Hurry, hurry, hurry…step right up and spin the Wheel of Shortstops. Round and ’round she goes; the Wheel brings wonder, the Wheel brings woes. Good grief, assessing this year’s crop of Fantasy shortstops feels more like a game of chance than an analytical exercise. This group has more questions than a Jeopardy marathon, with very few relatively risk-free options even among the top-ranked players.
From an overall draft-day perspective, it’s not a bad plan to attempt to nab your starting shortstop in the draft’s early going; the question is how much risk you’re willing to take on in the process. Washington’s Ian Desmond, ranked no. 28 by Tristan H. Cockroft at ESPN, likely presents the best worry-free option in the early going, and he should log his fourth straight 20/20 campaign in 2015. After – and even before – Desmond leaves the board, an analysis of the available shortstops is filled with words like “if”, “when” and “unless”; it’s not until you move down the draft board that stability – mixed with a healthy dose of mediocrity – becomes the norm.
When we endeavor to identify a fantasy “bust” in an environment riddled with, well, riddles, perhaps it’s best to analyze a particular player as to the likelihood that he will significantly under-perform based on his draft position or price. With that thought in mind, let’s have a look at a couple of players who truly represent a “boom or bust” fantasy scenario.
Overvalued: Shortstop Busts for 2015
I expect these two players to be drafted higher than what their true values will end up being. In other words, here are two players I believe are overvalued for 2015.
High-End Bust: Troy Tulowitzki, Colorado Rockies
Two words: “When healthy…”. Seriously, calling Tulo injury-prone is like calling Kate Upton “photogenic.” Tulowitzki is an absolute beast when he’s on the field and healthy, but that “when” has only amounted to an average of 88 games per season over the past three years, and he has not appeared in more than 143 games since 2009. He went on the disabled list last July 22, and underwent labral repair surgery on his left hip in mid-August, putting an end to what had been an MVP-caliber season.
Tulowitzki is currently ranked as the top shortstop, and 13th overall player, by Cockroft at ESPN. Given Tulo’s elite production when healthy (ugh, there are those words again) and scarcity of top-flight talent at shortstop, one would think he would be ranked higher, but perhaps this relatively low ranking reflects the assumption that Tulowitzki will again miss time in 2015. Are you really willing to expend a mid-second round pick on a player whose propensity for injury is so great that it appears to be factored into his fantasy ranking? Draft Tulo and the first thing you start thinking about is lining up a serviceable replacement for when (not if, mind you, but when) the injury bug bites again. This can impact your draft strategy as the rounds roll by and the shortstop talent pool thins out; you may end up reaching for a backup shortstop in the interest of gaining a safety net for Tulo, rather than bolstering your outfield depth or adding a third closer.
Now, the good news: Tulowitzki’s injury history is well-known to just about every fantasy baseball player out there, so it’s possible that enough owners in your league will shy away from the Colorado slugger to present a buy-low opportunity. For me, that window opens up at the beginning of the third round; at that stage even 100-120 games’ worth of Tulo-rific performance would make this a plunge worth taking. If you choose to add Tulo at anything other than a bargain-basement rate, though, you may well want to stock up on antacids and acclimate yourself to checking the Colorado box score each and every day to make sure Tulo made it through the entire game.
One last thing: Tulowitzki has been mentioned in trade talks, and though the buzz has quieted considerably in recent days, it’s worth knowing what the impact of a move away from Coors Field might mean. Tulo owns a career .323/.397/.565/.962 slash line in the rarefied air, but just .274/.349/.469/.818 elsewhere. If he were to be traded, Tulowitzki’s Fantasy value would suffer, but he probably would still occupy the top spot in the rankings.
Back-End Bust: Javier Baez, Chicago Cubs
The new-look Chicago Cubs have garnered plenty of attention this winter, and there are whispers of a World Series run emanating throughout the North Side. The Cubs are stacked with baseball’s finest assemblage of elite young talent, and Baez ranks among the most intriguing of that group. The youngster had crushed 60 homers in under two seasons across three minor-league levels prior to be called to the majors last August, and he wasted no time in putting that power on display, smacking a game-winning homer in his first start as a big leaguer. He mashed seven home runs in his first 19 games, but struck out an unnerving 34 times in just 78 at-bats during that period. On August 23, his season’s line stood at .218-7-11, with his absurd strikeout rate one of the few dark clouds on an otherwise bright start to his career.
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Those dark clouds had become a full-on thunderstorm by the end of the season, as Baez managed just two more homers while fanning a ridiculous 41.5 percent during his time in the majors. His batting average went into free-fall as a result of all those whiffs, and he batted a meager .149 with 46 strikeouts in just 101 at-bats during September. His .155 ISO was impressive, though, and it’s that power potential that has some fantasy owners drooling. A small amount of drooling is not completely unacceptable – just don’t let any of that spittle get in your eyes, folks, and Baez’s ability to swing and miss is a phenomenon worth watching.
Baez’s high-profile start to his career has apparently left a lasting favorable impression with many experts, though, as he is ranked as the eighth-best shortstop (no. 124 overall) by Tristan H. Cockroft at ESPN. Baez is ranked above such proven (if aging and/or boring) players such as Jhonny Peralta, Jimmy Rollins, Ben Zobrist and Alcides Escobar. Cockroft is not the only expert who’s on board the Baez bandwagon, as the young powerhouse was selected with the 106th overall pick in the recent Fantasy Sports Trade Association draft in Las Vegas. This was particularly surprising since rock-steady Alexei Ramirez was still on the board at the time.
If you do indeed choose to add Baez to your Fantasy roster somewhere around pick 120, chances are that you’re tabbing him as your starting shortstop (or second baseman since he also qualifies there). While he absolutely has the potential to live up to – or even exceed – this ranking, Baez’s low contact rate makes him a prime candidate for a disappointing season … and possibly even a trip back to the minors. Drafting him as a player who you’re depending on to give your team six months’ worth of productivity is a recipe for fantasy disaster.
It’s important to note that opinions (and expert opinions) on Baez are split, and if enough of your leaguemates are in the “bust” camp, Baez could fall to the point where the inherent risk is acceptable. If you have a solid, or even a semi-solid, option already in place, Baez’s monstrous potential could make him a die worth rolling as a backup middle infielder; though it’s doubtful that he’ll fall that far.
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