A look at the top 15 shortstops in the major leagues . . .
1. Hanley Ramirez, Florida Marlins
Ramirez might not do a Little League video on how to hustle anytime soon but he’s still the top fantasy shortstop. The Marlins franchise player is just 27-years-old and just might be the top overall offensive player in the game. He even had a so-called off year last year and still put up big numbers: 92 runs, 21 homers, 76 RBI, 32 steals, .300 average. Don’t forget he did all that despite being benched for 20 games after loafing after a ball he kicked into left field. It’s the stolen bases that give Ramirez the slight edge here for the No. 1 ranking among shortstops ahead of Troy Tulowitzki. Given the scarcity of big-time shortstops in the big leagues, you can be justified taking Ramirez with the No. 1 pick in your draft.
1A. Troy Tulowitzki, Colorado Rockies
Yes, they are that close. Tulo is a beast. He hit 27 homers a year ago (almost all of them, it seems, in September) and drove in 95 runs in just 470 at-bats. Those are Barry Bonds-like power numbers. Tulowitzki also hit for average (.315) and he can steal a little (11 in 2010 after 20 in 2009). Give him back those five or six weeks he missed in 2010 with a broken wrist and, well, he might have won N.L. MVP.
3. Jose Reyes, New York Mets
Remember him? Reyes quietly had a solid season in 2010, hitting .282 with 11 homers, 54 RBI and 30 stolen bases. He also got 563 at-bats which, for him, is a minor miracle given his injury history. The problem with Reyes is that he is always an injury waiting to happen. So while he is sort of Hanley Ramirez-lite, he’s not a first or second-round pick anymore. With Reyes, you could strike it rich or you could get burned.
4. Alexei Ramirez, Chicago White Sox
Ramirez has been about as consistent as you can get since his rookie year in Chicago in 2008. A year ago he hit 18 homers with 70 RBI and 13 stolen bases on a .282 average. That’s about where he’ll be again this year and the year after that and the year, well, you get the idea. He swings at everything so his on base percentage (.313 in 2010) will never be that great, limiting his chances of ever scoring 100 runs. But if you are looking for decent numbers in every category, Ramirez is your man.
5. Jimmy Rollins, Philadelphia Phillies
Rollins had just eight homers, 41 RBI and 17 steals in 2010 but he also had just 350 at-bats. Double those numbers and you’ll get a better idea of where he’ll end up in 2011. He is still just 32-years-old so his decline years are still a couple seasons away. Rollins could be a candidate for Comeback Player of the Year in 2011. If he stays healthy.
6. Marco Scutaro, Boston Red Sox
Scutaro just might be one of the most underrated players in the big leagues. He scored 92 runs last year on 11 homers and 56 RBI. The numbers were remarkably consistent with what he did in 2009 for Toronto (12 homers, 60 RBI, 100 runs). The reason he’s ranked this high is because he’s in the Red Sox lineup. Your pet beagle would score 100 runs in that lineup. Scutaro can steal a little (14 in 2009 and 5 a year ago) and he can swing the bat (.275 in 2010 after .282 in 2009). In the Red Sox lineup he’s going to get a lot of good pitches to hit.
7. Derek Jeter, New York Yankees
Jeter will be 37-years-old this year. He hit just .270 last year to go along with a mere 10 homers and 67 RBI. In other words, he was Orlando Cabrera offensively. But you know he’s going to play everyday (663 at-bats last year) and score 100 runs (111 last year). That alone makes him a solid pick at this weak position. Expect his power to stay in the 10-12 range as well as his steals to stay in the 12-15 range. And you can probably squeeze 75 RBI out of him in 2011. Don’t overpay for him (it’s not 1998 anymore) but if he’s sitting there in the middle rounds and you don’t have a shortstop, go get him.
8. Elvis Andrus, Texas Rangers
The only two categories that Andrus will help you are steals (33 and 32 the last two years) and runs scored (72 and 88). Other than that, well, forget it. But for a shortstop, runs and steals are extremely important. Andrus had just 18 extra base hits in 2010 in 588 at-bats. A few more hours in the weight room might do wonders for this kid. And that’s why he’s ranked this high. He is just a kid, just 22-years-old. We’re banking on improvement in his power (zero homers last year) and his RBI numbers (just 35 last year). And he could get you 50 steals and 100 runs.
9. Stephen Drew, Arizona Diamondbacks
All things considered, Drew had a decent year in 2010. He hit 15 homers with 61 RBI, scored 83 runs and stole 10 bases on a .278 average. There really isn’t much difference between Drew and the White Sox’s Ramirez. Hurting Drew, though, is that he’s in that mediocre Arizona lineup where he doesn’t get much help. But if he ever blossoms, he could produce 20 homers and 80 RBI on a regular basis.
10. Rafael Furcal, Los Angeles Dodgers
If Furcal is in the lineup he’s going to produce. He got just 383 at-bats a year ago and still stole 22 bases, hit eight homers and drove in 43 runs on a .300 average. If Furcal gets 500-plus at-bats he’ll score 95-100 runs, hit double-digit homers, drive in 60 runs and steal 25 bases. And his average won’t hurt you. The problem, though, is that he’s 33 and his injuries seem to be a part of his game. You can’t trust him. But he’s still too good to merely ignore on draft day.
11. Starlin Castro, Chicago Cubs
The 21-year-old had a remarkable rookie year. He hit .300 with 41 RBI and 10 stolen bases in 463 at-bats. He’s only just scratching the surface of his talent so he’s prime keeper league material. Castro is probably still too young to show much power (just 3 homers last year despite going deep in his first big league at-bat). But you can find power elsewhere. You can expect 85 runs scored, 20 steals and 65 RBI out of Castro in 2011.
12. Ian Desmond, Washington Nationals
Desmond had better learn how to catch the ball if he’s going to get 500-plus at-bats again. His 34 errors last year made even the Nats wince. But he did hit 10 homers, drive in 65 runs and steal 17 bases. Those are pretty attractive numbers for a 24-year-old on a bad team. The fact that he is a legit top 12 shortstop in the big leagues shows how thin this position is. But he might be Top 8 by this time next year. Just having Jason Werth in the lineup should help Desmond.
13. Yunel Escobar, Toronto Blue Jays
Escobar slumped badly to start last season with the Atlanta Braves. But he’s in homer-happy Toronto now for a full year and you can probably bank on similar numbers to what he had in 2009 (14 homers, 76 RBI, .299 average, 89 runs scored). You can probably get Escobar pretty cheap. He’ll be worth the pick. The Blue Jays will score a truck load of runs again. You can do worse than own their starting shortstop.
14. Alex Gonzalez, Atlanta Braves
The poor man’s Troy Tulowitzki. If you crave power at the shortstop position, the 34-year-old Gonzalez is a good place to go shopping. He hit 23 bombs a year ago and also drove in 88 runs. Of course, his average will hurt you (just .250 last year after .238 in 2009) and he’s not going to get you more than a couple steals or score a ton of runs (just 74 last year). He’s a two-category guy.
15. J.J. Hardy, Baltimore Orioles
He’s Gonzalez, only younger (28). Hardy has battled injuries the last few years so he’s kind of fallen off the radar of the good, hot, young shortstops. But he’s still relatively young, still good (when healthy) and he can still get hot (in theory). He had just 340 at-bats last year with Milwaukee and hit only six homers with 38 RBI. But you can chalk that up to an injured wrist. But you’ll still be able to get him real cheap. Real cheap. In fact he might be available after your draft is over. But this is a guy who could hit 25 homers and drive in 80 runs, especially in Baltimore. The Orioles, who also added Mark Reynolds and Derek Lee, will hit a ton of homers this year. And Hardy will be right in the middle of things. There are safer shortstop picks than Hardy but Hardy has rare power for a middle infielder.
Others to watch
Asdrubal Cabrera, Cleveland (he can be a cheap source of steals, average and runs scored if he stays healthy) . . . Juan Uribe, Los Angeles Dodgers (how much will he play in Los Angeles?) . . . Alcides Escobar, Kansas City Royals (don’t like that .235 average, 57 runs scored in 506 at-bats he had in Milwaukee last year) . . . Yuniesky Betancourt, Milwaukee Brewers (solid year last year in K.C. with 16 homers, 78 RBI, nice sleeper pick late in your draft) . . . Erick Aybar, Los Angeles Angels (stole 22 bases in 2010 but did little else) . . . Reid Brignac, Tampa (it’s time he makes good on all that potential) . . . Jason Bartlett, San Diego Padres (other than a dozen steals or so, he’s not going to help much, especially playing in Petco) . . . Jhonny Peralta, Detroit Tigers (Peralta is the type of guy who can hit you 20 homers and drive in 80 runs or he could get 275 at-bats and only play against lefties) . . . Cliff Pennington, Oakland A’s (if Pennington is your starting shortstop you better have an outfield of Ryan Braun, Carl Crawford, Carlos Gonzalez, Matt Holiday and Josh Hamilton) . . . Miguel Tejada, San Francisco Giants (expect 10-12 homers, 60-70 RBI, .275 average).