h2h Corner ~ 2010 Shortstop Rankings

One of the toughest rankings this year goes to a player who I’ve had the pleasure of hating since he hit a memorable (non)HR in 1996. Cap’n Jetes was superb last year: 107 runs, 18 HRs, 66 RBIs, 30 SBs, a .334 AVE and .406 OBP. According to some advanced metrics, Jeter also somehow became a much better fielder in his 14th season. At lot of this defensive improvement has to do with a supposed change in his off-season workout regime. If that is the case, what is to say the Cap’n ages like a normal player?

So, I’m not too concerned with Jeter being the second shortstop off my board and as someone you should consider taking in the third round or so. Will his batting average be above .330? Probably not, but you can guarantee it will be over .300 (in his career, it has only been below .300 in three seasons (the lowest average was .291)). Since 2004, he has averaged 108 runs a season with 16 HRs and 76 RBIs. Those numbers are nice, but the true value in Jeter – and here is where the above paragraph on his conditioning comes into play – is his potential to continue stealing 25+ SBs. If he adds all those numbers together, I don’t see any downside with Cap’n Jetes. He is probably one of the steadiest players we’ve seen in a long time.

The only shortstop pushing Jeter’s position as the second ranked shortstop is Troy Tulowitzki. Tulo was quite the enigma last year – he hit .254 in the first half and .342 in the second half. While his batting average varied dramatically, his HR production was remarkably consistent (16 HRs in each half). He also scored 101 runs and knocked in 92. Given the similarity of these numbers to his 2007 campaign (104 runs, 24 HRs, 99 RBIs, and a .291 AVE), I think we can write off his 2008 injury-plagued season as an outlier. So basically, Tulo is Jeter with more power, but less stolen base potential. Not to say that there is no potential here; Tulo did manage to swipe 20 bases in 2009 (though he was caught 11 times, which is a horrible percentage for base stealers). I give Jeter the slight nod (he’s only ranked three spots higher) due to his impeccable consistency and upside with stolen bases. Still, I’m not sure if you can go wrong with either.

Speaking of going wrong: Jose Reyes’ 2009 campaign! At this point, every fantasy ranker is just guessing with Jose – we really won’t know anything until spring training is fully underway. Ranking Jose, therefore, becomes a risk/reward gamut. At what point do you feel comfortable making a pick that could either net you very little returns…or be instrumental in helping you win your league. For me, that pick is right around the fifth/sixth round. If he’s still on the board, that’s where I am grabbing Reyes and a rosary. You need to nail your top five picks, as that is where superstars go. However, drafts can start getting dicey around the sixth round. Remember last year when Rafael Furcal, Stephen Drew, Garrett Atkins, Jay Bruce, Aubrey Huff, Corey Hart, JJ Hardy and others were sixth round selections. You can recover from those size busts. That makes the ultimate reward of grabbing the potential of an Ellsbury/Crawford, but at the shortstop position, the smart play in the fifth/sixth round. Still, until he proves himself, Reyes is not reliable; if you get him, you’re going to need to build depth at shortstop (and I’ll provide some sleepers for you to peruse below).

I’ve detailed Ben Zobrist and Jimmy Rollins elsewhere, so the only remaining shortstop conundrum to address is Jason Bartlett. In 2009, Bartlett got off to a scorching start: 45 runs, eight HRs, 19 SBs and a .347 AVE in the first half. He came back to earth a bit in the second half, posting a .294 AVE. Still he managed 45 runs, six HRs and 11 SBs. I think his second half is more the norm (he is a career .287 hitter, after all). Still, those numbers are wholly serviceable. If he plays the full season, he’ll likely approach 100 runs, 12 HRs and 25 – 30 SBs. Just don’t expect him to win any batting titles. I don’t think that’s bad value in the eighth or ninth round.

SLEEPER CANDIDATE

People love sleepers; they love grabbing the guy late who outperforms everyone. To help you look smart to all your friends, I’m highlighting at least on sleeper candidate per position.

There is some interesting young talent emerging in the shortstop ranks, three of which could be big sleepers heading into 2010. I’ve detailed Gordon Beckham, so I’ll use this space to talk about Elvis Andrus and Stephen Drew.

Elvis Andrus was just 20 years old last season, yet he managed to steal 33 bases. He also added 72 runs and a .267/.329 AVE/OBP. In four minor league seasons, Andrus posted a .275/.343 AVE/OBP. Why am I focused on those ratios? Because as those improve, so too will his stolen bases, which are his main source of value. It also looks like Andrus learned on the fly last year as, in the second half, he posted a .280/.342 AVE/OBP. Those look a lot like his minor league numbers, right? If so, we could see an uptick in his SBs next season. I don’t think it’s crazy to expect 45.

Stephen Drew is actually closer to 30 than he is to Andrus’ age. Unfortunately, his major league career path resembles more of a roller coaster’s trajectory than an uphill climb. In 2006, he played in 59 games and showed significant promise. This made him a trendy sleeper pick in 2007; however, he hit just .238 and managed only 12 HRs. This, in turn, made him an afterthought in most drafts in 2008, during which he hit 21 HRs and posted a .291 AVE. As you might have guessed, he regressed big time last year, hitting only 12 HRs and batting just .261. Still the talent is there (in the minors, he hit .315 and posted a .385 OBP). I think Drew can be at minimum a .270 hitter, with 17 HRs, score 80+ runs and knock-in 70 or so teammates. There is also legitimate upside to those numbers as I think they more resemble the 2010 floor. If he hits those numbers, he’ll be a very serviceable selection late in drafts. With his upside, he should still be in people’s minds who participate in keeper leagues. He is hitting his prime, after all.

For a full set of rankings, click here.

If you want other columns, please let me know. Also, feel free to share your insights below or at my Twitter (@h2h_corner)/Facebook pages.

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