Fantasy Baseball 2023 Shortstop Preview: Top-20 rankings, sleepers and draft strategy
There can be a lot of stress in a fantasy manager’s life. Take this year’s baseball board. Second base looks thin. Third base is scary. Starting pitchers always keep us up at night, and closers can go bad at any time of day. There are potholes everywhere.
Ah, but shortstops? Those glorious shortstops? That’s the one position you probably can’t screw up this year, even if you try. Every offensive category is plentiful here, and so many of these starters grab stats with both hands.
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You’ll find a fun shortstop worthy of attention at pretty much every draft spot this year. You might take Trea Turner No. 1 overall; he’s currently the consensus top pick in Yahoo leagues and the No. 3 choice in NFBC formats. Bo Bichette and Bobby Witt Jr. are young stars on the up escalator. Fernando Tatis Jr. is back to mash for us (even as he’s shifting to the outfield). Xander Bogaerts and Dansby Swanson are joining new teams. Corey Seager is ready to crush in a post-shift world.
To get a sense of how shortstops have taken over the fantasy baseball infield, consider the distribution of the top 100 picks in NFBC formats over the past week (some players qualify at more than one position, but our general point remains):
First base: 8 players
Second base: 6 players (Tommy Edman, notably, is 2B/SS eligible)
Shortstop: 13 eligible players
Third base: 8 eligible players (Witt, notably, is SS/3B eligible)
And it’s not like the shortstop pool dries up at my arbitrary cutoff point of pick No. 100. Jeremy Peña (last seen winning World Series MVP) and Carlos Correa (last seen signing a contract with 10% of the clubs in baseball) are the next two names.
Let’s dig in. Shortstop is a fun zone.
Should Trea Turner be the No. 1 overall pick?
There’s no definitive answer to this, of course, but I currently have Turner first. You could select him for the captain’s chair. But if you wanted to take Ronald Acuña Jr. (with the idea he’s healthy and hasn’t had his best season yet) or Aaron Judge (after the way he wrecked baseball last year), I wouldn’t argue with you. Also, you might be surprised at how the outfield depth dries up in the middle rounds of fantasy drafts this year. With so many leagues requiring four or five outfield fills, maybe there’s something to be said for breaking ties with an eye toward the fly-chasers.
[2023 Fantasy Positional Previews: C | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS | OF | SP | RP]
Turner is changing teams, shifting from the high-powered Dodgers to the high-powered Phillies. Even with Bryce Harper expected to miss multiple months, Philadelphia shouldn’t have any problems scoring runs. Turner is still close to his prime years, stepping into an age-30 season, and he’s the rare player who contributes in all five standard offensive categories. He’s projected to walk only around 7% of the time, but that’s a feature in fantasy, not a bug — it means his likely plus average will give us more bang for the buck.
I endorse you to select Turner as high as you want.
Will non-shift life turn Corey Seager back into a star?
It’s possible, perhaps even likely. Seager was shifted on 92.8% of the time last year, one of the highest rates in baseball. His wOBA rose 71 points against conventional alignments. Seager was also getting acclimated to a new team and a new league, something that can often lead to a disappointing season.
Seager still conked 33 homers in his Texas debut, despite a batting average 42 points below his career norm. A correction is coming. He looks like an exciting pick entering his age-29 season.
Pianow's shortstop targets
Willy Adames was a good player in Tampa, but the 2021 trade to Milwaukee turned him into a star. Maybe it was the job solidification, perhaps it was tied to a correction of eyesight, and let’s not overlook the park change. Whatever you attribute it to, Adames raised his slugging percentage by 63 points in Milwaukee, with 51 homers in 238 games. His Yahoo ADP is right around 100 (he’s a round more expensive in NFBC rooms).
Please, draft this guy.
[2023 Fantasy Baseball Rankings: C | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS | OF | SP | RP]
The White Sox roster isn’t much different this year than last, but if the team can get a break on the health front, Chicago could easily jump back into the playoff mix. Tim Anderson is part of that mix as a legitimate five-category contributor who missed half of 2022. His stolen-base acumen wasn’t affected, as he was 13-for-13 on the bases. Chicago should boast an offense in the top third of the majors, and a top-five return for the group is in the range of reasonable outcomes. Enjoy the temporary Anderson draft discount.
Pianow's shortstop fades
Xander Bogaerts signed a monster deal in San Diego, but his 2022 season doesn’t look so shiny if you focus on the home/road splits. Bogaerts slashed merely .297/.372/.407 away from Fenway Park, with five homers and 25 RBIs. It doesn’t make him a banjo hitter, but it makes you wonder how he’ll handle NL life, with Petco Park covering half of his work. Throw in the pressure of a new team, new league and $280 million deal, and Bogaerts might as well be off my draft board. He’s currently around ADP 65 in Yahoo, which might be two or three rounds too early.
Oneil Cruz is more of a spectacle these days than a finished product; he’s capable of showing up on the highlights at any time for a ridiculous defensive play or a rocket off the bat. But there are still plenty of leaks in his game: His OBP was under .300 last year, he didn’t hit a lick against lefties (.158/.225/.307), and his bat didn’t travel well (.194/.283/.406). I’m always hesitant to draft a player for a level of production he has yet to post; Cruz’s NFBC ADP (in the 60s) has me out, and even a Yahoo ADP ticket in the 70s is a little pricy for me.
Tommy Edman is an angelic defender, and that will always keep him in the St. Louis lineup somewhere. But his career OPS+ is merely 103 (just three points better than an average hitter in a neutral park), and his OBP the past three years is just .316. Can Edman keep the leadoff spot in St. Louis, considering how many other quality offensive players this team has?
I bet against Edman last year, but he won. I’ll double down for 2023 and fade him again.
Potential shortstop sleepers
Sleeper is a nebulous term with 1,000 definitions, so maybe Jeremy Peña won’t fit the suit for all. But he is going outside the top 100 on all platforms, and he’s coming off a snappy, 22-homer, 11-steal debut as Houston’s replacement for Carlos Correa. The Astros once again have a deep lineup, and I like how Pena finished the year (six homers in the final month, then the demolition in the World Series). He’ll be on some of my rosters.
Thairo Estrada had little résumé entering 2022, but he provided lovely category juice over 140 games (14 homers, 21 steals). The Giants are prepared to let him lead off, but the market is cool to Estrada, with his draft slot routinely falling between 150 and 180. Surprise players are often mispriced on the follow-up season because the expectations were never there to begin with. Estrada will be welcome on my rosters.
Adalberto Mondesi is a mediocre hitter and an injury risk, but the Red Sox have a roster spot for him, and a healthy Mondesi could lead the majors in steals. At some point, the risk-reward sirens will sing to you. He’s outside the top 200 in current ADP.
Pianow’s shortstop board as of Feb. 22
1. Trea Turner
2. Bo Bichette
4. Bobby Witt Jr.
6. Francisco Tatis Jr.
7. Corey Seager
8. Xander Bogearts
9. Dansby Swanson
10. Willy Adames
11. Tim Anderson
12. Oneil Cruz
13. Andres Gimenez
14. Wander Franco
15. Jeremy Peña
16. Gunnar Henderson
17. Carlos Correa
18. Tommy Edman
19. Amed Rosario
20. Nico Hoerner