The shortstop revolution arrived years ago, but it’s still remarkable to see so much offensive talent at a once glove-first position. Javier Baez finished second in NL MVP voting last year, hit 34 homers, stole 21 bases, and was one of eight players with 100 or more runs and RBI, and is ranked fifth at short by average draft position. And you know what? That isn’t crazy. The four players ahead of him are Francisco Lindor, Trea Turner, Alex Bregman and Manny Machado.
Jean Segura is coming off his third straight season hitting floors of a .300 batting average, .341 OBP, 20 steals, 10 homers and 80 runs. In that three-year window, he has hit .308/.353/.449 with seasonal averages of 25 steals, 14 homers, 91 runs and 57 RBI. He’s the 11th shortstop off the board by ADP. And, again, that isn’t crazy. In addition to the five players above, the other five shortstops selected ahead of Segura in a typical draft are Trevor Story, Carlos Correa, Xander Bogaerts, Gleyber Torres and Adalberto Mondesi. The one coming off the board immediately after him? That would be 2016 NL Rookie of the Year and third-place MVP finisher Corey Seager. So, yeah, it’s a deep position.
When the shortstop revolution started in 2015, there were three players clearly in the vanguard, leading the position into a new era. All three of those players entire the 2019 season with major question marks attached. We’ll focus on all of them in the burning questions section of our shortstop primer.
*Because MLB changed the “disabled list” to the “injured list” for 2019, SI.com will abide by the following: If the list is being referenced prior to the 2019 season, it will be the disabled list (e.g. Carlos Correa spent two months of the 2018 season on the disabled list nursing a back injury). If the list is referenced for the 2019 season and beyond, it will be the injured list (i.e. Francisco Lindor will be placed on the injured list for the first two weeks of the 2019 season).
Three Burning Questions
1. What do we do about Francisco Lindor?
Francisco Lindor was the sure thing of sure things at shortstop heading into spring training, a superstar on a three-and-a-half season run of excellence entering his age-25 season as a perennial MVP candidate. Then came the news that he had a calf strain that would cost him seven to nine weeks, including the beginning of the regular season. That immediately forced fantasy owners to recalibrate his value.
First, let’s focus on the good here. The seven-to-nine week timetable puts Lindor’s expected return right on Opening Day at the early end, and two weeks into the season at the late end. Assuming he’s able to remain on that schedule, we’re talking about a worst-case scenario of 10 to 14 missed games. Even if you bake in some rust after not taking place in baseball activities for most of the spring, Lindor’s projected missed time isn’t a huge deal. We can’t ignore it, but it shouldn’t be given too much weight.
Second, Lindor had never been on the DL in his career. He got called up in June of 2015 and played 99 of Cleveland’s remaining 100 games that year. Over the last three seasons, he has played 158, 159 and 158 games. There’s no reason to think he’s injury prone. Once this calf strain is behind him, he should be treated as he normally would be.
The lone concern, then, is the nature of location of the injury. Part of what makes Lindor so special from a fantasy perspective is what he does with his legs. He stole a career-high 25 bases last year, and was expected to approach or surpass that number again this season. It’s likely he’ll run less on a per-game basis. Assuming he does miss those 10 to 14 games, what’s his realistic ceiling for steals. Is it 15? Is it even lower?
Given Lindor’s youth, ceiling, track record, and clean injury history, I’m not going to push him too far down my draft boards. My top three was already Mike Trout, Mookie Betts and Nolan Arenado, with Lindor in the next tier. Players I had behind him who I’d now take ahead of him include J.D. Martinez, Max Scherzer, Jose Ramirez and Alex Bregman. I’d consider Christian Yelich, Ronald Acuna and Bryce Harper, as well. I wouldn’t let him slip any further than that.
2. Can Carlos Correa bounce back?
Carlos Correa’s head-scratching career continued apace in 2018. He burst onto the scene in 2015, changing the culture around the Astros while winning the AL Rookie of the Year Award. He regressed in 2016, with nearly all his key numbers taking a dip. He may have won the AL MVP Award in 2017 if not for a torn ligament in his thumb that cost him about six weeks. Injuries were again a problem in 2018, this time it was his back, and he ended the season hitting .239/.323/.405 with 15 homers and a career-low OPS+, barely better than league-average.
As we discussed with respect to Kris Bryant in the third base primer, injuries are a mitigating factor here. At the end of play on May 13, Correa was hitting .295/.383/.521 with seven homers. He went into an unexplained slump over the next three weeks, but was still hitting .264/.348/.464 on June 6 when he was lifted from a game with what the team called right side soreness. He sat out the next four games, returning six days later. Two weeks after that, he went on the DL with lower back soreness, and wouldn’t return until the second week of August.
The day Correa hit the DL, he was slashing .268/.352/.480, and it’s likely he was playing through the injury for at least two weeks, and maybe longer, before the team finally put him on the shelf. From his return through the end of the regular season, he hit .180/.261/.256 with two homers in 153 plate appearances. There is no explanation other than injury for a player like Correa hitting that poorly over that long a stretch of time.
After the last two seasons, there are concerns surrounding Correa. At the same time, we’re talking about a 24-year-old with an elite pedigree who has already experienced extreme success in his MLB career. If he’s truly over the back injury, which all reports say he is, he’s going to be a steal at his ADP, which places him in the late-third or early-fourth round of standard drafts.
3. What are our expectations for Corey Seager?
Our look at the injured triumvirate that once comprised the vanguard of baseball’s shortstop revolution wraps up with Corey Seager. He was the first of the trio to get hurt and suffered the most serious injury, undergoing Tommy John surgery last May to repair an elbow that had been bothering him going back to the end of the 2017 season. Seager also had arthroscopic surgery on his hip last August, so he enters this season on the mend from two major operations.
The Seager question may be the easiest to answer for a few one major reason. He’s the furthest removed from his injuries and as likely as Correa, if not likelier, to be 100% at the start of the year. Injury optimism is always dangerous in fantasy sports, but by time the Dodgers take the field in a meaningful game, Seager will be nearly one year beyond his Tommy John surgery, and eight months clear of his hip surgery. Even from the perspective of major surgeries, that’s quite a bit of time.
What’s more, Seager won’t cost you nearly as much as Lindor or Correa in a typical draft. His ADP is 76.07, 12th among shortstops. That makes his situation a completely different value proposition. I remain all-in on Lindor and Correa, but there are some real opportunity costs associated with them. Seager is going off the board in the same neighborhood as Jose Berrios, Marcell Ozuna and Jesus. If you whiff where you have to jump in on one of those two, you’re going to be in trouble. If you whiff in Seager’s neck of the woods, you’ll have plenty of opportunity to recover. Here’s the thing, though. If you take him, you won’t whiff.
Seager hit .308/.365/.512 with 26 homers and 40 doubles while winning the NL Rookie of the Year in 2016. He hit 295/.375/.479 with 22 homers and 33 doubles in 74 fewer plate appearances in 2017. Last year was a lost season from which we can draw nothing. If Seager is healthy, there’s no reason to think he won’t pick right back up on the trajectory he was on at the end of 2017. At 25 years old, he’s still in the age window where we should expect him to recover fully from any surgery, even the serious ones he underwent last year. Seager has as high a ceiling as almost anyone at the position, and you get to play his floor price. Talk about a bargain.