Fantasy Baseball 2013: Shortstop Primer

As a group, major league shortstops demonstrated exactly one useful fantasy skill last season: They stole bases.

They didn't do much else, but at least they ran. This position delivered four of the game's top-13 individual stolen base totals, with Everth Cabrera's 44 steals leading the National League. Twelve different shortstops reached the 20-stolen base plateau in 2012, the most at any spot except outfield. And you might recall that Cincinnati farmhand Billy Hamilton had a pretty decent year, establishing a new minor league record for single-season steals (155).

So yeah, there's plenty of speed at short (even with Hamilton making the transition to center field). But if you're looking for power, good luck. Only five shortstops hit 20 or more homers last season, and none topped 25. This spot didn't give us any 100-RBI campaigns, and only one shortstop managed to score 100 runs (Jimmy Rollins, 102).

If you're seeking high-average hitters ... nope, sorry. Just three shortstops hit .300 or better last year, among all who qualified for the batting title.

[Baseball 2013 from Yahoo! Fantasy Sports: Join a league today!]

This position, clearly, is not an all-you-can-eat statistical buffet. Thus, if you manage to draft one of the few shortstops capable of contributing in four or five categories — like the player pictured above, or the dude pictured below — you can gain a significant edge. Of course it would really help if this character gave us a full season...

We all agree that Troy Tulowitzki is a high-value fantasy target. He's the top-ranked shortstop for four of the five Yahoo! experts, and he's No. 2 on Scott's board. But we seem to have a difference of opinion about where he belongs in the overall ranks. One of us has him at No. 11, another at No. 21. Please explain the thinking behind your Tulo rank...

Andy - For me, Tulowitzki remains an obvious first-rounder, a five-stat asset at a premium position. I'll happily take the post-injury discount. Tulo is still just 28 years old, so we're not talking about a player who's entering the decline phase. Check out his three-year average fantasy performance from 2009 to 2011:

90.3 R, 29.7 HR, 97.3 RBIs, 13.3 SB, .304 AVG.

Those are crazy numbers at this roster spot.

If you're still too nervous about Tulowitzki's injury history to grab him in Round 1, I get it — he's spent 165 days on the DL over the past three seasons. But please don't tell me he carries more injury risk than Reyes, a speed-dependent player with a history of leg issues.

Brandon - I have him at No. 15 overall. I look at it like this: Tulo would be a top-five pick if we assumed he'd play most of the season. But that's been about a coin flip proposition in his career. To me, the penalty for the obvious risk is about 10 picks or so. And it's not as if Jose Reyes and Han-Ram don't bring their own risks to the table. If Tulo can play 140-plus games, it's a big advantage to get his numbers at the SS position.

Scott - I'm surely the low man on Tulo; my last pass had him at No. 24 overall. That's a rank that won't get him, and I'm fine with that. Anyone can get hurt at any time, sure, but when you log four messy seasons out of five, as Tulo has, I'm considering it part of your profile. I don't want a copay player in Round 1 or 2.

While we're discussing Colorado middle-infielders: Josh Rutledge, beast or blech?

Brandon - Somewhere in the middle. He's got a solid track record for everything save K/BB ratio. You have to love the obvious opportunity he's getting to be the regular 2B in the best home hitting environment in the league, and to likely hit in front of Tulo and CarGo in the Rockies' lineup. I think there's definite .275/15/15 potential here, and you aren't being asked to pay that price for him based on current ADP (204.0).

Andy - Decidedly blech. Everyone likes the minor league power/speed totals, but I can't get over Rutledge's total inability to control the strike zone. Last season, between Double-A and the majors, he struck out 123 times and drew only 23 walks. He also crashed in September last year. To me, he seems like he could really use some seasoning at Triple-A, a level he's skipped. I'm not yet interested.

Brad - Blech. His minor league history, though appealing from a batting average perspective, doesn’t lend hope for a 20-20 campaign. He’ll contribute modestly in homers and steals – think 15-15 – but he’s better suited for middle infield duties in 12-team and deeper mixers.

Jimmy Rollins finished as the most valuable shortstop in fantasy last season, the only player at this position to finish among the overall top-50. This year, none of us ranked him among the top-5 fantasy shortstops. What gives?

Brandon - Volatility is what gives. He's 34 years old and he's had 16 homers or less and a .250 batting average or less in three of his past five seasons. Plus, he's dealt with injuries in that span. I simply don't trust him.

Scott - We can't bank on the batting average — it hasn't been there for two seasons — and I generally don't trust stolen bases with anyone in their mid-30s. The Philadelphia supporting cast, a lukewarm group, also makes me nervous.

Dalton - Rollins hit .250 last season and is 34 years old. Maybe he's being undervalued as the boring old veteran, but last year's ranks had more to do with other shortstop disappointments than Rollins himself. I wouldn't argue over bumping him to fifth, but I can't see taking Rollins ahead of Tulowitzki, Ramirez, Reyes or Castro.

What's your plan for Billy Hamilton this season (perhaps his last with shortstop-eligibility)? Avoid, watch, or draft-and-stash?

Brad - Stashing him like a dime sack in my sock drawer. His Speed Racer wheels are game-changing, and I don’t trust Choo is the defensive answer in center for Cincy. It’s also entirely possible Ryan Ludwick completely flops this year, which could swing open the door of opportunity. Two months of blazing Billy would turn a SB pretender into a contender.

Scott - I rarely own this type of wait-and-see commodity; I simply don't have the patience (especially if bench space is limited) and I don't want to cramp my free-wheeling pickup style. Someone else can scratch this lottery ticket, and if it pays off, more power to you. It ain't me, babe.

Dalton - Early signs haven't been encouraging at the plate so far this spring, but the guy just stole 155 bases last season, and Shin-Soo Choo sure looks like a stretch asked to play center field. Hamilton's SB upside is too great not to draft-and-stash.

OK, give us your best guess at the top-five base-stealers among shortstops in 2013...

Dalton - 1) Everth Cabrera, 2) Jose Reyes, 3) Elvis Andrus, 4) Jimmy Rollins, 5) Billy Hamilton.

Andy - 1) Jose Reyes, 2) Everth Cabrera, 3) Alcides Escobar, 4) Jimmy Rollins, 5) Jean Segura.

Brad - 1) Jose Reyes, 2) Everth Cabrera, 3) Jean Segura, 4) Billy Hamilton, 5) Alcides Escobar.

Spring hasn't treated the Yankees particularly well, but at least Derek Jeter is still upright. What's the forecast for Jeter this year? Does he have a place in your top-100?

Brad - My Fearless Forecast: Painfully mediocre stats and, as usual, plenty of gift baskets: 80-9-55-10-.278.

Brandon - He did place in my top 100, but I keep sliding him down as the bad news keeps piling up for the Yanks. (Injuries, PED rumors, etc). I think something like 85-13-60-10-.285 is about where I'm at with Jeter at the moment. But I'm probably going to be investing my money elsewhere unless the deal is too good to pass up on draft day.

Scott - This is the worst Yankees lineup since 1992. The undertow is dead. Someone else can treat Jeter like a top-10 or top-12 shortstop, I'm not going to. Obviously he's off a major injury, and the music stops for everyone eventually.

Let's say we're drafting a dynasty league, where you can keep players indefinitely. Gimme your top-12 shortstops...

Brandon - 1) Starlin Castro, 2) Troy Tulowitzki, 3) Hanley Ramirez, 4) Ian Desmond, 5) Asdrubal Cabrera, 6) Elvis Andrus, 7) Jurickson Profar, 8) Javier Baez, 9) Xander Bogaerts, 10) Carlos Correa, 11) Francisco Lindor, 12) Alcides Escobar.

Andy - 1) Troy Tulowitzki, 2) Starlin Castro, 3) Hanley Ramirez, 4) Jose Reyes, 5) Jurickson Profar, 6) Ian Desmond, 7) Billy Hamilton, 8) Elvis Andrus, 9) Asdrubal Cabrera, 10) Javier Baez, 11) Xander Bogaerts, 12) Ben Zobrist. When Castro is shifted away from short, his stats and skill set won't be nearly as tempting. Profar can be a future fantasy first-rounder.

Dalton - 1) Starlin Castro, 2) Troy Tulowitzki, 3) Hanley Ramirez, 4) Jose Reyes, 5) Elvis Andrus, 6) Ian Desmond, 7) Asdrubal Cabrera, 8) Ben Zobrist, 9) Jimmy Rollins, 10) Xander Bogaerts, 11) Addison Russell, 12) Francisco Lindor. I left players like Billy Hamilton and Danny Espinosa off the list since they likely won't be SS eligible for long.

Two-part final question: Please name your favorite fictional shortstop — film, television and video games all allowed — then tell us who plays short on your all-time MLB team. Go...

Brandon - Benny "The Jet" Rodriguez from "The Sandlot" has to be my shortstop. He embodied calm, cool and collected. And that guy could work his way out of a pickle like no other. My MLB all-timer has to be Cal Ripken. He wasn't my favorite during his playing days, but like Larry Bird in hoops, I came to appreciate his greatness as I got older. My favorites during my formative years, though, were Tony Fernandez and Shawon Dunston (about as close phonetically as any MLBer has ever gotten to Brandon Funston).

Scott - B-Rod and Snoopy are my all-time shortstops (more on that coming soon), but if I need to live in the real world, give me Alan Trammell. Man, he was robbed of the 1987 MVP.

Brad - Fictional: Benny “The Jet” Rodriguez from “The Sandlot.” Reality: Honus Wagner. If only I had about $1.2 million lying around, and my wife’s permission to blow such a gigantic wad.

Andy - Pablo Sanchez, in Backyard Baseball, is perhaps the greatest make-believe player that has ever not lived. He's my all-time shortstop, easy.

In real-life, let's go with ... well, not A-Rod. It's my team; I'm not picking him. Instead, I'm taking Ernie Banks. Ernie spent his first eight full seasons at short, winning two MVPs ('58 & '59) and hitting 40-plus homers five times.

Dalton - Whoever played shortstop in "Mr. Baseball," which was a terrific movie — nay film. In all seriousness, I'm someone who thinks "Major League" was the greatest sports movie of all time, but no one stood out there at SS. As for my all-time team, it's got to be Alex Rodriguez, right?


Position averages for the top-20 fantasy shortstops, last three years

2012 – 74.9 R, 14.2 HR, 63.3 RBIs, 18.9 SB, .271 AVG
2011 – 74.9 R, 12.3 HR, 61.3 RBIs, 17.8 SB, .280 AVG
2010 – 75.3 R, 13.1 HR, 64.2 RBIs, 13.8 SB, .274 AVG

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