Right now, the shortstop position features Troy Tulowitzki, and everyone else to a certain extent. There are other solid options such as Hanley Ramirez if you believe in a rebound, and Jose Reyes. Then the position turns into a crap shoot featuring fading stars like Jimmy Rollins, first time breakouts like Asdrubal Cabrera, and specialists like Dee Gordon, J.J. Hardy and Jhonny Peralta. Have no fear fantasy gamers, there are a number of high ceiling prospects on the way to offer reinforcements at the position.
Xander Bogaerts, Boston Red Sox, 19 years old
Bogaerts has soared up prospect rankings after an excellent showing in full-season ball. One thing that should be immediately noted is that he isn’t likely to stay at shortstop, in fact, Kevin Goldstein give him about a zero percent shot of doing so. His arm is strong enough to make the transition to third base, but whether he’ll be able to play there will be dependent on how much range he loses as his 6-foot-3 frame fills out (just 175 pounds right now). His bat will be a plus at any position. He showed exceptional power with a .249 ISO and 16 home runs in only 265 at-bats. He chipped in another 14 doubles and two triples, bringing the extra base hit total to 32. His strikeout rate is a bit high, but fairly impressive when you consider he bypassed short-season leagues and only had experience in Dominican Summer League ball before last season. If he irons out his strikezone issues, something I expect him to do as he gain experience, he could be a special power hitter, and not simply a slugger.
He doesn’t need to move quickly to reach the bigs at a young age. He’ll open next year in High-A as a 19 year old, putting a reasonable ETA age at 22-23 years old. Get in on him now in dynasty leagues before the price gets too costly.
Manny Machado, Baltimore Orioles, 19 years old
Machado is a large-ish shortstop (6-foot-3 and 185 pounds) and young enough that he’s expected to fill out. As you’d guess reading his physical description, there are some scouts that believe he’ll lose a step and be forced over to third base as he ages. He’s done well thus far defensively, and not all are sold he’ll need to move to the hot corner. At either position, his bat will be amongst the best. He opened 2011 guns a blazing, but struggled after a knee injury and promotion. What percentage of the struggles were a result of the injury, and what percentage were a result of the promotion is debatable. There isn’t any reason to jump off the Machado band wagon yet though. He shows great patience, doesn’t strike out at an alarming rate, and projects to his 20 plus home runs in the future. Solid batting average thanks to a strong contact rate, plus his projected power sounds like a pretty special package to me. He may repeat High-A to begin the year, or the Orioles may choose to be aggressive and open him in Double-A. Keep an eye on how he’s handled in the spring.
Tim Beckham, Tampa Bay Rays, 22 years old
Beckham is going to fail to live up to the lofty expectations that come with being the number one overall pick in an amateur draft. That doesn’t mean he won’t have value to the Rays. In spite of his lackluster play at the High-A level in 2010, the Rays continued moving him up the minor league ladder. Beckham rewarded their confidence and took the challenge. He showed his most in game power of his young career, improved his walk rate, and cut back on the strikeouts. He’s not a burner, but was efficient in stealing 17 bases against just five caught stealing. His play earned him a late season promotion and 106 at-bats in Triple-A. He showed some power, but watched his walk and strikeout rates go the wrong direction.
He’ll open in Durham this year with the chance to supplant the unexciting mess at the position on the parent club over the summer. Beckham’s showing in the Arizona Fall League further inspire confidence in him making a 2012 big league debut. In the AFL he hit .244/.364/.489. Getting past the ugly average, his walk rate of 14 percent, and .244 ISO with four home runs and 12 extra base hits in 90 at-bats were outstanding. He won’t have long to prove himself at the major league level with Hak-Ju Lee nipping at his heels, so any stumbles in Triple-A could be damming to his future. The ball is in Beckham’s court at this point, what he does with it is up to him.
Hak-Ju Lee, Tampa Bay Rays, 21 years old
Speaking of Lee nipping at Beckham’s heels, the reason that is the case is his spectacular play in High-A. He stumbled in 100 Double-A at-bats, but he should be fine. Lee doesn’t offer much power, as his line drive stroke is more conducive to double and triples, but I don’t expect him to be completely devoid of home run pop either. His game is predicated on speed, and getting on-base. He’s proficient at working ball fours (9.3 percent walk rate in High-A and 9.6 percent in Double-A), and doesn’t strikeout at an alarming rate (though he could use some improvement there). Lee’s speed and on-base skills are great enough that he’s a solid bet to steal 30 plus bases annually at the major league level. He’s a career .296/.368/.392 hitter in the minors. If he’s able to hit .290 plus in the majors, with modest power, and 30 plus stolen bases near the top of the Rays order (likely in the two hole behind Desmond Jennings), he’d be a superb fantasy shortstop. His struggles at Montgomery, and Beckham’s spot in Durham, assure Lee of repeating Double-A to start the year. A summertime promotion of Beckham to the parent club could coincide nicely with a Lee promotion to Triple-A. The presence of Beckham clouds Lee’s ETA, but I’d guess we’ll see him late in 2013, or early in 2014.
Francisco Lindor, Cleveland Indians, 18 years old
Lindor’s high standing on prospect lists is largely a product of his electric glove work. Don’t mistake that for meaning Lindor swings a noodle stick at the dish. At worst, he projects to have gap power. At best, he could slug 10-15 home runs a year. His swing from both sides leads many to believe he’ll hit for a high average, and his athleticism and base running acumen portend well to him being a positive contributor in stolen bases. None of his fantasy tools stand out as top flight, but the sum of the parts is pretty nice. His game is advanced for a high school draftee, so he should move quickly through the Indians system. Just how quickly will be more clear after he makes his full-season debut this year.
Ronny Rodriguez, Cleveland Indians, 19 years old
Rodriguez’s stats don’t warrant being featured here. However, he oozes with tools, and he’d never played in organized professional games before last year. Lindor is going to force Rodriguez off the position, unless of course the Indians trade Rodriguez, but he’ll have enough bat to be a fantasy asset at third base if his tools actualize. One thing that stands out from his stat line is that he did show impressive power for a 19 year old, ripping 10 home runs and 46 extra base hits in 370 at-bats, good for a .203 ISO. He also stole ten bases, but was inefficient getting caught seven times. With Lindor in the system now, it’s unlikely Rodriguez will be awarded the opportunity to repeat Low-A. Instead he’ll be challenged with a High-A assignment. His development could go any number of ways, but the power and speed potential make him a player worth following.
Tyler Saladino, Chicago White Sox, 22 years old
The White Sox farm system is easily the worst in baseball by a wide margin. Saladino is one of the few bright spots. The Oral Roberts product was a seventh round selection in 2010. He had a decent pro debut after signing, and turned it up a notch in year two. He flashed power, passable contact skills, and showed the ability to draw walks at a high rate (11.0 percent). His swing leaves questions about how well he’ll perform against advanced pitching, and he doesn’t project to hit for a high average. His on-base skills and average power could help offset that. His position makes him a possible fantasy contributor, but not a special one.
Jurickson Profar, Texas Rangers, 18 years old
To say Profar has strikezone control that exceeds his age would be an understatement. Last season he walked two more times than he struck out as an 18 year old in full season ball. That’s pretty remarkable for a prospect that isn’t a Punch and Judy slap singles type. Profar packs surprising punch, and had a .207 ISO with 57 extra base hits last year. Expect his power to continue to trend upward as he physically matures. In addition to his power, he offers speed too, having stolen 23 base in 2011. As if the power and speed combination isn’t enough reason to salivate over Profar, his ability to be a plus contributor in batting average is further reason to anxiously await him. He is a switch hitter that hit both left-handed pitching and right-handed pitching hard (.852 OPS against left-handed pitching and .897 OPS against right-handed pitching).
In my eyes, he has leapfrogged Manny Machado for the honor of top fantasy baseball shortstop prospect. Elvis Andrus, the Rangers dynamic starting shortstop currently, avoided arbitration and agreed to a contract that bought out his last three years of team control this offseason. Barring another extension that buys out some of his free agent years (which, in my opinion, is highly unlikely as a Scott Boras client), he’ll hit the open market after the 2014 season. Profar may be ready to reach the majors before that, but more important than his timetable is that the path could be clear for him to remain at shortstop where his glove is a plus for the position. Profar has the seeds of blossoming into a special player.
Jean Segura, Los Angeles Angels, 21 years old
2011 was a season of good and bad for Segura. The good is that he impressed making the transition from second baseman to shortstop, and looks like he can stick there. The bad is that his season was cut short by a torn hamstring. He made up for some of that missed time with a brief Arizona Fall League stint. Segura is an absolute terror on the base paths with 102 stolen bases in 127 chances (80.3 percent success rate) in his minor league career. He has some pop (could have low-to-mid teens home run seasons), but his swing and approach is tailor made for line drives and a plus-plus batting average. His career line in five minor league seasons is .316/.370/.449. He also rarely strikes out. In 1166 at-bats, he has whiffed only 149 times.
Segura should begin the year at Double-A, and a healthy season would go a long way in setting him up to replace Erick Aybar. Aybar will become a free agent at the end of the year, and should drum up a bidding war that will price himself out of Los Angeles. Health is the key for Segura.
Nick Franklin, Seattle Mariners, 20 years old
Franklin is a difficult prospect to get a read on. He posted a 20/20 season ripping 23 home runs and stealing 25 bases in the Midwest League in 2010. 2011 was a disappointing encore. He totaled only just seven home runs across two levels, but was still able to swipe 18 bases. Part of the blame for Franklin’s poor season was a lengthy list of maladies. It began with a concussion and was followed by food poisoning and mononucleosis. His appearance in the AFL was an extension of his career to date in the sense it created as many questions as answers. He struck out to often, 25.8 percent of the time, but flashed power hitting two home runs in 102 plate appearances. 2012 should begin to answer some questions surrounding Franklin, including what type of power can he be expected to have in his major league future.
He received less than 100 plate appearances at the Double-A level, so he should begin the year repeating the level. If he plays well, a summertime promotion to Triple-A is attainable. Franklin could be ready to reach the majors as soon as 2013. His potential fantasy impact will likely become much clearer this season.
Andrelton Simmons, Atlanta Braves, 22 years old
Simmons was considered a whiz with the glove going into the 2011 season. Scouts were less sold on the bat. Last year did a lot to alleviate concerns. He doesn’t project to have more than gap power, and that played out with him hitting 35 double and six triples, but only one home run. Simmons led the Carolina League in hitting, and is a threat to use his speed on the bases to snag a few. He wasn’t efficient getting caught stealing 18 times, but it’s possible he’ll clean that up with coaching and experience. His future fantasy value will hinge on gains in his stolen base efficiency. If he fails to deliver on improving, he’ll be nothing more than a hollow average. If he does improve, he could be a viable fantasy shortstop during his major league career.
Javier Baez, Chicago Cubs, 19 years old
Baez was a top-10 selection in June’s amateur draft. He impressed scouts with his blinding bat speed, and is expected to hit for both average and power. He’s big, 6-foot-1 and 205 pounds, and has questionable range for the shortstop currently. That range is likely to worsen as he slows down and fills out. It is unlikely he’ll stick at shortstop, but his bat has star power and would be fine at third base or even in the corner outfield. He got a taste of professional baseball after signing, and Jim Callis pegs him for a Low-A assignment in 2012. Heart of the order bats are always ideal to get one’s hands on, and Baez has one if his hit and power tools actualize.
Zack Cozart, Cincinnati Reds, 26 years old
Cozart is the elder statesman of the prospect shortstop class. He’s had to bide his time at Louisville longer than his performance probably warranted. If he had not suffered a season ending elbow injury, he wouldn’t qualify for this list. Alas, he did, and here he is. He’s in line to start at shortstop for the Reds this year, and is a solid middle infield target in large mixed leagues. He has done a bit of everything at times in the minors. He hit for average last year, .310, and paced for a mid-to-high teens home run finish. In 2010 he showed base stealing ability stealing 30 in 34 chances. His 2010 stolen base total looks like an outlier to me, but there isn’t any reason to think he can’t steal 15-20 bases, and add roughly the same number of home runs. His career minor league batting average is .270, so don’t expect him to hit over .300 either. Regardless, power, speed, and a palatable average are a nice blend at a thin position.
Billy Hamilton, Cincinnati Reds, 21 years old
That’s not a typo, he did steal 103 bases in 2011. On the 20-to-80 scale, Hamilton’s speed is essentially a 90. He’s a burner, and an aggressive hell raiser on the bases that is incredibly efficient with a 83.8 percent career stolen base rate. The running joke with speed first prospects is you can’t steal first base. The idea being, elite speed is great, but you still have to hit or walk to make the most of it. Hamilton has walked at a fair clip, and has hit for a decent average the last two seasons. One red flag is his 21.8 percent strikeout rate. That’s too high for a guy that doesn’t hit for power. There are questions as to whether he’ll stick at shortstop, but if he hits, his speed is so elite it won’t matter whether he slides over to second base or patrols center field. There is some bust potential here, but Hamilton’s stolen base potential is such a game changer that he warrants gambling on. Owners in dynasty leagues must be patient with Hamilton. He needed to repeat Rookie ball in 2010 after a disastrous pro debut, and while he had a good year in Low-A, he didn’t dominate to the point that expectations should turn to him being a fast mover. Expect him to open in High-A, and possibly spend the entire year there. He’s a few years from seeing the majors.
Josh is a graduate of SUNY Cortland's Sport Management program, and an aspiring fantasy writer. You can catch up with Josh in the Cafe Forums where he posts as B-Chad. You can also follow his work at The Hardball Times and follow him on Twitter (BChad50).
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