2014 Fantasy Baseball: Early Top 10 SS For 2014
Shortstop is, to put it lightly, extremely lacking heading into 2014 – at least from a fantasy standpoint. Nearly everyone in my top 10 has legitimate question marks regarding either their production or health. The first three have injury concerns. There rest of the top 10 is littered with young guys without much of a track record, but bundles of potential, and aging players who have seen their numbers decline. Shortstop should be extremely interesting on draft day, because what do you do if you miss out on the big names? I’m interested to see how it all plays out. We’ll worry about that later though; for now let’s focus on the top 10.
Hanley Ramirez is my number one shortstop. I wrote about him somewhat in depth in my overall top 10 list. To summarize: he looks a hell of lot like the old Hanley; which happened to be one of the best players in the game. He’s getting up there in age a little and the injury risk is a concern, but he proved again in 2013 that his upside is one of the largest ones in the major leagues.
Tulowitzki has long been one of my favorite players. I’m not old enough to adequately remember what it was like watching larger shortstops like Cal Ripken play, but I imagine it was somewhat similar to watching Tulo’s humongous frame handle the position with relative ease. Tulowitzki is one of the games premier offensive threats. His only issue, at times, has been staying on the field. If Tulo is able to play 125+ games there is no doubt that he finishes as a top 5 shortstop. I’m not sure I’m able to confidently write that about many other players.
I went with Reyes over Desmond due to his ability to swipe more bags and his plate discipline/contact skills. Reyes is, by no means, an OBP machine, but he is a safer bet than Desmond. He has walked at roughly an 8% clip over the past two seasons, which is right around league average. His league average walk rate is buffered by his extremely low strikeout rate. Reyes, like most speedsters, makes his living by putting the ball in play at a high rate. Due to his speed and contact ability he’s one of the safest bets at the position in the average category. I don’t want to make much of a big deal over a small sample size, but Toronto’s home park seems to be much more suited for Reyes’ power potential. He smacked 7 of his 10 homers in 2013 at the Rogers Centre. A full season in Toronto could see him creep between 15-20 homers for the second time in his career. The speed could decline a little in 2014 due to his age and ankle injury in 2013, but for now everything is seemingly in order.
The top 3, as stated in the introduction, are all injury risks. Their individual upsides are simply too great for me to ignore.
Even after putting up his second straight 20/20 season, I still cannot completely trust Ian Desmond. Most of my reservations stem from his poor plate discipline & his lackluster contact abilities. Desmond, despite putting up the best two offensive seasons of his career, has seen his contact rate decline three straight years. A case could be made that he’s simply trading a few more whiffs for more power, but how fine is the line between more power and falling off of a small cliff?
Desmond’s contact skills are listed above. The cells that are highlighted “red” means that he was worse than league average. If the cell is “green” that means he was above league average; “black” means exactly league average. Ian Desmond never had phenomenal contact skills. They’re getting worse. The three players in front of Desmond all have injury risks, but neither of them have this amount of risk tied to their actual ability to perform at a high level. Desmond could very well go 20/20 again in 2014, but it would not surprise me if he went 15/15 instead with a .260 batting average. Drafting Desmond marries you to the risk of that his contact skills continue eroding. Keep an eye on it.
Jean Segura made a lot of owners happy in 2013 – at least for the first few months of the season. Segura’s power splurge during the opening months of the season was one of the biggest surprises of the year. Segura’s power ultimately faded, as he failed to hit a home run over the last 2+ months of the season. Which Segura is the real one? Is it the awesome one from April/May or the bad one from August/September? The answer – somewhat boringly – lies in the middle.
The steals and the batting average should be there without much question. However, nothing about Segura’s game – at the moment – is suited well for power. He doesn’t hit enough flyballs to hit many more home runs than the 12 he mustered in 2013. Twelve to fifteen homes seems to be best case scenario in 2014. Segura’s early steamer projection throws a 281/324/407 line out there completed with 11 dingers and 34 steals. The steals seem a little light, but everything else seems extremely plausible and extremely valuable.
Everth Cabrera completely broke out in 2013 – at least he was in the process of breaking until he was sidelined for 50 games for his part in the Biogenesis scandal. Due to that scandal I am really intrigued to see how people will value him around draft time. If he slips due to worries about PED usage he could produce a ton of surplus value.
With Cabrera, you want him on your team for one reason. He’s one of the most prolific base stealers in the major leagues. Cabrera was able to swipe 37 bags in 2013 despite only appearing in 97 games. He was also caught a career high 12 times, which is somewhat concerning, but I’m not overly concerned.
The largest jump Cabrera made offensively during 2013 was in the batting average department. I originally thought the average was heavily skewed due to an out of line babip, but his 2013 babip was right in line with career average. He was able to raise his batting average dramatically by cutting down on his strikeouts. The Fix’s own Brett Talley went into deep detail in a piece for Rotographs; you can check it out here. It’s simple, if Cabrera is able to maintain his new found ability to put the ball in play at a higher percentage his average should stay in the .270 – .280 range. If you couple that with 40+ steals you’re stuck with a pretty nifty player.
Xander at 7 may surprise you, but I firmly believe in his ability to become an absolute star very quickly. We don’t have much major league data on Xander, but we were able to witness some promising signs of who he might be throughout the postseason. He has extremely good plate discipline for his age, is more than capable of using the entire field, and also gets points for spelling his name in the most awesome way possible.
Xander’s 2013 heat map – across all levels – shows very promising signs. He does pull the ball quite often, but he is able to go the other way with pretty great regularity. Across three levels – AA, AAA, and MLB – in 2013 Mr. Bogaerts hit 293/384/470 with 16 home runs and 8 steals (in 11 tries). We’d all take that line in 2013 and be absolutely gleeful. We might be in luck, Steamer’s early projections projects a 15/8 season with a .261 batting average through 584 plate appearances. That seems like a perfectly applicable starting point, but it wouldn’t shock me at all if he were to blow past those projections.
I covered nearly everything I wanted to say about Zobrist in my second base rankings.
Elvis Andrus had a down year offensively in 2013, at least by real life standards. I was surprised when I realize that Andrus actually finished 2nd on ESPN’s player rater at the position. The majority, if not all, of his value came from a career high 44 steals. Most everyone has always thought that Andrus had the ability to swipe more than 40 bags and finally came through in that regard. Unfortunately, it does not look like there is any power coming – at least not for the time being. It’s hard for me to completely buy into Andrus’ number two ranking because his value is all steals – similar to Cabrera, but Cabrera is a much more prolific runner – and runs, which come by the bushels in Arlington at times. I’m guessing Andrus will be overvalued somewhat going into 2014. I’m thinking that he’ll be taken in front of Cabrera, Zobrist, & Bogaerts in most drafts. I would prefer the larger steals upside of Cabrera or the 5 category potential of Zobrist or Bogaerts if their prices are similar.
I went back and forth for a pretty substantial amount of time trying to decide who I felt was the 10th best fantasy shortstop for 2014. I ultimately decided on Lowrie over the likes of Starlin Castro (untrustable), Alexei Ramirez (meh), and Jurickson Profar (love him though). Lowrie has always been a productive offensive player. His downfall has been his inability to stay on the field for the majority of a season.
He was finally able to play 150+ games in 2013 and he did not disappoint. He smashed 16 homers while hitting .290. The average was driven by a career high babip, but it does not appear to be a complete fluke.
Lowrie’s 2013 babip was driven by an increase in line drives and ground balls. His flyball percentage decreased, which is good for his batting average because flyballs are not going to fall in for hits as often as line drives or ground balls. 2013’s batted ball mix is probably optimal for Lowrie’s overall stat line and for his current home ballpark. Given the variability of the line drive percentage statistic, it’s worth wondering if he’ll be able to duplicate last year’s mix. A batting average regression into the .270 range seems like a somewhat likely scenario, but if he’s able to somewhat duplicate his 2013 batted ball mix and stay on the field in 2014 it should look a lot like 2013.