Shortstop might be the most Jekyll-and-Hyde position in all of fantasy – regardless of sport. Take a look at this list, and you’ll probably find a half dozen names that a large contingent of fantasy players love and a large contingent that fantasy players hate.
Why? Inconsistency, injury history, unfulfilled promise and differing takes on whether or not “this will finally be the year.”
Here’s a look at top fantasy shortstops heading into 2014 – in the order in which I would draft them.
The Top 12
1) Hanley Ramirez, Los Angeles Dodgers
Wanna hear something crazy? Last year, Hanley Ramirez finished third among shortstops in home runs (20), tenth in RBIs (57) and in the top 15 in runs (62) and steals (10) – despite playing just 86 games (in other words, just more than half a season). This year, Ramirez projects to hit third in the Dodgers order – just behind Yasiel Puig and Carl Crawford and just ahead of Adrian Gonzalez and Matt Kemp. This is a first-round player.
Projection: .310 average, 26 home runs, 92 RBIs, 92 runs, 15 steals
2) Troy Tulowitzki, Colorado Rockies
By now, you know the book on Tulowitzki: He’s immensely talented yet immensely injury-prone. He has 30-homer, 100-RBI potential, but he’s missed 282 games over the last six seasons. Few players in fantasy offer higher risk; even fewer offer higher reward.
Projection: .302 average, 25 home runs, 88 RBIs, 84 runs, 3 steals
3) Ian Desmond, Washington Nationals
Desmond has delivered back-to-back 20/20 seasons. What more do you need to know?
Projection: .277 average, 21 home runs, 82 RBIs, 77 runs, 21 steals
4) Ben Zobrist, Tampa Bay Rays
Ranked sixth among second basemen, Zobrist is a safe, durable option who helps in all categories. If fantasy is about minimizing risk – and it is – you could do a lot worse than the versatile Zobrist, even as he turns 33 this May.
Projection: .281 average, 17 home runs, 79 RBIs, 90 runs, 15 steals
5) Elvis Andrus, Texas Rangers
Few shortstops offer much by way of home runs and RBIs, so ignore what Andrus doesn’t do and focus instead on what he does do – and that’s steal bases and score runs. He’ll also hit for a respectable average, especially batting between offseason acquisitions Shin-Soo Choo and Prince Fielder.
Projection: .278 average, 6 home runs, 60 RBIs, 97 runs, 40 steals
6) Starlin Castro, Chicago Cubs
Castro is coming off a disappointing season in which he hit just .245 and stole just nine bases – both career lows – but there’s still a lot to like here. Castro, 24, is a career .283 hitter with 15-homer and 25-steal potential. He’s also missed just one game in the last two years.
Projection: .284 average, 14 home runs, 65 RBIs, 90 runs, 20 steals
7) Jose Reyes, Toronto Blue Jays
Reyes, whose value is predicated on speed, turns 31 this June and is coming off an ankle injury that limited him to 93 games last season. Reyes was remarkably durable from 2005-09 – playing in 153+ games each year. But he’s missed at least 29 games in four of the last five seasons, during which he’s scored more than 90 runs just once. While many consider Reyes a top-three or top-four option at the position, that’s far too much risk for my blood – especially for a two-trick pony.
Projection: .292 average, 10 home runs, 45 RBIs, 77 runs runs, 19 steals
8) Jean Segura, Milwaukee Brewers
Which Segura are you buying? The one who hit .325 with 11 home runs before the All-Star break last year, or the one who hit .241 with one home run thereafter? Me, I’m buying the one in the middle and hoping that Segura, 23, can develop into the player we saw during the first half of last year. Oh, and there’s this: dude swiped 44 bases last year.
Projection: .281 average, 14 home runs, 55 RBIs, 82 runs, 38 steals
9) J.J. Hardy, Baltimore Orioles
If you saw my first base rankings, you know that power is on the decline. Well, Hardy hit 25 homers last year – most among shortstops – and has hit 22+ bombs in five of the last seven seasons, including each of the last three. So why isn’t he rated higher? His batting average. Sometimes it’s all right, sometimes it isn’t. But as long as Hardy hits .260 or higher (like he did in 2008, 2010-11 and 2013) and not below .240 (like he did in 2009 and 2012), he offers solid mid-round value. Just make sure you take care of average and steals elsewhere, most likely in the outfield.
Projection: .262 average, 26 home runs, 79 RBIs, 78 runs, 1 steal
10) Everth Cabrera, San Diego Padres
Cabrera, with nine career homers, might be the unlikeliest PED user in baseball history. But after serving a 50-game ban last year for his ties to the Biogenesis scandal, Cabrera projects to hit leadoff the for Padres. Luckily, PEDs – or lack thereof – shouldn’t affect Cabrera’s greatest asset, which is speed. He stole 44 bases in 115 games in 2012 and 37 bases in just 95 games in 2013. If he stays healthy – and eligible – a 50-steal campaign is within reach.
Projection: .270 average, 2 home runs, 44 RBIs, 78 runs, 52 steals
11) Alexei Ramirez, Chicago White Sox
One of the more curious players in fantasy, Ramirez has been known for both his power and his speed – but not at the same time. He averaged 17.3 home runs in his first four seasons in the bigs, but has hit just 15 in the last two years combined. Conversely, he averaged 11.8 steals in his first four seasons, but he’s swiped 50 over the last two. One aspect of Ramirez’ game is consistent: durability. He’s played in 158 games three straight years.
Projection: .282 average, 10 home runs, 65 RBIs, 75 runs, 22 steals
12) Asdrubal Cabrera, Cleveland Indians
Cabrera, like Ramirez, is another tough shortstop to figure out. He hit 18 home runs in his first four seasons in the bigs, erupted for 25 in 2011, but has hit “just” 30 in the two years since. He also batted a career-low .242 in 2013. Still, I’m confident that Cabrera, a career .273 hitter, will return to form in 2014 and flirt with 20 homers.
Projection: .270 average, 18 home runs, 79 RBIs, 74 runs, 10 steals
Shortstop is a pick-your-poison position. If you’re open to taking risks early in drafts, Tulowitzki, Reyes – and even Hanley Ramirez, to a degree – are the guys for you. If not, you’re better off grabbing safer, more durable options like Desmond or Zobrist.
As for Andrus, Castro, Segura and others: It all depends whether your glass is half full or half empty. Whatever it is, sip, don’t gulp. Baseball’s a long season.