In the not-too-distant past, elite shortstops were worth pursuing with one of the very top picks in Fantasy drafts.
The landscape hasn't changed much, but it's not quite the same. Tulowitzki and Ramirez remain as viable first-rounders, especially since both turned in nice comeback seasons in 2013. Reyes' stolen base production fell in an injury-marred season, so he enters 2014 as more of a wild card, and all three shortstops carry an injury-risk stigma. That, along with the emergence of Elvis Andrus, Jean Segura, Ian Desmond, Everth Cabrera and Andrelton Simmons as robust fallback options, makes it less enticing to go after one of the elites with an early first-round pick.
Because of their extensive history with injuries, it's hard to pin down projections for Tulowitzki, Ramirez and Reyes, and Ramirez in particular poses a challenge, as we have to determine how much weight to assign to last season's explosive, out-of-nowhere comeback. That earned Ramirez one of this column's six spaces reserved for the analysis of the position's most prickly projection conundrums.
Is Ian Desmond ready to join the elite, or did last season's mild regression render him as a nothing more than a solid second-tier option? What can Everth Cabrera do with a full season? Can Starlin Castro and Asdrubal Cabrera resurrect their careers and Fantasy relevance? And what can Derek Jeter contribute in his final Fantasy season? I'll tackle these issues and offer projections for the players in question as well.
Hanley Ramirez, Dodgers
2014 5x5 projections: .298/.356/.528, 26 HR, 88 RBI, 94 Runs, 18 SB in 500 at-bats
2014 overall value (projected): 16.1 Standings Gain Points (5x5), 1st among shortstops; 476 Fantasy Points, 2nd among shortstops
In his four seasons prior to 2013, Ramirez appeared to have settled comfortably into a 20-to-25 home run groove, which was something of a disappointment, given the 30-homer power he showed early in his career. Worse yet, his speed seemed to be on the wane, as he stole only 21 bases in 2012 and was a merely average hitter on ground balls in back-to-back seasons. In an injury-truncated 2013 season, Ramirez appeared to have turned back the clock, as he hit .345 with 20 home runs, 57 RBI and scored 62 runs in just over half a season's worth of games.
Ramirez showed every sign of his power being legit. He hiked his home run-to-flyball ratio up from 12.7 percent to 17.3 percent, hit very few short-distance homers and even knocked seven line drives out of the park. Ramirez also posted his lowest strikeout rate in three years, but his .305 batting average on grounders might have been more of a sign of luck than a return of his speed. That means Ramirez is unlikely to hit above .300 overall or steal even as many as 20 bases, but he will offer enough power and run production to be the top-producing shortstop in Roto leagues. His projected 26 home runs could even be on the conservative side, though his lack of year-to-year consistency made it hard to project him for more.
Even with a conservative estimate, Ramirez is projected to launch Roto rosters up a larger number of places in the standings than all but eight players in all of Fantasy. In other words, he has a strong chance of providing elite outfielder-type production as a shortstop.
Ian Desmond, Nationals
2014 5x5 projections: .275/.322/.456, 22 HR, 81 RBI, 75 Runs, 18 SB in 590 at-bats
2014 overall value (projected): 13.3 Standings Gain Points (5x5), 6th among shortstops; 428 Fantasy Points, 7th among shortstops
As Desmond was just entering his peak years, it would have been reasonable to expect him to build on -- or at least sustain -- the production he showed in 2012, but 2013 was a mild letdown for his Fantasy owners. Even though Desmond played in 28 more games last season than the year before, he hit five fewer home runs and stole the same number of bases.
Some of Desmond's power downturn can be tied to a surging line drive rate that came at the expense of his flyball rate. With liner rates being prone to volatility, he could see a full rebound in his flyball rate, though he still could fall short of 25 homers. Last season's 20 home runs travelled almost exclusively to left and left-center field, making him far more reliant on pulling the ball than he was a couple of years ago. His batting average could also fall well below the projection of .275. Not only was last season's .280 mark boosted by a 26 percent line drive rate he won't likely sustain, but the prior year's .292 average was helped by a .316 batting average on grounders that may have been a fluke. His batting average projection is predicated on him rebounding from his highest strikeout rate to date. Even with fewer strikeouts, Desmond doesn't look quite ready to graduate to Fantasy's shortstop elite.
Everth Cabrera, Padres
2014 5x5 projections: .267/.342/.341, 3 HR, 38 RBI, 78 Runs, 52 SB in 580 at-bats
2014 overall value (projected): 12.6 Standings Gain Points (5x5), 7th among shortstops; 407 Fantasy Points, 9th among shortstops
Cabrera had a breakout season last year, even though he missed the final 50 games due to a suspension for his involvement in the Biogenesis scandal. Though Cabrera looked poised for improvement in his strikeout rate, he could give back some of the 37-point gain in his batting average, given how dramatically he cut down on whiffs. Between his knack for getting infield hits and the limited potential for regression in his whiff rate, Cabrera's batting average shouldn't come near his prior marks in the .250 neighborhood.
A decent batting average with a run total approaching 80 is nice enough, but owners will draft Cabrera for his steals. He appears to be a safe bet for 50 or more of them, but owners should keep an eye on his efficiency. Cabrera's stolen base success rate dropped from 92 to 76 percent last season. If that rate drops further in the first half, that could endanger his attempt total for the second half and beyond.
Starlin Castro, Cubs
2014 5x5 projections: .271/.309/.391, 12 HR, 61 RBI, 70 Runs, 11 SB in 660 at-bats
2014 overall value (projected): 9.8 Standings Gain Points (5x5), 14th among shortstops; 382 Fantasy Points, 13th among shortstops
Going into last season, Castro seemed about as safe as safe gets. He turned in three straight seasons with good batting averages, increased his home runs, RBI and steals in consecutive years and was just 22 years old. Then 2013 happened.
Everything in Castro's game took a wrong turn. He made contact less often, took strikes at a higher rate and hit grounders more frequently when he did swing and make contact. Castro maintained a higher-than-average line drive rate, but he hit fewer of them deep, and it showed in his near-total loss of triples power, having hit only two as compared to 12 the year before.
If not for Castro's youth and previously consistent pattern of progress, it would be easy to predict another poor season in 2014. He simply has too much promise to not expect some sort of rebound, even if there was a lack of positive signs a year ago.
Castro's projection reflects a near-return to his 2012 batting average and homer and run totals. His decreasing efficiency in converting steals suggests that his projection of 11 steals might be optimistic, and if he bats leadoff, as he did late last season, he may not reach his projected 61 RBI. Even if he does, Castro can be passed over in standard mixed Head-to-Head leagues, but he is a decent MI slot option for Roto owners.
Asdrubal Cabrera, Indians
2014 5x5 projections: .251/.307/.398, 15 HR, 70 RBI, 74 Runs, 8 SB in 545 at-bats
2014 overall value (projected): 9.7 Standings Gain Points (5x5), 15th among shortstops; 362 Fantasy Points, 17th among shortstops
It seems like much longer ago, but it was in 2011 that Cabrera was one of the four most valuable shortstops in Fantasy. In the two seasons since, he lost a healthy portion of his home run and stolen base production, and last year, he hit a paltry .242..
Owners shouldn't expect Cabrera to rejoin the 20-homer club anytime soon, and not just because he hasn't been there in three years. When he banged 25 home runs in '11, Cabrera averaged just 385 feet per homer, with nine of them travelling 375 feet or less and seven of those leaving the park at fewer than 100 mph (according to ESPN's Home Run Tracker). Though Cabrera provided 35 doubles to go with his 14 homers last season, he lost considerable value as a result of his subpar batting average.
As with Castro, Cabrera's strike zone recognition declined dramatically, as he chased pitches out the zone more often and whiffed frequently in general. Cabrera is in his prime years, but his plate discipline has fallen a long way over the last three seasons. At best, owners can look for a minor rebound, though that would give him about as much value as Castro would have in your Roto team's MI slot.
Derek Jeter, Yankees
2014 5x5 projections: .284/.336/.378, 8 HR, 56 RBI, 77 Runs, 8 SB in 585 at-bats
2014 overall value (projected): 9.5 Standings Gain Points (5x5), 16th among shortstops; 364 Fantasy Points, 16th among shortstops
Fantasy owners should just discard the stats from Jeter's 2013 season, in which he unsuccessfully tried to come back from a broken ankle. With The Captain turning 40 this summer, how close can he come to the .316/.362/.429 slash line he registered in his last full season, which saw him finish among the top half dozen shortstops in Fantasy? In recent years, Jeter's contact skills have held up, though his 2012 season, in which he hit 15 home runs and 32 doubles, represented a reversal of a declining power trend.
Even if Jeter continues to be a good contact hitter, he will need to continue to hit at an above-average rate on grounders and at an obscene rate (i.e., .260 or above) on flyballs in play in order to hit close to .300. The former seems unlikely, and the latter may not matter as much if Jeter continues to increase a ground ball rate that has already been hovering around 65 percent since 2010. Jeter's last season should feature a good, but not great, batting average, possibly 80-plus runs, and not much else that Fantasy owners can use.