1. Manny Machado
It was odd that Machado did not steal a single base, just one year after racking up 20 stolen bases, but that won’t keep him from sitting atop these rankings. Shortstop is becoming a power position, and Machado has more of it than any player at the position, with the possible exception of Trevor Story. Unlike his Rockies counterpart, Machado has good contact skills and could easily exceed a .290 batting average for a second year in a row.
2. Carlos Correa
Correa has one of the better-rounded skill sets among the top shortstops, as it’s conceivable he could have a 20/20 season with a .300 batting average if everything broke right for him. On the surface, last season’s .274 average with 20 home runs and 13 stolen bases looked like a step backwards, but Correa increased his walk rate from 9.3 to 11.4 percent, and brought his hard-contact rate up from 32.9 to 37.2 percent. Those positive signs could be pointing toward a breakout season for the 22-year-old.
3. Corey Seager
Seager did not disappoint fantasy owners in his first full season, batting .308 with 26 home runs and 105 runs scored. With a 39.7 percent hard-contact rate, Seager showed his power is legit, and his propensity for squaring up the ball should help to minimize whatever regression he has coming after posting a .355 BABIP. Now that the Dodgers have upgraded their leadoff hitter from Chase Utley to Logan Forsythe, Seager could improve on his total of 72 RBI, even if he isn’t dropped down from the second spot in the order.
4. Jonathan Villar
We already knew Villar was speedy, but when he smacked seven home runs in 87 games back in 2014, he also hinted he had power. In 2016, with the opportunity to play every day, Villar proved to be a true power/speed threat, hitting 19 home runs to go along with 62 stolen bases. Maybe he won’t hit .313 on ground balls again like he did last season, but then again, given his speed and his ability to take the ball to the opposite field, he just might repeat the feat.
T-5. Trea Turner
As of now, Turner is being taken as a first-rounder in many NFBC drafts. We are skeptical of Turner providing that kind of value, even if he did bat .342 with 13 home runs and 33 stolen bases in just under half a season. Those numbers represent too much of a leap from what he accomplished in the minors. Even if we temper our expectations for a 15-homer, 40-steal season with a batting average around .300, it will be a tough call whether to target him or Villar.
T-5. Francisco Lindor
Lindor couldn’t quite keep up with the home run pace he set in his rookie season (12 homers in 438 plate appearances), but his .301 batting average and 19 stolen bases came pretty much as advertised. He also honed his contact skills and plate discipline, which helped him to record a .358 OBP and score 99 runs for a potent Indians offense. If Lindor can improve upon last season’s .244 batting average with runners in scoring position, he should drive in substantially more than 78 runs.
7. Trevor Story
Like Turner, Story delivered a rookie season that was far more productive than what we could have expected, given the types of numbers he produced as a prospect. Before his season ended after 97 games due to a torn thumb ligament and subsequent surgery, Story was backing up an outrageous .296 Iso with a mind-boggling 44.9 percent hard-contact rate. The 24-year-old could actually wind up being a bargain if he can approximate last season’s power and shave some points off his 31.3 percent K-rate.
T-8. Xander Bogaerts
All in all, 2016 was another step forward for Bogaerts, as he set career-highs with 21 home runs, 115 runs and 89 RBI. The additional thump came at a price, as Bogaerts employed a pull-heavy approach and lost 26 points on his batting average, which stood at .294 at season’s end. It’s hard to know exactly what Bogaerts’ approach might be in 2017, but a 15/10 season with a batting average around .290 could be a conservative expectation. Another 100-run season could be in the offing, too.
T-8. Jean Segura
According to NFBC ADP data, Segura is going more than 20 picks later on average than any of the previous shortstops on this list. Owners are probably discounting Segura’s .319 batting average and 20 homers from his lone season as a Diamondback, since those marks were career-bests by a good margin. Last season, Segura showed that he can whack fly balls an average of 290 feet (per FanGraphs Interactive Spray Chart Tool) and still leg out 25 or more infield hits per season like clockwork. Especially since you don’t have to draft the Mariners’ new shortstop as early as the first eight shortstops on this list, it could be well worth your while to target Segura and enjoy a level of production similar to that of his breakout year.
10. Aledmys Diaz
A year ago, Diaz went from being marginally on the fantasy radar to being an intriguing gamble in deeper leagues – all because of Jhonny Peralta’s torn thumb ligament. Once he got the chance to be the Cardinals’ regular shortstop, he became a staple in standard and shallow leagues. Even having missed close to one-fourth of the season with his own thumb injury, Diaz made his mark in fantasy with a .300 batting average and 17 home runs. A limited track record makes Diaz a riskier pick than the others on this list, but it is reasonable to expect him to be a strong contributor in every category other than stolen bases.
11. Eduardo Nunez
There were no out-of-the-world increases in his slash lines, but the counting statistics surged due to an increase in playing time. After playing in 72 games in each of the previous two seasons, Eduardo Nunez appeared in 141 last year, resulting in career-highs across the board. Take note of the regression to the mean after joining the Giants. Nunez hit .269/.327/.418 with four home runs in 182 at-bats during his time in San Francisco. Fantasy owners are taking the plunge due to the 40 stolen bases from 2016, but if Nunez ebbs back towards his one stolen base per 25.5 plate appearances of 2015, his total may be closer to 30 than his total from last season.
12. Troy Tulowitzki
Name recognition keeps Troy Tulowitzki relevant in fantasy drafts, but is he worthy of his present ADP (157)? He has a .745 OPS as a Blue Jay in 172 games with 29 home runs. As a member of the Rockies, he benefited from playing in BABIP heaven and his OPS was .885 during his time in Colorado. In three of the four last years, Tulowitzki has played in at least 126 games but no more than 131 for an average of 119 played. Return on investment is almost impossible at this point due to his depressed counting statistics in Toronto along with the injury risk.
T-13. Elvis Andrus
Very few enter a draft targeting Elvis Andrus, but he surged last year. Andrus built upon his 2015 second-half .277/.320/.398 slash line for a .302/.362/.439 total in 2016.Over the last three seasons, he has stolen 76 bases yet is overlooked. Last year’s career-best OBP was fueled by his career-high in BABIP. There may not be another level here, but Andrus may be one of the safer 25 stolen bases in your draft.
T-13. Addison Russell
While everyone is searching for the next big thing, Addison Russell is going to be on many ‘top targets to draft’ lists. He had 21 home runs and 95 RBI (third at the position) in only his second year in the majors. Russell cut down his strikeouts and slightly improved his walk rate as well. Take note of his second-half spike in soft contact (29.2 percent), the increase in fly ball percentage and his 19.8 percent infield fly ball rate. A simple rebound in BABIP could get his average near the .250s, but this is still a player on his way to peak statistics. Reaching for him may be a year too soon.
15. Asdrubal Cabrera
Remember when Daniel Murphy “wouldn’t carry over his 2015 second-half breakout to 2016”? Asdrubal Cabrera may put this to the test once again this year. After the All-Star break last year, Cabrera improved upon his strikeout-to-walk ratios, hit .309/.362/.549 with a .911 OPS, 11 home runs and four stolen bases in 56 games. His pull percentage for the year reached 51.2 percent and his hard contact spiked to 36.7 percent. If this is a new level, a 25-home run season may be in the offing with seven or more stolen bases.
16. Marcus Semien
Another worthy debate centers on Marcus Semien. Was last year consolidation or the new normal? Semien’s line drive percentage dropped by over five percent while his home run-per-fly ball percentage rose over five percent. His slash lines reverted to their 2014 levels and suggest his average may only have a .250 peak. As for the power, with no jump in hard contact, Semien’s home run potential may lie somewhere in the middle of the last two years, making paying for a repeat of last year risky.
17. Brad Miller
Entering 2016, Brad Miller had 29 home runs in his first three seasons, so naturally, during his debut with the Rays, he hit 30 in 2016. Miller traded plate discipline for power with his swings at pitches outside the zone going up three percent and his strikeout percentage increasing by 4.5 percent. He did follow the traditional power spike by pulling the ball more and growing his hard contact by almost five percent. There may be some pull back on the power numbers, so 2017 may determine if last year was an outlier or the commencement of Miller’s power peak.
18. Tim Anderson
Overshadowed by the explosion by Trea Turner, Tim Anderson has not garnered more fantasy attention despite his nine home runs and 10 stolen bases in under 100 games last year. Anderson is less than ideal due to his high strikeout percentage (27.1 percent) versus a low propensity to walk (three percent). His contact rate will need work as well, but his speed can support an inflated BABIP. During his debut, Anderson scored 57 runs with 30 RBI and a .283/.306/.432 slash line. At a discounted ADP (166) he makes for a worthy target to provide double-digit power and stolen base potential.
19. Brandon Crawford
Although Brandon Crawford was off to a strong start, he struggled after the All-Star break but still finished with 84 RBI on the year. An injury may have contributed to his ground ball spike in September (55.6 percent) and Crawford’s home run-per-fly ball percent cratered to 4.6 in the second half. On the surface it appears he traded power for contact, but more may have been going on. He did benefit from a higher BABIP and it grew his OBP to a career-best .342 for the season. His home run total could return to 15, but Crawford is a reliable source of RBI, a rarity at the position.
20. Javier Baez
Fantasy wild card Javier Baez checks in a bit higher at shortstop than at second base (T-24) or third base (T-28) in our cumulative ranks. Whether or not he can repeat his at-bat totals this year is open to debate. As is his plate approach. There is no denying a 20/20 season is lurking in this skill set, but will he reach it with his decreased .698 OPS in the second half last year along with his increased ground ball tilt, which may invariably cap his power?
21. Dansby Swanson
His major league debut went smoothly. There is a little pop and speed here, enough to reach double-digits in each. The one thing standing in Swanson’s way is experience, and the rebuilding Braves will give him every chance to play and succeed. There’s sleeper potential here, but he just turned 23 and struggled somewhat in Double-A so temper your expectations.
22. Jose Peraza
Peraza can hit for average, makes solid contact, and has enough speed to steal 30 bases. With the recent trade of Brandon Phillips, his playing time only figures to rise (and note, these rankings were done prior to the deal). The lack of walks could limit his run production, and any struggles with the average would have him moving down in the order.
T-23. Matt Duffy
The batting average was better in the second half, and there is the potential for a dozen home runs and stolen bases. The power and speed were non-existent in the second half – possibly due to an injury. Duffy should be viewed as a fringe middle infield player or injury replacement until he can show 2016 was not a fluke.
T-23. Didi Gregorius
Show me once, now show me again. His 2016 numbers would easily warrant a middle infield slot. However, the power output was questionable, fueled by additional flies and not a substantial bump in hard-hit rate. Without that power he is an average bottom-of-the-order bat.
25. Jedd Gyorko
The fact that Gyorko hit 30 home runs and still can’t crack the top-20 should tell you something. An unexplainable 24.4 percent HR/FB ratio was the only real difference between 2015 and 2016. His one saving grace is that he qualifies at every infield position, but even that value is limited due to the fact he has averaged 407 at bats over the past three years.
26. Orlando Arcia
His first taste of the majors didn’t go well — bad contact, a bad average and lots of strikeouts. There were struggles at Triple-A as well so he may not be ready for prime time. Arcia will get first crack at the shortstop position, but if things go the way they did last season he could find himself in Triple-A by May. Arcia is an NL-only league option.
T-27. Jorge Polanco
It’s hard to give a vote of confidence to a player that has been called up eight times in the past three years (four time last season), and there is no guarantee the Twins will give him a shot in 2017. Polanco is a glove-first speed option, but the stolen bases and success rate took a hit last year. Even if he does get the starting job he is someone to monitor on the waiver wire.
T-27. Freddy Galvis
The 20 home runs and 17 stolen bases were a nice surprise. His inability to hit lefties (.215) or at home (.214) last season combined with the rising strikeout rate means trouble. The Phillies see him as a placeholder for J.P. Crawford, so the pressure is on. The underlying metrics say he can improve some, but his place in the order combined with a bad offense limits the ceiling. Cross your fingers on this one.
T-29. Alcides Escobar
The best description for Escobar is a poor man’s Elvis Andrus. The batting average is mediocre, there is limited power, and the speed he was once coveted for as a rookie has lost its appeal. He’s the guy you consider when your starter goes down and the waiver wire options are limited.
T-29. Danny Espinosa
There are a lot of parallels between Danny Espinosa and Kelly Johnson – the occasional power burst, high strikeouts, similar fly ball and hard hit rates. Espinosa is five years younger, but is about to follow the same career path, going season to season on one-year deals until nobody wants him anymore. Translation: there is no need to draft him, or roster him outside of a hot streak.
Also receiving votes: Andrelton Simmons, Chris Owings, Ketel Marte, J.J. Hardy
Write-ups: 1-10 – Al Melchior; 11-20 – Greg Jewett; 21-30 – Jim Finch