2020 Fantasy Baseball Draft Prep: Shortstop strategy guide, along with sleepers and ADP review

My, how times have changed. The position once regarded as the worst has now become the most star-studded of all.

Shortstop may not quite measure up to third base in terms of pure depth — and in leagues deeper than, say, 15 teams, the drop-off can be rather startling when it comes — but it’s close. And of all the infield positions, it’s the one that pops up most in the first two rounds.

It offers hitters of every sort, from sluggers to speedsters to perennial MVP candidates to up-and-comers with the tools and pedigree to add to its already impressive bounty. It’s another one of those positions where — again, apart from unusually deep leagues — you can almost do no wrong. And if you’re like me, you’ll enter your draft with every intention of waiting for the best of bargains before finding yourself unable to resist pulling the trigger sooner.

When there are 14 “studs” at a position, you have to figure several will slip in a 12-team draft. Check it out:

The first four deserve to be first-rounders. Three of them make a worthwhile contribution in the coveted stolen base category, where your margin for error is terrifyingly thin if you don’t make an early round investment in it, and the other, Alex Bregman, is an MVP-caliber bat.

I’m not saying any of them should encroach on the outfield fivesome that will kick off most every draft (i.e., some order of Ronald Acuna, Mike Trout, Christian Yelich, Cody Bellinger and Mookie Betts), but at least in the 5×5 leagues where stolen bases are paramount, Turner should probably be the next hitter off the board. It’s a painful admission since he’s not nearly the same caliber of hitter as Bregman (who obviously belongs at the top of the heap in a points league, as his points-per-game average shows), but it’s just such a relief to get that kind of head start in a category where, later on, you’ll be reaching for table scraps — and from players who might do you real harm in home runs or batting average.

Case in point: Adalberto Mondesi. He’s the odds-on favorite to lead the majors in steals after swiping 43 bases in just 102 games, but it’s an ugly batted-ball profile made all the more unnerving by the fact he’s coming off shoulder surgery. Picking him in Round 4, as ADP shows, is a panic move forced by one sad someone’s failure to address the stolen base in the first two rounds.

Then again, I’m not so keen on Fernando Tatis either. His actual production in between two significant injuries was indeed awesome, but the underlying numbers — a high strikeout rate, high ground-ball rate and bloated BABIP — suggest the comedown could be a steep one. And the injuries themselves should be a red flag, especially since they’re what I’d consider style-of-play injuries.

Xander Bogaerts, Javier Baez, Manny Machado … they’re all fine players, but I’m not seeing enough bang for the buck after the true elites are off the board. I find myself gravitating more toward those last three: Bo Bichette, Carlos Correa and Marcus Semien. Semien especially … I mean, the dude was just an MVP finalist while playing in the same league as Trout and Bregman. I understand we’re all wary of the mid-career breakout sustaining it, but the changes in plate discipline and quality of contact, the latter mostly coming in the second half, are pretty hard to ignore. And he’s going so late that the impact, provided the production sticks, will be almost as rewarding the second time around.

Of course, I wouldn’t be opposed to waiting all the more, but the margin for error gets pretty thin once that deep collection of studs is off the board …

See, this is a small group relative to other positions, which means if you didn’t jump at any of your many, many opportunities to draft a stud shortstop, you’ll need to act fast. Get shut out here, and the gap between you and the rest of the league at this one position could be crippling.

But these options are fine. Corey Seager I think still has stud potential, being a 25-year-old who we pretty much regarded as a stud prior to his 2018 Tommy John surgery. He finished strong last year and still has some impressive underlying skills. Meanwhile, Tim Anderson seems well suited for the 5×5 categories format, offering a rare chance to bolster both the batting average and stolen base categories in the middle rounds. He’s never as helpful in the latter as you’d think, though.

I should point out that after this trio is gone, it’s not a total cliff dive. Amed Rosario is still there, as are Didi Gregorius, Elvis Andrus, Paul DeJong and Jean Segura. They’ll hold you over, but their expected contributions are subpar in this environment and particularly at this position. I’m not saying this next group is more deserving of being drafted than them, but I do think their best could be better. It’s the appeal of the unknown:

*minor-league stats

Carter Kieboom is the early favorite to win the Nationals starting third base job and brings top prospect pedigree with potential to hit for both average and power. A big spring could push him up draft boards. Nico Hoerner, meanwhile, is in the mix for the Cubs second base job. He offers excellent bat-on-ball skills with the possibility of adding more power. As for Dansby Swanson, he was on the verge of a breakthrough last year — some changes to his approach paying big dividends — before being brought down by a heel injury. Even so, his expected stats say he deserved better than he got, and his best is likely still to come.

Jonathan Villar hasn’t gotten a mention yet and is among the safer bets for a big steals total this year. As a hitter, things went about as right for him as they possibly could go in Baltimore last year, and he’s probably not going to have that same success in Miami. But the steals should be there, if nothing else.

After the prevalence of stolen bases in the early rounds, it’s mostly dribs and and drabs here — maybe a dozen from this guy, maybe 15 from that guy. Bo Bichette made little effort to run during his impressive two-month debut late last season, but seeing as he stole 32 bases at Double-A in 2018, we shouldn’t rule out the possibility of him being more aggressive on the base paths this year.

Elvis Andrus has plenty of traction as a possible stolen base fix in the middle rounds just because of how many he contributed last season, but his hitting took a nosedive after last April. He was already showing some signs of decline before then, and I wouldn’t want to have to count on him, personally. Truth is Jon Berti might deliver comparable numbers, if not better, in a super utility role for the Marlins.

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