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Tulowitzki leads pack at SS
Updated March 30
Do you like power or speed? Are you eyeballing J.J. Hardy and his power punch or Dee Gordon and his speed?
Or, do you avoid such a choice and draft one of the top options at the position?
You get the best of all worlds with the leaders at the shortstop position, but the separation in skill sets occurs quickly. There are but a few options that have “five-tool” potential entering the 2012 season.
To put this in perspective, let’s consider the power categories. Eight shortstops hit 15 or more home runs in 2011. Of those eight players, three of them stole more than nine bases. Only two of them batted better than .269.
(* Hanley Ramirez appeared in only 92 games last season.)
The names at the top of this positional breakdown are the same. Alas, we do mark the passage of time by shifting “The Captain,” Derek Jeter, to the back of the SS1 list. We haven’t dismissed him altogether, but his power and speed numbers don’t rise to their former levels. What’s your poison?
Let’s get things rolling with a fantasy staple in Colorado.
1. Troy Tulowitzki, COL
2011 Stats: .302, 30 HR, 105 RBI, 81 Runs, 9 SB
Analysis: What must I add to the argument? Tulowitzki posts huge power numbers when healthy. He’s averaged 29.7 home runs, 97.3 RBI and 90.3 runs scored in the past three seasons and owns a tremendous .293 career batting average. His stolen base total has dipped in back-to-back seasons since his career-high 20 in the 2009 season.
2. Hanley Ramirez, MIA
2011 Stats: .243, 10 HR, 45 RBI, 55 Runs, 20 SB
Analysis: Will Ramirez fully embrace his move to third base, or will he pout and eventually clash with the fiery Ozzie Guillen? On a different level, fantasy owners have to be cognizant of the back injury that limited Ramirez to 92 games in 2011. In his previous five complete seasons, Ramirez averaged 24.8 home runs, 79.8 RBI, 112.4 runs scored and 39.2 stolen bases. He owns a strong .302 career batting average and will enjoy the lineup support brought in this offseason.
3. Jose Reyes, MIA
2011 Stats: .337, 7 HR, 44 RBI, 101 Runs, 39 SB
Analysis: Reyes moves down the coast to assume the starting shortstop role for Ozzie Guillen and the new-look Marlins. Fantasy owners looking to snag Reyes early do so with a lump in their throats. He’s missed 65 games in the past two seasons after being limited to 36 games in 2009. Persistent hamstring injuries leave you somewhat reticent to pull the trigger, but he did log his fifth major league season with at least 39 stolen bases in 2011 and 99 runs scored. He also led the National League with a .337 batting average (.292 lifetime).
4. Elvis Andrus, TEX
2011 Stats: .279, 5 HR, 60 RBI, 96 Runs, 37 SB
Analysis: First, I congratulate Andrus on his new contract with the Rangers. Andrus has emerged as one of the league’s preeminent stolen base artists, generating 102 stolen bases in 135 attempts in his three-year tenure. At 23 years old, he’s just starting to grow into his power base, and his leap from 15 doubles in 2010 to 27 last year has me optimistic that Andrus may boost his home run total to double digits in 2012. He also drove in 25 additional runs. Andrus improved his contact rate in 2011 and raised his batting average 14 points.
5. Starlin Castro, CHC
2011 Stats: .307, 10 HR, 66 RBI, 91 Runs, 22 SB
Analysis: Chicago fans had little to cheer about in 2011. However, Castro posted a fantastic sophomore season and gave them a glimpse of hope. He logged 55 extra-base hits (36 doubles) with 66 RBI, 91 runs and 22 stolen bases in 31 attempts. Castro’s strikeout-to-walk rate (2.7-to-1) leaves something to be desired, but it’s hard to argue with his results. Castro’s support in the Chicago lineup can’t get worse. Can it?
6. Asdrubal Cabrera, CLE
2011 Stats: .273, 25 HR, 92 RBI, 87 Runs, 17 SB
Analysis: Cabrera was another top shortstop to ink a new contract this offseason following his breakthrough 2011 campaign. He positively crushed his previous power numbers and delivered on his 2009 promise (42 doubles with a .308 batting average that season. He forms a new power core in Cleveland alongside Carlos Santana and, when healthy, former fantasy superstar Grady Sizemore. Cabrera is a career .281 batter in 2,019 career at-bats and has just entered his power prime.
7. Jimmy Rollins, PHI
2011 Stats: .263, 16 HR, 63 RBI, 87 Runs, 30 SB
Analysis: Rollins rebounded nicely from an injury-shortened 2010 campaign to produce solid power numbers (22 doubles to complement his 16 home runs). He also logged the ninth 30-stolen base season of his career. Rollins’ batting average settled in near his career .272 mark. He did miss 20 games last season, the third season in the past four that he missed at least 20 games. This is something to be considered, particularly when coupled with Ryan Howard’s absence for at least a month and Chase Utley’s recent injury history.
8. Erick Aybar, LAA
2011 Stats: .279, 10 HR, 59 RBI, 30 SB
Analysis: Aybar has grown into his role as an everyday player for the Angels after bouncing around several positions early in his tenure. He vastly improved his power production in 2011 by hitting 15 more doubles, four more triples and five more home runs than he produced in 2010. He drove in 30 more runs, stole eight additional bases and raised his batting average 26 points. In football terms, he went “third-year wide receiver” with his production. In all seriousness, Aybar has settled into his place on the squad and will obviously be aided by the arrival of “King” Albert. The Angels owned a curious lineup last season. That’s certainly not the case heading into 2012.
9. J.J. Hardy, BAL
2011 Stats: .269, 30 HR, 80 RBI, 76 Runs
Analysis: Hardy shook off two injury-shortened seasons in Milwaukee and Minnesota to produce a new career-high mark of 30 home runs and matched his previous career best with 80 RBI. It was his third season with at least 24 home runs in the past five years. He owns middling .264 career batting average and his walk rate leaves his OBP in the toilet. Still, Hardy will yield power numbers comparable to the best at the position if healthy.
10. Alexei Ramirez, CWS
2011 Stats: .269, 15 HR, 70 RBI, 81 Runs, 7 SB
Analysis: Fantasy owners hoped to see Ramirez take his game to another level in 2011 following his 49 extra-base hits and .282 batting average in 2010. Instead, his production leveled off and his batting average dipped 13 points with six fewer stolen bases. His power numbers were virtually unchanged (two more doubles and three fewer home runs). Take the steady production. The rest of the White Sox lineup cannot possibly hit worse than they did in 2011.
11. Derek Jeter, NYY
2011 Stats: .297, 6 HR, 61 RBI, 84 Runs, 16 SB
Analysis: Jeter extended his streak of seasons with a double-digit stolen base total to 16 last year. Alas, his streak of double-digit home run seasons ended at 15. He’ll continue to hit for average, having generated one season with lower than a .292 batting average since assuming the starting job in 1996 and score runs (84 or more in 16 straight campaigns). However, the home run and stolen base totals have slipped. Jeter has stolen more than 18 bases in a season just once in the past five years. He’s hit more than 14 home runs just once in that period (the same year, 1999).
12. Yunel Escobar, TOR
2011 Stats: .290, 11 HR, 48 RBI, 77 Runs, 3 SB
Analysis: Escobar rebounded from a sub-par 2010 season to post strong four-category contributions to fantasy lineups in Toronto. He had batted .275 in 236 at-bats upon arriving to Toronto in 2010 with 11 extra-base hits. Escobar yielded 38 extra-base hits for the Blue Jays last season with 48 RBI. He may be somewhat undervalued after a weak start to 2010, but he’ll hit in Rogers Centre.
13. Dee Gordon, LAD
2011 Stats: .304, 11 RBI, 34 Runs, 24 SB
Analysis: Gordon was one of few bright spots in an otherwise “lost” season for the Dodgers in 2011. The 23-year-old speedster legged out a ton of hits to yield his .304 batting average and ripped off 31 stolen base attempts in 56 games. He just might lead the league in the category if Don Mattingly gives him the “evergreen” light. Gordon isn’t going to do anything in the power department (nine doubles and two triples in 224 at-bats), but as they say, “Speed kills.”
14. Emilio Bonifacio, MIA
2011 Stats: .296, 5 HR, 36 RBI, 78 Runs, 40 SB
Analysis: Bonifacio is another of the three-tool speed merchants on the outfield grid. He shan’t offer much in the power department, although he did rip 26 balls into the gap (26 doubles). Bonifacio’s game is speed. He produced three 40-stolen base seasons in the minor league in advance of last year’s total of 40 (51 attempts) at the major league level. He hit .274 or better at every level of the minor league prior to producing a .296 batting average for the Marlins.
15. Jhonny Peralta, DET
2011 Stats: .299, 21 HR, 86 RBI, 68 Runs
Analysis: Peralta improved his contact rate and posted a career-best .299 batting average for the Tigers in 2011. He’s long been a solid power producer, and generated the fourth 20-home runs season of his career. Peralta hadn’t batted better than .276 since his breakthrough 2005 season with the Indians when he batted .292. Detroit offset the loss of Victor Martinez by adding Prince Fielder, and I suspect that this offense will be more prodigious in 2012. Peralta probably shaves some points from his batting average, but the power numbers will be there.
16. Ian Desmond, WAS
2011 Stats: .253, 8 HR, 49 RBI, 65 Runs, 25 SB
Analysis: I enjoy seeing that Desmond was originally drafted by the Expos. You just won’t see that much longer, so I appreciate that note. As for his play on the field, Desmond is a solid four-category contributor for fantasy lineups. In two years in Washington, Desmond has averaged nine home runs, 27 doubles, 57 RBI and 21 stolen bases. He did hit .330 in the minor leagues in 2009, so there is some optimism that his batting average may rise. However, Desmond does not walk much, and his strikeout rate is problematic. Take the other four categories and hope for upside.
17. Zack Cozart, CIN
2011 Stats: .324, 2 HR, 3 RBI
Analysis: Cozart made a brief appearance for the Reds in 2011, producing 12 hits in his 37 at-bats, before sustaining an elbow injury. He’s hit for a strong batting average at every level of the minor leagues. Cozart batted .255 at Triple-A Louisville in 2010. He then hit .310 in 77 games at that level in 2011 with 35 extra-base hits. We’re slapping the “ninja” tag on Cozart for 2012.
18. Alcides Escobar, KC
2011 Stats: .254, 4 HR, 46 RBI, 69 Runs, 26 SB
Analysis: Escobar enjoyed a breakthrough season as a member of the Royals in 2011. He’s a tremendous speed merchant, as evidenced by his 18 triples in two complete big league seasons to go along with 36 stolen bases (49 attempts). Escobar is a free swinger, having drawn just 61 walks in over 1,100 plate appearances. His .294 career on-base percentage is hardly overwhelming. Take the speed contribution and high runs scored total in an improved Kansas City offense.
19. Stephen Drew, ARI
2011 Stats: .252, 5 HR, 45 RBI, 44 Runs, 4 SB
Analysis: I had such great hopes for the former first-round pick in 2011. Drew struggled at the plate before breaking his ankle in July. He produced a weak .252 batting average, down 26 points from his 2010 output. He had produced four strong seasons prior to last year’s setback, so barring recurring health issues, I would anticipate a nice bounce-back effort alongside Justin Upton. I’m not sure that he reaches back to his 2008 breakthrough power numbers (44 doubles, 11 triples and 21 home runs), but owners will take 30 doubles, 15-20 home runs and 60-65 RBI from a middle infield option.
20. Mike Aviles, BOS
2011 Stats: .255, 7 HR, 39 RBI, 31 Runs, 14 SB
Analysis: It was recently announced that Aviles earned the nod as the starting shortstop, a move that made fantasy owners take notice. Aviles first appeared on the fantasy radar in 2008 when he produced 41 extra-base hits and 51 RBI with a .325 batting average. He struggled through the 2009 season before rebounding nicely in 2010. The potential is there for a high doubles count with a double-digit stolen base total as part of this Boston lineup.
21. Cliff Pennington, OAK
2011 Stats: .264, 8 HR, 58 RBI, 57 Runs, 14 SB
Analysis: The former first-round pick posted his second straight strong campaign for the A’s in 2011. Pennington posted only half of his stolen base total from 2010 (29 to 14), but demonstrated solid gap power (second straight season with 26 doubles) and raised his RBI total to 58.
22. Marco Scutaro, COL
2011 Stats: .299, 7 HR, 54 RBI, 59 Runs, 4 SB
Analysis: Scutaro enjoyed two strong offensive seasons in Boston and will certainly be intriguing in Coors Field. He posted back-to-back double-digit home run totals in 2009 and 2010 prior to his injury-shortened 2011 campaign. Scutaro is a doubles machine (21 or more in seven of the past eight seasons) while contributing solid RBI and runs scored totals.
* Scutaro slides over to second base upon arriving in Colorado, but he’ll retain his shortstop eligibility for 2012.
23. Rafael Furcal, STL
2011 Stats: .231, 7 HR, 28 RBI, 44 Runs, 9 SB
Analysis: Furcal struggled markedly in 37 games for the Dodgers with a terrible .199 batting average before performing more in line with his history for the Cardinals. Furcal appeared in 50 games for the Cardinals, generating 18 extra-base hits (seven home runs) with 16 RBI, four stolen bases and a .255 batting average. Furcal is a career .282 batter who has logged nine seasons with at least 22 stolen bases. If healthy, he could race back to such a total and offer a handful of home runs with decent RBI and run production.
24. Sean Rodriguez, TB
2011 Stats: .223, 8 HR, 36 RBI, 45 Runs, 11 SB
Analysis: Rodriguez isn’t going to challenge for a batting title anytime soon, but he will contribute solid numbers to the other four categories. In two years in Tampa, Rodriguez has generated 61 extra-base hits (17 home runs) with 76 RBI, 98 RBI and 24 stolen bases in 34 attempts. He produced a dismal .236 batting average in these campaigns.
25. Jed Lowrie, HOU
2011 Stats: .252, 6 HR, 36 RBI, 40 Runs, 1 SB
Analysis: Can he stay healthy? That’s the question many are asking as Lowrie takes the reins as the top option in Houston. He demonstrated great gap power in limited time for the Red Sox in the past two years, producing 28 doubles in 480 at-bats with 60 RBI. However, wrist and shoulder injuries have kept Lowrie from translating his minor league pedigree to the major leagues. Lowrie missed extensive time in 2011 because of a shoulder injury, and he experienced precipitous drops in batting average (down 35 points) and OBP (down 78 points). If Lowrie left his injuries in Boston, he’ll make for an intriguing middle infield option.
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