Baseball purists believe teams have to be strong up the middle to win. In fantasy baseball, it doesn't matter where the strength comes from as long as the end product is great.
That pure baseball instinct, though, leads many fantasy owners to draft middle infielders, especially shortstops, well before they have to. It's the weakest position in fantasy, and only a few elite options are worth the reach. Still, shortstop is a necessary evil. Prepare accordingly.
Is there a debate at No. 1?
Yes, and it's one that will rage all spring. Hanley Ramirez remains eligible at the position, but while he was a contender earlier this spring, he's no longer a top choice following a WBC thumb injury that will cause him to miss the first two months of the season. Troy Tulowitzki might finally stay healthy for a full season, something he hasn't done often in his six-year career. Still, Jose Reyes is our choice as No. 1 after somehow proving to be a model of health and consistency (year-to-year, not half-to-half) in 2012.
It's admittedly hard to be too confident in Reyes keeping top billing. Tulo could have a rebound year, while 22-year-old wunderkind Starlin Castro could become an irresistible .300/20/100/100/30 fantasy monster. Castro's tantalizing talents are the devil we don't yet know, while the annual injury questions for Hanley and Tulo are the devils we do.
Reyes, Tulo and Castro could all plausibly be the No. 1 shortstop picked in your league. It gets far less interesting after that top tier, so it's wise to target one of these elite options in the first four rounds. If you miss, you'll be looking at scraps later.
Comeback player: Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies
This is an easy one, because the 27-year-old Tulowitzki was limited to just 47 games in what should have been the crowning year of his career. Non-stop injury concerns are the only thing preventing Tulo from being No. 1 on this draft board, but his numbers have always been good when he has been able to play (.292/.364/.504 in 744 career games). He should be fully healthy for spring training after healing from the groin injury that plagued him in 2012. That's a widely held opinion, though. With the nation's love affair with Tulowitzki alive and well, Reyes, Castro and Ramirez will be safer picks relative to their draft position.
Breakout: Starlin Castro, Cubs
It's tough to call a shortstop coming off a .283/14/78/78/25/.323/.430 year a breakout candidate, but Castro, who turns 23 on March 24, is capable of something incredible. Castro is a young Hanley Ramirez -- and Hanley erupted at age 23 in 2007 to the tune of .332/29/81/125/51/.386/.562. Castro's physique (6-feet, 190 pounds) more closely resembles Reyes', so while Castro may not be able to deliver Hanley-type power, the average, runs and steals are entirely attainable. And unlike Ramirez, who has played half his games in pitcher-friendly parks, Castro has the cozy confines of Wrigley Field working in his favor. Lock him up early.
Potential bust: Jimmy Rollins, Phillies
Short of forecasting another Tulo injury, another year-long malaise for Ramirez or the eventual Derek Jeter collapse (that last one hasn't panned out this past half-decade, has it?), the 34-year-old Rollins is the next likeliest star to fall. Chase Utley (34) and Ryan Howard (33) have already fallen apart physically, and the Phillies' offense tanked as a result. Rollins stayed healthy last year, but this may be a dangerous season for him.
Sleeper: Stephen Drew, Red Sox
If calling Jeter a bust candidate every year never pans out, then calling Drew a sleeper is like mining for gold in the dead sea. This may be the year, though. Fenway Park has turned far less talented infielders like Bill Mueller, Marco Scutaro and Mike Aviles into useful fantasy players. Drew will turn 30 this year, and the hint of the player who went .291/21 in 2008 is still there ... somewhere. The Fenway factor makes Drew worth a flier in the final rounds.
Top prospect/rookie: Jurickson Profar, Rangers
There is usually a lively debate about the top prospect at a position. That's not the case here -- unless you view Profar as a second baseman. The Rangers will start with Ian Kinsler at second, Elvis Andrus at short and Profar, 20, in the minors. But Profar should be in Texas by midseason. He's a future 30/30 candidate at the position and could be one of those rare instant successes. The Rangers just need to find a place for him. Profar is considered the top prospect in baseball, a tag held by Mike Trout last season. Remember how that turned out?
Other potential eligibles
Our rankings only consider those who play shortstop as their primary position or played at least 20 games there in their most recent major league season. Here are some other players who are eligible in leagues with different requirements:
? Ten games: Martin Prado, Pedro Ciriaco, Adam Rosales, Justin Turner and Jason Donald ? Five games: Logan Forsythe, Donovan Solano ? Three games: Michael Young, Darwin Barney and Jordanny Valdespin ? One game: David Wright, Brett Lawrie, Trevor Plouffe, Chris Nelson, Juan Uribe, Steve Lombardozzi, Yuniesky Betancourt, Ivan DeJesus, Chase d'Arnaud and Jerry Hairston
From the rough estimate projections below, your average starter in a 12-team, one-shortstop league should be around .275/16/71/85/19/.336/.430.