2018 Fantasy Baseball Shortstops Preview: Stop Short

by Dennis Sosic
2018 Fantasy Baseball Shortstops Preview: Stop Short

Welcome to the fifth installment of our position previews, the shortstop position.

In a hilarious episode of "Seinfeld", Kramer was driving George's mother Estelle home and ran over a pothole. This caused Kramer to push his arm on Estelle to "restrain" her from being thrown forward, which she recognizes as her husband Frank's move (stopping short) and a fight develops.

Fantasy owners can use the thought process of "stopping short" when analyzing the shortstop position in fantasy. The shortstop position has a tier of 6 players that I am secure in drafting onto my fantasy roster. I would feel safe with Machado, Turner, Correa, Lindor, Bregman, and Seager.

After those group of players, I stop short of not being nervous in selecting the remaining options at the position. While I know it's almost impossible to guarantee that you will be lucky enough to get the elite tier, I think you might have to reach or face a season of not being able to bank on consistency from that spot in your lineup. Of course, you could hit the jackpot and select the next Paul DeJong and be on your way to competing for your title but you are more than likely pondering:

Let's take a deeper look into the shortstop position as I answer the hot questions, provide players on the rise and on the decline, and a player on the horizon and even one player to avoid in the 2018 Fantasy Baseball Shortstops Preview.

2018 Fantasy Baseball Shortstops Preview

Is Manny Machado now the No.1 Shortstop?

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Orioles manager Buck Showalter announced that the Orioles will start Manny Machado this coming season, with Tim Beckham sliding over to third base. Manny Machado is a three-time All-Star at third base whose natural position is at shortstop.

A career .284 hitter prior to 2017, Machado had just come off a career-high .294 average in 2016. Last season, he hit 33 home runs and had 95 RBI along with a .259/.310/.471 slash line which equals a .782 OPS. His season average (.259) and on-base percentage (.310) were the lowest of any of his five full seasons. The positive outlook is in his season splits. His 1st 80 games of 2017 resulted in a .215/.283/.418 slash line but still had 16 HR and 41 RBI. In his last 76 games, Machado had 17 HR and 54 RBI. The difference is that he had a .303/.338/.525 slash line.

Fantasy owners should expect Manny Machado to produce closer to his second-half stats. As a result, I project another 30-home run and 90-100 RBI season and his batting average to get back to the .280 level. On average, Machado is still a top-20 pick. However, if you can draft him in the second round, you will have a first-round player on your roster.

Please make sure that Machado does not fall past the beginning of Round 2 at the worst. After Nolan Arenado and Kris Bryant, Machado is the next best third baseman, each of which is projected to be a first-round pick. Only two shortstops (Turner and Correa) will possibly be selected ahead of him in drafts. The fact that he will gain dual-eligibility early in the season should be appealing enough to vault Machado to the No.1 option at Shortstop.

Which rookie is this season's Paul DeJong?

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Paul DeJong of the St. Louis Cardinals became one of the biggest surprises of the 2017 season. He came up to the big leagues and took over the Shortstop position for the Cardinals. He finished second for the Rookie of the Year after hitting .285 with 25 home runs and 65 RBI. I hope you were lucky enough to grab DeJong off waivers last season.

Which rookie shortstop will step up and compete for the Rookie of the Year? I submit to you Phillies Shortstop J.P. Crawford.

J.P. Crawford is expected to be the Phillies starting shortstop this season. The Phillies' willingness to trade incumbent Freddy Galvis further represents how welcome they are to playing Crawford at shortstop regularly in 2018.

His 2017 season can be split into two halves. Through June 10, he was hitting an abysmal .194 in 56 Triple-A games after hitting .243 with a .647 OPS in Triple-A to end the 2016 season. The horrible start caused Crawford to plummet down many top prospects lists, with Baseball America saying he wasn't an impact player anymore. This motivated Crawford to raise his game to another level. He slashed .287/.385/.513 with 30 walks, nine home runs, and 29 RBI at Triple-A after the All-Star Game. It was enough to warrant an end-of-season call-up, and he continued to show his trademark on-base skills with a .356 OBP.

Additionally, he is still just 23 years old, he posted an outstanding 18.4 percent walk percentage in his first 70 at-bats at the major league level. When we look at these numbers, you can easily see the potential of his overall game. If he can bring that power to the majors, Crawford has a chance to become Rookie of the Year. Do not forget about J.P. Crawford.

Can a healthy Xander Bogaerts return toward the top of the SS rankings?

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Xander Bogaerts dealt with a lingering hand injury for much of last season as a result of being struck in the right hand.  The 25-year-old shortstop says he was forced to make a hard decision: shut it down or play through the pain. Bogaerts, who was coming off back-to-back Silver Slugger awards at shortstop, hit just .273 last season with a .746 OPS and 10 home runs. It was crystal clear that the injury impacted his performance.

Before HBP:  .308/.361/.455, .806 OPS, 20 doubles, six home runs in 312 at-bats.

After HBP:    .232/.321/.340, .671 OPS, 12 doubles, four home runs in 259 at-bats.

He possesses tantalizing potential but he has yet to register a full season of productivity. In 2015, he turned in his most consistent season, hitting .320 and ranking third in the majors in hits with 196.  He then posted a .351/.402/.514/.916 line in his first 70 games of 2016, then slashed .247/.318/.390/.709 over the final 87 games.

There is still a reason for optimism about Xander Bogaerts heading into the 2018 season.  For the third consecutive season, the Red Sox shortstop finished the year with a strikeout rate under 20 percent. In 2017, the league struck out at a rate of 21.6 percent. On top of that lack of strikeouts, he walked 8.8 percent of the time in 2017, the second straight year he saw an increase in walk rate from the previous year.

He has a high floor and even higher ceiling, which makes for some scintillating potential. Currently, Bogaerts is being drafted as the 9th SS off the board based on his ability to bounce back from last season. While I actually project him to challenge for a spot in the top five at the shortstop position in 2018.

Player on the Rise

Orlando Arcia, SS, Milwaukee Brewers

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Orlando Arcia, who was once the organization's top prospect, looked overmatched at the plate in his first taste of the big leagues-he only hit .219 with a .273 on-base percentage in 55 games in 2016. Arcia saw significant improvement in his first full season last year. He batted .277 with a .324 OPS with 15 homers and 14 steals. His overall numbers were not outstanding, but he is still just 23 years old.

He is one of thirteen shortstops to post 10 HR/10 SB this past season, which is splendid for a rookie and spent most of the season hitting in the eighth hole in the Brewers' lineup. The Brewers had a very busy offseason, recapped here by our very own Tyler Thompson,  Fantasy Fallout: Brewers Acquire Christian Yelich-Lorenzo Cain. With the recent additions of Yelich and Cain, the Brewers have improved the top of their lineup immensely. Unfortunately, this probably leaves Arcia toward the bottom of the Brewers' potent lineup.

He exhibited progression in the second half last season. He had more walks (19) in the second half than the first (17), with 86 fewer plate appearances. Additionally, Orlando was able to cut his strikeout rate by nearly 4% since his partial season debut in 2016. Furthermore, his rate of hard contact also improved greatly as he continues to get to more settled against MLB pitching.

As Arcia matures and gets more accustomed to the big leagues, there is plenty of upside here. Arcia is one of the rare 20 HR/20 SB threats. He is fast enough to get owners consistent SB numbers. As he matures and gets the ball into the air more often, the power will come as well. The savvy owners will buy low on him and Orlando Arcia will break out in 2018.

Player on the Decline

Dansby Swanson, SS, Atlanta Braves

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You are probably wondering how a player can be on the decline after playing only 182 games in three years professionally. Well, the hype around Dansby Swanson has been overwhelming. He was a local product who was propelled through the minor leagues after only 569 plate appearances.

Swanson made a big splash as a rookie in 2016. He hit .302 with 11 extra-base hits (three homers) and a .803 OPS in 38 games. The Braves intensified the pressure on Swanson by placing him in the No.2 hole to start the season. It looks like the pressure got to Swanson. He hit below .200 during most of this past season's first two months and did not get his batting average above the .200 for good until June.

Swanson started to lose playing time to Johan Camargo at shortstop. Consequently, he was subsequently sent to Triple-A as an opportunity to regroup and to play every day. A freak knee injury to Camargo necessitated Swanson's immediate return even though he was not hitting well at Gwinnett either, .232/.312/.324 in 11 games. His season was filled with ups and downs and produced an uninspiring stat line, .232 BA, .312 OPB, .636 OPS, 6 HR, 51 RBI and 120 strikeouts. He had only 113 hits and 120 Strike Outs!

This season will be the key for Swanson if he struggles again. The Braves may have to consider looking at other options such as Camargo or young phenom Austin Riley or even moving Swanson to a different position.

Will Dansby Swanson make the necessary adjustments to live up to his reputation as a prospect?  Fantasy owners, do you want to waste a roster spot to find out? I certainly do not. Therefore, leave him on your waiver wire until further notice.

Player on the Horizon

Willy Adames, SS, Tampa Bay Rays

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Willy Adames has played well at every level.  According to Tampa Bay's farm director, Mitch Lukevics, he has the "it factor." Adames is a star in the making and has been a consensus top 100 prospect since 2015. Adames finished No.19 in Baseball America's annual ranking of the game's top 100 prospects.

Adames looked like the Rays' shortstop of the future after an impressive showing at Double-A (.274/.372/.430 with 11 HR and 13 SB in 486 AB) in 2016, which earned him a Futures Games appearance. In 2017, he took over as the starting shortstop at Triple-A Durham. He became an International League All-Star, hitting .277/.360/.415 with 10 home runs and 62 RBI in 130 games.

He is making a case for a role with no real secure player blocking him up the middle in the majors. The Rays' recent acquisition of Adeiny Hechavarria from Miami was just a stopgap. He is making $5.35 million and will be a free agent at the end of the season. For most teams, that is not a large sum. For the Rays, it now represents approximately 7% of their budget. Look for Hechavarria not to be the Rays' shortstop the entire season.

We are just months away from Adames' MLB debut. It seems more than likely than ever that he can stick at shortstop. With his potential at the plate, he can be a true impact player. Adames has a plate approach that’ll allow him to bat at or near the top of a major league lineup. He has legit power to hit double-digit homers, although he is not likely to hit for high averages. He’s knocking on the door of the majors. Adames could finally be the long-term franchise shortstop the Rays have been hoping for their entire existence.

Player to Avoid

Paul DeJong, SS, St. Louis Cardinals

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For the second year in a row, the Cardinals enter the season with a rookie phenom in place as their presumptive shortstop of the future. This season it will be Paul DeJong, last year's Rookie of the Year runner-up, whose combination of power and solid glove were more than enough to overcome Aledmys Diaz. DeJong stepped up his game and claimed the shortstop position in St. Louis for the foreseeable future. The rookie finished with a slash line of .285/.325/.562 with 25 home runs and 65 RBI.

Probably the biggest question regarding DeJong is just what kind of power production we should expect in 2018. He showed significant pop in the minors. He clubbed 22 dingers in Springfield in 2016, but this past season was something completely different. Between Memphis and the big leagues, DeJong hit 38 homers in 633 plate appearances.

The question for fantasy owners is can he do it again?

I am skeptical of Paul DeJong despite his breakout 2017. We saw his batting average drop 40 points in the second half of last season while his slugging percentage dropped 100 points. His walk rate was under 5%, his strikeout rate close to 30%! There are concerns about overrating DeJong and a relatively steep regression seemingly inevitable.

This is a risky situation for fantasy owners. I anticipate that his average and run production to dip, and without stolen bases, DeJong will only be a source of power. Power production that will involve long slumps, poor batting averages, and even possible demotions. Therefore, I project Paul DeJong to hit .260-.270 with no more than 25 homers. I plan to have him much lower than currently projected.  Owners hope that his sophomore campaign goes better than that of his predecessor.

2018 Fantasy Baseball Position Previews
CatcherFirst BaseSecond BaseThird BaseShortstopOutfieldStarting PitcherRelief PItcher

Check out the rest of our great Fantasy Baseball content as the 2018 season approaches.

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1 comment

Friday February 9, 2018 - Fantasy Baseball Links - FantasyRundown.com February 9, 2018 - 2:16 pm

[…] FantasySixPack.net continues their positional previews with a look at the shortstops. […]


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