It wasn’t all that long ago that very little was expected offensively from the shortstop position. Boy, have things changed. Hanley Ramirez and Jose Reyes are going in the top five in fantasy drafts and 2007 National League MVP Jimmy Rollins isn’t far behind. And once you get past the elite options, you realize how deep this year’s shortstop crop is. Stephen Drew, J.J. Hardy, Jhonny Peralta and Troy Tulowitzki are good and getting better; Derek Jeter, Michael Young, Orlando Cabrera, Miguel Tejada and Rafael Furcal have been getting the job done for years.
1. Hanley Ramirez, FLA
Ramirez is a fantasy stud and at 25 his potential appears limitless. He joined the 30-30 club in 2008 and though his average fell from .332 in 2007 to .301 last year, his OBP rose 14 points to .400. He’ll likely move from leadoff to the No. 3 spot, which means more RBI chances. He’ll be one of the first players taken in any fantasy format.
2. Jose Reyes, NYM
Reyes uses his blazing speed not only to swipe bags (56 in 2008), but also to stretch singles into doubles (37) and doubles into triples (19). He’s also got some pop (16 homers) and scores runs in bunches as the Mets’ leadoff man.
3. Jimmy Rollins, PHI
Rollins slugged just 11 homers last year after hitting 30 in his 2007 MVP campaign, but he’s still fantasy gold. He overcame an early-season ankle injury to steal 47 bases and actually improved his OBP. He won’t hurt you with K’s, either.
4. Stephen Drew, ARI
Drew enjoyed a breakout season in 2008, raising his batting average 53 points to .291 and smacking 44 doubles to go along with his 21 homers. J.D.’s brother was a well-regarded prospect and should only get better with experience.
5. J.J. Hardy, MIL
If you’re looking for power from your shortstop, Hardy’s the best bet not named Hanley Ramirez. The fact that he posted nearly identical seasons in 2007 and 2008 means a .275 average, 25 homers and 75 RBI are likely in 2009.
6. Derek Jeter, NYY
The Yankee Captain is as steady as they come. You know what to expect: a .300-plus average, around 200 hits, 10-15 homers and some steals mixed in. If the Bombers’ offense gets rolling, he’ll also rack up points for you circling the bases.
7. Jhonny Peralta, CLE
Peralta has always had good pop, but it comes along with a ton of strikeouts. He got his K total down to a manageable 126 in 2008, though, and posted career highs in hits, runs and RBI. Hopefully the improvement continues.
8. Michael Young, TEX
Young posted his lowest average (.284) since 2002 but still ranked among the best fantasy shortstops on the strength of his 183 hits, 102 runs and 82 RBI. He’ll likely shift to third to make room for rookie Elvis Andrus and gain eligibility there.
9. Orlando Cabrera, OAK
Cabrera’s numbers never look all that impressive, but he does just enough of everything to rank among the best fantasy shortstops. Expect another year with an average around .280-.300, lots of runs scored and 20 stolen bases.
10. Miguel Tejada, HOU
Even Houston’s bandbox ballpark couldn’t stop Tejada’s steady slide. His home run total decreased for the fifth straight year as he finished with just 13. He still has fantasy value because he’s durable and knocks in and scores runs.
11. Troy Tulowitzki, COL
Those who expected Tulo to join the ranks of elite shortstops in his sophomore campaign came away disappointed. Injuries played a major role, and it would be foolish to write off such a talented young player. Expect a bounce-back.
12. Rafael Furcal, LA
Furcal got off to a great start in 2008 before a back injury knocked him out for most of the year. He was coming off one of his worst years, so it’s tough to know what to expect in 2009. A .280 average and 25 steals seems reasonable.
13. Mike Aviles, KC (2B)
Aviles emergence as a 27-year-old rookie is a little less surprising when you look at his minor league totals. In other words, don’t expect him to hit .325 over a full season of at bats, but don’t be afraid to scoop him up, either.
14. Yunel Escobar, ATL
Escobar was a mild disappointment last year, but that’s because he set the bar pretty high in his impressive 2007 debut. He’s no longer eligible all over the infield, meaning he might fall into the late rounds and be a great bargain.
15. Cristian Guzman, WAS
The former speed-burner was fantasy relevant for the first time in years in 2008, stroking 183 hits - including nine homers - on the way to a .316 batting average. He doesn’t run anymore, but is a solid starter when he can stay healthy.
16. Edgar Renteria, SF
Renteria has posted two of his worst years in his only two seasons in the Junior Circuit, including last year. Since he’s back in the N.L. with the Giants, you can hope he returns to his 2007 form, when he hit .332 with 12 jacks for Atlanta.
17. Ryan Theriot, CHC
Theriot will have some value as long as he’s a starting shortstop because he gets on base and scores runs. He doesn’t offer any pop, and though he stole 22 bases, he was caught 13 times. Don’t be fooled - he’s no more than a fallback.
18. Elvis Andrus, TEX
Andrus, who hit .295 and stole 54 bases in 118 double-A games last season, is the favorite to start at shortstop for the Rangers this year. He offers very little pop but his speed and presence in a potent lineup make him a solid rookie sleeper.
19. Cesar Izturis, BAL
Izturis isn’t much of a hitter but he’s good at swiping bags, and, with no competition for the Orioles’ shortstop gig, he should have plenty of opportunities to do so. He can be had at the tail end of drafts and could be a nice sleeper.
20. Jason Bartlett, TB
Offensively, Bartlett is basically the same player as Izturis: a slap-hitter with no pop who’s adept at stealing bases. Izturis is a better base stealer though, and Ben Zobrist and rookie Reid Brignac could steal some of Bartlett’s playing time.
THE BEST OF THE REST
21. Yuniesky Betancourt, SEA
22. Khalil Greene, STL
23. Julio Lugo, BOS +
24. Emmanuel Burriss, SF (2B)
25. Erick Aybar, LAA
26. Alex Gonzalez, CIN +
27. Jack Wilson, PIT
28. Jed Lowrie, BOS (3B)
29. Brendan Harris, MIN (2B,3B)
30. Marco Scutaro, TOR (2B,3B)
31. David Eckstein, SD (2B)
32. Bobby Crosby, OAK
33. Macier Izturis, LAA (2B)
34. Ben Zobrist, TB
35. Jeff Keppinger, CIN
36. Ronny Cedeno, SEA (2B)
37. Jerry Hairston, CIN (OF)
38. Nomar Garciaparra, OAK
39. Adam Everett, DET
40. Nick Punto, MIN (2B)
41. Everth Cabrera, SD
42. Brent Lillibridge, CHW
43. Chin-lung Hu, LA (2B)
44. Reid Brignac, TB
45. Omar Vizquel, TEX
PROSPECTS TO KEEP AN EYE ON
1. Jason Donald, PHI
2. Alcides Escobar, MIL
3. Chris Valaika, CIN
4. Diory Hernandez, ATL
5. Adrian Cardenas, OAK
6. Trevor Plouffe, MIN
7. Todd Frazier, CIN
8. Gordon Beckham, CHW
9. Ian Desmond, WAS
FANTASY PREVIEW SCHEDULE
Monday, Feb. 23 - Intro & Catchers
Wednesday, Feb. 25 - First Basemen
Friday, Feb. 27 - Second Basemen
Monday, March 2 - Third Basemen
Wednesday, March 4 - Shortstops
Friday, March 6 - Outfielders
Monday, March 9 - DH-only
Wednesday, March 11 - Starting Pitchers
Friday, March 13 - Relief Pitchers
Jay LeBlanc is an assistant news editor at The Washington Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo by the Associated Press