Top fantasy shortstops come with risks
Reward potential high for Tulo, Hanley -- but past injuries must be considered
Filling the shortstop position could present some of the most difficult decisions when drafting your fantasy baseball team this year.
Taking a gamble on one of the top-end options such as Troy Tulowitzki or Hanley Ramirez could end up paying off to the tune of a championship -- or it could backfire and leave you scrambling to find a midseason replacement, given their respective injury histories. Ian Desmond has also crept into the conversation for top fantasy shortstop, as he provides a high-ceiling, low-floor option without the checkered medical past.
Even if you decide to wait on a shortstop, the decisions won't be easy. Not only will you need to decide whether to target a category-specific specialist or someone with balanced numbers across the board, but the position also boasts a few breakout candidates worth considering.
Here's a breakdown of the options available at shortstop.
TIER 1: Tulowitzki, Ramirez, Desmond
As always, Tulowitzki will be one of, if not, the biggest high-risk, high-reward picks on draft day. When healthy, he's unquestionably the top fantasy shortstop in the game. Unfortunately, that's been on display far too little throughout his career, especially over the past three seasons. Tulo is averaging just 88 games played per season over those three years and hasn't played more than 126 games in any one of those seasons. In fact, he's missed nearly as many games (222) as he's played in (264). That said, he's still more than capable of putting up elite numbers when healthy. Even in just 91 games last season, Tulo managed to rack up 21 homers and 52 RBIs, while posting an eye-popping .340/.432/.603 batting line.
Ramirez is another elite, albeit risky, option. He had a bit of a down year this past season, hitting just .283 with 13 home runs over 128 games with the Dodgers. That, of course, came on the heels of his ridiculous 2013 campaign in which he hit .345 with 20 homers, 57 RBIs, 62 runs scored and 10 stolen bases -- in just 86 games. To put that in perspective, he had seven fewer homers and just two more runs scored in 2014, despite playing 42 more games. His 2015 production figures to fall somewhere in the middle of that spectrum, though he should benefit from playing his home games at the hitter-friendly Fenway Park.
Desmond, meanwhile, seemingly comes with much less risk than either of the other two options. The 29-year-old has played at least 154 games in four of his five full seasons, and he still managed to hit a career-high 25 homers when he was limited to 130 games in 2012. He led all Major League shortstops in both home runs (24) and RBIs (91) last year, and has now posted three straight seasons with at least 20 homers and 20 stolen bases. There's no reason to believe that Desmond won't put together another 20-20 season, while chipping in at least 75 RBIs and 70 runs.
TIER 2: Jose Reyes, Starlin Castro
Once the surefire top fantasy options at the position, Reyes now finds himself as a high-risk, high-reward second-tier shortstop. After an injury-riddled debut campaign with the Blue Jays in 2013, Reyes bounced back last season with nine homers, 30 stolen bases, 51 RBIs and 94 runs over 143 games. If healthy, he should have no problem putting up similar numbers again this year in Toronto's potent offense.
Castro, meanwhile, should benefit from playing on a much-improved Cubs team. He's already coming off a season in which he posted a career-best .777 OPS, while matching a career-high with 14 homers -- all despite playing in only 134 games. Castro's recent stolen-base numbers are a bit underwhelming, considering he's swiped just 13 total bases over the last two seasons after racking up 47 over the previous two years, but his numbers could spike across the board with the added offensive help this season.
TIER 3: Alexei Ramirez, Elvis Andrus, Jean Segura, Jimmy Rollins
Few shortstops have provided the type of consistent production over the past five years as Ramirez. The White Sox shortstop has played in at least 156 games in each of those five seasons, all while averaging 13 homers, 67 RBIs, 75 runs and 18 stolen bases per year. All the more impressive, he actually eclipsed all of those averages last season, hitting 15 homers to go along with 74 RBIs, 82 runs scored and 21 steals.
The other three all come with a significant risk. Andrus' numbers dipped across the board last season and he's by no means a power threat, but he's still a safe bet for 25+ steals and he should benefit from the Rangers having a seemingly healthy lineup. Segura is also coming off a down season, taking a major step back in 2014 when he hit an unsightly .246 to go along with just five homers and 20 steals -- a far cry from his breakout season in 2013, during which he hit .294 with 12 homers and 44 steals. As for Rollins, the 36-year-old still put up serviceable numbers (17 homers and 28 steals) last season and could feel a bit revitalized as he prepares for his first season with any team besides the Phillies.
TIER 4: Alcides Escobar, Erick Aybar, Asdrubal Cabrera, Jhonny Peralta, Xander Bogaerts, Chris Owings
Escobar could provide a major boost in at least one category, as he led all shortstops in stolen bases last season with 31. He was also the only player at the position to play all 162 games. Peralta could provide a similar advantage in home runs and RBIs, as he finished second -- behind only Desmond -- in both categories, with 21 homers and 75 RBIs. A player such as Aybar, meanwhile, could chip in across the board as he finished last season with seven homers, 68 RBIs, 77 runs scored and 16 stolen bases.
As for Bogaerts, the 22-year-old could end up being a steal in the later rounds if he's able to put it all together. Not only should the surplus of weapons in Boston's lineup allow him to score more runs and get more at-bats with runners on base, but it should also take some pressure off the former No. 1 prospect. Cabrera, Owings and even J.J. Hardy round out the position as low-ceiling, late-round options.