Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
We're almost there fantasy baseball fans. We are just six weeks away from Opening Day. Today we will continue our evaluation of talent with a stop at the shortstop position.
The position has two, maybe three, truly great players which could separate themselves from the field if they play to their capabilities. Below them are a handful who can make positive contributions in most categories. Finally there are plenty of flawed shortstops, who can help in a few select categories, but are liabilities elsewhere.
1) Hanley Ramirez, Florida (ADP 2) - His 2010 season was a far cry from what fantasy owners expected and needed from the No.2 overall selection, but it certainly hasn't changed the opinion on where to draft him. He's still going second behind Albert Pujols in most early drafts. If he wants to keep that high slot for 2012, he had better improve upon last year's 21 HR, 76 RBI, 32 SB, with a .300 batting average. Sources say he started his training regiment early and will be ready to rebound. I believe them.
2) Troy Tulowitzki, Colorado (ADP 5) - Despite missing a good chunk of June and July to a broken wrist, "Tulo" had a second consecutive productive year with a .315 batting average, 27 HR, 95 RBI and 11 steals. He's been worthy of the No.2 slot behind Ramirez in three of the past four seasons and is a good bet to finish there again this year. I'd like to see 20-plus steals as he did in 2009, but his home run power will be enough to secure the spot.
3) Jose Reyes, New York Mets (ADP 26) - Reyes finally looked like the guy we remember from 2006-08 by the middle of last season. He batted over .300 in June, July and August. If you have enough power on your team, you could take Reyes ahead of Tulowitzki because of his speed (299 SB over the past six seasons). Beware, he might be involved in trade deadline talks.
4) Derek Jeter, New York Yankees (ADP 65) - Ignore last season. It wasn't up to Jeter's standards and still he scored 111 runs. He's still a top-five shortstop until he throws in back-to-back clunkers. Plan on another 100-plus runs, 15 homers, 75 RBIs, 20 steals and a .290 batting average.
5) Alexei Ramirez, Chicago White Sox (ADP 64) - The White Sox shortstop has been a solid contributor across the board for most of his three seasons in the big leagues. He's got 20-plus home run power and should score and knock in 85 runs this season. Throw in 15-20 steals and a .280 batting average and you have a No.30 outfielder...or a top-five shortstop.
6) Jimmy Rollins, Philadelphia (ADP 59) - Rollins keeps getting drafted in the top-five at his position, because we remember his MVP year of 2007. But in the three years since, he struggled with injuries and a low batting average. If you don't expect more than 15 HR and 35 SB you won't be disappointed. If Ben Francisco and Domonic Brown can't protect Ryan Howard, Rollins might bat fifth instead of leadoff.
7) Stephen Drew, Arizona (ADP 109) - I keep expecting Drew to have a "Tulowitzki-type" season, but he isn't there yet. He's got 15-20 HR power instead of 25-30 like the Colorado shortstop and less base running skills. On the positive side, he's good for 80-plus runs, 65 RBIs and should bat around .280. At the shortstop position that's top-10 material.
8) Ian Desmond, Washington (ADP 140) - Desmond put up a solid rookie campaign for the Nationals, batting .269 with 10 HR, 65 RBIs and 17 stolen bases. Batting second in front of Ryan Zimmerman and Jayson Werth should provide him with plenty of pitches to hit and just a small improvement could send him into the top-five. As a 12th-round selection, he could be a huge bargain. If you don't want to spend an early selection on one of the top-three guys, Desmond would be a good alternate strategy.
9) Elvis Andrus, Texas (ADP 74) - Andrus is better in the real world than in the fantasy one we live in. He'll score plenty of runs and steal lots of bases, but his lack of power and career .266 batting average limits his top end. Andrus is only 22-years-old, so there is always the possibility that he will add muscle and power as he grows older, but for 2011 he has limited value.
10) Rafael Furcal, Los Angeles Dodgers (ADP 139) - From 2003-2006 Furcal scored 100-plus runs, stole 25-plus bases and batted in the neighborhood of .290. Unfortunately since moving to the Dodgers, Furcal hasn't been healthy enough to put up similar numbers. He's played just 283 of 486 games over the past three years (58 percent). The Dodgers picked up Juan Uribe in the offseason which likely means Furcal will get plenty of rest during the upcoming year - that's good for Dodgers fans, but bad for Furcal's fantasy owners.
11) Miguel Tejada, San Francisco (ADP 230) - He may not be the glamour pick he once was with the Baltimore Orioles when he was hitting 30-plus homers and knocking in 100-plus runs, but Tejada is still a productive hitter. He'll play everyday in San Francisco and should be a low-end starter given that he's good for 15-20 HRs and 70-75 RBIs.
12) Marco Scutaro, Boston (ADP 154) - Though it felt like Scutaro had a disappointing 2010, he still ended the season with 92 runs scored, 11 HRs and 56 RBIs. Unfortunately, leading off for the Red Sox, more was expected. Those expectations will be much lower this year, primarily because he'll be at the bottom of the Boston lineup - likely eighth. There is also risk with Scutaro because Jed Lowrie played well last season and could get some consistent time at shortstop.
13) Yuniesky Betancourt, Milwaukee (ADP 256) - Playing in Kansas City, Betancourt didn't receive much coverage, but he had a very nice season. The Royals' shortstop hit 16 HRs and knocked in 78 runs. Now in Milwaukee, he's in a better ballpark and a better hitting lineup which should only help his numbers. He's a sleeper pick considering he's going so late in the draft - 21st round.
14) Jhonny Peralta, Detroit (ADP 214) - Peralta escaped the "pop-gun" Indians lineup for a more powerful Tigers' roster, which should help him produce runs and RBIs. He's always been able to hit the long ball, three times topping the 20-HR mark in his career. Away from the high, pitcher-friendly walls in Cleveland, Peralta could crack the 20-HR mark again. Just don't look for any help with stolen bases or a high batting average.
15) Starlin Castro, Chicago Cubs (ADP 91) - Castro's problems are with his glove, not his bat. He batted .300 as a rookie with an OPS of .755. He stole 10 bases, but was caught eight times. He'll have to improve there to be fantasy-worthy, because he isn't a home run hitter (three homers in 463 at- bats).
16) Asdrubal Cabrera, Cleveland (ADP 197) - Cabrera missed a couple of months to a broken arm last year and he was never as comfortable at the plate as he was in 2008 when he was an excellent fantasy value batting .308 with 81 runs scored, 68 RBI and 17 steals. A return to form could make him a borderline fantasy starter, but it's a wait-and-see situation. If Cabrera, Grady Sizemore and Carlos Santana all come back strong to help Shin-Soo Choo, there could be value in the Indians lineup.
17) Yunel Escobar, Toronto (ADP 219) - Escobar was a major disappointment for fantasy owners, who expected a lot after his 2009 season when he batted .299 for the Braves with 89 runs scored, 14 HRs and 76 RBIs. He was traded at mid- season after a horrible start and was better in Toronto. He's a nice late- round selection just on the off chance he'll return to his 2009 form.
18) Reid Brignac, Tampa Bay (ADP 198) - Brignac only hit .256 last season, but showed some pop with eight homers in 301 at-bats. Because of his glove, he'll be out there everyday, which makes him a valuable fantasy backup.
19) Cliff Pennington, Oakland (ADP 191) - Pennington underwent shoulder surgery in October and likely won't be 100-percent in the early going. Too bad, because he showed some skills last year. With health and the Oakland lineup working against him, Pennington shouldn't be counted on as a starter, but could have some value later on because of his speed.
20) Alex Gonzalez, Atlanta (ADP 216) - Let the owner who just looks at season- ending statistics select Gonzalez this year after he posted 23 HR and 88 RBIs. It was just the second time in his career that the Braves shortstop topped the 20-HR mark. Gonzalez did most of his damage with Toronto in the first few months and tailed off after he got to Atlanta.
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