Fantasy Prep 2011: Shortstop Options on Draft Day
Monday February 14th, 2011
Public Service Announcement:
Today's entry continues a series of fantasy baseball-related articles with suggestions about who to pick when targeting players the early, middle, and late rounds of drafts. To avoid telling readers about some no-brainer selections, like Albert Pujols at first base or Joe Mauer at catcher, each position will have the "obvious" distinction levied upon any player or players who would surely be a winning pick at that spot. Please keep in mind that all fantasy leagues are different, and that picking these players will not necessarily guarantee positive results. Now, with that public service announcement out of the way, and without further ado, here are the shortstops to target in the early, mid, and late rounds of 2011 fantasy baseball drafts.
The two obvious 2011 fantasy shortstops both hail from the National League. The first is a recent recipient of a monster 10-year, $157.75 million extension from the Colorado Rockies: Troy Tulowitzki. Despite only appearing in 122 games due to a broken left wrist, Tulowitzki managed to post his second straight .900-plus on-base-plus-slugging (OPS) season, while driving in 90 runs for the third time in the last four years. At a position where only four players hit 20 home runs in 2010, Tulo led the pack with 27, paced shortstops in RBI, and scored the fourth-most runs. Troy also added 11 stolen bases last season and, while his Gold Glove Award is unlikely to help anyone in any standard fantasy formats, it indicates that he's among the most well-rounded of all major league players.
The other fantasy shortstop to snag right away was, no doubt, one of the top players off of every draft board last spring: Hanley Ramirez of the Florida Marlins. After posting three consecutive .900-plus OPS seasons, 2010 was a bit of a disappointment for Ramirez. He triple-slashed a still solid .300/.378/.475 but experienced a decrease in home runs, RBI, runs scored, hits, doubles, and batting average. The season was far from a loss, however, since National League shortstops as a whole hit .266/.325/.388. Ramirez also chipped in a stellar 32 stolen bases, good for sixth in the NL. There's a good shot he'll rebound a bit in 2011, considering his 2010 batting average on balls in play (BAbip) was .327 (roughly 20 points beneath his career mark) and he hit nine percent fewer flyballs in 2010 than 2009, which may not bode well for home run numbers but typically leads to getting on base more often. He may not battle Pujols as the top pick in a league, but he's no doubt a good first round selection.
Top of the Draft:
A pair of options to consider very early while stocking the shortstop spot are the Arizona Diamondbacks' Stephen Drew and Alexei Ramirez of the Chicago White Sox. Drew, the younger brother of Red Sox outfielder J.D. Drew and former major league pitcher Tim Drew, rebounded nicely from a down year in 2009 to post a solid triple-slash line of .278/.352/.458 with 15 home runs, 61 RBI and, for the third straight year, he finished second in the NL with 12 triples. None of Drew's figures really jump off the stat sheet, but there are a few considerations that make him a good play in 2011. For one, he plays in a traditionally offense-driven park out in the desert, which posted an uncharacteristic 98-99 park factor last year. Although pitching ruled supreme in Chase Field in 2010, Drew posted easily his best career mark in wins above replacement (WAR), checking in at 5.1 after never exceeding 2.2 in any previous season. Drew also improved his walk rate by almost two percent and bumped up his line drive rate just a tick. This season, he should get a shot to bat in a more consistent spot in the batting order after hitting everywhere but the last two spots for a club that narrowly missed losing 100 games and fired manager A.J. Hinch (replacing him with former World Series hero Kirk Gibson). It should be a much more stable season for Drew in the desert, and his stat line should indicate it.
Alexei Ramirez enjoyed his third season with the south-siders in 2010, playing in 156 games and hitting .282/.313/.431 with 18 home runs and 70 RBI. Again, that seems like moderate production from most positions, but American League shortstops hit even worse than their NL counterparts, with a .258/.312/.357 line combined, something that allowed Ramirez to claim the league's Silver Slugger Award. As a result and despite a few shortcomings, Ramirez, who ranked first among AL shortstops in home runs with 18, is a solid early pick in many leagues. Keep in mind that he is a throwback to the classic Latin American style of baseball, which seemed to regard drawing walks with disdain. Alexei isn't incredibly prone to strikeouts, but he is completely averse to walks and drew just 29 in 626 plate appearances last season. In leagues that don't value walks, Ramirez is fine to take relatively early. Still, keep in mind that his walk rate dropped by nearly half from 2009 to 2010, so don't reach for him when solid options at other positions are still on the board.
Middle of the Draft:
At an incredibly thin position, two names to keep an eye on as your fantasy draft progresses to the middle rounds are Cliff Pennington of the Oakland A's and Jed Lowrie of the Boston Red Sox. By virtue of playing for Oakland, Pennington isn't as well known as Lowrie but is an intriguing option nonetheless. A 2006 Baseball America top-100 prospect, Pennington's main asset is (pinch us if you've heard this about an Oakland player before) excellent plate discipline. In parts of five seasons in the minor leagues, Pennington managed to walk 286 times while striking out only 297. While this alone is hardly a notable trait in fantasy baseball, he regularly swiped 25 to 30 bags a season and that makes him a sort of sleeper in many leagues. Pennington has yet to enjoy notable success at the major league level, posting only a .699 OPS in parts of three seasons on the bay. However, he swiped 29 bases last year at a solid 85.3 percent rate, which could allow him the option to steal more, despite playing for a team that traditionally shies away from making outs on the bases. His BABIP should improve from the .290-type numbers he's logged so far, as he managed a solid 21.5 percent line drive rate last year. All this leaves Pennington with a good shot to be very relevant among 2011 fantasy shortstops.
Jed Lowrie is another vaunted Sox prospect and part of a group that has an entire website devoted to its development. Like Pennington, Lowrie (73rd among prospects in Baseball America's 2008 rankings) has shown an incredible knack for plate discipline in the minors, but he did so while providing a bit more with the stick. In six seasons in the Boston farm system, Lowrie walked 217 times against 248 strikeouts, but also triple-slashed .284/.380/.445. Thus, it isn't surprising that Lowrie and Dustin Pedroia were hailed as the future of the Red Sox middle infield, though Jed has taken a bit longer to arrive than the 2009 AL MVP. Wrist injuries and a 2010 bout with mononucleosis have dogged Lowrie, as he has only managed 579 plate appearances at the major league level, despite the fact that he'll turn 27 just after opening day of 2011. Nearly 200 of those big league plate appearances came last season, when Jed hit .287/.381/.526 from late-July on and all but relegated Marco Scutaro to the bench for 2011. Lowrie won't steal a ton of bases, but likely won't need to if he comes close to replicating his 2010 line. Chances are he won't, but even a 75 percent showing in his encore would make him one of the AL best shortstops in 2011.
End of the Draft:
Rounding out a thin crop of draftable shortstops in 2011 are two very capable options in the Cleveland Indians' Asdrubal Cabrera and the Baltimore Orioles' J.J. Hardy. There was almost nothing to like about Cabrera's 2010 season. If his .276/.326/.346 line wasn't disappointing enough, he basically missed the entire middle portion of the season while recovering from a broken forearm. Neither half of Cabrera's season was particularly good, as his OPS was .689 prior to the injury and .663 after. However, Cabrera is only one season removed from a very good 2009, when he hit .308/.361/.438, swiped 17 bags, and drilled 42 doubles. The potential for a repeat may or may not be there, but face it: if a fantasy owner waited this long to draft a starting shortstop, Cabrera's potential is worth taking a shot on.
Hardy is an extreme wild card in 2011. Coming off of two straight seasons of 20 home run production, 2009 was an unmitigated disaster for the former second-round draft pick. Hardy "hit" .229/.302/.357 in '09, which earned him a well-deserved demotion to Nashville, basically hitting rock bottom. The club promoted Alcides Escobar and, from that point on, it seemed destined that Hardy would have to start anew with a different club. The Twins stepped up, dealing an enigma of their own in Carlos Gomez for the shot to reinvigorate Hardy's once powerful swing. Hardy didn't start out well, bottoming out at a .599 OPS on June 6 before spending the next month on the DL. It was his second disabled list stint of the season and resulted from returning too early from a wrist injury. Hardy returned to action in early July and regained much of his offensive firepower, as he hit .302/.356/.436 with 19 extra-base hits in 64 games. However, the Twins inexplicably dealt Hardy, along with 2010 washout Brendan Harris, to the Orioles for a pair of minor league relievers, perhaps signaling that Hardy had done something to anger the Twins over the course of the year. Whatever the reasons, Hardy is a fantastic fantasy pick late in drafts and, while he may not rebound to his 20 home run, 75 to 80 RBI numbers of the past, he doesn't need to to be an excellent value pick in a bare shortstop cupboard.
In a thinner group than most positions, perhaps keep an eye out for a few of these young guys as the season wears on: Dee Gordon, Danny Espinosa (may hold dual position eligibility), Jose Iglesias, and Chase D'Arnaud.
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