As I’m writing this, I’m realizing that, gloriously, it’s not all that early any more (hence my last-minute title change). Players have not only reported to camp, spring training games are being played and Opening Day will suddenly be here within a month. Those of us who are already drafting are no longer in the bubble of being able to avoid “best shape of his life” comments from players and remarks from managers about bullpen or starting position battles where a few words may lead to a huge ADP rise or fall for certain players. After looking at second base last week, we’ll begin March by shifting over one spot on the diamond and concentrating on shortstops outside the top 150 players being drafted according to current NFBC ADP. Since the position is stacked once again this season, I suspect most of us, even in very deep leagues, will have splurged on an expensive or early round stud and will have short covered by the time we get this late in a draft or auction. But it’s always nice to know what our fallback/back-up/bench depth/lottery ticket options might be, which leads us to the following list of names.
Didi Gregorius (#162). Here’s something that I found interesting about shortstops this year: while 12 of the top 16 ranked second basemen (again, using NFBC ADP) have multi-positional eligibility, not a single one of the top 13 shortstops — and 15 out of the top 17 — qualify at that position only. What does this mean for draft strategy? I’m still trying to figure that out, but in the meantime I’m somewhat surprised to find that I’ve already drafted Gregorius as a middle infielder on two teams this year. He’s never been a big target of mine, but I’m kinda liking the value at this point. Perhaps I shouldn’t get sucked in by his 2020 numbers (.284 with 10 homers and 3 steals, and he played in all 60 games) given that he was on a one-year deal playing for a contract, but as I said I don’t mind taking a chance on him at this point as a guy who could provide a little value across the fantasy board.
Andres Gimenez (#180, also qualifies at 2B and 3B in most leagues). I’ve been a little giddy about Gimenez since I plucked him off waivers in a few leagues last year and he ran enough to give me a nice boost in steals (I think he had 4 in one week at one point). I’ve read a lot of conflicting opinions about his status in 2020, from predictions that he’ll start the season in the minors while Amed Rosario plays every day, to others assuming he’ll be the starting shortstop (due in large part to his defense) while Rosario takes a back seat or gets traded. I’ve grabbed a few Gimenez shares already in case he has a great spring and/or it becomes clear he’ll be playing every day; it doesn’t feel like a horrible gamble at his current cost.
Chris Taylor (#216, also qualifies at 2B and OF in most leagues). Given the rather extreme lack of late-round talent at second as we discussed last week, it probably makes more sense to eye Taylor at that position, but the versatility is nice either way. Taylor teased many of us with his impressive 2017 (hitting .288 with 21 homers and 17 steals in 54 games), and while I don’t think we’ll ever see another season like that from him, he had another solid (mini) season last year, hitting .270 with 8 homers and 3 steals while playing in 56 of the 60 games. Perhaps this is the year that Gavin Lux finally takes a significant number of at bats from Taylor, but in recent years the Dodgers have found a way to get him into their lineup regularly no matter how stacked that lineup is. If Taylor stays healthy and relatively productive, he, like Gregorius, could provide a little help in all of the standard categories.
Jorge Polanco (#218). Polanco let down owners in 2020 (.258 avg/4 HR/4 SB) after he hit .295 with a .356 OBP and 22 homers in 153 games in 2019. I don’t think anyone’s holding their breath for him to start racking up steals (13 in 2017 is his career high) given that Minnesota runs less than any team in baseball, and it’s not even that close (they were dead last in 2020, averaging 0.37 steals per game… and that’s after their also-last 0.30 mark in 2019). If the weak power and overall hitting numbers were a result of injury last year — he had a bone chip and a bone spur in his ankle, leading to his second off-season surgery on the same ankle in two years — there’s a chance we see enough improvement in 2021 to make him worth considering outside the top 200.
Willi Castro (#243, also qualifies at 3B in most leagues). Castro hit an unsustainable .349 in 36 games last year, but assuming he plays every day for the Tigers he could be a worthwhile late fantasy pick. He also contributed in the power department last year (6 homers in 36 games), and while he didn’t steal a base, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him chip in on that front as well as he showed good speed in the minors. He may even find his way into the leadoff spot at some point, given that his biggest competition for that role for now seems to be coming from Robbie Grossman.
Outside the top 300:
Nick Ahmed (#397). I guess I’m already falling for spring training hype to have Ahmed on my radar, as he’s been quoted as saying he was playing with a shoulder injury last year but is back to 100% now and ready to take 2021 by storm. He still managed 5 homers and 4 steals, which isn’t completely useless in a mini-season in the deepest leagues. I’m not saying to expect a breakout of any kind, just saying if you’re stuck for a shortstop in an NL-only league and need one around pick 400, he might be your best bet.
Outside the top 400:
Elvis Andrus (#416). Not sure how much Andrus’ trade to the A’s has boosted his ADP, but the combination of a huge change of scenery and the promise of every day playing time certainly can’t hurt his value. I was all in on Andrus last year as a cheap speed source last season, and while I haven’t drafted him yet this year I’ll happily take a flier if I can get him this late.
J.P. Crawford (#453). I owned Crawford a couple very deep leagues last year hoping for a post-hype prospect breakout… that didn’t quite happen as his numbers were utterly blah save for his 6 steals. I did watch him a fair amount though, and he just felt like one of those guys who was hitting better than his numbers indicated, lots of line drives right at people and such. That’s from the Laura Holt eye test/gut feeling without looking at underlying numbers, so do what that information what you will. At any rate, I’ll absolutely consider Crawford again at the end of drafts this year… and did I mention he’s in the best shape of his life? (Yes, didn’t see the comment until after I wrote this blurb, but he actually has been quoted as saying he packed on 10 lbs. of muscle over the off season. So do with that what you will as well).