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Highlighting top SS prospects for 2013

Senior Fantasy Writer
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Remember how the star of your high school team played shortstop? Yeah, you weren't alone there.

Shortstop is the most difficult position to fill because it requires the perfect combination speed, agility, precision, smarts and strength. Absent one or more of those, as is common among a group of thin and wiry 16-year-olds, pure athleticism usually wins out.

Unfortunately, when all those high school shortstops meet at the next level, they can't all play shortstop. Some have to move elsewhere on the diamond, either because they grow big-boy muscles and lose the necessary speed and agility to man the position or because they just get outclassed by someone else within the organization.

Sorting out which ones stay and which ones go often happens in the lower levels of the minors. Thus, for that certain age group between Class A and Double-A, shortstop is loaded with up-and-coming offensive talent.

But it still has a long way to go. All 10 of the players listed here have yet to debut in the majors. Two -- Billy Hamilton and Nick Franklin -- have already begun transitioning elsewhere (center field and second base, respectively). In time, more will follow. Part of assessing a shortstop's long-term Fantasy value is assessing the likelihood of him remaining at shortstop.

Granted, the position does appear even deeper than usual. For instance, Jurickson Profar, who profiles as a shortstop long-term, would rank first on this list if he hadn't played mostly second base after arriving in the majors late in 2012. Still, as a general rule, if you target a shortstop in a long-term keeper league, it should be more because of his offensive potential than the position he plays.

Note: This list has been adjusted for Fantasy purposes. Though long-term potential is a factor, it's arguably less important than the player's expected role in 2013. These prospects don't all profile as superstars, but they're the names most worth knowing in Fantasy right now.

1. Billy Hamilton, 22, Reds
Where played in 2012: Class A, Double-A
Minor-league stats: .311 BA, 155 SB, 37 CS, .830 OPS, 86 BBs, 113 Ks

Hamilton didn't spend much time at first base last season. Oh, he got there fine. In fact, his .410 on-base percentage was one of the more underappreciated stats in all the minor leagues. But once he got there, he left there, stealing an obscene 155 bases to set a new minor-league record. His speed has become legendary, complete with stories of him stealing on pitchouts and scoring on pop flies. But unlike other burners throughout history, such as Vince Coleman, Otis Nixon and, more recently, Emilio Bonifacio, he's actually a polished hitter as well. He'll take a walk. He'll split the gap. He'll get the full benefit of his speed instead of just using it to scare defenses (though he'll scare his share of defenses). Even though Hamilton has played only 50 games above Class A, he has grown so much as a hitter that the Reds might award him a job out of spring training. He would play center field, not shortstop -- supposedly to prevent wear and tear -- but because that transition didn't happen until the fall, he'll remain eligible at shortstop for one more glorious year. Even if he doesn't hit right away, Hamilton's speed at that position will make him worth stashing in Fantasy from the outset of 2013.

2. Xander Bogaerts, 20, Red Sox
Where played in 2012: Class A, Double-A
Minor-league stats: .307 BA, 20 HR, 81 RBI, .896 OPS, 44 BBs, 106 Ks

In terms of offensive potential, Bogaerts isn't necessarily better than the next player on this list, Javier Baez, but considering he ascended to Double-A Portland last year, he's probably closer to being major-league ready. He doesn't have Baez's base-stealing ability and is less likely to remain at shortstop long-term, but having maintained a batting average over .300 as a teenager at Double-A, which is widely regarded as the truest test of a minor-leaguer's abilities, he's as safe of a prospect as you'll find at shortstop. With plus power and a willingness to hit the ball to all fields, Bogaerts will be a hot commodity in Fantasy whenever he arrives, but as things stand now in Boston, he'll have to wait his turn. Short of an injury to Dustin Pedroia or Will Middlebrooks, Bogaerts' best hope of contributing in 2013 is the complete and utter failure of defensive whiz Jose Iglesias, who mustered only eight hits in 68 at-bats during a late-season trial last year. The Red Sox don't expect much offense from Iglesias, but anything south of the Mendoza line will surely tempt them to give Bogaerts a look, particularly if he continues to do what he's done all along. Because of that, he might be worth a stash even in seasonal AL-only leagues.

3. Javier Baez, 20, Cubs
Where played in 2012: Class A
Minor-league stats: .294 BA (293 at-bats), 16 HR, 24 SB, .888 OPS, 14 BBs, 69 Ks

The term most often used when assessing Baez's talents is bat speed. Judging by the comparisons to Gary Sheffield and Hanley Ramirez, he has plenty to spare. Bat speed, as you know, generates power, and power, as you know, is rare among shortstops. Of course, speculating about Baez's power is one thing. Actually witnessing it -- as we did when he finally got an opportunity to play midway through 2012, hitting 16 home runs (to go along with 24 stolen bases) in only 293 at-bats -- is quite another. Now that we know his power is more than hypothetical, he's deserving of all the hype we can heap on him. While you might assume, as with most prospects with genuine middle-of-the-order power, Baez is destined to outgrow the shortstop position, his defense may have been what impressed the Cubs the most during his first full professional season, with their head of scouting and player development saying he looked like a veteran out there. Baez's struggles after reaching high Class A last year suggest he may still need a couple years of seasoning, but he's advanced enough for a player his age that the Cubs could call on him whenever they feel he's ready. A starting job in 2014 is entirely possible.

4. Carlos Correa, 18, Astros
Where played in 2012: Rookie
Minor-league stats: .258 BA (190 at-bats), 3 HR, 6 SB, 12 BBs, 44 Ks

The No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 draft didn't come with the hype of Stephen Strasburg or Bryce Harper, but folks in Houston are pretty darn excited about Correa. Astros scouting director Mark Elias says he has "freak-show power" and few talent evaluators question whether he has the defensive chops to remain at shortstop. As an 18-year-old just beginning his professional career, he still has plenty of opportunity to disappoint, but given his pedigree as the top overall pick, the expectations for him are rightfully sky high. If you play in the type of Fantasy league where you can afford to wait until 2014 or 2015 for a player, Correa is a must-own. He has the kind of offensive potential that could make him a first-rounder in Fantasy somewhere down the line.

5. Alen Hanson, 20, Pirates
Where played in 2012: Class A
Minor-league stats: .309 BA, 16 HR, 35 SB, 33 2Bs, 13 3Bs, .909 OPS

Hanson's first two years of professional ball came and went with little fanfare. He did an adequate job getting on base and utilizing his speed once he got there, but when compared to other shortstop prospects, his contributions went by the wayside. That all changed for him as a 19-year-old playing his first full season at Class A last year, when he did the one thing that immediately vaults a middle infielder to top-prospect standing: He hit for power. With 16 home runs, 33 doubles and 13 triples, he was sort of the Pirates' minor-league equivalent of Andrew McCutchen, only at shortstop. And he has more in common with McCutchen than just the pop. He hits for average; he gets on base; he runs. His speed is actually considered his greatest asset. Now that he has a bat to go along with it, he's on track to become an impact player in Fantasy. His shaky arm strength could force him to second base before he gets his shot in 2014 or 2015, but at either position, Hanson is a must-have in long-term keeper leagues.

6. Francisco Lindor, 19, Indians
Where played in 2012: Class A
Minor-league stats: .257 BA, 6 HR, 27 SB, .707 OPS, 61 BBs, 78 Ks

In traditional prospect rankings, Lindor ranks up there with Xander Bogaerts and Javier Baez at shortstop, but so much of his value is tied to his defense that those rankings can warp a Fantasy owner's expectations for him. He'll hit, sure, but in terms of offense, he's more in the Starlin Castro mold than the Troy Tulowitzki mold, as far as shortstop prospects go. He'll top out at 15 homers in his prime and steal only a moderate number of bases. Edgar Renteria would be another good example of what Lindor stands to provide offensively. Of course, that's still high praise for a 19-year-old in the lower levels of the minors. It just projects him as more of a seventh- or eighth-rounder than a second- or third-rounder on Draft Day. All that is years away, though. For right now, all you need to know about Lindor is that he's one of the scouts' favorite shortstop prospects. That's enough to make him universally owned in dynasty leagues.

7. Bradley Miller, 23, Mariners
Where played in 2012: Class A, Double-A
Minor-league stats: .334 BA, 15 HR, 23 SB, .410 OBP, .922 OPS

As a relative newcomer to the top prospect lists, Miller doesn't have the pedigree of a Jurickson Profar or Xander Bogaerts, and for that reason, any endorsement of him comes with so many stipulations and addendums that you don't know whether to take him seriously. But if stats mean anything to you, you have every reason to be impressed. Splitting his time between Class A and Double-A in his first full professional season, Miller excelled in every way a hitter can, hitting for average with better-than-expected power and speed. He even walked 74 times, demonstrating rare patience for a player capable of such a high batting average. Granted, he was 22 at the time, so you could argue that he was simply taking advantage of less experienced competition and that, when he takes the next step up the ladder, he'll come back down to earth, a la Vinnie Catricala last year. But considering Miller plays shortstop -- a position of need for the Mariners right now and for Fantasy owners always -- the chance of him maintaining this pace and becoming sort of another Kyle Seager makes him well worth monitoring. Hey, if he leapfrogs fellow prospect Nick Franklin, who appears to be stalling in the upper minors, Miller could find himself starting in Seattle by season's end.

8. Trevor Story, 20, Rockies
Where played in 2012: Class A
Minor-league stats: .277, 18 HR, 15 SB, 43 2Bs, .872 OPS

The events of 2012 might lead you to believe Josh Rutledge is the most prized up-and-coming middle infielder in the Rockies' system, but that honor actually goes to Story, a 2011 sandwich pick who produced a near-.900 OPS in his first full professional season. His ceiling isn't as high as Javier Baez's or Alen Hanson's, but his maturity will help ensure he gets the most of what he has and potentially hasten his arrival. Of course, he has a significant roadblock in Troy Tulowitzki, and now Rutledge appears to be entrenched as well. But as long as Story continues to showcase 20-20 ability and an above-average batting eye, the Rockies will figure out some way to get him in the lineup. He's still a couple years from that now-or-never point when he forces their hand, so you shouldn't bother with him in seasonal formats. In dynasty leagues, though, he offers enough potential at a weak position for you to stash him long-term.

9. Hak-Ju Lee, 22, Rays
Where played in 2012: Double-A
Minor-league stats: .261 BA, 4 HR, 37 SB, 15 2Bs, 10 3Bs, .696 OPS

At this time last year, Lee was a stud in waiting at the shortstop position. But at this time last year, he was coming off a season in which he hit .296 with 15 triples and 33 stolen bases. On the one hand, he exhibited the same basic skill set in 2012 -- he still finished with a high number of triples and steals, and his lack of homers wasn't anything new -- but on the other hand, he slipped in enough areas to drop his OPS by about 100 points, to below .700, even though he was getting his second taste of Double-A pitching. And his OPS was never that high to begin with, which is the most discouraging part. A decline for a prospect whose high standing depended on some measure of improvement -- particularly in the power department -- is rightful cause for pessimism. Of course, at age 22, Lee is hardly a finished product, so perhaps all the downer talk is premature. The Rays still view him as their long-term shortstop, and if nothing else, you know he's going to steal bases. He's worth a look in deeper AL-only leagues in case a series of injuries forces an early promotion, but his long-term keeper value isn't what it once was.

10. Nick Franklin, 22, Mariners
Where played in 2012: Double-A, Triple-A
Minor-league stats: .278 BA, 11 HR, 12 SB, .800 OPS, 48 BBs, 106 Ks

Remember when Franklin was one of only three minor-leaguers to put together a 20-20 campaign in 2010 and everyone was sure he and Dustin Ackley would give the Mariners one of the league's most potent double-play combinations for years to come? Well, he's taken a wrong turn since then. For what it's worth, the prospect evaluators all still seem to like him, but statistically, he's moving backward. After getting a pass for an injury-plagued 2011, he stayed relatively healthy in 2012 and barely got halfway to 20-20 in 121 games between Double- and Triple-A. True, his batting average plummeted with his midseason promotion to Tacoma, which might have simply been a case of a 21-year-old struggling against older and more experienced players, but even during his stint at Double-A Jackson, he hit just four homers in 205 at-bats. Power is supposed to be his greatest attribute. The Mariners aren't satisfied with Brendan Ryan at shortstop, so if Franklin gets off to a hot start at Triple-A, he could wind up starting in Seattle, rendering most of these concerns moot. But with the Mariners transitioning him to second base and Bradley Miller also knocking on the door at shortstop, Franklin wouldn't necessarily be next in line. He probably isn't worth the trouble in seasonal leagues.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us on Twitter @CBSFantasyBB or Scott White at @CBSScottWhite . You can also e-mail us at fantasybaseball@cbsinteractive.com .

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