2023 Fantasy Baseball Year in Review: Shortstop

by Mike Schneider
2023 Fantasy Baseball Year In Review: Shortstop

We will take a look back and do a year in review at the shortstop position for 2023 fantasy baseball season. We will also take a look forward to next year.

In reviewing the average draft position (ADP) heading into the 2023 season, there were a lot of solid values at the shortstop position early in drafts.

Besides Oneil Cruz who was hurt virtually the entire year, the 15 shortstops with an ADP in the top 100 were at least decent. A few shortstops like Tommy Edman, Xander Bogaerts, and Willy Adames may not have been great values, but they did not hurt you much.

I know firsthand that losing Wander Franco for the last part of the season due to his off-the-field issues hurt several of my teams.  However, he was very good until being placed on the restricted list on August 14th.

Outside of the top 100 ADP, there were several shortstops discussed below that completely fell off a cliff in 2023.  In addition, it is largely forgotten but Vaughn Grissom had a lot of hype coming into the year (ADP 194.04) and ended up spending most of the year in the minors.

2023 Fantasy Baseball Year in Review: Shortstop

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Exceeded Expectations

In addition to the three shortstops that I profile here, Corey Seager, Francisco Lindor, Ezquiel Tovar, Bryson Stott, and Ha-Seong Kim were excellent values.

Bobby Witt Jr., Kansas City Royals, 2023 ADP 10.19

Heading into the 2023 season Bobby Witt had a very high ADP but was also a popular choice to be the biggest fantasy bust. In his 2022 rookie year, Witt hit  20 homers and stole 30 bases but only had a .294 on-base percentage with a .174 ISO and a 98 wRC+.  He was a far better 5x5 fantasy player than he was in real life in 2022.

Witt was the second overall pick in the 2019 MLB draft out of high school in Texas.  He played just 37 games in Rookie ball in 2019 and then spent 2020 at the Royals Alternate Training Site.  In 2022 Witt was in the majors at Age 21 despite only having one full year of minor league experience. Given his age and experience level, the fact that Witt was better in  2023 in virtually every category should not be surprising.

A very simple statistic that I like to look at for hitters is home runs plus stolen bases.  In 2023 Ronald Acuna Jr.was in a tier all by himself with 114 HRs + SBs.  Bobby Witt Jr.and Corbin Carroll tied for second place with 79 HR + SBs.

2024 Outlook

In the long term, I wonder how long Witt will be this aggressive on the base bats.  However, he should still be among the leaders in stolen base in 2024 and I expect that he will continue to improve as a hitter.

It is going to take a top-five pick to get Witt in 2024.  I would be quite happy to get him at pick-five.

C.J. Abrams, Washington Nationals, 2023 ADP 240.11

C.J. Abrams helped a lot of people who were patient win fantasy leagues in 2023.  In his first 63 games, Abrams had six homers and six steals with a .215/.259/.365 line. From July 1st on, Abrams led baseball with 38 stolen bases.  During this 78-game stretch, Abrams scored 53 runs and hit 11 homers.

The Padres selected Abrams out of high school in 2019 with the sixth overall pick. He got off to a tremendous start to his pro career with a .401 average in 32 games in the Rookie League in 2019.  There was plenty of buzz about Abrams in 2020 at the Padres Alternate Training Site.

When minor league play resumed in 2021, Abrams was assigned to AA San Antonio and got off to a solid start.  However, he fractured his tibia on June 30th and missed the remainder of the year.

The Padres handling of Abrams in 2022 was strange.  After an impressive spring training, Abrams made the opening day roster despite only 42 games of experience in the upper minors.  Abram did not play regularly and was over-matched when he did play.

The Padres sent Abrams down to AAA El Paso on May 10th.  Abrams played well in 30 games with seven homers and ten steals and was promoted back to the Padres on June 20th.  In 74 plate appearances beginning on June 20th, Abrams did not walk and had a .086 ISO.

At the 2022 trade deadline, the Padres included Abrams in the package to acquire Juan Soto.  The Nats started Abrams in AAA but called him up on  August 15th.  In 45 games with the Nats, Abrams walked once in 163 plate appearances with a .069 ISO.

Abrams was an immensely talented player with limited experience in the upper minors who struggled in the majors in 2022.  The rebuilding Nationals could afford to be patient with Abrams in 2023 and he was able to get better at the major league level during the season.

2024 Outlook

Perhaps this year was just the beginning for Abrams and he takes it to another level.  Perhaps Abrams played over his head the last three months of the season and he will take a step back.  It is difficult to gauge how high Abrams with go in drafts for 2024 but based on 47 steals he likely will be going in the top four rounds.  I prefer to draft players that I am more sure about in the early rounds.

J.P. Crawford, Seattle Mariners, 2023 ADP 541.66

J.P. Crawford was only drafted in the deepest of the leagues in 2023 after coming off a  disappointing year.  Crawford is a strong defender and offers regular playing time but little upside in a 5x5 league due to little power and speed.

Crawford had some sneaky value in 2021 when he batted at the top of the Mariners lineup and scored 89 runs. However, the Mariners had an improved lineup in 2022 and Crawford spent the year at the bottom of the lineup.  He only scored 57 runs in 2022.  In leagues with on-base percentage as a category, he has more value due to a solid walk rate.

Driveline Baseball is a data-driven training facility located near Seattle.  Driveline has had a lot of success in recent years with pitchers.  However, Crawford trained at Driveline last off-season and is the first notable hitter who improved after going to Driveline.

In 2023, Crawford hit 19 homers more than double his previous career high of nine. Crawford had 11 homers in his last 48 games with a wRC+ of 156.

Prior to 2023, Crawford had a career walk rate of 10.3%. This year Crawford walked 94 times which was the sixth-highest amount in the major leagues.  He had a 14.7% walk rate and a .380 on-base percentage which was 11th best in the majors.

A lot is made of lineup projections in spring training and early in the season. In Crawford's case this year, he was projected to bat at the bottom of the order. However, when Crawford showed improvement, he was quickly moved up to the top of the order. Beginning on May 10th he was the Mariners leadoff hit for the remainder of the year.  Crawford scored 94 runs on the year. He is an example of when a batter shows the skills, the place in the lineup takes care of itself.

2024 Outlook

Crawford has already said that he is planning to spend more time at Driveline this off-season.  At 28, he is in his prime and seems to have figured out how to get the most out of his skills.

It will be interesting to see how much Crawford moves up in drafts.  Shortstop is a position that typically provides some stole bases which Crawford does not do.  However, he is a safe pick who makes a nice middle infielder or backup depending on league size.

Disappointments

In addition to the three shortstops that I profile here, Luis Urias,  Vaughn Grisson, Adalberto Mondesi, and Oswald Peraza were mid-round picks who provided no value at all this year.

Carlos Correa, Minnesota Twins, 2023 ADP  118.37

Correa is a former first-overall draft pick who reached the majors as a top prospect.  In 2015 at age 20 Correa played 99 games with the Astros hitting 22 homers and stealing 14 bases.

With the Astros. Correa was perennially in the playoffs and earned a well-deserved reputation for performing well in October.  In the post-season prior to this year, Correa has hit 18 homers in 79 games. His play in the playoffs raises Correa's profile but does not help fantasy teams.

Of course, prior to the 2023 season, both the Giants and Mets backed out of large long-term contracts due to leg issues that showed up on his physical. The Twins ended up signing Correa to a six-year, $200 million contract.

Correa missed time the last couple of years with the Twins but has managed to play in 271 games the last two years.

In 2023 Correa had a disappointing season with just a .230 batting average with 18 homers, 60 runs, and 65 RBIs.

Correa is the opposite of Bobby Witt Jr.  When discussing Witt, I mentioned homers plus stolen bases.  Correa has not stolen a base since 2019.  His career high in homers is 26 in 2021.

2024 Outlook

It is difficult to project how far Correa will fall in 2024 drafts.  Last year, Correa went more than 400 picks before J.P. Crawford. Based on Correa's health questions and lack of upside, I prefer Crawrford over Correa for next year.

Javier Báez, Detroit Tigers, 2023 ADP 167.48

In 2021, Báez hit 31 homers and stole 18 bases with a .265/.319/494 line. The Tigers signed Báez to a six-year, 140 million-dollar contract before the 2022 season.

In his first year with the Tigers, he declined to 17 homers and nine stolen bases with a .238/.278/393 line.  This past year, he declined further to nine homers and 12 steals with a .222./.267/.325 line. Out of 135 qualified hitters in 2023, Báez's .267 on-base percentage was the worst by a lot.  The next worst was Anthony Volpe at .283. Báez's .106 ISO was 129th among qualified hitters.

Báez will be 31 in December.  He has always had poor plate discipline.  In his career prior to joining the Tigers, Báez had a 29.3% strikeout rate and a 4.8% walk rate.  Hitters with poor plate discipline do not typically age well.

Báez was close to his grandfather who passed away in August and that may have impacted his performance this year.

2024 Outlook

While I think there is little chance that Báez ever returns to the player that he was between 2018 and 2021, rebounding to his  2022 numbers is realistic.  While Báez was not great in 2022, it was significantly better than the 2023 disaster.

Báez was 12 for 12 on the bases this year.  I think that a focused Báez could take advantage of the new rules to exceed his career-high 21 in stolen bases.  One issue is that he needs to get on base first.

Tim Anderson, Chicago White Sox, 2023 ADP 86.93

It was a lost season for Anderson in 2023.  Between 2017 and 2021 Anderson consistently provided 15 plus homers and 15 plus steals. Anderson led all of baseball in 2019 with a .335 batting average, hitting over .300 every year between 2019 and 2022.

In 2023 Anderson hit one homer in 123 games and his batting average slipped to .245.  Between 2019 and 2022 Anderson had a wRC+ of at least 110 every year.  This year Anderson's wRC+ was 60. Anderson's .586 OPS was the worst in baseball among the 135 qualified hitters.

Anderson turned 30 in June.  His chase rate has always been poor.  As I mentioned with Javy Báez, hitters with poor plate discipline have a tendency to not age well. There were also rumors that Anderson had off-the-field issues that could have impacted his performance in 2023.

2024 Outlook

Anderson will be a free agent after the 2024 year. There is some talk that he might move to second base which would give him dual eligibility early in 2024.   After 2023 there is a question of how far Anderson's average draft position will drop.   How Anderson looks in spring training and whether he appears to be motivated to rebound will determine my interest in Anderson as a late-round pick.

Prospects

In addition to the three shortstops that I profile here, Marco Luciano has an opportunity for regular playing time. I do not think Luciano will stick at shortstop nor that he is ready to be a productive regular in 2024.

Jackson Holliday, Baltimore Orioles, Prospect Ranking 1

I have written a ton about Holliday who turns 20 in December and looks younger. The son of Matt Holliday, Jackson was the first pick in the 2022 MLB draft.

In his first full season, Holliday played across four minor-league levels finishing at AAA Norfolk.  Holliday had a 17.3% walk rate. In 125 games, Holliday had 51 extra base hits including 12 homers. On the year, Holliday had a .323/.422/.499 line and appeared to have little trouble as he moved up levels.

Holliday is the consensus top prospect in baseball so the hype is going to drive up where he is drafted.  I have little doubt that Holliday is a future star but there are several question marks about Holliday for 2024.

If Holliday went to college, he would be entering his second season.  As he physically matures he will add strength but for next year I do not think that he will be much of a power hitter.

Gunnar Henderson hit 28 homers this year and is likely to be the AL rookie of the year. At age 22 Henderson is big and strong.  It is important to note that Henderson is two and a half years older than Holliday. Holliday will be 20 for the entire 2024 season.  The highest level Henderson played in his age 20 season with High A. Holliday is very much still growing.

In addition, the Orioles are loaded with young infielders such as Henderson, Jordan Westburg, Joey Ortiz, Coby Mayo, and Connor Norby so playing time is uncertain.

Based on where I anticipate Holliday going to go in drafts, it is unlikely that he will be on any of my teams for 2024.

Jordan Lawlar, Arizona Diamondbacks, Prospect Ranking 2

Small sample sizes can be magnified when prospects are called up at the end of the year. In Lawlar's case, this represents a significant opportunity to draft him at a discounted rate in 2024.

The Diamondbacks called up Lawlar on September 7th to help with their playoff push.  The Dbacks were successful in making the playoffs and are having success in the playoffs but not because of Lawlar.

Lawlar went just four for 31 in the majors with no extra-base hits.  Obviously, that was not good but it was not a big enough sample to change my opinion that Lawlar is an elite prospect with a well-rounded game who is major-league-ready.

In 2023 Lawlar spent most of the year at AA Amarillo.  He got off to a slow start but in his last 55 games at AA, Lawlar hit .316/.405/.551 with 31 extra-base hits including 10 homers, and stole 22 bases.  During this stretch, he struck out 16.6% of the time with a 10% walk rate. He was promoted to AAA on August 15th where he had a 150 wRC+ in 16 games.

Unless the DBacks acquire another shortstop, Lawlar'r competition at shortstop is Geraldo Perdomo who had a .582 OPS over his last 79 games.

I anticipate that Lawlar will be an afterthought in 2024 redrafts and that he has a chance to be a nice value.

Marcelo  Mayer, Boston Red Sox, Prospect Ranking 5

There is not another top shortstop prospect that stands out as being major league-ready at the beginning of the year. Marcelo Mayer is someone who has a chance to contribute in the majors in the second half of the year.

The Red Sox selected Mayer with the fourth overall pick in the 2021 draft out of high school in California.  Due to injuries, Mayer was limited to 91 games in 2022 and 78 games in 2023. There is a lot of future upside with Mayer, but due to injuries, he is behind Jordan Lawlar who is the same age.

Mayer was promoted to AA Portland on May 30th.  He got off to a slow start and then did not play after August 2nd due to a shoulder injury.

It is unlikely that Mayer is going to be on many people's radar for 2024 redrafts. He is someone that I would consider only in a very deep draft and hold leagues.  In an NFBC Draft Champions League with 15 teams and 50 rounds, I would consider Mayer around the 45th round.


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