Another NFL season is in the books, pitchers and catchers are reporting, and it’s time to turn up the heat on draft season. Yay! (By the way, if you haven’t joined any RCLs yet, you should consider signing up for a league or two in the planet’s most fun fantasy baseball contest!) We’ll continue our state of the position tour with shortstop, where once again we have a bevy of promising fantasy options. I’ll touch on a few guys that I’m not as high on as the rest of the fantasy world is (at least in terms of NFBC ADP over the last month) and then we’ll jump right to the middle rounds to pluck out some names that I think are particularly good values. We’ll also cover a few true deep-league, almost free lottery tickets that are fun to daydream about here in mid-February.

Before we dive into all that, though, let’s touch on something I keep mentioning, including last week when we discussed second base. Even in shallower leagues, of course, you will really want to know your options throughout a draft or auction. But I’m finding this to be particularly true when it comes to middle infield (or at least true in a different way than it is for the less-deep corner infield positions). I’ve seen many owners double up on 2B or SS relatively early, eliminating players that you might have expected to hang around much longer. I had one (15-team mixed) draft where no fewer than three teams doubled down at the shortstop position alone in the first three rounds of the draft: one took Elly De La Cruz and Corey Seager, another Trea Turner and C.J. Abrams, and a third took Francisco Lindor and Bo Bichette. That in turn drove Nico Hoerner, Matt McLain, and Oneil Cruz off the board even earlier than expected, and there was a domino effect throughout the entire draft.

Anyhow, back to some of the top options at the position who I haven’t wanted to draft as high as I’d need to in order to roster them right now. I have Elly DeLaCruz rostered in both my NL-only keeper leagues, so no one is rooting harder for him to start fulfilling his tantalizing fantasy potential on a consistent basis in 2024 than I am. That being said, I am absolutely floored at his current price (ADP #24) — he has been drafted as early as 12th overall at NFBC this month! I guess playing him at 3B, where there aren’t as many late options I love, makes more sense to me, but I just can’t see investing a first or second round pick until we see him prove that he can overcome his late-2023 struggles at the plate and truly make the leap to succeed at the MLB level. The other top 10 option I’m fading so far this year is Bo Bichette (7th shortstop off the board at NFBC with an ADP of 38). Those 5 total steals last year are enough for me to bump him out of serious consideration this early — I still think he’ll be a very valuable fantasy player, but until we see if he starts running again I’d rather look in a different direction at this point in a draft and fill my shortstop spot a bit later.

Someone whose price is higher than I thought it might be but who I’ve already drafted a couple times is C.J. Abrams. This is a perfect example of someone who, in comparison to Bichette, is likely a nowhere-near-as-good real life baseball player, but whom I’d rather have on a fantasy team right now at their current prices. I don’t usually like to just discount batting average — it counts the same amount in a standard 5×5 league as any other category, after all — and maybe I’m doing too much of that in this situation. But watching Abrams late last year (and crushing me in a few leagues by stealing what seemed like 2 bases for my opponents’ teams every day for the last month of the season) made me realize he’d be jumping up my shortstop ranks in 2024. The fact that he finished the year with 18 homers sealed the deal. If he can’t take a step forward in terms of his overall hitting approach and plate discipline he may really burn me, but a potential 20/40 season if I have a late draft pick and miss out on the speedy Acuna/Witt/Carrolls of the world has been too tempting for me to pass up.

Let’s drop down a tier or two, outside the top 100 ADP, to talk about another fellow I have a share or two of, old friend Xander Bogaerts. He’s old (well, only 31, but feels older) and he’s somehow boring while being wildly streaky, but as the 13th SS off the board with an ADP of 110, he’s also been a decent fit on a couple of my teams. He was SO good early in the season last year, and SO not good for other long stretches of it, but he ended up as a solid contributor across the board. He came THIS close to going 20/20 (he went 19/19), and with one of those sneaky helpful .285 averages. It’s still hard to imagine how the Padres offense was as disappointing as it was last year after looking so amazing on paper, so it’s hard to say what this season will bring. At this cost, though, I’m in on Xander, for one more season, anyway.

Someone I haven’t drafted yet but thought I would is Anthony Volpe — perhaps last year’s .209 average is justifiability scaring folks off, myself included. If he can take a step forward this year, which certainly seems possible since he has a year of experience under his belt and should have less pressure on him to boot, he could be a huge value as his current 135 ADP. He’s been drafted as late as #191 this past month, which feels like an incredible steal for someone who hit 21 homers and stole 24 bases last year after all the early 2023 noise and dust was settled. There are a few others in the 120-170 ADP range who I like just enough to consider at this point in a draft: Dansby Swanson at #124 (he’s been drafted as late as 168, which of course is even better), Thairo Estrada at #132, and Tommy Edman at #168 (yes, he’s got a couple pretty big red flags, namely coming off a wrist injury). I’ve been burned too much by Trevor Story (#173) and Willy Adames (#182) to have drafted them yet this year, but either of them could also pay off this late.

Let’s look all the way down outside the top 200 to see what deep league bargains we might be able to find. Interestingly enough given the overall depth at the position, there aren’t a ton of guys I’m excited about down at this price point. That’s making me realize that, especially if I miss out on a top 10 shortstop, I probably really want to grab one of the players in the Volpe/Thairo tier. But who to turn to for bench depth/injury fill-in/late draft fliers? I have a few shares of Luis Rengifo; love his tantalizing 2B/3B/SS/OF eligibility, especially in draft and hold leagues. I’m often burned by trying to predict what the Angels will do, but if Rengifo gets to play regularly he should be a solid stats accumulator for a guy with an ADP of 231. Vaughn Grissom’s price has certainly risen after his trade to the Red Sox and could take another huge jump during spring training. He’s been somewhat polarizing even after the trade, with an overall ADP of 240 but having been taken as high as 125 and as late as 317. I wouldn’t reach as far as the 125 guy did but love the potential of a deal here for a guy that will add 2B eligibility this year and will hopefully finally have a chance to show off his power/speed combo with a full time job in Boston.

Hovering around the 300 ADP mark, I’m interested in Zach Neto here (once again trusting the Angels to not only play who I think they should but to play him hopefully at or near the top of the order).  I love me a guy that gets on base, plus Neto has some pop and excellent speed. Commenter BBBoston asked about Neto last week, and when he did I made a note about Neto, namely wondering if his struggles last year were due to trouble adjusting to MLB pitching, or the injuries that he’d been dealing with (namely a midsummer oblique strain followed by back issues). Perhaps it’s a combination of both, but at this price, I’m interested in finding out what he can offer us fantasy types in 2024 (and he’s another player whose price could skyrocket with a great spring).

When looking at ADP from 400-500, there are a handful of names that could either be useful veteran fill-ins (Orlando Arcia at #400, Zach McKinstry at #496), and even more veteran cross-your-fingers-for-a-bounceback types (Javy Baez, Tim Anderson, Amed Rosario). There are also a couple youngsters that could be intriguing if they get playing time and can take a step forward (Jose Caballero, Masyn Winn). I’m not reaching for any of these guys, particularly the older ones, but have already ended up rostering Arcia/McKinstry/Winn to fill out a deep bench. Looking even later, all the way down at #650, I’m intrigued enough by Darell Hernaiz of the A’s to grab him this late. He doesn’t project as a superstar but has a solid floor according to most metrics, and let’s just say the names he’ll need to hop over on the Oakland-for-now shortstop depth chart aren’t as impressive as some other teams feature. Once we’re at this point in a draft we’re basically talking zero risk, of course, so one other player I’ve grabbed near his 665 ADP is Twins’ Brooks Lee. Like Hernaiz, he may not have a current path to playing time let alone a high ceiling when it comes to fantasy stardom, but this late anyone who has a chance of contributing at some point this long season is on my radar.

Thanks for reading, happy drafting, and may the spring training injury reports miss your teams entirely!