Talk about a top-heavy super-model – this might be the strongest spot in all of baseball. At least at the top anyway. 3 of the top 5 ranked players in ESPN’s fantasy baseball rankings just happen to play the short stop position. While they might be reaching a little bit for Jimmy Rollins power numbers, he’s definitely proven an ability to do it, and last years struggles and injuries still left him 3rd amongst all short stops. His power numbers were down last season, but so what. At 30, where infielders usually slow down, Rollins made up for his lack of power with speed, stealing more bases (47) than any other time in his career. That being said, this guy missed a month and finished ahead of every other SS besides Hanely and Jose Reyes. That threesome is great, but if you don’t get one of them the level of SS production drops off entirely. Here’s how my tiered rankings work out…
1. Jose Reyes – One of the best players in baseball. Reyes does it all. He doesn’t have great power, but he does have solid power. Everything else is brilliant. For a guy that has some of the best useable speed in the game, Reyes helps his team, and fantasy owners out by making contact, and drawing close to as many walks as times he Ks. His steals were down a bit last season, but he’s going to get around 60. The guy may have only mashed 16 HRs, but realize that he also accounted for 19 triples. That’s dirty. Jose is magic. He’s 25. He’s in a good line-up that plays good baseball. He’s one of my favorite guys in the league.
2. Hanley Ramirez – Hanley is one of the best players in baseball. Ramirez does it all. He has great power, great speed, but strikes out a little too much, which hurts his value a little in -1 K leagues like mine. But he is magic and basides whiffing occasionally, this guy really is magic. Hanley might bat 3rd this season which could drop his steals a bit but should up his RBI to around 100. His upside hasn’t been reached and he’s already one of the best in baseball. Tough to not take this guy #1.
3. Jimmy Rollins – From tier 1 to tier 2 isn’t much of a drop off, but I would consider Jose and Hanley as higher value players. I think they are pretty interchangeable while Rollins falls off a bit for me. But remember, ESPN ranks Rollins output 1st amongst SS’s in points leagues, and it makes sense because he never strikes out and some expect a 25HR season. I think he’ll stay closer to 15 and though he’ll be very good, I expect bigger things out of the first two.
4. Rafael Furcal – Furcal has done some good things, and last year was absolutely hitting the cover off the ball before losing much of the season to injury. If Manny comes back, Furcal will score even more runs, and if he stays healthy he’s going to be one of the better SS options in all of baseball. Even without Manny, Raf will be solid in that maturing Dodger lineup.
5. Stephen Drew – Drew has tons of upside, and has been much-hyped during his short career. Be very quite about it, but he was showing signs of meeting his potential during the last half of last season. He hit .291 last season with 21 HRs and 91 runs scored. Nothing wrong with that. Add in the fact that he struggled early and is only 25, I’ll take a chance on Drew if I can’t corral one of the top guys.
6. Troy Tulowitzki – Tulowitzki is dropping off radars, but that just don’t make no sense. He struggled last season after mashing the Rockies into the post-season in 2007, but he’ll be back. He’s too good and played much better down the stretch than people give him credit for. He really struggled in 2008 early, but he has a better chance of doing better than his 2007 rookie season than the poor numbers he put up last year. He doesn’t have as much protection in that line-up, but he’ll be a nice starting SS in fantasy formats.
7. Derek Jeter – Jeter isn’t going to play like the guy that got all that love years ago. He’ll get 10-15 HRs, bat between .305-.325, steal 11-17 bases, score 100+ runs, with 70-80 RBI. He won’t do much more, but more importantly, he won’t do much less. He might not be worth the hype, but he’s still solid.
8. Michael Young – Last year was the first season Young hit under .300 in his last 6 campaigns. He’ll get back to .300, it’s almost a guarantee. That’s something like 12 more balls finding turf instead of a mitt – he’ll be back. That being said, his upside for your fantasy team isn’t that high – however, he’s still starter worthy in fantasy circles – he’ll get close to 100 runs and RBI despite his lack of HR pop.
9a. J.J. Hardy – Hardy strikes out and crushes home runs. Especially compared to other SSs after the top couple guys. He is a solid player that will start all year on fantasy clubs. He’s a lot like Jhonny Peralta, so, I’ll rank them the same…
9b. Jhonny Peralta – Consistency is there for this power hitting SS. He’s hit .270 with at least 21 home runs with at least 70RBI in 3 of his last four seasons. He doesn’t hit for a really high average, he strikes out a lot, and he doesn’t walk all that much – but after tier 3 he looks pretty solid.
10. Orlando Cabrera – If Cabrera goes to Oakland he’ll likely score a lot of runs as a lead-off guy, SS, on a team that will hit a lot of HRs. He’s a freaking selfish bastard, but hey, fantasy stats are fantasy stats, and while he is ancient, he’s still productive as well.
11. Miguel Tejada – Lots up in the air here. I hate the steroid stuff, but hate even more all the freaking out the congress did about the whole thing. Tejada didn’t want to throw his teammates under the bus – weird. I like the guy, I hope he turns it back around and plays some ball this year, but there’s lots that can happen here and you need to worry about it. Plus, his skills are definitely declining. Still, he’s a solid bat at SS, can’t argue much with that.
12. Mike Aviles – This may be a bit of a reach, but why not reach for a no-namer like Aviles that hit .325 in his rookie season, busting out 10 dingers and 51 RBI in only 419 at bats. He also stole 8 bases. It may have been a fluke, but it may not, and he might be well worth the chance getting drafted in this tier of SSs.
13. Yunel Escobar – Yunny didn’t impress like he was supposed to last season. None of his numbers stood out but he didn’t kill any owners either. Still, the Braves must not be too impressed as they tried to deal him all summer. I still think he could bat close to .300 and have better power numbers next season.
14. Edgar Renteria – He’s always had his best seasons in the National League, and he’ll be in the middle of the order in San Francisco so why not another solid year from Edgar? His 20 steal days are probably over, but he’ll likely be close to 20 than 6 playing in SF where they actually run. He’s in a good situation with a young team that is maturing – I think he will be a useful starter this season.
15. Ryan Theriot – He walks more than he strikes out. He’ll steal 20+ bases. He’ll score 80-100 runs in Chicago. He’s a guy you can get right at the end of the draft and he might just do enough to make you smile.
16. Jed Lowrie – This kid could be solid, and might be the SS answer in Boston. That right there is enough to make him fantasy worthy. Jed didn’t have fancy numbers last season, but in just 260 at bats he totaled 46 RBI and his .339 on base percentage scored him 34 runs in those minimal chances. I like Lowrie, and while I’m not the only one, he does kind of scare me as I’m not sure he’ll get more than 400 abs.
17. Christian Guzman – Nothing that impressive about Guzman – and there never really has been (don’t tell the Nationals, they felt the need to get him 4.5 mil a year after the 2004 season where he batted .274 with 7 HRs and 10 SBs and 46 RBI). Anyway, he’ll probably bat around .300 and score more runs in an improving Washington lineup.
18. Brandon Wood – There’s a chance he doesn’t get the starting gig, and that will hurt his value, but his upside is much greater than most and especially Erick Aybar, the guy he’s trying to fend off. Wood has 30HR power in a season of at bats, now if he could just lay off some bad pitches and turn some of those Ks into BBs.
19. Yuniesky Betancourt – Like Dutin Pedroia, here is a guy that swings really hard. Unlike Pedroia, Yuny flies out just short a lot. Still, he gets a lot of hits, hits the ball hard, and can be useable in a crunch.
20. Jeff Keppinger – Before Kepp was hurt last season, he was really swinging the bat well. I know he’s competing for the starting spot, but that offense doesn’t have the bats they used to and they might need Jeff’s extra offense.
21. Jerry Hairston Jr. – Jerry had great numbers in his minimal at bats last season and could very well get starter time in Cinci – if he does, he’s worth a look for sure, there’s always been upside with Hairston.
22. Elvis Andrus – He doesn’t hit for much power but his minor league stats suggest he’ll come in at about .250-.275. The Rangers are obviously high on him, but remember he’s just 20. He does have ++ speed accumulating 54 steals last season, 80 in 2007, and 23 in 2006. He’s young but his upside and the fact that he has a starting gig might make him a nice sleeper option in a run scoring lineup.