Matthew Pouliot

Strike Zone

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2011 Shortstop Overview

Tuesday, March 01, 2011


Shortstop definitely ranks as a weaker position this year in my eyes. I have Erick Aybar ranked 12th for the second straight year, even though I've gone from projecting him to finish with a .293 average and 91 runs scored in 2010 to .274 and 77 this year. Of the 11 guys above him, only Troy Tulowitzki, Elvis Andrus (barely) and Starlin Castro are getting stronger projections than they did a year ago. Derek Jeter and Jimmy Rollins have taken the biggest dives.

There are some intriguing sleepers further down, but it's going to cost an awful lot to get a sure thing at shortstop this year.

Shortstop Overview

Underrated


Elvis Andrus (Rangers) - Andrus improved in just one fantasy category as a sophomore and that only because he was able to score more runs leading off than he did as a No. 9 hitter as a rookie. Still, I think he's pretty clearly the AL's No. 1 shortstop. He's perfectly capable of stealing 40-50 bases, and odds are that he'll regain some power after going from six homers in 2009 and none last year. I'm looking for a .280 average and maybe 100 runs scored in his new role as a No. 2 hitter. I have him at $25, well ahead of Derek Jeter at $21 and Alexei Ramirez at $20.

Starlin Castro (Cubs) - I thought Castro would be overhyped this year after making a run at the NL batting title as a rookie, but he's been the 11th shortstop off the board in Mock Draft Central leagues recently. I rate him eighth because of the likelihood that he'll hit .290, score 85-90 runs and steal 15-20 bases. He won't be an asset in the power categories, and it is possible his average will slip more than I expect. However, he's a pretty good investment for anyone unwilling to pay for one of the NL's top four shortstops.

Asdrubal Cabrera (Indians) - Cabrera is in the same boat as Castro: I think he's the best of the rest once one gets past his league's top shortstops. He's not all that close to Jeter or Alexei -- I put him at $15 in the dollar rankings -- but he does rate as the AL's No. 4 shortstop in the projections. Playing up to his potential, he hit .308 with 81 runs scored and 17 RBI in 131 games in 2009. He was injured and rather ineffective last season, but he's still just 25 and he should get more help from his teammates. I have him at .293 with nine homers and 83 runs scored in 557 at-bats.

Overrated

Derek Jeter (Yankees) - Jeter should bounce back somewhat, but I think it's pretty likely that 2009 will go down as the last great season of his career. I have him hitting .286/.358/.402, which is a lot closer to last year's .270/.340/.370 than his .334/.406/.465 line from two seasons ago. Fortunately, he's still a Yankee, so he should be very strong in runs scored and solid in RBI. But he doesn't rate a fourth- or fifth-round pick in mixed leagues and that's generally where he's going right now.

Stephen Drew (Diamondbacks) - It's largely about runs and RBI. As a Yankee, Jeter combined for 178 runs scored and RBI in his down year last season. Drew, with an OPS 100 points higher, came in at 144 in 151 games played. Now the Diamondbacks offense should get better one of these years. But Drew doesn't bat .300, he doesn't hit 20 homers and he doesn't steal more than a handful of bases. He's more valuable to Arizona than he is in fantasy leagues.

Alex Gonzalez (Braves) - Gonzalez got off to the great start with the Blue Jays last year, but he came in at .240-6-38 in 267 at-bats after the trade to the Braves. Obviously, that's a lot more along the lines of what should be expected from the career .248/.294/.402 hitter. Gonzalez will hit 15 homers and drive in about 70 runs, but he'll be a liability elsewhere. He scored just 27 runs in his 72 games with the Braves, and he stole one base all year long. I rank him 28th at shortstop.

Sleepers

Yunel Escobar (Blue Jays) - One of the game's top offensive shortstops when he hit .299/.377/.436 in 2009, Escobar fell apart last season, going 261 at-bats without a homer for the Braves before being traded to Toronto for Gonzalez. He did improve somewhat afterwards, coming in at .275 with four homers in 236 at-bats. As the likely No. 2 hitter in the Jays lineup, he offers quite a bit of upside for someone going undrafted in a lot of mixed leagues. The Jays have had a lot success igniting power strokes under hitting coach Dwayne Murphy, and it's be no surprise to see Escobar return to hitting 12-15 homers this season.

J.J. Hardy (Orioles) - Hardy has been a fantasy bust since hitting 50 homers between 2007 and '08. He spent a portion of 2009 in the minors, and he couldn't get anything going in Target Field last year after the Brewers traded him to the Twins. Maybe things will go differently in Camden Yards. Hardy did hit .282/.326/.442 with five homers in 181 at-bats in road games last season, and Oriole Park is pretty homer friendly for right-handed hitters. I don't think he'll be much of an asset elsewhere, but he should bounce back to 15-20 homers.

Yuniesky Betancourt (Brewers) - No, he's not a good player at all, but Betancourt managed 16 homers and 78 RBI while hitting mostly eighth and ninth for the Royals last season. Now he's slated to hit sixth in a better lineup for a team that plays in a better ballpark for offense. He'll be a liability in steals and runs scored, so he's not worth trying in mixed leagues. However, I'd bank on him matching Juan Uribe's production while costing about half as much.

Jed Lowrie (Red Sox) - Lowrie certainly deserves a chance to overtake Marco Scutaro at shortstop after hitting .287/.381/.526 in 171 at-bats following his return from mono last season, but he's not going to get it this spring. Instead, he'll open the season as a utilityman. Lowrie has struggled to stay healthy as a pro, but he's a doubles machine with 81 RBI in 499 career at-bats. Mixed leaguers should pick him up if any of Boston's starting infielders land on the DL.

Other thoughts

I was higher on Alexei Ramirez last year than this year. Manager Ozzie Guillen seems to much prefer him at the bottom of the order, and given that Ramirez finished with a poor .313 OBP to go along with his fine fantasy numbers last year, it's hard to argue with the choice. … I have Tsuyoshi Nishioka ranked 16th at shortstop with a .263 average, seven homers, 77 runs scored, 59 RBI and 17 steals. It's possible he'll hit .280 and score 90 runs as the Twins' No. 2 hitter, but given the adjustments he'll need to make, he has more downside than upside. … Reid Brignac should hit 15 homers and drive in 70 runs in his first season as a regular, but I'm not sure that will make him a solid mixed league shortstop with the Rays seemingly set to bat him ninth. … I like Ian Desmond better. The Nationals have him penciled into the two hole, so he should be much stronger in runs scored to go along with his 20 steals or so.


Matthew Pouliot is the Executive Editor of RotoWorld.com and has been doing the site's baseball projections for the last 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @matthewpouliot.
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