UPDATED MARCH 25, 2013: If you thought the drop-off in talent at the second base position was steep, wait til you get a look down this shortstop list. Once again, the middle infield reigns supreme over the world of thin positions and shortstops are leading the way. Your top five or six at the position tend to go quickly in drafts as people stress about position scarcity, but even they have a few caveats to keep in mind when making such a hearty investment. None of them are considered no-brainers. Your second tier has its own issues with which to contend but if you’re stuck on ensuring yourself a top ten shortstop, you’re going to have pay for it. Beyond that, roll the dice and hope that you hit the hard eight, my friends. Some of them have upside and potential while others are just a warm body to keep your roster full. But once you’re sifting through the bargain bin of shortstops, your expectations need to be kept real low. Here’s a look at how I see them ranking this year:
Check out the rest of our 2013 Fantasy Baseball Rankings.
1. Troy Tulowitzki, COL
2012: .287 AVG, 8 HR, 27 RBI, 33 runs, 2 SB
There's no doubting Tulowitzki's talent and when he's healthy, he's clearly the number one shortstop out there. The problem is that you always have to add the qualifying "when he's healthy," as injuries have ruined three of his last five seasons and we've seen his ISO drop in each iof his last three seasons, years that were supposed to be his prime. Now in one of those down years he still put up numbers that rivaled the best shortstops in the game, but from a value standpoint, he came up short. He's far too talented to pass over still and the fact that he plays one of the thinnest positions out there clearly gives him a bump in value, but just know that you are taking a risk when drafting him at all, let alone, in the first round.
2. Jose Reyes, TOR
2012: .287 AVG, 11 HR, 57 RBI, 86 runs, 40 SB
Reyes did a great job proving himself and the health of his legs as he appeared in 160 games last year, the most he's played since 2007. He even improved both his walk and strikeout rate while improving on his power and stolen base total from 2011. Now Reyes leaves Miami for the great, white north and will spend his time in hitter-friendly Toronto. Not only is the ballpark better for some extra power, but he'll have a more solid group of hitters behind him which should mean a spike in runs scored as well. He could even bring his average up a few ticks and have it hover a little closer to .300. Even a duplicate of last year's totals, though, would keep him up here in the rankings.
3. Starlin Castro, CHC
2012: .283 AVG, 14 HR, 78 RBI, 78 runs, 25 SB
A little rise here, a little drop there, but overall, Castro put together a sophomore campaign very similar to his rookie season. If he plateaus here, then he's still a fantastic option, a .300-hitting shortstop with some decent pop and 20-steal potential, but at just 23 years of age, there is still plenty of room to grow. The two areas that seem to need the most work are his ability...or should we say, inability to draw a walk and his stolen base percentage. Yes, his contact rates are strong, but even drawing just a few more walks each year will do wonders for his batting average. The stolen base percentage is just something that he will need to work on regularly as the green light will certainly dim if he doesn't. Given his overall skill set and with so much more time in front of him, improvement seems much more likely the case than stagnancy.
4. Ben Zobrist, TB
2012: .270 AVG, 20 HR, 74 RBI, 88 runs, 14 SB
You got the rundown on Zobrist over in the second baseman section, but this ranking should give you an idea as to the differences in talent level and depth at each position. It should also tell you, if you are targeting Zobrist in any of your drafts, at which position you should be taking him.
5. Ian Desmond, WAS
2012: .292, 25 HR, 73 RBI, 72 runs, 21 SB
Despite missing more than 30 games due to an oblique injury in the middle of the season, Desmond posted career-best numbers in his third full season. Not only were they career-best, but some were downright filthy, such as doubling his ISO rate. Given his strikeout rate, sub-par walk rate and a high BABIP, regression seems extremely likely, but some of the power could simply stem from him maturing at age-27. He'll probably maintain a substantial amount of the home runs, but as that BABIP normalizes, it should pull his average and OBP down.
6. Jimmy Rollins, PHI
2012: .250 AVG, 23 HR, 68 RBI, 102 runs, 30 SB
Despite getting a little long in the tooth, J-Roll threw up a pretty exciting season for his owners, hitting like it was 2009 all over again. True, he did see a reduction in walks and an spike in strikeouts which obviously affected his average, but from a straight fantasy standpoint, his five-category numbers looked great amongst the rest of the shortstop pool. You'll probably see a general regression across the board, but given the fact that Rollins' peripherals from last year aren't of the extreme variety, the drop you may see this year won't be too bad. For where he's being drafted these days, he's still providing excellent value.
7. Danny Espinosa, WAS
.2012: .247 AVG, 17 HR, 56 RBI, 82 runs, 20 SB
The full rundown on Espinsoa can be found over in the second baseman section but if you need a quick sum-up, here it is: Huge talent, horrible plate discipline. You'll see numbers close to 20-20, but a horrible average. The added eligibility here at shortstop is huge and he is a top 10 player at either position. Personally, I like him as a shortstop better, but once you get into the season, you'll be able to move him back and forth anyway.
8. Derek Jeter, NYY
2012: .316 AVG, 15 HR, 58 RBI, 99 runs, 9 SB
Entering his 19th full season as the Yankees shortstop, Jeter continues to post decent fantasy stats for this position. His critics can pan his defense all they want, but that doesn't mean squat here in the fantasy realm. After all, it's not like the Yankees are going to bench him because his range today isn't as strong as it was back in 1997. Obviously, the days of him flirting with 20 home runs are a faded memory, but he can still bang you a dozen while swiping double-digit bags and hitting close to .300 for the season.
9. Elvis Andrus, TEX
2012: .286 AVG, 3 HR, 62 RBI, 85 runs, 21 SB
Andrus' value is tied directly to his stolen bases and when the Rangers stopped running over the last two months of the season, it took a serious hit. But given the fact that the rest of his numbers, including both walk and strikeout rate, were right on par with his usual totals, you can probably expect him to rebound this season. Of course, he could also be distracted by the eventual trade rumors that will be swirling if prospect Jurickson Profar starts to tear it up in the minors. You can probably expect, so long as the Rangers don't pull the green light from him, another 30-steal season with a .270-ish average, but if he does get dealt to a team whose manager is aggressive on the bases, he just may go a little higher.
10. Asdrubal Cabrera, CLE
2012: .270 AVG, 16 HR, 68 RBI, 70 runs, 9 SB
Many expected Cabrera to regress after his breakout season, but while he did, it was more due to injury than it was his skills at the plate. Leg, Back and wrist injuries hindered his power production, but he still managed to maintain his average as well as improve on both his walk and strikeout rates. Stats-wise, he's probably right around where he should be, although we could see a few more steals if the Indians find their way to being a bit more aggressive on the bases.
11. Hanley Ramirez, LAD 2012: .257 AVG, 24 HR, 92 RBI, 79 runs, 21 SB
INJURED. Just a quick glance at his splits between his time with the Marlins and his time with the Dodgers should tell you all that you need to know. Take each time period and equate the numbers to 600 at-bats and you'll see that he came out ahead in virtually every standard roto category except stolen bases. His strikeout rate spiked a little but that can simply be attributed to pressing at the plate to impress his new team. Bottom line is that Ramirez is happy to be out of Miami. The club was expecting him to be the team leader and mentor for their youngsters and that just isn't his role. With a stronger, more veteran lineup around him, look for Ramirez to bring his overall game back up a few notches.
12. Alcides Escobar, KC
2012: .293 AVG, 5 HR, 52 RBI, 68 runs, 35 SB
Escobar continued his ascent up the shortstop rankings with a breakout season last year that saw career-highs in all but one of the standard five roto categories. And where he fell short, the runs scored category, he did just by one. But while he hit a fair number of line drives throughout the year, his ground ball rate remained just over 53-percent. That should mean that when his .344 BABIP normalizes, his batting average should drop back to where it had been in previous seasons. Ned Yost loves using him in the two-hole which means that a return to the 30-stolen base range is very likely.
13. Alexei Ramirez, CHW
2012: .265 AVG, 9 HR, 73 RBI, 59 runs, 20 SB
While Ramirez finally cracked the 20-steals barrier last season, he took a step back in the power department and again failed to finish the season as a 15-15 player. That can be blamed on some of the most horiffic plate discipline you've ever seen as he posted just a 2.6-percent walk rate, one of the absolute worst in the majors. That gavce him a career-low .287 OBP which is just unacceptable for a guy capable of such solid power/speed displays. While you can probably lose the pipe dream of seeing him finish the season as a 20-20 player, he should still rebound enough this year to keep him worthy of drafting.
14. Erick Aybar, LAA
2012: .290 AVG, 8 HR, 45 RBI, 67 runs, 20 SB
He certainly isn’t the sexiest option out there, but Aybar is pretty reliable if you want to go cheap on the shortstop position. He'll hit for a decent average, throw you 8 to 10 home runs and swipe you upwards of 20-25 bases. Nothing eye-popping, but fairly steady for a low-end option. Given some of the bottom-feeding options out there, you could do a lot worse for a dollar investment.
15. J.J. Hardy, BAL
2012: .238 AVG, 22 HR, 68 RBI, 85 runs
Last year was yet another frustrating one for Hardy's owners. He finally remained injury-free and played a full season, but his power diminished and his average sank to an abysmal level comparable to most light-hitting middle infielders of the late 70's. He did manage to cut down on the strikeouts, but he failed to make solid contact, often weakly grounding out to the left side of the infield. Perhaps his .253 BABIP can shoulder some of the blame, but he's never been one to go on the high end of balls in play. If he can possibly learn to take a walk every once in a while, then maybe he brings that OBP up to a respectable level, but for now, you should probably just bank on similar numbers again.
16. Jean Segura, MIL
2012: .258 AVG, 0 HR, 14 RBI, 19 runs, 7 SB
Though last season's cup of coffee with the Brewers wasn't all that impressive, Segura has all the tools necessary to become a successful major league player. He might not ever blossom into the 15-home run threat as some scouts hypothesized, but he's definitely got the potential to swipe upwards of 30-40 bags in a given year. He's still working on his defense, but with no other legitimate options at short, the Brewers are happy to leave him be. He's becoming a trendy pick as many owners are looking to him for cheap steals, but the hype is slowly going to hinder his value as people start reaching for him.
17. Josh Rutledge, COL
2012: .274 AVG, 8 HR, 37 RBI, 37 runs,. 7 SB
Speaking of trendy picks….wow. If there was ever a thought that you were going to be able to sneak Rutledge through in any of your drafts, you can forget about it as this potential 15-15 sleeper is out. Way out. So much so that his value is being inflated and people will be reaching for him in drafts all over. It's not that there's a lack of faith here, but with a subpar walk rate, an average strikeout rate, and a ground ball rate nearing 50-percent, you have to be realistic. A 15-15 season is not out of the question, but you probably should be expecting morte than that.
18. Everth Cabrera, SD
2012: .246 AVG, 2 HR, 24 RBI, 49 runs, 44 SB
Few people ever expected that it would be Cabrera who led the National League in stolen bases last year, especially with the fact that he only appeared in 115 games. But that's exactly what happened once the Padres finally rid themselves of Jason Bartlett and handed the starting shortstop gig over to him. He's got a slick glove which will keep him in the lineup and great speed which should keep him a strong asset in fantasy, but with little or no power to be had and a weak average, the price tag stays down plenty low. If you're looking for inexpensive steal this year, you should be able to grab him with either a late pick or cheap bid dollars.
19. Andrelton Simmons, ATL
2012: .289 AVG, 3 HR, 19 RBI, 17 runs, 1 SB
Simmons spent most of his time in Double-A last year before getting a chance to show off his skills in the majors during the second half. He seemed to do well, making the jump rather than plod through Triple-A and it looks like the Braves have found their man at short. He's not someone who is going to hit for power and he hasn't flashed much speed, but he does have the capability to swipe 20, depending on his spot in the order. He'll be worth a late-round look as it is, but if the Braves need him at the top of the order, he'll obviously prove to be much more valuable.
20. Marco Scutaro, SF
2012: .306 AVG, 7 HR, 74 RBI, 87 runs, 9 SB
In addition to eligibility at second base, Scutaro qualifies over here thanks to 27 appearances at short last season in Colorado. The interesting thing is that while second base may appear to be deeper overall, Scutaro ranks lower at shortstop due to a lack of specialty. Sure his average is solid, but many in this group steal a lot of bases at least, if they don't hit for power. Scutaro does neither, He's got value in the sense that he plays every day and won't hurt you, but he also doesn't offer anything special in particular.
21. Stephen Drew, BOS
2012: .223 AVG, 7 HR, 28 RBI, 38 runs, 1 SB
A brutal ankle injury suffered in 2011 has been a major factor in Drew's career as it not only cut short that season, but affected him greatly in 2012 as well. Drew began the season still rehabbing the injury and when he did finally make it back, spent most of the season trying to regain his form. It was definitely an uphill climb as you can see by last years numbers, but things did seem to turn around for him in September finally while he was wrapping up the season with the A's. Over the final month, he hit .275 with five home runs and 14 RBI which look a lot more similar to his 2010 form. The Red Sox are trying him out on a one-year deal, so while it's tough to project how he'll do, if September was any indication, he should be climbing these rankings soon enough. If that was just a late season surge and he hasn't gotten back to form, then he'll likely end up losing time to Pedro Ciriaco.
22. Hiroyuki Nakajima, OAK
2012: .312 AVG, 13 HR, 74 RBI, 69 runs, 7 SB
Drafting Nakajima this year obviously presents a significant risk. While he had a strong year by Japanese baseball standards -- his .312/.382/.451 slash line ranked second, second and fourth in each of the respective categories --m translating those numbers to MLB often become difficult. The A's signed him to a two-year deal, so obviously there's some confidence in his ability to hit major league pitching consistently, but whether or not it will be enough to sustain a roster spot in fantasy is yet to be determined. He's ranked here in good faith that Billy Beane saw something significant that is more than just excellent defense.
23. Zack Cozart, CIN
2012: .246 AVG, 15 HR, 35 RBI, 72 runs, 4 SB
Given the expectations headed into the 2012 season, Cozart was a disappointment by most standards. His numbers, save for the home runs, were relatively subpar, although he did rank third in doubles and fifth in runs scored amongst NL shortstops. A lot of his struggles seem to be related to a lower than usual BABIP, while also failing to make clean contact. His swing rates are in line with that of a selective hitter, but he just couldn't seem to get the hits. He was likely headed into this season living on borrowed time as everyone in both the ral and fantasy world has been clamoring for speedster Billy Hamilton, but with the trade of Drew Stubbs during the offseason, the door has opened for Hamilton to play center field while Cozart gets an opportunity to really prove himself. You may not ever see a real strong average from him, but if he can get a little luckier in the batted ball world, it should come up to a respectable enough level. That and the home runs make for a decent late-round selection.
24. Jhonny Peralta, DET
2012: .239 AVG, 13 HR, 63 RBI, 58 runs, 1 SB
Going with the assumption that the Tigers picked up Peralta's option for 2013 with the intention of playing him every day, you can probably expect more of the same from him this season. You might see a slight uptick in power as he's shown the ability to reach that 20-HR plateau, but he'll probably hover more in the 16-18 range than clear the mark you'd really like to see. Everything else is...well, everything else with him, modest numbers with a batting average you will always wish was just a little higher. There is obviously the chance that Peralta does get trade as a few teams, most notably Arizona, have kicked the tires on him, so there's a chance he does find his way to a better ballpark for power. However, unless the Tigers get themselves a real nice deal, he'll likely spend most of the year in Detroit.
25. Yunel Escobar, TB
2012: .253 AVG, 9 HR, 51 RBI, 58 runs, 5 SB
With the Blue Jays pursuit of, and subsequent trade for, Jose Reyes, Escobar became completely expendable and was eventually shipped off to the Rays in the offseason. His numbers were less than spectacular andd he's been known to be a bit of a clubhouse disruption, but the Rays were in major need to fill this hole that has been a gaping hole for them for some time now. Bill James' projections of a .276-9-55 season seem right about where he'll end up, so while those totals aren't exactly the stuff upon which fantasy dreams are built, they are moderately passable should you opt to just dismiss the position until the very end.
26. Cliff Pennington, ARI
2012: .215 AVG, 6 HR, 28 RBI, 50 runs, 15 SB
He ranks 26th as a second baseman and 29th here. That should atleast tell you where you're likely to maximize your value. It's cheap speed with maybe a few extra home runs at Chase Field, but that's about it.
27. Jed Lowrie, HOU
2012: .244 AVG, 16 HR, 42 RBI, 43 runs, 2 SB
He got off to a great start last year, tearing it up through the first half of the season with 14 home runs and 36 RBI. But he limped into the All Star break, got hurt and missed most of July and all of August. His comeback was too little though. Injuries have always been Lowrie's biggest problem and there's little reason to believe that his frail, little body, won't end up on the DL at some point while you're reading this. He might be worth a final pick or something to give yourself depth in your draft, but you shouldn't even expect to see last year's totals repeated.
28. Clint Barmes, PIT
2012: .229, 8 HR, 45 RBI, 34 runs
Let's face it, Barmes has never been the same since the Great Deer Meat Debacle of '05 and while there are still a few stragglers out there holding out hope that one day he could possibly return to that early-career form, the bottom line is that he won't. It's been seven sub par seasons since that rookie year and save for one season where he flashed some power, he's been a less-than-helpful fantasy shortstop. They've made some clucking noises this offseason about a change in his approach at the plate and how it's going to help them, but really...how much stock are you willing to put into that?
29. Adeiny Hechavarria, MIA
2012: .254 AVG, 2 HR, 15 RBI, 10 runs
Hechavarria spent most of last season down in Triple-A where he posted a solid .312/.363/.424 batting line. Obviously though, since it was in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, those numbers should be taken with a grain of salt, especially after seeing him so over-matched at the plate during his late-season call-up. He's now in Miami after the Jose Reyes deal and is slated to be the Marlins' starting shortstop. If his skill set was a little stronger, he'd make for a nice sleeper, but without much power or speed, his upside is very limited.
30. Daniel Descalso, STL 2012: .227 AVG, 4 HR, 26 RBI, 41 runs, 2 SB
Well, at least he's starting, right? Almost no power, minimal speed, middle of the road average…all nothing special, but he's going to slot in at second base regularly for the Cards this season. The team is also going to give prospect Kolten Wong a look this spring but Descalso is a little more seasoned and should beat him out for the job, sending Wong down the Triple-A most likely. FANTASY UPDATE: Gradually losing his hold on a starting job at second base but could start playing some short should Rafael Furcal be hurt more.
Check out the rest of our 2013 Fantasy Baseball Rankings.
31. Luis Cruz, LAD
32. Ruben Tejada, NYM
33. Brandon Crawford, SF
34. Brendan Ryan, SEA
35. Rafael Furcal, STL
36. Pedro Florimon, MIN
37. Maicer Izturis, TOR
38. Pedro Ciriaco, BOS
39. Mike Aviles, CLE
40. Dee Gordon, LAD
41. Willie Bloomquist, ARI
42. Tyler Greene, HOU
43. Jurickson Profar, TEX
44. Eduardo Nunez, NYY
45. Billy Hamilton, CIN
46. Jamey Carroll, MIN
47. Alexei Casilla, BAL
48. Didi Gregorius, ARI
49. Joaquin Arias, SF
50. Sean Rodriguez, TB
Check out the rest of our 2013 Fantasy Baseball Rankings.
Howard Bender has been covering fantasy sports for over a decade on a variety of web sites. For questions, thoughts or comments you can find him on Twitter at @rotobuzzguy or you can email him at email@example.com.