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Three Up, Three Down - 2012 Shortstops
Dan Port | Wednesday February 1st, 2012
Elvis Andrus could be primed for a breakout year in 2012. (Icon SMI)
Elvis Andrus could be primed for a breakout year in 2012. (Icon SMI)
Baseball Press presents a returning miniseries entitled "Three Up, Three Down".  We'll review player performances from last season and whether or not we feel they are capable of either improving upon last season's performance, or if the player had a "lucky" season in 2011.

This installment will examine three shortstops who are due to rise this season and excel beyond their marks last year, along with three who are expected to regress and not match that 2011 output.

Three Up

Hanley Ramirez - Miami Marlins
Though he'll eventually become the Miami Marlins' everyday third baseman, three-time All Star Hanley Ramirez is a no-brainer choice for a bounce-back season in 2012.  Last year, Ramirez posted career lows with a .243 batting average (after a combined .313 mark from 2006 to 2010), 10 home runs, and 20 stolen bases while playing in just 92 games due to injuries.  It was the kind of season that baffled analysts and frustrated fantasy owners who depended on Han-Ram to produce like the top-tier draft choice that he was.

A much-improved Marlins squad should benefit Ramirez greatly and, assuming the shift to the hot corner has no ill effects on his work at the plate, he should be primed for a return to form.  His .275 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) mark in 2011 was well off of the .347 mark he tallied in his prior five seasons and the .327 mark he had in 2010.  Newly-acquired leadoff man Jose Reyes should be a nice help at the top of the Miami lineup, so a BABIP in his his usual range could provide a lot of RBI opportunites for Ramirez.  Few savvy fantasy owners were scared off by his sub-par 2011 stats, and you shouldn't be either, particularly with the knowledge that his third base eligibility will kick in early in the year and only add to his overall value.

Elvis Andrus - Texas Rangers
Somewhat overshadowed in the potent Rangers lineup that led them all the way to the World Series in 2011 was shortstop Elvis Andrus who, in his third big league season, posted career-bests with 96 runs, 27 doubles, 60 RBI, 37 stolen bases, and a .279 batting average.  Though he won't pile up power numbers, Andrus enters 2012 fantasy drafts as a possible top-50 pick in standard leagues and, by playing 145-plus games in each of his first three major league campaigns, he provides a reliable option for owners seeking it.

While he won't post the eye-popping power numbers of his more dynamic teammates, Andrus' presence in the heavy-hitting Texas lineup will provide many run-scoring opportunities while giving him several RBI chances, a rarity at a very thin fantasy position.  He'll be just 23 years old when the 2012 season opens, so there is definitely room to improve on his numbers, particularly with regard to his batting average and his stolen base success rate (he was caught stealing 12 times in 49 chances).  He looks like a breakout candidate.

Starlin Castro - Chicago Cubs
It might be tough to expect more from Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro after a 2011 run in which he led the National League in hits and finished among the league leaders in doubles, triples, total bases, and batting average, but the 21 year-old could be even better this season.  His .307 batting mark last year was a slight improvement from the .300 average he had in 125 games as a rookie, and many are already predicting a batting title in the youngster's future.

Many fantasy owners may have passed on Castro in 2011 due to his young age, chalking his rookie campaign up to luck or circumstance, but after a pair of solid seasons at a weak fantasy position, Castro is a hot commodity entering 2012 and, as such, will likely be drafted very high in most leagues.  Mockdraftcentral.com currently puts his average draft position (ADP) at 41, behind only Troy Tulowitzki, Jose Reyes , and Hanley Ramirez at the shortstop position.  Castro won't pile up home runs or stolen bases like some of his fellow shortstops, but he does provide a fairly predictable stat line with an excellent batting average and the potential for improvement.

Three Down

Jose Reyes - Miami Marlins
After a spectacular walk year in which he won the NL batting crown and inked a six-year $106 million deal with the Miami Marlins, it's hard to see shortstop Jose Reyes being anything but a disappointment in 2012.  After averaging 14 home runs and 64 stolen bases per season from 2005 to 2008, Reyes' career has been marred by injuries and ineffectiveness, and his .337 average last season was well above his .286 career mark prior to it. 

While Reyes is a near-lock for double-digit triples and 30-plus stolen bases in a full season of work, a batting average under .300 is a far more reasonable expectation for him in 2012.  Furthermore, even in years where he doesn't sit out a large amount of games due to injuries, he is often hit with nagging leg and hamstring problems that are detrimental to his performance, particularly his ability to steal bases (one of his primary fantasy assets).  Reyes remains a top performer at a tough fantasy baseball position, but owners shouldn't expect too much from him after an uncharacteristic season.  He should be drafted with caution.

Derek Jeter - New York Yankees
As he winds down a remarkable career, Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter's fantasy value has faded and, at age 37, he is a risky choice for owners in 2012.  Though he rebounded from a very bad start to his 2011 season and managed to hit .297 over 131 games, Jeter also failed to reach double-digit home runs for the first time in his career and he scored a career-low 84 runs (excluding his 15 game stint in 1995).  His .743 on-base-plus-slugging (OPS) mark was well below his .832 career number and, when considered with the .710 he posted in 2010, all signs point to Jeter's fading skill set, particularly his lack of extra-base hits.  In addition, his 62.4% groundball rate in 2011 (and the 65.7% he had in 2010) also signal a decline in power, as they're well off of his 57.5% career stat (source: Fangraphs).

Even so, Jeter still remains a viable fantasy shortstop and an important cog in a forceful Yankees offense, but fantasy owners shouldn't be overly surprised if the New York captain's numbers drop off significantly.  Injuries and missed time could also play a significant role throughout this season and the rest of Jeter's career, as the 607 plate appearances he had in 2011 marked only the second time in his career that he failed to reach 650 in a season.

Asdrubal Cabrera - Cleveland Indians
A breakout 2011 season by Indians shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera helped lead many fantasy owners to their league titles last year, but expecting the same sort of offensive fireworks out of the 26 year-old this season just seems unreasonable.  After compiling just 18 home runs in 1610 plate appearances from 2007 to 2010, Cabrera erupted for 25 homers and 92 RBI in a career-high 151 games for the Tribe last year, posting a slew of other exceptional numbers and earning his first All-Star honors and an American League Silver Slugger Award.

Cabrera's big year isn't a complete anomaly and might just be the result of maturity meeting opportunity, but he'll enter 2012 with monumental expectations that he's not likely to reach.  A 15 to 20 home run season is more reasonable for him this time around.  He'll still contribute a passable batting average and some stolen bases, adding to his fantasy value, but don't be the unlucky owner who breaks the bank expecting him to set the league ablaze once again.
Dan PortDan Port has been a writer and article editor for Baseball Press since the fall of 2009. He's a Wisconsin native and Los Angeles resident, as well as an aspiring novelist, moderately successful gambler, and avid craft beer aficionado. You can reach him at dan@baseballpress.com or check him out on Twitter @danport and at DanielPort.com.