Fantasy Baseball Focus: AL shortstops

Editor’s Note: Fantasy Baseball Focus is a breakdown of each league, position by position. Each team receives a fantasy analysis on the starter, backup and future prospect if there is one. In case you’re wondering, is there a schedule? Why, yes! Thanks for asking. On the right hand side of the page (your other right), look for the Fantasy Baseball Focus headline. Jamie Shoemaker will analyze the National League, while Dan Kirby handles the American League. Good luck in your fantasy leagues!

Asdrubal Cabrera's glove sparkles, but his offensive stats make him fantasy gold. (Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

Like second base, the shortstop position in the American League has some very good players at the top, some solid contributors in the middle and then it falls off immensely. If you don’t take one of the top guys early, you might as well wait until the late rounds to grab one, or work out a trade. There are some exciting prospects in the minors, including the Orioles’ Manny Machado and the Rangers’ Jurickson Profar, but both are at least two years away from being fantasy options. Here is what is available right now, along with a handy guide to help you at the draft.

For-sure pick – It means you’ll get consistency, nothing less, nothing more.
Sleeper – Underrated in drafts; can get in later rounds but might produce above-average stats.
Overrated – Might not produce at the hype he’s supposed to produce at.
Long-term value – Might not be the best bet for this year but excellent for keeper leagues.

Top five American League shortstops

1. Asdrubal Cabrera, Indians — 2011 stats: 87 R, 25 HR, 92 RBI, 17 SB, .273/.332/.460

2. Elvis Andrus, Rangers — 2011 stats: 96 R, 5 HR, 60 RBI, 37 SB, .279/.347/.361

3. Alexei Ramirez, White Sox — 2011 stats: 81 R, 15 HR, 70 RBI, 7 SB, .269/.328/.399

4. J.J. Hardy, Orioles — 2011 stats: 76 R, 30 HR, 80 RBI, 0 SB, .269/.310/.491

5. Erick Aybar, Angels — 2011 stats: 71 R, 10 HR, 59 RBI, 30 SB, .279/.322/.421

Baltimore Orioles — J.J. Hardy, Robert Andino

Starter: Hardy enjoyed a career year in 2011, setting high marks in home runs (30) and RBI (80) while playing in only 129 games. He is an excellent defender, so he is always good for 140+ games based on that. Another 30-homer season isn’t out of the question if he stays healthy, something he hasn’t been able to do over the last three seasons. Still, even a 120 game season from Hardy should yield 20+ home runs, 70 RBI with a decent average, which is more value than a full season from most players on this list. Take him with confidence, but keep an eye on the DL list.

Backup: Andino qualifies all over the infield and is a good source for cheap steals. Over 129 games for the O’s in 2011, he hit .263 with five home runs, 36 RBI and 13 stolen bases. He will get playing time and is a nice late-round steal for the production he will give you.

Boston Red SoxMike Aviles, Jose Iglesias

Starter: Much like Andino above, Aviles is a solid option for steals and some occasional power. Over 91 games in 2011, he hit .255 with seven home runs, 39 RBI and 14 stolen bases. He is a .288 career hitter over 339 games so he gives you a nice bump in that category, as well. He should get around 400 at bats this season with solid numbers across the board for a shortstop.

Backup/ Prospect: Iglesias is a superb defender but not much of a fantasy player. The 22-year-old from Havana, Cuba, hasn’t shown any power or the ability to hit for a high average. He can steal some bases, but not enough to balance out the lack of production in other areas.

Chicago White Sox — Alexei Ramirez, Eduardo Escobar

Starter: You can write down a .275 batting average with 18 home runs, 70 RBI and 10 stolen bases at the beginning of each season for Ramirez and feel very confident about those numbers. He has averaged 154 games over the past three seasons, and at age 30, still has some of his best years ahead of him. He is a for-sure pick based on his consistent, solid numbers over his career.

Backup: Escobar is more of a defensive specialist who has some speed and won’t kill your average but should only be considered in very-deep leagues as he won’t get much playing time with Ramirez locked in at shortstop.

Cleveland Indians — Asdrubal Cabrera, Jason Donald

Starter: Cabrera had a monster breakout season in 2011, hitting .273 with 25 home runs, 92 RBI and 17 stolen bases. He only had 18 career home runs over 1,415 at bats coming into the season, so the power outburst came out of nowhere. Can he do it again? I say yes, as he just turned 26 years old, an age when most players start to come into their own. He swings the ball well from both sides of the plate, and at 6’-1”, 190 lbs, has the size to be a consistent power threat. He had at least three home runs and 11 RBI in every month, so there wasn’t anything fluky about it either. Expect the same, if not better in 2012. A for-sure pick in my eyes.

Backup: With enough playing time, Donald can get you 10 HR/10 SB with a good batting average. Without any guarantees, however, he should only be drafted in deep leagues, and watched more closely in standard leagues if an injury to Cabrera occurs.

Detroit TigersJhonny Peralta, Danny Worth

Starter: Peralta flies under the radar at most fantasy drafts. He is durable, averaging 150 games over the last six seasons, and he is consistent at the plate. He hit .299 with 21 home runs, 86 RBI and an .824 OPS in 2011, arguably his best year yet. He is still just 29 years old, and with the addition of Prince Fielder to the lineup, could improve on his RBI totals this season. He isn’t going to steal any bases, but should be good for another 20 home runs and 85 RBI with a good batting average. Great value for where he will get drafted in most drafts.

Backup: Even with sufficient playing time, something he might not get, Worth won’t give you any fantasy production worthy of a spot in standard leagues. In deeper leagues, he could be a cheap source of steals, but that is about it. Over 159 major-league plate appearances, he has two home runs, 11 RBI, one stolen base and a .259 batting average.

Kansas City RoyalsAlcides Escobar, Yuniesky Betancourt

Starter: Escobar is a defensive whiz but also has fantasy value. Over 158 games last season for the Royals, he hit .254 with four home runs, 46 RBI and 26 stolen bases. He doesn’t take a lot of walks, just 25 in 2011, but he is also difficult to strikeout, 73 whiffs over 598 plate appearances. His steals jumped from 10 to 26 over the last two seasons, and at age 25, he could go for 35+ this season as he continues to learn the art of base stealing. He was a .293 hitter over 647 minor-league games, and I expect him to hit closer to that this season. A sleeper pick based on a potential .290, 8 HR, 50 RBI and 35 SB season with about 85 runs.

Backup: Betancourt has averaged 15 home runs and 73 RBI over the last two seasons but finds himself looking for playing time with the Royals in 2012. With Escobar locked in at shortstop, and a logjam at second, his numbers will suffer this year. Barring injuries, he should only be considered in deeper leagues.

Los Angeles Angels — Erick Aybar, Andrew Romine

Starter: Aybar had career highs last year in stolen bases (30) and home runs (10). He also scored 71 runs, a number that is sure to rise with Albert Pujols now in the lineup. He is 28 years old, just entering his prime and has the ability to hit .300, as he did in 2009 with a .312 mark over 556 plate appearances. Expect another solid season from him with a spike in runs and batting average. A very solid shortstop in all formats.

Backup/Prospect: Romine has elite speed and has stolen 144 bases over 524 minor league games, including 62 in 2008. He doesn’t have power but hits for a good average. The only question is can he find playing time? Over the last two season, he has played in 15 games for the Angels, and at age 26, the clock is ticking on his prospect status. Only a very-deep-league option right now.

Minnesota TwinsJamey Carroll, Tsuyoshi Nishioka, Alexi Casilla

Starter: In 2010, Nishioka hit .346 with 121 runs, 11 home runs, 59 RBI and 22 stolen bases over 144 games. Of course, that was in the Japanese League and the majors are a little bit more competitive. Over 68 games for the Twins last year, the 27-year-old hit .226 with no home runs, 19 RBI and two stolen bases.  He may turn into a decent shortstop at the major-league level, just wait for him to prove it first before you invest in him.

Backup: Carroll has hit .291 over the last two seasons, averaging 11 stolen bases while playing in 279 games. He will be 38 years old when the season starts, however, which isn’t a good age for a shortstop. He will be platooning this season and even the cheap steals won’t be there. Stay away unless you are desperate in a deep league. Casilla played 97 games for the Twins last season, hitting .260 with two home runs, 21 RBI and 15 stolen bases. He is a better option than Carroll, but again, only if you are in a deep league.

Derek Jeter's name alone will get him drafted higher than he deserves. (James Keivom/ Daily News)

New York YankeesDerek Jeter, Eduardo Nunez

Starter: Jeter is still getting drafted on his name, rather than his production. While he will always hit for a good average, and score a bunch of runs in the Yankees’ always potent offense, he is about the seventh-best fantasy shortstop in the American League at this point. He hit .297 with 84 runs, six home runs, 61 RBI and 16 stolen bases in 2011, but also missed 31 games to injury, something that may be commonplace as he will turn 38 in June. Still a solid performer, just don’t grab him early because he is your favorite baseball player. Overrated for where he will get picked.

Backup: Nunez is another guy who qualifies all over the infield and provides very good fantasy value because of his ability to get at-bats due to his versatility. He hit .265 with five home runs, 30 RBI and 22 stolen bases over 338 plate appearances in 2011. Expect those numbers with a big spike if Jeter or A-Rod get injured. At just 24 years old, and with Jeter not having much left in the tank at shortstop, Nunez has long-term potential.

Oakland AthleticsCliff Pennington, Adam Rosales

Starter: If you miss out on the top shortstops, and find yourself late in the draft without one, grab Pennington. The former first-round pick by the A’s in 2005 hit .264 with eight home runs, 58 RBI and 14 stolen bases in 2011, this after stealing 29 bases in 2010. At 5’-10″ and 210 lbs, the 27-year-old, switch-hitter has the frame to produce 15-20 home runs. He batted .303 with five home runs, 35 RBI and eight stolen bases over 60 games after the break. A sleeper pick based on his potential.

Backup: Rosales is a career .226 hitter with 13 home runs, 60 RBI and four stolen bases over 209 career games. Not much fantasy value here.

Seattle MarinersBrendan Ryan, Nick Franklin

Starter: Ryan hit .248 with three home runs, 39 RBI and 13 stolen bases over 123 games at shortstop for the Mariners last season. He is basically keeping the position warm for Franklin. Only a deep-league option as a starter.

Backup/ Prospect: Franklin hit .281 with seven home runs, 26 RBI and 18 stolen bases over 88 games in the minors last season. A freak injury, in which he was hit in the head with a bat during batting practice, along with a bout with food poisoning, caused him to miss significant time. He played better as the competition improved, hitting .325 with two home runs and five stolen bases over 21 games at double-A. He is a very good defensive shortstop, and a power/speed combo at the plate. In 2010, he hit .283 with 23 HR/25 SB, showing the potential he has. He will turn 21 in March and could be in Seattle by midseason. Keep an eye on his progress this season, and then snatch him up off the waiver wire in keeper leagues. Long-term potential.

Tampa Bay RaysSean Rodriguez, Reid Brignac

Starter: Rodriguez hit .223 with eight home runs, 36 RBI and 11 stolen bases over 131 games for the Rays last season, and while he has yet to show a lot of power at the major-league level, he showed a ton of it in the minors. In 2006, he hit .307 with 29 home runs and 86 RBI. Then in 2009, he hit .294 with 30 home runs and 98 RBI. Still just 26 years old, the 6’-1″, 200 lb righty could find his power stroke at any time. Could be a nice late-round steal if it happens in 2012.

Backup: Brignac doesn’t hit home runs, doesn’t steal bases and will kill your average. Zero fantasy value here.

Texas Rangers — Elvis Andrus

Starter: Andrus hit .279 with five home runs, 60 RBI and 37 stolen bases in 201. He also added 96 runs hitting a top a loaded Rangers offense. At 23 years old, he is just starting to scratch the surface of his potential, and at 6’-0”, 200 lbs, more power could be coming. If it does, he will join fantasy elite. For now, bank on 100+ runs, 40 stolen bases and a .290 average for 2012. A for-sure pick with long-term potential, as well.

Backup: The Rangers don’t really have a backup to Andrus. Michael Young played one game at short in 2011, so if he does it again, and your league’s rules allow it, he is more than a solid option at the position. He hit .338 with 11 home runs, 106 RBI and eight stolen bases in 2011, as well as leading the league in hits with 213.

Toronto Blue JaysYunel Escobar, Mike McCoy

Starter: Escobar is a high-average hitter who can produce double-digit home runs while supplying good run totals. In 2011, he hit .290 with 11 home runs, 48 RBI, three stolen bases and scored 77 runs. He is 29 years old and still has a lot left in the tank, so grab him late and you have yourself a solid fantasy shortstop who will help with your team average.

Backup: Over 138 career games, McCoy is a .198 hitter with two home runs, 13 RBI and 19 stolen bases. A cheap source for steals in a very deep league, but not much value in a standard league. At 30 years of age, not going to get much better either.

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