Fantasy baseball 2014 draft preview: Shortstop primer
The crop of fantasy shortstops in 2014 isn't quite the power producers that we knew back when the Expos were still roaming a mostly empty Olympic Stadium in Montreal. Back in 2004, Tejada was crushing it with 150 RBI. Or even a couple years earlier, when A-Rod blasted 57 home runs out of the park.
Shortstops these days tend to be run scorers than producers. There are 15 shortstops that have scored 60 or more runs, but just nine from the position that have knocked in 60 or more RBI. (Troy Tulowitzki led the position with 82 RBI, though, on just 446 at-bats. If he were able to patch together a full season, he would eclipse the 100-RBI mark for the second time in his career.)
There's not that much speed at the position either. Only seven shortstops stole 20 or more bases, which isn't even one-fourth of the number of 20-steal outfielders (29).
My point is, don't kill yourself to get a great shortstop. While a healthy Tulowitzki would be a huge boon to any fantasy owner, a smart, risk-averse owner will look toward a steady, more reliable player at this position, at a much later draft slot (see: Elvis Andrus -- ADP 6.01). And if you're unable to land one of the more reliable players, you can still roll the dice on a few sleepers with upside later in the draft.
Even if those sleepers don't work out -- cutting them won't cost owners much.
Is there a debate at No. 1?
If Tulowitzki had strung together a couple seasons in a row with over 130 games played, there might be more of a debate. But for now, Hanley Ramirez is the undisputed fantasy king of the fantasy shortstops (once again), and even he only played 86 games last season. That just shows how much more risky Tulo is than Ramirez.
Ramirez no longer has dual eligibility, but you'd rarely start him at third base anyway. His .400-plus on-base percentage has to have you willing to risk all of his injuries. Add that to the fact he had a HR/FB percentage of over 20 percent and you have to be excited about a healthy Ramirez for 2014. The Dodgers looked stacked offensively, once again, and Ramirez will produce and score runs.
Comeback Player: Starlin Castro
Things we know: He swings at an awful lot of pitches -- good or bad (Ian Desmond was the only shortstop with more strikeouts than Castro's 129 last season). But when he's on, he also can produce in several other categories, including runs, RBI and stolen bases (47 SBs between 2011-12).
Things we don't know: If the Cubs are able to straighten him out this spring, his OBP could return to the .330 range. He has top-five shortstop talent saddled with top-20 shortstop inefficiencies.
Breakout: Andrelton Simmons
One of the best things that can happen for a player you like is that he has a mediocre previous season. That case is especially true with a second-year player after a season in which they hit below .250. With Simmons, you'll take that average to go with 17 home runs from a shortstop (only four other shortstops had more in 2013). But even better is the fact that Simmons should develop a better eye at the plate, which will help him move up in the rankings substantially.
Potential Bust: Troy Tulowitzki
Drafting Tulowitzki is a huge roll of the dice no matter which way you look at it. If a fantasy owner is willing to take a risk and gamble on the draft, then Tulowitzki is the ideal shortstop. But if you're a more risk-averse owner and like to find a more steady shortstop, then steer clear.
Tulowitzki needed just one stint on the 15-day disabled list last season, but he is 29 and has played more than 126 games just once in the past four seasons.
Sleeper: Derek Jeter
Hear me out -- If you think Jeter isn't going to perform in his final season in the majors, then move on. If you think Jeter has a little left in the tank, then drop a late pick on him as your middle infielder. (If you're in a league with a bunch of Yankees fans, he won't drop that far, however.) It was just two seasons ago that he led the league with 216 hits, with a .316 batting average and 99 runs scored, but a fractured ankle cost him most of 2013. The fact that he played just 17 games one season ago certainly works in your favor.
If he can put together 500 at-bats this season (which he has done in nine of the past 10 seasons), then we can reasonably expect him to bat about .290, with 12-15 homers, 55 RBI, 80-plus runs scored and 10 steals. Sort of like an Asdrubal Cabrera with a better batting average, or a slower Jean Segura. Either way -- he'd be an above average middle infielder.
Top Prospect: Xander Bogaerts
Bogaerts is only eligible at third base entering this season, so draft him as a DH and move him to shortstop after a week. Either way, Bogaerts will punish pitchers at the plate in his first full season as Boston's starting shortstop. He has great power on a 21-year-old frame that's still developing, and he'll hit for average, as well.
If you think it's not fair to list a third baseman as a top shortstop prospect, then consider a shortstop prospect that might end up playing third base: Javier Baez. The Cubs might end up using him at third base because of Castro's presence at short.
Our rankings only look at players who play shortstop as their primary position, or played at least 20 games there in their more recent season in the major leagues. Some other players of note with different eligibility requirements are below:
• 10 games: Jurickson Profar (18), Eric Sogard (15), Justin Turner (18)
• Five games: Sean Rodriguez (7)
• One game: Gordon Beckham (2), Yuniesky Betancourt (3), Emilio Bonifacio (1), Robinson Cano (1), Josh Donaldson (1), Danny Espinosa (1), Nick Franklin (3), Brandon Inge (1), Martin Prado (1), Cody Ransom (1), Anthony Rendon (4), Marcus Semien (3)
David Gonos is a fantasy sports veteran of over 20 years and over 100 fantasy leagues. You can also follow/mock him @davidgonos on Twitter.