Fantasy Baseball Sleepers: Shortstop
In my last few pieces, I’ve discussed sleepers at second and third base. Be sure to check those out if you haven’t yet.
Who’s ready for some shortstops today? I’ll assume someone raised their hand. Onward!
Note: Jose Peraza is worth a mention here, but he’s listed among my second basemen. For more on him, take a gander at that list.
Marcus Semien (OAK): ECR No. 196
Semien was among those who took part in The Great Power Surge of 2016, slugging a career-high 27 home runs and 27 doubles, alongside 72 runs, 75 RBIs, and 10 stolen bases. He traded in some line drives to boost his fly-ball rate (42.9%), which almost certainly contributed to the increase in power, but also resulted in a .238 average. Still, it’s hard to complain about a career high .197 isolated power (ISO), nor did his strikeout rate budge much (22.4%).
But can he do it again? A jump in home-run-to-fly-ball rate (HR/FB) from under 10% the previous two years to 14.7% likely means some regression is coming. Furthermore, in spite of the home runs, his hard-hit rate was an underwhelming 28.5%, and his wRC+ came out to exactly 100.
But a .250-20-10 season is still plenty good for a player getting picked outside the top 200. And you could argue the upside isn’t all that different from Troy Tulowitzki and Brad Miller, both of whom are going way ahead of Semien in drafts.
Dansby Swanson (ATL): ECR No. 201
When it comes to high-level prospects, you’ll often hear experts refer to “shiny toy syndrome.” After all, it’s way more exciting to draft the next big thing over the “boring” veteran. Sometimes the hype outweighs reality, leading to unreasonable expectations for unproven players.
Swanson hasn’t quite fallen into this category, though. Despite being the first overall pick in the 2015 draft, his consensus ADP is around 171, well behind highly touted up-and-comers like Alex Bregman (84) and Andrew Benintendi (124). Part of the reason for this is Swanson has no one defining skill that stands out, with fairly modest power and speed expectations.
He did show some positive signs in his brief major league debut, though, slashing .302/.361/.442 across 145 major league plate appearances. The high average was likely BABIP driven (.383), and he struck out a bit too often (23.4%), but he did have a promising walk rate (9%) and hard-hit rate (34.7%). It’s tough to derive too much from a small sample size, but at least he held his own.
Projections hover around 10 homers and 10 stolen bases with a batting average a hair under .260. That’s not going to get you to jump out of your seat, but .275-15-15 isn’t an unreasonable ceiling, and he should get plenty of scoring opportunities as he’s expected to bat high in the order this year. Yes, given the uncertainty there’s some risk-reward here, but this is one shiny toy that won’t cost you an arm and a leg and will look quite nice in your middle infielder spot.
Tim Anderson (CWS): ECR No. 213
Savvy NFBC drafters have picked up on Anderson, but Yahoo, CBS, and ESPN leagues show him still going outside the top 200. Don’t make the same mistake.
In last year’s major league debut, Anderson hit nine homers, scored 57 runs, stole 10 bases, and hit .283. The average is a little misleading, as he had a very high .375 BABIP and struck out over 27% of the time. That said, the speedy shortstop showed a consistently high BABIP in the minors, so perhaps not all of last year’s mark was simply good luck.
The speed is what’s important, though. In 2015, Anderson stole 49 bases in a full season of Double-A, and last year he stole 21 bases across both Triple-A and the majors. Who doesn’t like some cheap speed?
The 23-year-old Anderson projects for around 70 runs, 10 home runs, 20 stolen bases, and a .265 average. That’s essentially Elvis Andrus with more pop, and five years younger. The complaint with speedsters is that they provide no power, but Anderson should hold his own just fine.
Even better, Anderson is expected to lead off this year, further giving a boost to his upside. There’s a ton to like here, with the strikeouts being the only potential weakness that could derail his season.
But the rebuilding White Sox will likely give him every chance to succeed and run wild on the basepaths, giving him 30 stolen base potential. After the “sure-things” are gone, don’t be afraid to roll with Anderson as your starting shortstop.
Jedd Gyorko (STL): ECR No. 278
Gyorko is a fantasy swiss-army knife, eligible at second base, third base, and shortstop. I don’t think it’s necessary to pay extra for position eligibility, but the flexibility can be a boon when injuries inevitably hit your team.
He makes this list though because he hit a career high 30 homers in 438 plate appearances last season. However, he only hit 26 home runs in the previous two years combined. If that looks suspicious, it sure is, as his 24.4% HR/FB rate was well above his 16.1% career average.
But it wasn’t entirely a fluke. Gyorko increased both his fly-ball rate (40.3%) and pull rate (45.2%) while maintaining a strong hard-hit rate (34.8%). Maybe he won’t hit 30 home runs again, but 20-plus is entirely doable, something he also did in 2013.
Gyorko went into Spring Training slated for a super-utility role again, but it’s possible he wins the third base job outright over Jhonny Peralta. Either way, Gyorko should get plenty of at-bats, and the uncertainty over his situation could deflate his draft stock more than it should.
They say you shouldn’t pay for a career year, and in Gyorko’s case, you aren’t. His No. 238 consensus ADP won’t break the bank, and he’ll surely go even later in some cases. Unfortunately, he won’t steal any bases or hit for average, which lowers both his floor and ceiling.
But he should reach 20 homers easily, with room for more if he can get over 500 plate appearances, or if the power doesn’t regress as much as expected. At age 28, there could still be some sneaky power here, so if Gyorko slips in your draft, don’t be afraid to take a chance on the versatile infielder.
Tyler Saladino (CWS): ECR No. 447
With Brett Lawrie no longer blocking his path, Saladino is expected to be the White Sox starting second baseman to start the season. A multi-position guy like Gyorko, chances are he’s eligible at both shortstop and second base in your league, and possibly even third base.
His two major league seasons conveniently shake out to 161 games combined, which give us an idea of what he might do with a starter’s workload — 573 plate appearances with 12 home runs, 66 runs, 58 RBIs, 19 stolen bases, and a .257 average. The power-speed skill set isn’t unlike a lesser version of teammate Tim Anderson, but all it will cost you is a late flyer to see what Saladino has to offer.
He’ll likely hit towards the bottom of the lineup, so runs and RBIs may be lacking, and Yoan Moncada could throw a wrinkle in his playing time later in the season. The 27-year-old Saladino isn’t some uber-young prospect with breakout potential, but you’ll have a hard time finding another 10-home run, 20-stolen base player this late in the draft. He’s a no-brainer bargain in deeper formats.
- Fantasy Baseball Sleepers: First Base
- Fantasy Baseball Sleepers: Second Base
- Fantasy Baseball Sleepers: Third Base
- Fantasy Baseball Sleepers: Outfielder
- Fantasy Baseball Sleepers: Catchers
- Fantasy Baseball Sleepers: Starting Pitchers