Who’s the best fantasy shortstop in baseball? Hanley Ramirez? Troy Tulowitzki for 113 games? Elvis Andrus and his Amazingly Empty .270 Batting Average? Ian Desmond and his 145 strikeouts, thank you very much? Jean ‘This Doesn’t Look Sustainable’ Segura? You can make arguments for any of them. What I’m trying to say is that there’s no great answer at short anymore. It’s a murky position right now, but there are beams of light on the horizon.
Again, please know that this list is for fantasy impact in 2014 only. If a player has little chance of getting any significant big-league playing time next year they won’t be listed below. We all love Carlos Correa but his time hasn’t arrived.
To the list.
1. Xander Bogaerts — Boston Red Sox | (AA/AAA: .297/.388/.477 in 515 PAs | MLB: .250/.320/.364 in 50 PAs)
Bogaerts is the beacon and the way. Believe in him. He lies at the end of the Noble Eightfold Path, where truth and consciousness blend together to form a single point of brilliant light. OK, maybe not quite, but if you watched the World Series you saw a prospect who has an extremely advanced approach at the plate, very good power, and a gently pulsating, visible aura. He has improved consistently as he’s run roughshod through the minors, and is the starting shortstop for the Red Sox on April 1. A .280 average and 18 HR with plenty of runs and RBI sprinkled in is entirely possible. He won’t help much with steals, but stop being greedy. Bogaerts could be a top-five fantasy shortstop next year.
Draft Advice: How badly do you want him? In standard 12-team leagues I can see someone getting all doe-eyed and taking him in the fifth round. I wouldn’t advise that, but if you want him, you’re gonna have to go get him. He’s a must draft at any point past round 10.
2. Chris Owings — Arizona Diamondbacks | (AAA: .330/.359/.482 in 575 PAs | MLB: .291/.361/.382 in 61 PAs)
Can Owings out-grit the starting job form Didi Gregorius next Spring? Did the Diamondbacks finally realize that Didi’s a utility infielder? Will Arizona ever release some of their proprietary stats to the public so I can learn Owings’ Hustle/Dirt Score? Ok, that’s enough. Owings showed great improvement in AAA last year, cutting his strikeouts from 132 to 99, while maintaining his walk rate and power. He played in the PCL lso his numbers need to be couched, but his overall improvement seems real to me. A .270 average with eight homers and ten steals sounds about right.
Draft Advice: Owings will be available late in most drafts, and won’t be drafted in plenty.
3. Marcus Semien — Chicago White Sox | (AA/AAA: .284/.401/.479 in 626 PAs | MLB: .261/.268/.406 ins 71 PAs)
Semien was unheralded coming into 2013, and then went out and had a fantastic season across the board. He hit 19 homers, stole 24 bases, scored 110 runs and walked more than he struck out. The general feeling is that he’s more of a second baseman than a shortstop, but he can play any infield position save first. Most of his time was spent at short last season, so he’s on this list, but I expect he’ll get most of his playing time at third and second next year. Semien only has 53 games above AA so he may spend next April in the minors, but Gordon Beckham and Conor Gillaspie aren’t roadblocks. Given his plate discipline Semien shouldn’t be too over his head in the Majors; a .250-.265 average and double digit home runs and steals is entirely plausible.
Draft Advice: Semien should be available as a waiver wire pick up. His likely positional flexibility and broad base of fantasy skills makes him an attractive add in deeper leagues.
4. Javier Baez — Chicago Cubs | (A+/AA: .282/.341/.578 in 577 PAs)
Starlin Castro is only 23, the Cubs aren’t making the playoffs next year and Baez has only played 54 games above A+ ball. It’s difficult to see him getting 200 PAs next year for a team that needs him in 2015, but Baez’s bat is so potent he could force the Cubs’ hand. As Castro seems determined to dig deeper and deeper below replacement level, the calls for Baez to replace him will get louder and louder. Baez’s power plays at third, first, or Neptune, and that’s why he’s third on this list despite his unclear path to the Majors. There are red flags here, namely his strikeout and walk rates, so don’t expect a smooth transition. I expect the power to play immediately and he should be a consistent 30+ home run threat in the future, but his value will be tied strictly to how much playing time he gets.
Draft Advice: Don’t draft him, but he’s an immediate add once he reaches the majors, regardless of format.
5. Francisco Lindor — Cleveland Indians | (A+/AA: .303/.380/.407 in 464 PAs)
You know who Lindor is and that’s he’s a consensus top-10 prospect in baseball. He’s going to hit for average, steal twenty-something bases and walk about as often as he strikes out. And he’ll be 20 for all of next season. The talent isn’t the question, it’s the timing. Asdrubal Cabrera is under contract through next season, so getting Lindor even 200 big-league plate appearances won’t be easy. But if he does, an average in the .270s with 10-12 stolen bases seems about right.
Draft Advice: Another top talent that shouldn’t be drafted but ought to be added once he makes the bigs, particularly in OBP leagues.
The Last Cut: Hak-Ju Lee — Tampa Bay Rays
Lee was supposed to be playing in Tampa last summer, but a devastating knee injury ended his season after just 15 games. Going into last season he’d stolen at least 32 bases in each of the last three years, so the question is how greatly his speed will be affected by the injury. If he can’t steal bases then his value is extremely limited because he can’t hit baseballs very far. If the steals are there then he can start in 12-team leagues at his peak. He lacks a starting job in Tampa next year, though he could be a utility infielder, backing up Zobrist and Escobar and getting 300-400 PAs.
Orlando Calixte — Kansas City Royals
Alen Hanson — Pittsburgh Pirates
Addison Russell — Oakland Athletics
Carlos Sanchez — Chicago White Sox
Jonathan Schoop — Baltimore Orioles