Top MLB Prospects: Shortstop sleepers for the 2018 fantasy baseball seasonSporting News — email@example.com (Frank Neville)
Young shortstops such as Carlos Correa, Manny Machado, Corey Seager, Trea Turner, and Francisco Lindor have taken over the game over the past few years. While 2018 doesn’t promise to produce any future superstars at the position, there are several excellent prospects who should establish themselves this season as above-average big leaguers and, possibly, fantasy baseball sleepers.
The news is even better for those in keeper and dynasty leagues. Behind this year’s crop is an elite group of next-generation stars who should burst on the scene in 2019.
Top MLB Prospects 2018: Shortstop
J.P. Crawford has been the Phillies' shortstop of the future for many years, and that future may finally be now. Crawford struggled mightily for almost two full seasons after a mid-2015 promotion to Double-A. He finally got back on track in the second half of last year (.285 average with 13 home runs over his last 61 Triple-A games), thus giving Philadelphia the confidence to trade Freddy Galvis and clear the way for Crawford to be the club’s starting shortstop this year. The key to Crawford’s '17 rebound was a 10-day mid-June break during which he didn’t play in games while he reworked his swing. If he can maintain his new swing mechanics, Crawford has the hand-eye coordination and plate discipline to hit for average and moderate power. With plus defensive skills and the ability to stick at shortstop long-term, Crawford has the potential to be an above-average contributor who could hit .275 with 15-20 home runs.
Willy Adames can’t hang defensively with incumbent Rays shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria, but he’s a much better hitter, an above-average defender in his own right and should win a starting job at some point in 2018. He might even see some time at second base if Brad Miller’s health issues linger. Adames has plus bat speed, but he doesn’t have good leverage or balance in his swing, which results in a flatter bat path and less power than he could otherwise have. His athleticism and ability to make adjustments bode well for increased offensive upside as he matures. In the meantime, Adames has the present ability to hit .270 with 10-plus home runs and the future potential to reach 20-plus bombs if he can improve his balance and leverage.
The Reds' Nick Senzel is listed as a third baseman, but this spring he’s been taking most of his defensive reps at shortstop as part of an experiment to improve his position versatility and, possibly, speed his big league arrival. The Reds have Eugenio Suarez entrenched at third, but Jose Peraza is an unproven shortstop. While service time concerns will probably mean that Senzel begins the year in the minors, he’ll almost certainly receive an early-season call-up and could see time at short, third, second, or even in the outfield. A polished, big league ready hitter who batted .321 with 14 home runs and a .905 OPS during a 2017 campaign split between High-A and Double-A, Senzel has good balance and bat speed to go with solid plate discipline and good hand-eye coordination. He doesn’t have the swing plane to hit for power right now, but he has the strength to develop more pop as he matures. In the meantime, he profiles as a guy who will hit close to .300 and slug 15-20 home runs in the majors.
Fantasy Baseball Sleepers: Dynasty league shortstops
Colorado'sBrendan Rodgers, Oakland's Jorge Mateo, and Minnesota's Nick Gordon could also find their way to the majors in 2018, though it would be surprising to see any make his debut before the All-Star break.
Rodgers scuffled last year after a midseason promotion to Double-A, but he’s successfully navigated an adjustment period at each minor league level and has the pure tools to be a future star. At his best, Rodgers has plus bat speed and the ability to drive balls to all fields. He’ll need to tighten his plate discipline to reach his potential, but he’s proven he can stick at shortstop where he should hit at least .280 with 20-plus home runs over a full season. If he can develop a more patient approach, those projections could be low.
When motivated and healthy, Mateo is an electric player with the bat speed to drive balls in the gaps and the plus-plus foot speed to steal bases at will. He’s struggled with attitude and consistency, which both seemed to improve after his 2017 midseason trade to Oakland. Mateo is recovering from a sprained knee this spring and will almost certainly begin the season in the minors. If he picks up where he left off in 2017, he could see a midseason call-up and regular playing time at short, second, or even in the outfield. Mateo needs to tone down his aggressiveness at the plate in order to reach his ceiling. If he can become more selective, he has the upside of a top-of-the-order dynamo with 100-run, 50-stolen base potential.
Gordon is taking most of his reps at second base this spring and has performed well in big league camp, but he’ll almost surely open the season in the minors. Gordon doesn’t have a clear path to playing time in Minnesota, but he has the position versatility (shortstop, second, outfield) to take advantage of an opportunity. Gordon improved his strength and consistency while posting good numbers last year in Double-A (.270 average, nine home runs, 13 stolen bases in 122 games). Gordon doesn’t have elite skills, but he’s made steady progress and now profiles as a quality big league shortstop. With above-average bat speed and a strong work ethic, Gordon could develop more power as he matures. Long-term, he could hit .270 with double-digit home runs and 15-20 stolen bases per season in the bigs.
Also keep an eye on San Diego's Fernando Tatis Jr. and Toronto’s Bo Bichette. Neither is likely to see big league time in 2018, but both have All Star potential and should be knocking on the door of the majors in '19.