We’ve built up some steam, and the only thing to do is continue full speed ahead! Don’t forget to check out all of our previous Cafeholic Rankings (C | 1B | 2B). Today we flip-flop, John Kerry-style, to the other side of the middle infield, Shortstop!
Natural Tier 1
I almost put Tulowitzki into a tier all by his lonesome because; to be honest, he probably deserves it. He is the king at Shortstop and has effectively made people forget all about Hanley Ramirez and Jose Reyes (okay, not forgotten all about them, but made them afterthoughts in Round 1). The last three years he’s posted 32, 27, and 30 HRs, respectively, his RBI total increasing each year, while batting .300. No big deal. Jose Reyes is one hammy pull away from being sapped of most of his fantasy value, while Hanley is reportedly less than thrilled about his move to the hot corner and is coming off a downright dreadful season in 2011. If you’ve got a mid to late first-round pick, Tulowitzki will be everything you want him to be. Maybe more.
Natural Tier 2
You know what makes me hate shortstop? The fact that here, in Tier 2, I’m not entirely comfortable with any of them. Can’t say that about any other position. And these guys are costing you a Top 60 pick more than likely. What I like: all three have been trending upward for a number of seasons now, be it Castro across the entire board, Cabrera’s slugging (although he hit an injury block in 2010), or Andrus’s OBP. Here’s the thing though; Asdrubal hit 25 HRs last season entirely out of the blue, to me at least. Whether he approaches that mark again in 2012 or returns to his previous career high of, wait for it… six homers, I have no idea. I don’t feel comfortable penciling him to belt 25 again, because really, I don’t know what caused him to make such a huge jump in the first place. Castro made a very nice jump between his rookie and sophomore seasons, but does he develop power, like some are predicting, or is he in the 10/20 range again for 2012? Andrus has the vast majority of his value tied up in his legs, which, as the Mets fan who watched Jose Reyes for his entire career to date, really scares me. One hammy/groin/knee flare up and suddenly he’s an empty batting average, which would also likely suffer if he isn’t 100% on his wheels. All that said, I seem to be against the grain with many I talk to in that I prefer Andrus to the other two. He bats lead-off in a tremendous lineup, plays in a heavy hitting ballpark, and has easily surpassed the 30 SB mark in each of the last three seasons consistently. Yes, if his average slips to the .255 to .260 range, he could get really ugly, but I think you’re more likely to see .270 to .280, with a feeling of comfort that he’s going to play at least 150 games.
Natural Tier 3
Three years ago this tier would have been really sexy, but in 2012 when the ages of its members are 33, 31 (allegedly), and 37, not only is the possibility of major regression a worry, so is the ability to stay healthy. Rollins and Jeter are both in aging lineups, and while they can both still produce, it’s the expectation and comfort with that production that is called into question. That’s why they’re here and not higher (well, that’s one reason). Remember last season Jeter was struggling to bat .250 going into June, and it wasn’t really until after his 3,000th hit that he really settled in, got comfortable, and looked back to form (he bat .327 after the All-Star Break with 37 RBIs and 42 runs). The bottom line for Jeter is that in order for him to really be helpful to your team, he needs to bat .290 or higher. If he’s batting .270, he’s looking at 15 or so steals as a high, and he failed to show any power stroke whatsoever last season. Flip-flop the HRs and SBs and you’ve essentially got Alexei Ramirez, who is probably closer to 40 than he is 31, regardless of what his Cuban paperwork says. Remember when I said I wasn’t really all that comfortable in Tier 2? Extrapolate that and you get an idea of where I’m at now, and we’re still in the Top 10. I don’t want to hear about how “deep” SS is this year…
Natural Tier 4
This is a tier comprised of three players who all had solid 2011 campaigns, yet still remain question marks for 2012. J.J. Hardy shocked many owners, belting a career high 30 homers a season ago. The reason he isn’t ranked higher is because we’re really not sure whether he’ll repeat that this season, or if he’ll go back to being a .270 hitter who knocks 15 out of the park. If you’re drafting him, in the back of your mind, you’re really hoping for a repeat, because expecting it at this point would be flawed, in my eyes. Peralta and Aybar have the benefit of adding two of the best hitters in all of baseball to their respective rosters for the upcoming season. How this will affect them, if at all, is unknown. You’d like to think that Aybar may cross the dish a few more times with “The Machine” batting in the heart of his order. Peralta, however, is a little more concerning. Sure he will likely bat immediately behind the Cabrera and Fielder duo, but you’re talking about major base cloggers in those two, which may cost Jhonny RBI opportunities. It’s all really speculation at this point.
Natural Tier 5
If the previous tier was the battle of upside/potential/growth, than this one is filled with the potential to absolutely go up in flames. The upside is a bit lower than in the previous tier (and really, that’s the way it is in every tier of every position, duh), and the likelihood of reaching that upside is slimmer (again, duh). I’m 50/50 on this group, feeling pretty good about both Yunel and somebody who we’ll explore a little more later when we talk about 3B, Bonifacio. Escobar posted a pretty solid season in Toronto a year ago, and if the offensive firepower in the great north shows the steady improvement that is expected, he should be a nice source for all-around stats that won’t make you hate him. Think .280, 10 HRs, 50 RBIs, 75 runs, and a stolen base or two for good measure. You won’t be doing back flips of joy, but you won’t be pulling your hair out either, which is more than you can say about Dee Gordon, who, in my mind, has the potential to be a complete and utter disappointment in the City of Angels. Sure, he bat .300 and swiped 24 bags over the final 56 games a season ago, but I see him being more likely to bat .270 than repeat his .300 performance. If he steals 50 bases he could be gold; however if he steals 35, suddenly he’s a guy who provides absolutely nothing in the form of HRs or RBIs, isn’t an elite run scoring threat, has an average that doesn’t help you, and isn’t stealing enough bases for you to overlook all of those things. Maybe I’m wrong, but Gordon is a guy I’m avoiding in all of my leagues this year. If I’m going for cheap, late speed at SS, I’ll gamble on Bonifacio.
Shortstop remains as thin as ever, contrary to what popular opinion seems to be suggesting, unless you’re qualifying a huge group of guys who will range from being mildly productive to absolute garbage as “depth.” Much like its middle infield counterpart, there’s tremendous talent at the top, followed by a severe drop-off where the potential to completely stink up the joint skyrockets. For many owners, this will be a recipe for disaster, and you’ll spend this season hating your SS position, as many have in the past. Snagging a player in one of those top two tiers in the first five or so rounds isn’t a bad idea and should, at the very least, mean that if you’re pulling your hair out, it’s over a different area of your team.
Thank you to all those who contributed their personal rankings for this compilation (credit to come at the end of this series), and don’t miss the next installment of Cafeholic Rankings when we jump out of the frying pan and into the fire of what is widely being hailed as 2012’s thinnest fantasy position, the hot corner, 3B!
Brendan Horton is one of a growing number of fantasy experts who write for the Cafe. You can catch up with Brendan in the Cafe's forums where he posts under the name of bigh0rt.
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