIs (potentially more depending on where he hits in what could be a productive lineup) and 85+ runs (his career low is 82). Over the last four years, Peralta has quietly become a fairly consistent SS (and he could add 3b eligibility and flexibility to your line-up this year). While he might not possess the upside of a Rafael Furcal (75), he is nonetheless a good – and likely under the radar – option.
Speaking of upside, if you’re looking for a later-round shortstop with the potential for solid returns, think long and hard about Rafael Furcal (75) and Stephen Drew (93), particularly if they fall where they should (the seventh and ninth rounds, respectively). Both could experience better seasons this year than last. Furcal has the well-earned health specter hanging over his head: he has failed to play 140 games in four of his nine complete seasons. However, when he plays, he puts up delicious numbers. A healthy Furcal is good for 100-130 runs, 10-15 HRs, and 25+ SBs. He hasn’t posted an average worse than .275 and should be right around.280.
As for Stephen Drew, he posted a remarkable sophomore campaign. His batting average jumped from .238 to .291 (his 2008 numbers were actually more in line with his 209 at bats in 2006). He also scored 91 runs and hit 21 HRs. If he continues improving his batting average and adds a little pop – he might hit 27-30 HRs and be a good source of RBIs – he would be an excellent mid-round selection.
I wonder if I am a little low on Troy Tulowitzki (108). Because of the upside he presents, he could be a lot like Stephen Drew. I am ultimately dissuaded, however, because I like the consistency (and stolen bases) from Orlando Cabrera (102) (ya know, if someone wants to give up the picks and sign him already) and J.J. Hardy (96) a bit more. It wouldn’t be a reach, though, to consider Tulo over the three players ranked in front of him.
Last year’s top 13:
1. Jose Reyes (last year’s overall ranking: 2) Finished: 2nd among shortstops
2. Hanley Ramirez (3) Finished: 1st among shortstops
3. Jimmy Rollins (4) Finished: 4th among shortstops
4. Orlando Cabrera (42) Finished: 9th among shortstops
5. Carlos Guillen (44) Finished: 15th among shortstops
6. Troy Tulowitzki (58) Finished: 33rd among shortstops
7. Derek Jeter (65) Finished 7th among shortstops
8. J.J. Hardy (73) Finished: 8th among shortstops
9. Edgar Renteria (79) Finished: 18th among shortstops
10. Khalil Greene (82) Finished: 56th among shortstops
11. Jhonny Peralta (85) Finished: 3rd among shortstops
12. Michael Young (88) Finished: 5th among shortstops
13. Miguel Tejada (91) Finished: 11th among shortstops
In retrospect, I was way too low on Michael Young and way too high on Orlando Cabrera and Carlos Guillen. Looks like I pegged Derek Jeter and J.J. Hardy right on though. Tulowitzki, I’m taking a mulligan (on account of his injury). Still, I never advocated taking him in the fourth round, which is where a lot of people drafted him.
If Jhonny Peralta continues his upward trajectory, failing to land one of the big three would necessitate getting Jhonny in the 6th/7th round. This could be a draft-changing/saving move. He could be undervalued in drafts and might provide a good SS at the right price if you are frozen out of the alpha dogs.
If you have a top pick, you could do worse than taking Pujols or Grady Sizemore. When the draft comes back around, however, make sure you can get Jimmy Rollins. It is hard to nitpick Jimmy’s value next year – he had injury problems and still made it back to a top 5 year. He is easily a second rounder in my book, but hopefully, you can get him toward the end of the round. This, surprisingly, makes Jimmy Rollins (with a tip of the hat to Jhonny Peralta) perhaps the best SS bargain.
Complete Shortstop Ranks (* denotes projected starter):
1. Hanley Ramirez*
2. Jose Reyes*
3. Jimmy Rollins*
4. Jhonny Peralta*
5. Michael Young*
6. Rafael Furcal* (health is a question here)
7. Derek Jeter*
8. Stephen Drew* (Could improve in the desert)
9. J.J. Hardy*
10. Orlando Cabrera (where will he end up?)
11. Troy Tulowitzki* (Wasn’t a big fan last year, but I didn’t predict injury-plagued campaign)
12. Miguel Tejada*
13. Christian Guzman
14. Ryan Theriot
15. Mike Aviles
16. Marco Scutaro
17. Carlos Guillen*
18. Yunel Escobar* (lots of swirling trade rumors)
19. Edgar Renteria* (yuck…AT&T Park…not cool)
20. Jed Lowrie
21. Bobby Crosby
22. Yuniesky Betancourt*
23. Clint Barmes
24. Jose Bautista
25. Jason Bartlett (Tampa Bay MVP? Seriously?)*
26. Brendan Harris
27. Cesar Izturis* (Way to go Orioles)
28. Jamey Carroll
29. Erick Aybar
30. Rich Aurilla
31. Macier Izturis
32. Nick Punto (Metrodomers love him)
33. Aaron Miles
34. Ramon Vazquez
35. Jeff Keppinger
36. Omar Infante