Fantasy Baseball Breakouts: Shortstops

by John Hoey | Featured Writer
Mar 17, 2017

Tim Anderson will swipe plenty of bases this season for the White Sox

I always see shortstop as the second offensive punt position after catcher. If I don’t land one of the few big names (Machado, Correa, Lindor) I kick the shortstop can down the draft board for a seat-filler. Asdrubal Cabrera is always there waiting for us all, isn’t he? While I may employ that same philosophy this year, I can do so knowing a breakout is available in the late to final rounds.

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Jose Peraza (CIN)
The Cincinnati Reds have a 22-year-old speedster on their hands in Jose Peraza.  Last season in 72 games, Peraza hit .324/.352/.411/.762 and stole 21 bases. He is unpolished but has laid the foundation for a springboard 2017. You can ignore the red flag regarding his high BABIP last year because frankly, the kid makes contact, hard contact, and hits the ball everywhere. And in the age of “the shift”, that ability is invaluable.

Peraza only had a three percent walk rate last year, but he did have five of his seven walks in the final 27 games of the season. I’m not saying that makes him Kevin Youkilis, but his plate discipline ended the season in the right direction. Peraza will never be a big walk guy because he is an aggressive hitter, swinging at five percent more pitches than the average player. That can be a bad trait, but it works for him. Peraza had an 87% contact rate last year with a 27% line drive rate while spraying the ball everywhere.

2016 Pull Center Opposite Field
(256 plate appearances) 31% 40% 28%

 
The Reds are going nowhere in 2017. Let’s face it, the Cubs own the NL Central and they are not sniffing a wild card play-in spot. This gives Peraza all the room to grow with the big club. He can play multiple positions, shortstop being his favorite (his twitter handle is JosePerazaSS). He makes a lot of contact, hits the ball hard to all fields, and gets on base at a solid rate, enough to steal a lot of bags. With a current ADP of 153, you can grab him in the 13th round of standard drafts. Peraza is ready to bust out, and if you want 40-plus steals and a near .300 average at a position most of us punt to late in the draft, this is your guy.

Dansby Swanson (ATL)
The Braves are rebuilding their team, and their package trade that sent Shelby Miller to Arizona for Dansby Swanson might be one of the best moves they could have made in the process. Swanson was the 2015 MLB amateur draft’s first overall pick, and for good reason. In 145 plate appearances for the Braves last year, he hit .302/.361/.442/.803. He had a high BABIP and hit the ball on the ground more than I’d like, but his other advanced metrics indicate that he is the real deal. His pitch-read skills are already above average, as he swung at four percent fewer pitches outside of the zone than the average MLB hitter. He had 82% medium-to-hard contact, and a nine percent walk rate, one percent above league average. It’s not often you find this kind of plate awareness and discipline in a 23-year-old player who has had less than 200 plate appearances in the major leagues.

Swanson is my favorite pick for breakout shortstop. I think in a full season we can see similar slash line to last year, accompanied by 30 doubles, 10-15 home runs, 70 RBIs, and 10-15 stolen bases. He can currently be had in the 15th round of standard drafts, and that’s the last time you will see him there.  His plate awareness and discipline are already primed, so there is little work to be done other than Brian Snitker writing his name on the lineup card. Snitker has already indicated he is leaning towards batting Swanson second, which is the best vote of confidence a manager can give a player. Without sugar-coating it, Dansby Swanson will be the best breakout shortstop of the 2017 season.

Tim Anderson (CWS)
The least polished of this list of breakout shortstops is Tim Anderson of the Chicago White Sox. A first round pick out of Decatur, Mississippi, Anderson made his debut with the White Sox last season, appearing in 99 games. The 23-year-old hit .283/.306/.432/.738, but some of his ratios must improve if he is to break out this season, most importantly his walks and strikeouts. In 431 plate appearances, Anderson struck out 117 times to only 13 walks. The biggest cause of this is his handling of pitches outside the strike zone.

2016 O-Swing O-Contact Overall Contact
Tim Anderson 36% 55% 70%
League Average 30% 64% 78%

 
Anderson is swinging at more, and hitting less pitches outside the zone than the average MLB player.

White Sox Manager Rick Renteria has been batting Anderson leadoff and second this spring, and has full confidence in his young shortstop, because although his plate discipline and strikeout-to-walk ratios are terrible, he did produce last season, good enough to finish seventh for rookie of the year. Even if Anderson fails to improve on his ratios and swing percentages, his numbers would still be solid for a shortstop. Over a full season his pace last year would produce around 16 home runs, 30 doubles, and 16 stolen bases.

Anderson is a worker, he doesn’t settle. Just this spring he has mentioned improvements he is making in the field to be a better shortstop.  While many players grow stagnant and feel entitled in their new found position, Anderson does not.  I think he improves his plate discipline, and while it won’t be stellar, it will be good enough to increase his production. Anderson is currently being drafted 207th overall, good for the 17th round in standard drafts. I have him as a valuable breakout candidate who will give you 15-20 home runs, 15-20 steals, over 30 doubles at an average around .270. I don’t think he will hit his peak this year, but in his first full season, he will break out as one of the young shortstops offering solid power and speed to fantasy lineups.

Didi Gregorius (NYY)
The man pegged to replace iconic Derek Jeter at shortstop in the Bronx is entering his third season in pinstripes. Some might say last year was a breakout for Gregorius, but the fantasy overlords seem to have considered his 2016 an anomaly. He swatted a career-high 20 home runs (nine of those on the road) in arguably his best offensive season, yet he is still slated to go undrafted in most standard leagues.

What encourages me to think Gregorius will have an even better season than last is in 2016, he had the highest contact percentage of his career (83%) while reducing his swinging strike percentage to a career low (9.4%). He is never going to be a Machado, but if Didi keeps the trend of increasing his contact, he will increase his chances of productivity per plate appearance.

On top of all of that, he’s a lefty hitter that destroyed left-handed pitching. Gregorius torched lefties to a slash line of .320/.357/.419/.826 last year.

Gregorius had a good 2016, but his 2017 has a chance to be better. As a comparison, Troy Tulowitzki, a player who has been consistently trending downward, yet is still going 10 rounds earlier:

2016 BA OBP SLG OPS
Tulowitzki (ADP-134) .254 .318 .443 .761
Gregorius (ADP-259) .276 .304 .447 .751

 
The numbers speak for themselves. Not only do I think Gregorius has another good season, I think he builds on his progress, exceeding what he did in 2016, and has a breakout year that vaults him from the depths of the undrafted waters.

Statistics provided by Fangraphs.com and Baseball-Reference.com. ADP provided by FantasyPros.


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John Hoey is a featured writer with FantasyPros. For more from John, check out his archive and follow him on Twitter at JohnnyCrashMLB


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