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2014 Draft Prep: Shortstop profiles

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Al's profiles: Cs | 1Bs | 2Bs | SSs | 3Bs | OFs | Ps

In the not-too-distant past, elite shortstops were worth pursuing with one of the very top picks in Fantasy drafts.

Troy Tulowitzki, Hanley Ramirez and Jose Reyes constituted an ironbound elite stratum, and if you didn't claim one of them, there was little point in investing much in the position.

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.

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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.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us on Twitter @CBSFantasyBB or Al at @almelccbs .

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Player News
Report: Orioles in 'continuous dialogue' with pitcher Chris Tillman
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(3/28/2015) The Orioles and pitcher Chris Tillman are reportedly engaged in "continuous dialogue" for a long-term extension and have been for the past several weeks, according to the Baltimore Sun.

Tillman signed a one-year, $4.315 million deal in January to avoid arbitration and the discussions for a new deal are still considered preliminary, according to the report.

Tillman posted a 13-6 record in 2014 with a 3.34 ERA in 34 starts.


Tigers bullpen decision coming down to Ian Krol, Kyle Ryan
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(3/28/2015) Tigers manager Brad Ausmus is running out of time to finish off his bullpen for Opening Day. The final bullpen role will likely be a left-handed pitcher and is expected to come down to Kyle Ryan and Ian Krol, according to MLB.com.

"If I'm there, hopefully it's a good situation, whether it's long or short," Ryan said. "For them to have enough confidence in me to go into Spring Training as a reliever, and actually for them to believe that I might be able to make the team as a reliever, that makes me proud."

Ryan has given up seven runs on seven hits in 11 innings of work this spring. 

"When he throws it right, it's good," Ausmus said of Krol. "He has a tendency to occasionally slow his arm down on his cutter and curveball. He did it a couple times today. But when he doesn't slow his arm down, it's very good."


Dodgers outfielder Joc Pederson continues to make his case
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(3/28/2015) Dodgers outfielder Joc Pederson still doesn't know what his role will be when Opening Day rolls around, but he's showing he belongs on the roster, reports MLB.com.

"There's always stuff I need to work on, and I need to continue to impress," Pederson said after launching his fifth home run of the spring Saturday, boosting his batting average to .373.

Manager Don Mattingly remains quiet on what he will do when the decision has to be made, but Pederson is doing what he can to impress.

"[Opening Day] is out of my control," Pederson said. "It's something you dream about as a kid, playing in the big leagues, and you do anything you can to make that dream come true."


Angels P Matt Shoemaker gives up three runs in loss to Dodgers
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/28/2015) After pitching six scoreless innings in his last start, Angels pitcher Matt Shoemaker struggled a bit in the team's 5-4 to the Dodgers, reports MLB.com.

Shoemaker gave up three runs on four hits in six innings, striking out two. One of the hits he surrended was to Joc Pederson on a two-run homer.

The 28-year-old completed last season with a 3.04 ERA, 124 strikeouts and only 24 walks.


Reds third baseman Todd Frazier feels ready for Opening Day
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(3/28/2015) Reds third baseman Todd Frazier feels his swing has come back and is ready to tackle the long haul ahead of the regular season, reports MLB.com.

"It comes quick, like usual," Frazier said on Saturday morning. "I get goose bumps thinking about it right now -- another year, it's crazy."

Frazier struggled early in spring training, but has rebounded to go 8 for 23 in his last seven games.

"I hit in the Minor Leagues for about 10 at-bats [on Friday], just to try and feel it back-to-back. I do, and I feel really well," said Frazier, who is batting .262 in 14 games this spring. "I feel like if I had to play tomorrow [in the regular season], I'd be ready to go. It's all about preparation, and offseason stuff. I feel like it's so far, so good."


Angels OF Mike Trout homers in loss to Dodgers
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/28/2015) Angels outfielder Mike Trout homered in Saturday's 5-4 loss to the Dodgers, reports MLB.com.

Trout, 23, robbed the Dodgers' Alex Guerrero of an extra-base hit in the first inning, making it a successful day for him, despite the loss. 

This spring he has a batting average of .477 with four home runs and 14 RBI. 


White Sox hope to have Robertson, Petricka back by Opening Day
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/28/2015) Two key members of the White Sox bullpen are working their way back from forearm injuries, but manager Robin Ventura is confident he'll have both back by opening day. 

Closer David Robertson is scheduled to pitch on Sunday. 

"We're trying to make sure we’re extra careful with him," Ventura said, per Comcast's Dan Hayes. "He doesn’t seem to be concerned about it as much as we do."

Setup man Jake Petricka isn't as far along as Robertson. He played catch on Saturday for the first time in five days.

The Sox are taking it slow, so that the team will have both pitchers for Opening Day as well as the rest of the season. 

"You’re just making sure you’re cautious enough that you feel good about when (they go) out there that there won’t be any setbacks,” Ventura said. 


Indians pitcher Zach McAllister fans nine in outing Saturday
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(3/28/2015) Indians pitcher Zach McAllister went five innings Saturday against the Brewers, allowing two runs on six hits with nine strikeouts. McAllister, who is expected to make one more start before Opening Day, touched 97 mph with his fastball in the appearance, according to Cleveland.com.

"He's been impressive and he's been doing it all spring," said Francona. "He's not just throwing strikes, he's down in the zone when he wants to and then he can elevate with some velocity. I think his hard work is really paying off."

McAllister has felt he always had the added velocity.

"Throughout my career I've always felt I've had a little more (velocity) in there if I could maintain it," said McAllister. "For whatever reason, whether it's being more consistent with my delivery or my arm action, I'm just trusting that when I let it go it's going to go where I want it to go. I'm not trying to place anything."


Pirates Pedro Alvarez looking to stick at first base
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/28/2015) Pirates first baseman Pedro Alvarez is hoping to stick at his new position after converting from third base, reports triblive.com.

On opening day, Alvarez will be the team's 54th first baseman in its 129-year history.

“It's a matter of getting used to seeing the field from that point of view,” Alvarez said. “I need to get the reps in so the responsibilities that come with playing that position become second nature to me.”

Pirates general manager Neal Huntington talked about the team's past efforts of platooning the position.

“You can't develop something you don't have. You can't buy something you can't afford,” general manager Neal Huntington said. “That's why we've tried to platoon. Over the last couple of years, we've realized that's a challenge for a National League manager. Platoons are much harder here than they are in the American League, especially with a one-dimensional player who can only play one position.”

The hope around the organization is that they can get quality production from Alvarez.

“Our hope that is between Pedro Alvarez and Corey Hart, we'll get quality major league production,” Huntington said.

The 28-year-old is batting .306 with two home runs, nine RBI and eight strikeouts this spring.


Pirates pitcher Charlie Morton can't find a rhythm Saturday
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(3/28/2015) Pirates pitcher Charlie Morton tossed six innings Saturday against the Blue Jays, allowing six hits, including two home runs and no strikeouts. Morton, who is fighting for a spot in the starting rotation, is still recovering from labrum surgery six months ago.

"Physically, Charlie is in a good place," manager Clint Hurdle said to MLB.com. "He is trying to make some mechanical adjustments in his delivery, but we don't have any health concerns about him."

Morton isn't worried about fixing mechanical issues just yet.

"Now is a tough time to put a lot of emphasis on mechanics," said Morton. "I gotta go pitch, adjustments or no adjustments."


 
 
 
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