One week ago, I was lamenting the state of the second base position in Major League Baseball and thus fantasy baseball. Outside of a few top players, it is now overrun with utility players and doesn’t have much depth.
This week, however, we talk about one of the deeper positions in baseball. Today we unveil the 2023 Top Keepers – Shortstops edition.
Unlike second base, the shortstop position is populated with highly skilled athletes who can do it all – hit, hit for power, run and field.
The numbers that the shortstops are putting up support that statement, but so too does this simple fact: last season, 20 players (out of 30 MLB teams) played 100 or more games at short. Another two (Kyle Farmer and Bobby Witt Jr.) appeared in 98 games at the position while a third, Tim Anderson, missed half the season due to injuries. Then there is Fernando Tatis Jr., who we all know missed the entire year.
Unless a team is rebuilding or just doesn’t have a good player at short, it is a spot on the field where managers want to have the same player every day. And more often than not, those players are not glove-first players. Today’s shortstops are expected to hit.
What is Your Preference?
The goal, both in real life and in fantasy, is to get the great all-around shortstop. But if you want to use a utility slot or middle infield slot to boost a specific stat, this is a great position to pick a player from.
Want speed? Ten shortstops stole 20 or more bags this past season. Need power? There were 15 shortstops who walloped 15 or more homers. What about help with your average or on-base percentage? Eight shortstops in these rankings hit .290 or better and another 11 had an OBP over .330.
If your team has a specific need, a number of shortstops would be great keepers. Now, let’s dive in and take a look at the 2023 Top Keepers – Shortstops rankings.
A quick note: Ages are as of now and the team is who they finished the season with. A player’s team may change for 2023, ages certainly will. Players who have not spent any time in the majors are also not ranked. Prospect rankings are for another list at another time.
Remember when Adalberto Mondesi was stealing bases and hitting above .260? Yeah, I can barely remember that either. Will Mondesi ever be the player who swipped 32, 43 and 24 bases in consecutive seasons? Or will he continue to be the dude who can’t stay on the field, playing a total of 50 games the last two seasons? Will he even be a starter?
I’m hedging my bets here and saying he will get enough playing time to rack up a decent number of steals, making him worthy of the final spot in my rankings.
Royce Lewis and Oswald Peraza both made this tier based on what I think they will be doing in 2023.
Lewis appeared in 12 games for the Twins and slashed .300/.317/.550 with two homers and five RBI. If the Twins don’t re-sign Carlos Correa (they won’t) or sign another shortstop, then Lewis should slide into the starting lineup and be a solid player.
Peraza started 11 games at short for the Yankees (and three at second base) and should be the shortstop of the future. But the Yankees could trade Gleyber Torres, move Peraza to second and sign a big-name shortstop or go with Anthony Volpe. No matter what, Peraza is a shortstop for fantasy purposes this year and he showed off his skills during his time in the majors, slashing .306/.404/.429.
Speed, Versatility and a Little Bit of Pop
Jorge Mateo didn’t hit for a very good average with the Orioles this past season and is a .225 career hitter. But he does have some pop and definitely has a lot of speed. Given the chance to play every day, he hit 13 homers and stole 35 bases in 2022. If he just matches those numbers again in 2023 he would be a great keeper at this spot.
Luis Urias is a super utility player for the Brewers, topping 20 starts at third base, shortstop and second base. While playing all over the infield he also hit 16 homers and drove in 47 runs while slugging .404. I like his power, and I love the fact he can play three infield positions. That makes him a great keeper.
CJ Abrams isn’t going to hit for a lot of power. He never has and likely never will. But he should eventually hit for a nice average, get on base, and steal bases. After joining the Nationals in a midseason trade with San Diego, he slashed .258/.276/.327 with six steals in 44 games at the age of 21. But for him to realize his potential as a top base stealer, he is going to have to improve his 1.7% walk rate in order to get on base more.
Thairo Estrada was ranked 16th in the second base keeper rankings, and he comes in at No. 18 here. Not only can he play both middle infield spots, he appeared in 18 games in left field and even saw some time at third base. He did all this while hitting 14 homers and stealing 21 bases. Like Urias, I love his versatility while delivering a solid stat line.
If you have been holding onto Nico Hoerner in your dynasty league the past several seasons, your patience was rewarded this year as Hoerner hit 10 homers, drove in 55 runs and stole 20 bases while slashing .281/.327/.410. I expect those number to get even better in 2023.
High expectations followed Amed Rosario from New York to Cleveland when the Guardians acquired him in the Francisco Lindor trade. Is he as good as Lindor? No, if he was, he would be ranked much higher. But Rosario is a consistent hitter. In 2021 he slashed .282/.321/.409 with 11 homers, 57 RBI and 13 steals. This past season he slashed .283/.312/.403 with 11 homers, 71 RBI and 18 steals. It is safe to pencil him for around the same season in 2023.
Wander Franco arrived with huge fanfare when he joined the Rays in 2021. In 70 games he slashed .288/.347/.463 and finished third in the Rookie of the Year voting. Injuries limited Franco to 83 games in 2022, but while on the diamond he slashed .277/.328/.417 with six homers and 33 RBI. So, in 153 career games, he has 13 homers, 72 RBI and 10 steals while slashing .282/.337/439. Not great numbers, but at only 21, more than enough to see that Franco has talent and will only get better.
Tommy Edman slugged .400, hit 13 homers and stole 32 bases in 2022. Those are good numbers for a shortstop, especially the speed. If he remains at short, this ranking is more than fair for Edman. But if the Cardinals bring in one of the top free agent shortstops and slide Edman out to right field, then his speed becomes his best tool as his power won’t match other right fielders.
The Tier 3 Stars
I love Willy Adames, Jeremy Pena and Oneil Cruz, and all three could be (and eventually will be) Top 10 shortstops. However, the depth of the group has them residing in Tier 3.
I understand the thinking behind the Rays trading Adames to the Brewers in 2021 – they were making room for Wander Franco. Brewers’ fans are loving the trade. Since heading to Milwaukee, Adames has hit 57 homers and driven in 166 runs in 238 games. This past year he slugged .458 with 31 homers and 98 RBI and his career 162-game average is 27 homers and 80 RBI with a .255/.322/.448 slash line. I’ll take that every day on my fantasy team.
If people didn’t know who Jeremy Pena was before the start of the postseason, they certainly know who he is now after earning MVP honors in the ALCS and World Series. Pena had a very good rookie season for the Astros, hitting 22 homers, driving in 63 runs and stealing 11 bases while slashing .253/.289/.426.
Pena’s season took off when manager Dusty Baker moved him into the No. 2 hole in the lineup. Hitting behind Jose Altuve and in front of Yordan Alvarez, Pena slashed .290/.315/.522 with 13 homers and 31 RBI in 207 at-bats. Over 150 games that projects to 39 homers and 92 RBI.
Here’s a news flash – Oneil Cruz hits the ball really hard. He ranked in the 91st percentile in average EV, the 100th percentile in max EV, and in the 96th percentile in barrel percentage. In 331 at-bats with the Pirates this past season he smashed 17 homers and drove in 54 runs. But Cruz isn’t all power at the plate as he stole 10 bases and his sprint speed ranked in the 98th percentile.
I came close to dropping Tim Anderson into Tier 3, but I am not going to penalize him for being hurt and missing half the season as I expect him to rebound. When healthy he slashed .301/.339/.395 and still stole 13 bases in 332 at-bats. A healthy Anderson will likely keep the same slash line but go back to hitting 18 homers instead of the six he had this past season
The Free Agent Group
By the time the 2023 season starts, Dansby Swanson, Carlos Correa and Xander Bogaerts all could be playing on different teams than where they played in 2022.
Swanson has picked the right time to become a good hitter. After slashing .248/.311/.449 with 27 homers, 88 RBI and nine steals in 2021, he followed that up by hitting 25 homers this past season with 96 RBI and 18 steals while slashing .277/.329/.447. The biggest reason why he isn’t ranked higher is due to the fact that he has posted an OPS+ over 100 only three times in his career.
Injuries plagued Correa early in his career. He didn’t top 110 games played from 2017-2019. But he then played in 58 of the 60 games in 2020 and has appeared in 136 games or more the past two seasons. When healthy, Correa is one of the top hitting shortstops in the league with a career OBP of .357 and .479 slugging percentage. His 162-game average is 28 homers and 101 RBI through his age 27 season, and his worst OPS+ was a 93 during the COVID year. The last two years it has been 131 and 140.
Bogaerts had a down season (for him) in 2022 as his home run production dropped to 15, down from 23 in 2021 and 33 in 2019 and his slugging percentage was the lowest since 2017. But one year does not make a trend. His average OPS+ over the last five seasons is 132, including a 131 this year, which was better than 2020 and 2021.
Still Slugging the Ball
If you view Corey Seager by his slash line in 2022, his 2022 campaign didn’t compare to previous seasons. He slashed .245/.317/.455 while his career average is .287/.357/.494. However, Seager did hit a career-high 33 homers and his 83 RBI were his second-best total.
Hurting his slash line was a BABIP of .242, way down from his career average of .317. He actually had the second-best home run rate (5%) of his career and his 15.5% strikeout out was the second lowest of his career. What does this all mean? He will have a better slash line in 2023 and still hit a lot of homers and drive in a lot of runs.
This tier is amazingly good and can really be ranked in almost any order. In this group, of the four players who actually played a game, Francisco Lindor had the most RBI last year with 107. Conversely, Lindor had the second lowest batting average and slugging percentage. Of course, I will take a .270/.339/.449 slash line with 26 homers, 107 RBI and 16 steals from my shortstop in any year.
Fernando Tatis Jr. is the most talented player in this group. Just look at what he did in 2021 as he hit 42 home runs, drove in 97, stole 25 bases and slashed .282/.364/.611 at the age of 22! I originally ranked him first. But he missed time due to injuries in 2021 and all of last season with injuries and the PED suspension. He will still be serving that suspension to start 2023 and who knows if he is going to stay healthy. Unlike what I did with Anderson, I am penalizing Tatis for being AWOL in 2022.
The Top Three
After I moved Tatis out of the top spot, I had Trea Turner ranked there. But when compared to Bobby Witt Jr. and Bo Bichette, I eventually moved him down to third. The main reason is his age as Turner is 29. His numbers are still great (.298/.343/.466, 21 homers, 100 RBI, 27 steals in 2022), so if you only care about next season and maybe 2024, then I can easily argue he is the top-ranked shortstop.
But what about three to five years from now? If you are looking that far ahead, like I am, then Bobby Witt Jr. and Bo Bichette are the shortstops to keep at the top of this list.
Witt had a great rookie season, slashing .254/.294/.428 with 20 homers, 80 RBI and 30 steals. Looking purely at his numbers from last year, he is the fifth-best player in this group and could even be ranked Seager. But he’s only 22. I expect all of those numbers to only get better, especially the OBP and slugging percentage as he hits for more power.
Bichette has been outstanding since joining the Blue Jays in 2019 at the age of 21. His career OPS+ is 127. This past season he slashed .290/.333/.469 with 24 homers, 93 RBI and 13 steals. Those numbers fall in line with his career 162-game average (.297/.340/.491, 28-99-19). Bichette will be 25 all of next season and is primed to take his game to yet another level.
Jose Iglesias is 32, Brandon Crawford is 35 and Elvis Andrus is 34. All three are still serviceable if you are in dire need of a shortstop. Iglesias did hit .292 last year, but that is about it. Andrus actually had a decent season with 17 homers and 18 steals.
Bryson Stott was on the Just Missed list for second baseman and this is where he falls for shortstops. This is what I said about him last week: Stott did hit 10 homers and steal 12 bases. But is he going to be the Phillies’ second baseman, shortstop, or platoon at both? He also only slashed .234/.295/.358.
I fully expect him to slide to second base fulltime in 2023 as Philadelphia adds a free agent shortstop. But that still doesn’t move Stott up the rankings.
I like Ezequiel Tovar, but he made only nine starts for the Rockies and slashed .212/.257/.333. But I fully expect him to win the starting job this spring and quickly go from Just Missed to Tier 5 pretty quickly.
Thanks for reading and be on the lookout for Top 2023 Keepers – Third Basemen next week. If you missed any of the previous Top 2023 Keepers articles, you can find them here: