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Fantasy Baseball: Top Fantasy Shortstop Prospects for 2011

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Here is the fourth article in the series of top prospects by position addressing the Top Fantasy Shortstop Prospects for 2011. This list is the top shortstop prospects for 2011 for fantasy purposes, so it will be slightly different than what you would see from John and other prospect experts. In addition, I will post an aggregated list of top shortstop prospects that will combine the 2011 list along with the top shortstop prospects for keeper leagues.

Here is my look at the Top Shortstop prospects for 2011:

1. Danny Espinosa, WAS-Espinosa is slated to be the Nationals starting second baseman in 2011, but his main position is shortstop, where he played the majority of his games in 2010. He hit .268-.337-.468 with 22 HRs, 69 RBIs, and 25 SBs with a 116-41 K/BB rate. He won't hit for a high BA, due to the strikeouts, but he has power and speed, which are very valuable to fantasy owners. Fantasy owners will need to pay attention to how he returns from the hammate bone surgery he had recently to see if it reduces his power in spring training, assuming he is healthy. If healthy, he is a must own in keeper leagues, and a late round pick in mixed leagues. Bill James and ZIPs project him to have a 20-20 season in 2011.

2. Zack Cozart, CIN (25 y/o)-Cozart hit .255-.310-.416 at AAA in 2010, with 17 HRs, 67 RBIs, and 30 SBs in 34 attempts. His K/BB rate was 107-40 last year, a dropoff from the solid 87-63 rate at AA in 2009. The Reds have yet to sign a free agent SS, and could go with Paul Janish, who has a good glove, but Cozart has a good glove and a bat with some pop. He could hold his own in Cincinnati if given the chance.

3. Chase d'Arnaud, PIT (24 y/o)-d'Arnaud slumped in AA in 2010, hitting just .247-.331-.377 with 6 HRs, 48 RBIs, and 33 SBs in 40 attempts, to go with a K/BB rate of 102-56. D'Arnaud clearly struggled with the step up to AA, but with the youth movement that is occurring in Pittsburgh, I could see him getting some time with the big club should he show an improved eye at the plate. After an OBP of .398 in 2009, his OBP dropped to .331 in 2010. If he can get that up to the .350-.360 range, d'Arnaud could be a fantasy asset as he has stolen 78 bases in 95 attempts in his minor league career.

More after the jump:

4. Darwin Barney, CHC-Barney hit.299-.333-.378 with 2 HRs, 49 RBIs and 11 SBs at AAA Iowa in 2010. Barney is blocked by Starlin Castro at SS, but could see some time at 2b should Blake Dewitt fail to impress at the plate or in the field in 2011. 

5. Dee Gordon, LAD (23 y/o)-Gordon is the heir apparent to Rafael Furcal in Los Angeles in 2012. Furcal has been injury prone in his 5 years with the Dodgers, mainly due to a bad back, so Gordon could see some time in LA in 2011. Gordon held his own in AA in 2010, hitting .277-.332-.355 with 2 HRs, 39 RBIs, and 53 SBs in 73 attempts. He has a good eye at the plate as he has a career K/BB ratio of 208-99. Gordon's glove and speed will get him to the major leagues, and his speed alone is a major fantasy asset as he could lead the majors in SBs in his prime. With Davey Lopes as the Dodgers new first base coach, Gordon will learn the art of stealing from one of the best.

As you can see, shortstop is a thin position in the higher levels of the minors, as is the case in the big leagues as well. But there are a few shortstops at the lower levels in the minors who fantasy owners should keep their eyes on, especially those in keeper leagues.

Keeper Leagues (Updated 12/22-11:10pm)

1. Manny Machado, BAL (18 y/o)

2. Wilmer Flores, NYM (19 y/o)

3. Nick Franklin, SEA (20 y/o)

4. Grant Green, OAK (23 y/o)

5. Dee Gordon, LAD (23 y/o)

6. Danny Espinosa, WAS (24 y/o)

7. Hak-Ju Lee, CHC (20 y/o)

8. Billy Hamilton, CIN (20 y/o)

9. Matt Lipka, ATL (19 y/o)

10. Eduardo Nunez, NYY (23 y/o)

11. Jurickson Profar, TEX (18 y/o)

12. Christian Colon, KC (20 y/o)

13. Drew Cumberland, SD (22 y/o)

14. Adeiny Hechavarria, TOR (22 y/o)

The top seven eight names in this list are must own shortstops in keeper leagues, with Espinosa the only one who will see significant time in the majors in 2011. I could see flip-flopping Flores and Machado, and I do realize Flores may not stay at SS in the next few years, bit his bat is special, and we have yet to see much of what Machado can do in the lower levels of the minor leagues.

Franklin and Espinosa provide power/speed potential while Gordon will be a top base stealer in his prime. I would like to see what Cumberland can do when healthy for a full season, and we may get to see that in 2011.