Fantasy Baseball Strategy: Shortstop – Starlin Castro Rising, Hanley Ramirez Returning, and Tulowitzki Alone At #1

This post is the latest in Ryan’s fantasy baseball position primer series. To view his primers for all other positions, click here.

SS Stock Watch: Rising

Starlin Castro, Chicago Cubs

As bad as the Cubs were last season, it is hard to ignore their rising star at short.

Can Cubs shortstop build upon his breakout 2011 season? (Photo by Gamefreak777 via Wikimedia Commons)

Castro notched over 200 hits in his second season on the North Side to go along with 66 RBIs and 22 stolen bases.  He also narrowly missed 100 runs in a Cubs offense that ranked 18th in baseball.  If the Cubs can improve at all around him, Castro’s RBI and run totals should sky rocket.

While his batting average on balls in play was extremely high at .344, owners should not shy away from Castro.  The young shortstop is a line drive and groundball hitter, consistently providing a BABIP of at least .323 throughout his major and minor league career.

Asdrubal Cabrera, Cleveland Indians

Last season, the Indians’ shortstop exploded in almost every offensive category.  Cabrera’s home run numbers seemed to come out of nowhere, jumping from a career high of 6 to 25 homers last season.  This increase can be attributed to an increased fly ball rate of 38.7% and a ten percent increase in the number of these fly balls that left the yard.

It is hard to imagine that Cabrera can repeat his power performance of last season, but he is an extra base machine.  In his last 2 of his last 3 seasons, Cleveland’s shortstop has had over 30% of his hits fall for extra bases.

Even without the power numbers of last season, Asdrubal Cabrera will provide for fantasy owners at a relatively weak position.

SS Stock Watch: Falling

Rafael Furcal, St. Louis Cardinals

Once a premier option as a fantasy shortstop, Furcal is experiencing the downward swing that most players do in their mid-30s.

While still a threat to steal a few bases, Furcal has lost much of his ability to get on base, suffering a .298 on base percentage in 2011.  He has seen a drop in fly ball and line drive percentage, while a steep increase in groundball rate.  This explains his low BABIP last season.

This aging Cardinal will not bounce back this season.  Stay away at all costs.

Two Big Shortshop Questions

Will Hanley Ramirez return to form?

Ramirez clearly struggled with his focus, injuries, and management last year.  No player that talented should be hitting as poorly as HanRam did last season.

All of Ramirez’s advanced hitting metrics fell except for his BABIP, suggesting bad luck rather than a loss of ability.  With a new fiery manager in Ozzie Guillen and a new position, this is Ramirez’s year to prove whether he is really a star.

With the addition of Jose Reyes and the emergence of Giancarlo “Don’t Call Me Mike” Stanton and Logan Morrison, this is the perfect scenario for a comeback campaign from Ramirez.

Expect big things from him this season as a key cog in the Marlins rising offense.

Who is the #1-ranked shortstop?

This is actually a pretty clear-cut answer.

The Rockies’ Troy Tulowitzki is a top-10 pick in the draft.  Tulo possesses the unique combination of power, average, and speed that can push a team to a fantasy championship.

Ramirez at the top of his game is the only shortstop that can even come close to Tulowitzki’s production, but there is no way you can put Ramirez above the Rockies’ star this season.

Tulo is about as consistently great as any player in the MLB.  Don’t be afraid to make him your first round pick.

Top SS Sleepers

Yunel Escobar, Toronto Blue Jays

Escobar wore out his welcome in Atlanta due to his effort and attitude, not his talent.  That becomes evident when looking at the 29 year-old shortstop’s numbers.

He has enough power for 10-15 home runs, especially in the Blue Jays’ loaded lineup.  After an awful 2010 season, which resulted in his benching and ultimate trade to the Jays, Escobar rebounded with numbers that were almost identical to his breakout 2009 season.  Also, he led all shortstops in walks last season, a sign of his growing maturity and plate discipline.

Expect a solid year of production.

Shortshop Strategy Tips

Shortstop is a very weak position in terms of depth and also lacks the star power of other positions.  Other than Tulowitzki, Ramirez, and Reyes, there is no real top round talent at the shortstop position.

The next tier of shortstops consists of players such as Castro, Elvis Andrus, and Jimmy Rollins, but none of these players should be picked in the before the middle rounds.  There are also several players that provide cheap speed, such as Dee Gordon, Alcides Escobar or Emilio Bonifacio.

Do not be afraid to sit a few rounds to wait on a shortstop because after the aforementioned top tier, there is a deficiency of talent.  It is pointless to waste an early pick on a mediocre shortstop when there are other good position players available, and comparable shortstops available in later rounds.

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