Archive for ‘Shortstop’

Friday: 04.12.2013

Jose Reyes Injured After Awkward Slide

The headline (hopefully) says it all. Reyes’ footwork gets messed up, he slides way late, and ends up in extreme pain. No word yet on the extent of the injury, but I can’t imagine this turns out well for anyone.

reyesinj

Friday: 02.8.2013

Top 10 Shortstops Right Now

Tonight MLB Network will continue the 2013 iteration of their “Top 10 Right Now” series at each position capped off with a “Top 100 Overall”. They will air both the third base and shortstop shows on Friday evening. I always enjoy this series and generally look forward to it after the New Year since I eat up just about any fresh baseball content I can as we wait for pitchers & catchers to report. Instead of putting up my lists after they air their selections, I’ll post mine ahead of time and then compare notes after the shows air.

Note: This is my last “Right Now” list. Next week they are doing Managers and starting the top 100, I’m not participating in either of those.

This is not a fantasy list!!

Shortstop wasn’t easy due in large part to the fact that the position is THIN. There were only eight shortstops who posted a wRC+ over 100 and you could squeeze a ninth in if you dropped the PA requirement to 300. I had trouble with some of the glove-only guys who are so good in the field, but just so bad at the dish. J.J. Hardy and Brendan Ryan can pick it like no other, but they give back the value at the plate, especially Ryan. Meanwhile, bat-only guys were much easier to justify, but still tough (looking at you, DJ).

THE LIST

10. Derek Jeter (NYY) – He is slated to be ready for Opening Day after his ugly injury in the playoffs so he definitely has to make the list, but I can’t ignore the fact that he is just NOT a good shortstop and really never has been. He’s going to be top 3 on every list on the show and I’ll vomit each time. Bill James will have him first.

9. Andrelton Simmons (ATL) – With only 49 games of major league experience, it’s hard to place him much higher than this and some will lose their minds at him over Jeter, but his defense is amazing and we’re talking about right now. It’s not hard to envision Simmons out WAR’ing Jeter in 2013 given his defensive edge.

8. Asdrubal Cabrera (CLE) – His being an offensive stalwart at the position by comparison to his peers definitely helped. The metrics don’t like his defense, but highlight shows do because he seemingly gives a gift nightly.

7. Starlin Castro (CHC) – I’m not sure the metrics can measure this defense. The precocious Castro seems to just be scratching the surface of his talent and three straight seasons of just above average work at the dish before age 23 portends upcoming greatness.

6. Ian Desmond (WAS) – I wish he’d walk more, but the rest of his game is pretty strong. He had a breakout year at the plate and he’s just entering his prime so it’s not out of bounds to expect more of the same. The metrics don’t love his defense, but I don’t feel like it’s ever been atrocious and last year it graded out well.

5. Hanley Ramirez (LAD) – There is some projection in this ranking because Desmond was better across the board last year, but I think Ramirez is going to have a nice year with Dodgers. His defense has never special, but his bat has been often.

4. Elvis Andrus (TEX) – The walk rate is going the wrong way, especially for a guy who brings zero power. He’s a great defender, but not even league average with the bat. That said, he’s 24 so I doubt we’ve seen his offensive peak.

3. Jose Reyes (TOR) – If Miami thought they were buying the 2011 version of Reyes, they are dumber than we all thought. Last year he topped 133 games for the first time in four years and played quite well, but he’ll be adjusting to a new team again in 2013 after being traded to the Jays. Still one of the best.

2. Jimmy Rollins (PHI) – He’s not quite the MVP-level Rollins, but still a really good player and I think he is somewhat underrated at this point. I’ll be very interested to see where the MLBN lists have him. On one hand, he has name value which they seem to lean toward, but on the other, there is a perception that he’s faded.

1. Troy Tulowitzki (COL) – Yes, he is coming off of a 47-game season, but he is just so good in every facet of the game that a full season of his game will lap the field. His best season is his 122-game 2010 so even if he doesn’t make it thought 2013 unscathed, he can still easily be the best SS in the game.

What do you think? Any major misses?

Friday: 01.25.2013

Countdown to Spring Training: 28 Days – Hanley Ramirez

Only 28 days until live game action…

OK, so the first actual Grapefruit or Cactus League game doesn’t take place until February 22nd, but the Red Sox are splitting up their squad and playing a couple of colleges on February 21st so we’re just 30 days away from organized professional baseball. So why not a countdown of this final, grueling winter month that includes some fantasy analysis?

Obviously my primary focus at this site is on pitchers and you’ll get quite a bit of my analysis on them in late February when the SP Guide drops, thus I was thinking of something surrounding hitters. With 30 days to go, I am going to do a hitter per day highlighting one from each team. I selected my player of note from each team and then randomized them (which was pretty interesting consider who the final two were after the randomization) so that’s the order I’ll be following.

HANLEY RAMIREZ

After the unmitigated disaster that was 2011, it wasn’t going to take much for his 2012 to be considered a rebound and it was yet he was still a disappointment. While he wasn’t going 2nd overall like 2011, he still only dipped to 20th average draft position with a high of 12 and low of 26 according to Mock Draft Central. His 20-20 season with shortstop and third base eligibility wasn’t bad, but it didn’t earn that draft position back. ESPN’s Player Rater had him 63rd overall and 42nd among batters.

The problem was that there was virtually no rebound in his paltry .243 batting average from 2011. It went up to .257, but that’s barely a dent (8 hits over a 600 AB season) and he posted the second-worst BABIP of his career at .290 (up slightly from 2011’s .275). His batted ball profile was actually somewhat conducive to a batting average increase as he added 2.5 percent to his line drives, which have the best chance to become hits. His flyball rate rose continuing a three-year trend, and those are least likely to become hits. While his flyball rate only ticked up by 1.2 percent, his infield flyball rate jumped four percent and those are all but guaranteed outs.

His BABIP based on batted ball was league average all told (he was a little low on line drives, but high on grounders & flies) so we shouldn’t be too surprised that his .257 batting average was essentially on par with the league’s .255 average as a whole. He might’ve smoked a few more at-‘em balls than normal, but nothing that would leave you saying he was quite unlucky for the performance he was delivering on the field. Batting average is really what kept his 2012 from being a “Hanley” season considering 2009 and 2010:

hanley3year

Based on my rough math estimations, a .300 average would’ve boosted Ramirez to a tie for 11th among batters in the player rater with Adam Jones and vaulted him to 18th with Jones in the overall.

“Well ya, but he was playing a lot in that cavernous monstrosity that can gives your eyes an STD if you watch too many home Marlins games!”

*Bzzz* Try again.

Ramirez raked in Marlins Stadium as did the other two superstars on that team:

homemarlins

It appears that Ramirez’s batting average issues for 2012 fit under the Occam’s razor principle: he just wasn’t good enough. No logistical pretzels about this BABIP or that venue. He simply didn’t hit the ball well enough to earn a .300+ average. I mean, we’re really only talking about a hit a week here. Another 26 hits would put right at .300 (actually .2996688, but I think MLB would go ahead and give it to him) and that feels like a lot, but there are generally around 26 weeks in the season.

Where is going to get those hits in 2013? Ideally off of southpaws. For his two-plus seasons (92 G in ’11) from 2009-2011, he hit .305 off of lefties with a .339 BABIP. Those figures dropped to .263 and .293 in 2012. It wasn’t just one problem area either; they just handled him better than ever before. Though up and in and down and away do stand out a bit when comparing the two samples:

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Ramirez remains a hot commodity for several reasons:

  • He has a track record of excellence so the potential to return to those levels is still present.
  • He is still on the right side of 30, adding to the likelihood of the first point.
  • He has dual eligibility at the hardest spot to fill (SS) and another premium infield spot (3B)
  • His “down” seasons are still 20-20 seasons with 92 RBIs. Well down seasons without injury.

Ramirez is solid “buy” target for 2013, even as a second round pick (though his ADP is a ludicrous 42 in early drafts** over at Mock Draft Central making him a huge bargain if that holds, but I doubt it will). High floors are a market inefficiency and they can sometimes be more important than a high ceiling for an early round pick. Especially if you subscribe to the notion that you can’t win your draft in the early rounds, but you can lose it.

**ADDENDUM

In the mock drafts I’ve done to date, Hanley has gone as follows:

  • 23rd overall in a 15 tm mixer w/OBP instead of AVG
  • 27th overall in a 15 tm mixer w/OBP instead of AVG
  • 21st overall in a standard 12 tm mixer
  • $31 dollars in a 14 tm auction standard 5×5

In other words: ignore that ADP because there is very little chance you’ll get him at that price.

Don’t forget the countdown continues on the weekend! 

Thursday: 07.12.2012

The Second Half Hail Mary Team

Your team sucks.  Way to go, idiot.  You are wallowing near or at the bottom of the standings with seemingly no hope.  It’s a redraft league so you don’t even have the option of trading for the 2013 which can be a fun exercise once you realize a season is lost.  So what do you do with the second half?  Hint: ignore your team and start looking for sleepers who will definitely fail in fantasy football is not the answer.  No, the answer is you throw conservatism out the window and chuck some Hail Marys to see if you can make a run.  Cross-sport reference!!!!

As dire as the situation may look now, there is time.  It’s not exactly the halfway point, four teams have played 87 games and all but two have (Washington & Kansas City at 83 & 84, respectively) played 85 or more, but a lot of baseball is still going to be played.  There will be plenty of Cinderella stories in October about a team that was buried at the All-Star Break only to surge through the standings in the dog days of summer en route to an improbable victory.  Let’s make that your story.

Presenting the Hail Mary Team for 2012.  This group of strugglers contain a ton of upside if they can reach previously established heights in the coming months.  Honestly, if you are one of the teams looking up at most of the league in your standings, you probably have a couple of these guys on your team.  They came into the season with elevated expectations and have failed to meet them for a bevy of reasons.  Their price tags have lowered (and if they haven’t, just pass, because there’s no sense paying full price) and with nothing to lose, they could be your ticket to a much better slot in your standings.

CATCHER Carlos Santana

He’s been wretched this year after a great 2011 season.  And it’s not just the concussion that sidelined him near the end of May as he was horrible in that whole month leading up to the injury (.233/.314/.344).  The concussion may be exacerbating the situation, but it’s just been a rough go since a solid .262/.417/.446 line April suggesting that maybe something other than the concussion is in play.  Nevertheless, this is a power force at a scarce position who can be a big time run producer if he gets back to the guy we saw in his first 201 games spanning part of 2010 and all of 2011: .244/.362/.459 with 33 HR and 101 RBI.  Brian McCann got some consideration, but his surge before the break (.421, 4 game HR streak w/11 RBI) likely allayed the fears of many and ate into any discount you could’ve gotten previously.

FIRST BASE – Ike Davis, Eric Hosmer

Both guys have been hot of late, but such wretched starts have their overall lines still in shambles resulting in their appearance on waiver wires in shallower leagues and making them available for little more than a song in leagues where they are on a roster.  Davis has a very healthy .294/.351/.635 line with 7 HR and 28 RBI in the last month so his price might be one of the higher ones on this list comparatively speaking, but I’d be willing to pay it as long as it still represented a discount against preseason expectations.  He’s been a bit Dan Uggla-esque circa 2011 where the batting average was just awful, but the power was still present.  I’m not sure he’s going to run off a 33-game hit streak like Uggla did, but who cares?

Hosmer ripped off a 3-hit game in Yankee Stadium in late May, his first of the year, and that seemed to be something of a turning point for his season.  From that game on: .289/.352/.430 with 4 HR, 19 RBI and 7 SB in 165 plate appearances.  He is still toting a .231/.299/.371 season line, though, which is why he still qualifies for this team.  Like Davis, he will be on the higher end of the cost spectrum among this list of players, but he should still be available at a sharp discount compared to the preseason which is what makes him a worthy Hail Mary target.

SECOND BASE – The Weekeseseseses, Rickie & Jemile

The Brothers Weeks have been awful this year lending to the decimation of the second base this year which could’ve been a plentiful position had players met or at least been near expectations.  Surges from Aaron Hill, Neil Walker, Jason Kipinis and Jose Altuve are only masking failures of the brothers, Dustin Pedroia, Ian Kinsler and Dustin Ackley instead of adding depth.  Back to these two, though, with Rickie first.

Injuries have always been a problem as he has just one season with more than 129 games played, otherwise he has usually performed quite well as long as he is on the field.  Until this year.  Even a depressed offensive environment can’t mask his woes as he checks in just under the Mendoza Line at .199 with just 8 HR and 6 SB in 81 games.  He hit 20 HR in 118 games last year, so even doubling his current output would be short of expectations.  He’s running at the same clip as last year, but he’s not really a speed asset these days anyway, that’s his brother’s area of expertise.

Speaking of Jemile, he has been an abomination thus far.  Imagine he were even average, the A’s might be above .500.  As it is, they are right at the mark and his return could help them stay there or exceed the level going forward.  The real bummer is that his poor half has overshadowed the huge gains in walk rate (up from 5% last year to 11% this year) paired with a small improvement in strikeout (down 1% to 13%).  If Dee Gordon can lead baseball in stolen bases (30) with a .280 on-base percentage, Weeks should have more than 12 with a more palatable .312 OBP.  He is an easy target if steals is a category where you’re severely lagging.

SHORTSTOP – Alexei Ramirez

When Ramirez ended up April with a paltry .498 OPS, some may have seen that as a prime buying opportunity as he routinely takes a while to get going.  Over his career, April is easily his worth month checking in with a .561 OPS compared to .721 or better in every other month peaking with .822 in July.  He sputtered to a .581 mark this May.  He improved to .678 in June so he is progressing, but not nearly as rapidly as usual.  In a scant 7-game sample for July, he is at 1.057 so maybe he finally ready to let loose.

The power has been noticeably absent throughout with just two home runs.  He has run a bit more to help alleviate a bit of the damage checking in with 10 SB, three more than all of last year in a full season.  He has long been one of those guys who is much better as a fantasy asset than as a real life one with only one season over 99 OPS+ (104 as a rookie).  He had become a bankable 15-70-10-80 with an average around .270.  It will take a helluva rally to get there this year, but if he just performs to the levels we have seen in the past, he will be a positive asset at shortstop at a nothing cost.

THIRD BASE – Ryan Zimmerman

I was surprised the other day when I heard some fantasy analysts dismissing him as a non-entity.  The basic premise was essentially that he’s never been any good so why are folks still hung up on him?  That’s just crazy talk.  He was excellent in 2009-2010 and was tracking toward another great season last year when injuries cut it short.  He hasn’t been good this year and I think injuries are a big reason again as he had a DL stint back in late April through early May and then he took a while to get going once he was back.

I’ll grant that he isn’t the sturdiest guy around.  That seems to come with territory when dealing with defensive stalwarts like Zimmerman, but he is definitely a damn fine hitter capable of big numbers.  In fact, he has been hot of late starting with a Coors Field trip (always a nice remedy for a hitter) totaling 14 games in all during which he has hit .333/.394/.683 with 5 HR and 18 RBI.  He has a 1.003 OPS with 3 HR in the non-Coors part, so don’t worry that he is Brandon Mossing us.  His bottom line is still gruesome (.694 OPS) enough that the price won’t be too steep.

OUTFIELD – Cameron Maybin

Proponents of Maybin’s are pointing toward last year’s second half dash to the finish that saw him swipe 28 bases after the break with an improved .268 average (up from .259) and hoping he has another such run (pun fully intended) in him.  The talent is there in glimpses, but those are all too brief because even when he’s hitting the longest home run in Chase Field, he’s still only carrying a .212 average.

Ichiro Suzuki

This is probably just the decline of a 38-year old former star, but it’s hard not to look at his 39 SBs from just a year ago and dream of him stealing 20+ in the second half.

Shane Victorino

He has been a far cry from what we expect in the slugging department thanks to a precipitous drop in triples as he has just two after leading baseball two of the last three years and notching 10 in the third of those seasons.  Aside from that, he hasn’t been awful save a little batting average misfortune.  I think the perception of his struggling is stronger than the truth of it as he already has as many steals (19) as he did in all of last year and his eight homers are just off of last year’s pace.  Try to prey on the trade rumors swirling about and his benching the other day for not liking his slot in the order as well as the general Phillie malaise that has seemingly stunk up every non-Hamels entity.

Bes Jond Unnings and D.J. Jupton

Paired together for obvious reason, Desmond Jennings and B.J. Upton have been colossal disappointments this year, though like others in the list they have run enough to stem the tide a bit on their being fantasy sinkholes.  Both have 15 SBs, impressive more so for Jennings coming in eight fewer games, but both are still on the wrong side of .680 OPS to date.  It looks even worse if you extend back into September for Jennings as he jumped off a cliff after a blazing hot run from late July through August.

Meanwhile, no one is expecting anything batting average-wise from Upton, but what is with the power outage?  He’s been around a 20 HR hitter the last two years which combined with his speed and 80ish runs driven in and scored made the batting average plenty palatable.  He’s now on pace for 13, down 10 from last year, but he can string together some 4-5 HR months and rally to or above 20 if he’s right.  Both of these Rays have plenty of upside that make gambling on them easy, especially at a discount.

Nelson Cruz

He has been lying in wait just ready for a Cruzian streak.  It may be bubbling up near the surface, too, as he entered the break with three multi-hit games including four doubles, but no homers.  When he gets hot he can carry a fantasy team so he is an easy inclusion even though he hasn’t been as rotten as the others with a 99 OPS+.  You may have to package one of your few worthwhile assets to get him and someone else on this list.  It could pay major dividends with a monster like Cruz.

PITCHING

Tim Lincecum

Duh.  Just look at the track record, I don’t really need to tell you why he’s a Hail Mary candidate.

Dan Haren

Currently injured making it a nice time to strike.  For the purposes of this exercise it also helps that he was terrible for five starts (8.67 ERA) before finally hitting the DL with a balky back.  His brilliant track record and the glimpses of greatness this year when healthy make it clear that he is still someone worth targeting.  The rest will hopefully get him back to 100% and he will return to his previously established level of excellence.

Rickey Romero

Let’s be honest, he didn’t really earn a 2.92 ERA last year from a skills standpoint. He still got the 2.92 ERA and I’m sure it helped many a fantasy team, but expecting that this year would’ve been silly.  Similarly, he isn’t a 5.22 ERA pitcher, either.  The skills have deteriorated this year without question, but not 5.22 deterioration.  His control is all out whack with a career-worst 4.7 BB/9.  That points to a potential mechanical issue which hopefully can be identified and corrected.

Unfortunately, the bubonic plague is sweeping across the Toronto rotation so injury could be an issue, too, but he doesn’t seem to be laboring or hurting when I view his starts with my amateur scouting eye.  A 3.50 ERA from a workhorse who will put himself in position for decisions (and ideally wins given their stout offense) can go a long way toward fixing your flailing staff.

Derek Holland

We saw last year, specifically in the second half and playoffs, what he can do when he is click.  His skills are in line with last year’s save a bit of home run trouble which has no doubt led to his inflated 5.05 ERA.  He quietly came off the DL just before the break and had a quality start, strike quickly before he strings a few together and saps up any discount via trade or starts getting scooped up off the waiver wires.

Doug Fister

The infield defense has struggled as planned and Fister has been a prime casualty, but that isn’t the only factor as a 17% HR/FB rate has led to a 1.2 HR/9 rate.  That factor should regress, especially for a groundball artist (2.2 GB/FB ratio), and that will cut into his 4.75 ERA.  Completing the Hail Mary pass would be a tightening up of the defense allowing him to pitch to a level on par with his skills which would be around 3.45 or better.

Francisco Liriano

Personally, I don’t think he should be trusted, but we are talking Hail Marys here.  He has a 3.12 ERA and a strikeout per inning in his seven starts since returning to the rotation.  We know the upside he has when everything is going perfectly.

Ubaldo Jimenez

Is he the next Liriano after his fall from grace last year?  Probably so, but like Liriano he is streaking in his last seven with a 2.93 ERA and 44 Ks in 46 innings.  In fact, they both started their streaks on June 5th so they are even more similar this year.  They both have ace upside.  Doesn’t mean they’ll will reach it, but the chance is there.

Ervin Santana

He likes to throw a stinker season in every once in a while to keep everyone honest I guess, but his capability is a commodity as proven in three of the previous four years from 2008-2011.  Unsurprisingly home runs were his issue in 2009, too, so figuring that out will be the key to his potential success going forward.  He doesn’t quite have ace potential because he peaks around 6.8-7.0 K/9, but with the Angels clicking, he can run off a bunch of wins with quality ratios if he gets himself figured out.

Clay Buchholz

Another guy I don’t really buy into, but people I respect do and besides, I’m trying to fix your crappy team not mine.  Even including the thrashing he suffered right before hitting the DL, he had 3.35 ERA and 5-1 record (including 4 straight Ws) in eight starts whittling his ERA from 9.09 to 5.53 in the process.  He is currently sitting on the DL with terrible bottom line numbers making now the best time to strike if you are interested.

Friday: 07.1.2011

Hail Mary Team, Part 2

If you missed part 1 of the Hail Mary Team that explained what it is and outlined the catchers and first basemen, feel free to check it out here.  Continuing the team today, here are the shortstops and third basemen.

SHORTSTOP:

Hanley Ramirez (FLO) – Going obvious again, but of course that doesn’t mean it is the wrong choice or that he won’t be discounted.  We are now halfway through the season and Ramirez is toting a .325 SLG after never dipping .475 in his five years and three of which were .540 or better; if his fantasy manager isn’t offering any sort of discount at this point then he is delusional and you are better off looking elsewhere.  That doesn’t mean you are going to get him for some shlub off the wire, but no way should you send back first round talent, either, not at this point.  Why should you want him?  Track record.  It is extensive as he was no worse than the third pick overall on everybody’s board this spring.  You are simply betting on a rebound, hoping that the time off (he isn’t headed to his third straight All-Star Game, that’s for sure) clears his head and recharges the battery.

Rafael Furcal (LAD) – Another option is Furcal who is currently out on a rehab assignment returning from an oblique injury (isn’t that what everyone is returning from these days?).  The presence of prospect Dee Gordon isn’t expected to block Furcal as the Dodgers have discussed moving him to second base and leaving Gordon at short.  Furcal is obviously a risk as he played 97 games last year and just 17 (bad ones) this year.  He’s getting up there in age for a middle infielder at 33, but he was sharp in his limited sample last year hitting .300 with eight home runs and 22 stolen bases.  He could give the Dodgers lineup and your lineup a spark if he is back at 100%.

Also keep in mind: Jimmy Rollins.  The pickins are slim at short if Ramirez isn’t available at a discount so we turn to former stars who have turned from Google into penny stocks.

THIRD BASE:

Martin Prado (ATL) – He would be one of the more costly team members on this list as he hasn’t been a complete abomination this year, rather he has only slightly underperforming expectations until going out with an injury (a staph infection… gross).   He is set to start his rehab assignment next week so time is probably running out for any sort of discount on him.  If you have a solid asset to trade, maybe the Prado manager also has another Hail Mary Teamer and you can package those two for your more worthy asset in turn plugging two holes for yourself.

Adrian Beltre (TEX) – Let me be clear here, Beltre isn’t quite in the class of the rest of this team.  He is on pace for 27 home runs and 111 RBIs, but his .259 AVG and .751 OPS might have a Beltre lamenting a bit after his .321 and .919 performances in Boston last year.  They would be foolish to have any issues with his performance, but it wouldn’t necessarily surprise me either.  If his team’s manager in your league has Beltre and another player from the list, you could flip one of what is likely just a few prized assets for Beltre and someone else.  Again since you are deep in the standings, you likely have several holes on your team so essentially you would be spreading the talent and creating a net gain by moving your best or second best player for Beltre and someone else to remove that zero from your lineup.

Also keep in mind: Mark Reynolds.  He’s actually on track to essentially match his 2010 season, but the team he is on in your league can’t afford the batting average hit, he would be a nice fit for a Hail Mary squad.  He should be a huge power source over the course of the second half and could reasonably hit 20 home runs, but should be good for no fewer than 15.

Next: Outfielders (OF & SP will be split into separate pieces as there will be several for each)

Wednesday: 06.29.2011

Keeper League Building Blocks: Shortstop

For the past couple of years, shortstop has been universally regarded as the thinnest position on the diamond in terms of fantasy baseball talent.  The star power is there at the top, but things thin out quickly only adding to the value of someone like Troy Tulowitzki or Hanley Ramirez (this year’s performance notwithstanding, of course).

I had Jose Reyes with those two as the clear stars at the position with a huge gap down to the next tier (as did most, though Reyes’ ranking fluctuated a bit with some putting him closer to Jimmy Rollins than whomever was second between Ramirez & Tulow) and if you didn’t get one of those, you might as well just wait because the next tier or two was going to be overvalued just because they played shortstop and you could get better talent at other positions in those rounds and then take a shot on any number of like-valued shortstops.

How do things shape up for the next crop of talent at the position?  That is what we will look at today continuing the Keeper Building Block series.  While second base was a good position in the preseason position with enough depth to go around for the most part, it came up lame with keeper potential.  Shortstop is a bit better as many were worried about how they would fill the position during their drafts and auctions, but now three months in we see some names emerging as cheap pieces worth keeping.

Catchers

First Base

Second Base, Addendum

Elvis Andrus (TEX, 22) – Andrus is a great example of how young players to don’t necessarily develop linearly.  After his strong rookie campaign as a 20-year old, he was a bit overrated as many expected him to simply build on his .267, 6 HR, 33 SB season.  Instead he regressed a bit.  His average dipped a bit to .265 while he hit exactly 0 home runs.  He lost just one stolen base on his total, but his caught stealing total rose from six to 15 showing a significant decline in base running skill.  Overall, his wOBA (think of it on OBP scale & click the link for more) dropped from .322 to .298.

Many fantasy baseball owners saw a .002 batting average drop, two stolen base drop and a loss of six home runs that you weren’t expecting out of this player at a non-power position and combined it with the scarcity of shortstop to actually upgrade Andrus’ stock.  His average draft position essentially cut in half from 151 in 2010 to 71 this year.  Fantasy owners have to happy with the early returns.  He is hitting a career-best .278 with three home runs and 22 stolen bases putting him on pace for six and 44 as we near the halfway point.

His age, position and excellence in a key category make him a prime fantasy asset.  But his age also means we could see another dip in performance in 2012 as he will still just be all of 23 years old.  If 2010 is a floor, though, he is still fantasy viable in most league formats, especially standard ones as he was an easy top 10 shortstop last year.  In a lot of leagues, he still has at least one more year on a cheap contract making him my top shortstop building block.

Asdrubal Cabrera (CLE, 25) – I have discussed (whined) more than once how I am often a year early on guys.  I’ll get amped about a sleeper, secure him on every team I can and watch him deliver underwhelming numbers or worse, flop entirely.  Cabrera is the latest addition to the list as I couldn’t wait to roster him as a late round, low dollar SS/2B last year.  Injuries limited him to just 97 games and left me needing a replacement for 65 games.  Now I won’t pretend I saw this coming from Cabrera last year, this year or any year.  I had him down for 13-16 home runs and 20-24 stolen bases which would have been pretty significant gains on his 2009 totals of six home runs and 17 stolen bases.

He has had an impressive power surge this year without sacrificing any speed putting him on pace for 27 home runs and 25 stolen bases with a shiny .296 batting average, too.  Coming off of an injury-riddled season, he had an average draft position around 200 and cost of just a few bucks making him a prime keeper target for non-contenders looking toward 2012.

I don’t necessarily see him becoming a perennial high-20s home run hitter (of course we have to see him do it once, first), but a high-teens, low-20s home run hitter with 20+ stolen bases and batting average to go with it (career .285 hitter) is an incredible commodity.  He is a bit over his head, but not wildly so and even if he “only” went 15-15, that’d be great at shortstop especially at the low cost you would have invested.

Starlin Castro (CHI, 21) – Like Andrus, Castro is insanely young making him an elite commodity in fantasy baseball, especially in dynasty leagues.  But I will reiterate with him that just because we have seen growth (so far) from season one to season two (.325 to .353 wOBA) doesn’t mean it will happen again in 2012 for this 22-year old (regardless of where he finishes 2011).  He has proven a little less patient this year dropping his walk rate from 6% to 4%, but he has also brought his strikeout rate down in concert from 15% to 11% so he isn’t just blindly hacking away at everything, either.

His batting average might be a bit BABIP-inflated (which sits at .351), but he managed a .346 mark in 506 plate appearances last year so perhaps he is setting his level a bit higher than the average.  Batters don’t regress toward a league average as much as pitchers, instead setting their own over time with speedsters generally trending higher (Ichiro has a career .354 mark).  He has the speed to add to his BABIP and he needs to keep hitting .300+ or else his fantasy value takes a significant hit as the power isn’t there yet and might not be for a year or two (if ever).

Through his first 856 plate appearances, he appears to be a hit collecting machine with good speed which has plenty of value in our game.  He is on pace for 88 runs scored and 74 driven in, both of which are pretty good given how inept the Cubs as a team.  I rated him behind Andrus and Cabrera because so much of his value is tied to the batting average which can bounce around wildly from year-to-year even without a skills change.

Stephen Drew (ARI, 28) – This is one totally league-dependent as he won’t be at a keeper-price in all leagues, but from what I saw this preseason, he was in a lot of leagues.  He doesn’t have a single-digit price necessarily, but I like his skills profile enough that I would keep him at a mid-to-high teens cost, especially if my league was prone to significant inflation.  He doesn’t overwhelm with his numbers.  In fact, in comparison to his skill level, he is somewhat underwhelming in the fantasy categories, but he is bankable and that has a role.  Let his cost in your league be the guide on him.

Ian Desmond (WAS, 24) – Right now, Desmond is a speed-only asset, pacing toward 40 stolen bases, but that is literally it so far this year.  His average is .224 and his wOBA is a woeful .271. He showed some pop in the first 607 at-bats of his career with 14 home runs, but that has evaporated this year with a .089 ISO and a six home run pace in 562 at-bats.  There is some upside here, though, given his age and the fact that he is likely a single-digit cost in every league.  He wouldn’t be my first choice at this position or anything close to a centerpiece for my best trade assets, but he isn’t a horrible option as one of your last keepers.

Dee Gordon (LAD, 23) – Gordon is an unproven speed asset with the chance to be a speed-batting average asset as he develops and gets experience.  His runs scored will depend on the Dodger offense and his spot in the lineup.  Do not bet on any power now or in the future.  He hit seven home runs in 1544 minor league at-bats which is as clear a sign as you need to know the power isn’t coming.  And if for some reason that wasn’t enough, one look at his 5’11/150 lb. frame oughta do the trick.

Alcides Escobar (KC, 24) – Escobar is a more advanced version of Gordon so while I’d take Escobar for the rest of ’11, I’d take Gordon in a keeper scenario.  He is still a speed-only asset right now, but with 1000 plate appearances under his belt, he has more experience and thus is closer to becoming someone who could reasonably offer some batting average upside along with the speed.  Conversely, with 1000 PAs under is belt, the sample is getting large enough to where we might not see much growth on his career .249 aveage.  He is hitting .245 this year after a huge hot streak so that tells you just how poorly he was hitting before the streak.

JJ Hardy (BAL, 28) – Not everyone is going to trust Hardy regardless of how he finishes the year.  After back-to-back 20+ HR seasons, he hasn’t lasted more than 115 games in the last two years totaling just 17 home runs in 754 at-bats.  He is finally completely healthy and performing like the 2007-2008 version that averaged 25 bombs a season.  He is on pace for 26 home runs this year along with a .303 batting average that doesn’t appear to be a pure fluke. Crazy how well guys can perform when they are healthy.  He can’t be more than a few bucks in just about every league and he is still on the right side of 30, so I would take a shot on him in a lot of league formats.  I am generally more risk-averse than not, but I have a soft spot for Hardy (no pun intended), I guess.