There are a ton of fine shortstops out there for this coming 2008 season. I couldn’t just write about 5 of my top picks without leaving out some valuable talents. These first 3 are players that almost made my top 5 cut.
Yunel Escobar- Atlanta Braves
My sleeper pick for a breakout year in 2008. The 25-year-old rookie shortstop in just 94 games last season, hit .355 with a .409 OBP against left handed pitching, and hit .303 with a .367 OBP against right handed pitching. He reminds me of a younger Edgar Renteria; solid contact hitter, impressive strike zone judgment, and he possesses great gap power. A legitimate three-position player, his value and stock should rise.
Rafael Furcal- Los Angeles Dodgers
Can this speedster come back from a disappointing 2007 (6 HRs, 47 RBIs, 25 SB, .687 OPS, and a .270 AVG) and put up numbers more like he did in 2006 with the Dodgers (15 HRs, 63 RBIs, 37 SB, .814 OPS, and a .300 AVG)? Some blame the 2007 drop-off on a badly sprained ankle suffered at the end of spring training before the season kicked off. I think under new manager Joe Torre, he will thrive and bounce back from last year’s troubles.
Miguel Tejada- Houston Astros
The newest member of the Astros, Tejada is a tad past his prime, but don’t get me wrong, he still has a quick bat. He’s a great contact hitter, and he doesn’t strikeout much (only struck out 100 times once in his career 102 in 2000). A short left field porch at Minute Maid Park could help boost a 25+HR campaign.
Now for the top 5 Shortstops in the NL for the upcoming 2008 season:
5. JJ Hardy- Milwaukee Brewers
Hardy started out the year on fire, hammering 17 HRs in April and May. He’s a rare breed of player that can get to 30 HRs in 2008 (hit 26 HRs and 30 Doubles in 2007). It seems like every infielder can go deep these days, but on top of that, Hardy is young and in an impressive lineup. With guys like Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun in the lineup with Hardy, I’ll bet he gets plenty of good looks at pitches right over the plate. At the age of 25, he may just be developing into his prime as a hitter. He only struck out 73 times last year, which is encouraging. I see a 21-25 HR, 80-90 RBI, 100 Run, and around a .280 batting AVG for 2008. Two decades ago, that would have him in MVP contention, these days, he’s listed fifth among NL shortstops.
4. Troy Tulowitzki- Colorado Rockies
Can he build on last year’s impressive rookie campaign? Or will he suffer the “sophomore jinx?” Hitting 24 HRs, 99 RBIs, 119 Runs, and batting .291 is a good start to a promising career. Also, Tulowitzki will have a potent lineup to work with in his second full year in the majors, all while Coors Field continues to be a hitter’s paradise. His strikeout numbers were high last year (130 Ks), but they should come down thanks to experience. I see fewer eye-popping stats in his second year around, but it will be better for him in the long run. I see a 20-22 HRs, 80-85 RBIs, 80-90 Runs, and a .280-290 AVG. Of course, many will say that I’m playing this one a bit conservatively.
3. Jose Reyes- New York Mets
A story of a two-sided season. On one side, Reyes started out going crazy with high levels of production including a start with a .356 average, 26 runs, 18 RBIs, 7 SB and a robust 1.038 OPS. His performances stayed strong enough throughout the first half of the season, stealing more bases than anyone in the NL, some say on the verge of a MVP-type season. Then came the drop off that left Mets fans speechless. His average dipped in the second half, 56 points, below his first-half totals. It got tougher for him when it counted most, batting a staggering .205 with 5 stolen bases in the month of September. Still, Reyes had a good season; he is the most dynamic player on the team and by far the most exciting. His average at season’s end was .280, which is still strong, and his amazing stolen base numbers (78) are eye-boggling, and his walk-to-strikeout ratio was better than in seasons past (77 walks to 78 strikeouts). I see him again with 10-13 HRs, 70-75 RBIs, 115 runs, probably 200 hits, and his average will be near .290 in 2008.
2. Jimmy Rollins- Philadelphia Phillies
The 2007 National League MVP; I thought it should have gone to Matt Holliday of Colorado, but Rollins got it and you can’t say he didn’t deserve it. Hitting .296, 30 HRs, 139 Runs, he topped the 200+ hit mark (212) for the first time in his career, 94 RBIs, 41 SB, .531 SLG, .875 OPS; across the board, he did it all. Maybe not the best numbers at any one statistic, but he was the most consistent player on the Phillies last year and helps in all categories. He could reach these types of numbers again with Ryan Howard and Chase Utley on his side. Rollins is durable and playing right now in his prime; another 30-30 year is possible. I see 25-28 HR, 90-100 RBI, 100-110 Runs, 35-40 SB, and around a .285-.295 AVG.
1. Hanley Ramirez- Florida Marlins
Hanley Ramirez had an amazing campaign in 2007 at the young age of 23. His great numbers for a shortstop last year: 29 HRs, 125 Runs, 81 RBIs, 51 SB, .562 SLG, and a.948 OPS. Ramirez was also in the chase for the batting title for most of the year, batting .332, he finished tied for 3rd in that race. Things will get tougher for Ramirez this coming year with Miguel Cabrera no longer behind him in the lineup, but he will have Dan Uggla and Jeremy Hermida. He dropped his strikeout total from 128 in 2006, to 95 in 2007, so that is another positive. Ramirez will get more opportunities at adding to his RBI numbers as the new projected 3rd hitter in the lineup, but he’ll probably attempt fewer stolen bases at that spot. He jumped from an above average shortstop in 2006, to an elite five-tool contributor in 2007, and should put up similar numbers in 2008. I see a 22-26 HR, 100 RBI, 90 Runs, 35-40 SB, all while batting around the .300 clip.
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