Fancave 5: 2018 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers – Shortstop

When it comes to season long fantasy baseball, there are some obvious choices to choose from when you’re drafting a shortstop. I am going to be sharing five players that I think could perform just as well, if not outperform some of the “top-tier” shortstops.


Top Tier:

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Trevor Story: After having a huge rookie season in 2016, expectations were sky high going into 2017 for Trevor Story. He disappointed in a big way during the 2017 campaign, slashing just .239/.308/.457 with a wRC+ of 81. wRC+ measures how many runs a player creates, and is based on a scale where 100 is league average. Posting a wRC+ of 81 would mean Story created 19% less runs than a league average position player. In 2016, Story posted a wRC+ of 122, meaning he created 22% more runs than a league average position player. Story also saw a dramatic drop in is slugging percentage in 2017, after slugging .567 the year prior, it dropped 110 points to .457.

Seeing such a dramatic drop in slugging and wRC+ leads me to believe Story will level out a bit in 2018. Producing at the rate he was producing during his rookie season is a bit unsustainable, as Story managed to slug 52 extra-base hits in just 372 AB’s, but seeing an upward trend from his miserable 2017 season should be expected. I try not to put too much merit into Spring Training statistics, but it’s hard not to be encouraged by the spring Story is having this year.He has 11 extra-base hits in 46 ABs, and has an OPS of 1.127.

Story will be overlooked in a lot of drafts, but he deserves more recognition than he’s currently getting. He is playing in one of hitter-friendliest ballparks in the MLB, and will be buried in a lineup with a lot of good protection around him. Expect more power and all-around production from Story this year. After have two seasons of pure extremes on both sides of the spectrum, it is only normal to expect a bounce back.

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Paul Dejong: I may be from St. Louis, but I swear this isn’t just my Cardinals bias shining through; I really like DeJong. There are some legitimate questions surrounding DeJong in 2018: Can he be more patient at the plate? Last year, DeJong walked just 22 times in his 443 plate appearances. He has stated that he wants to work on his plate discipline, but he hasn’t shown any improvements this spring – walking just twice in 44 plate appearances. Another red flag is the fact that DeJong had an average batted ball exit velocity of 86.4 mph, which ranked 211th in the league. Per Fangraphs, only six out of the 53 hitters who slugged over .500 last season had an average exit velocity below 87 mph. I will admit, these are real concerns, but it is not enough to get me off of him this year. Was last year sustainable? Obviously not, the numbers prove that, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be productive. One of the biggest things I like about DeJong is his ability to drive the ball to all fields. 53% of his batted balls last year were hit to either centerfield or the opposite way. I believe this skill will allow DeJong to find more gaps and make him a bigger extra-base hit threat than the average hitter.

The 25 HR’s DeJong hit last year are most likely his ceiling, but with an improved hard contact rate, this number could go up. It really is hard to fully predict what kind of season DeJong will have this year, but the reality is we are talking about a shortstop who as above average power and can hit the ball to all fields. The upside is very big, but there is definitely question marks with him. I expect him to regress, but not much. Expect a slash line of .260/.310/.470 which is good for a .780 OPS. – very respectable. Draft with slight caution, but also with the realization that he is a player with a very high ceiling and could do special things this season.


Mid Tier

Addison Russell

Addison Russel: After dealing with a lot of things on and off the field in 2017, Russell should be poised for a bounce back this year. Russell is never going to be an elite hitter, but he has legitimate pop and above average on-base skills.

Russell’s numbers will never stick out to you when looking at them, but there are some signs that he is on the verge of taking a step forward offensively. Last year, Russell increased his hard contact rate by 3% from the year prior, and you should expect that number to take another hike this year. Like Story, Russell finds himself buried in a deep lineup, meaning he should be getting better pitches to hit. When you draft Russell, you are drafting him for his power upside. I don’t think it would surprise anyone is he ended up hitting 25-30 HR’s at some point in his career. It really does pain me to talk about the Cubs, but a lot of their success could be dictated by the year Russell has at the plate. If he ends up having a good year, they will be elite and on top of the NL once again.

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Ketel Marte: On the surface, Ketel Marte wasn’t very good last year. Once you start digging deeper, you will see that he started progressing in many areas that would point to a potential break out in 2018. The Diamondbacks must agree, because they just inked an extension with him.

Marte has never been a power hitter or someone with supreme on base skills, but something clicked for him last year when he was sent down to the minor leagues. Marte slugged .514 during a stint in AAA and ended up posting a .755 OPS with Arizona after he was called up. Another encouraging sign pointing to a breakout for Marte is that in 2016, he posted a ISO of .118 on fly balls. ISO is a statistic that measures a players raw power and subtracts their Slugging % from their batting average. To post an ISO of .118 on fly balls means you have little to no power whatsoever. Last season, Marte posted an ISO of .361 on fly balls, resulting in more power production – something the Diamondbacks are betting on more of in the future.

To make a long story short, Marte showed extremely encouraging signs when it came to extra-base hit ability and on-base ability last season. Playing in a home ballpark like Chase Field will give Marte lots of opportunities to become an extra-base hit machine. He can use his speed and a big ballpark to his advantage. I think a could comp for what Marte could eventually become is Xander Bogaerts.

(I know Marte will most likely be starting at 2B this year, but he is a natural SS and will be going as a SS in most drafts)


Low Tier

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Dansby Swanson: What a miserable and disappointing season 2017 was for Swanson. There is so much hype surrounding him after he was the number one overall pick in the 2015 draft. I think it is fair to say that Atlanta mishandled Swanson and rushed his progression – considering the way he produced last year.

In his first 145 plate appearances in 2016 for Atlanta, Swason slashed .302/.361/.442 and this further built up the hype surrounding him. It was hard to expect production like this to continue with such a small sample size. The fact is that Swanson is still developing as a player, but he needs to ramp it up this year for fans to take him seriously. It really his hard to say what we should expect from him this year (or career), but betting on him to progress is a good bet. Even though he was only able to hit for a .232 average last year, Swanson got on base at a .312 clip, so he is showing a good ability to get on base. I really do think Swanson could become a doubles machine and lead the league in both double and runs one day. No, these aren’t sexy stats, but it’s worth it to take a flyer on him in fantasy. He has decent power upside, decent speed upside, and you have to remember that he was the number one pick for a reason.

This is purely a gut pick, but Swanson should take a big step forward this year. I am betting on it.

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