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“Z-Man’s Thoughts” Prospect Preview: Deep Dive into Shortstops

Shortstop is undoubtedly one of the premier in real baseball and in fantasy baseball. The position has taken a turn for the better and has become one of the deeper positions in fantasy. This turn began in 2016 when prospects like Carlos Correa and Corey Seager burst on the scene and every year since there has been more and more great players at this position available. As it looks right now, the position appears to continue the path of growth. The following are ten prospects all at different levels and I believe to have the skills and ability to impact fantasy teams in the future. Of course, there can only be one shortstop per team and some of these teams have long term shortstops already holding down the position; therefore, some of these guys may have to move positions eventually. Regardless of whether they change positions, the skill set won’t change and neither does my excitement for them so lets dive in.

Nico Hoerner (22 AA CHC)

Scouting grades according to MLB.com: Hit: 60 | Power: 45 | Run: 55 | Arm: 50 | Field: 50 | Overall: 55

Nico was drafted in the first round last year and has become the top prospect in the organization. He also has been put on the fast track and has reached AA. Unfortunately, Nico is on the IL at the moment with a fractured wrist. When he can play, Nico will not be in the running for the home run title. His hit tool and speed are going to be the more attractive draw to fantasy players. What may not show up in your fantasy leagues, Nico’s walk and strike out rates are great so far and if he can keep it up then it can help him long term. So far through just over 60 plate appearances, he has a strikeout rate of 11.9% and a walk rate of 10.4%. Those ratios along with the high average show an advanced approach from this college bat. With the solid hit tool I can see Nico producing around a .300 AVG at the major league level and can have around 10 HR with around 15 SB at peak.

Long term I do not see him dethroning Javier Baez from shortstop, but I think he will find a home at second base. Even with the return of Addison Russell, the answer at second has not been answered. We do not know exactly what the production of Russell can/will be. Meanwhile the sooner that Nico can get back to playing, the better chance he has to making an impact in 2020.

Courtesy of Tim Phillis/TCP Photography

Tyler Freeman (20 A CLE)

Scouting grades according to MLB.com: Hit: 60 | Power: 45 | Run: 50 | Arm: 50 | Field: 50 | Overall: 55

Tyler was the 71st overall pick of last 2017. The high school bat has been developing well so far. The power has not come just yet, but there is time and the other tools are making up. While he may have been given a grade of 50 for running, he is very efficient on the base paths. Last year in his first full year he stole at an 82% rate with 14 stolen bases in 17 attempts. This year he is already at 10 stolen bases with a success rate at 83%. Speed is not his only game though, Freeman has consistently hit with an average well over .300 at each level. Along with that, his OBP has been above .400 and slugging has been over .500 over the past two years. It doesn’t even stop there, the strike out rate of Freeman is below 10% at each level so far. That is incredible especially in today’s game where strikeout rates are higher than ever. It is not all sunshine and rainbows with Freeman though, two red flags right now are his power and walk rates. The power has been minimal thus far, but based on his age and size (20 years old 6’0″ 170 lbs) there is plenty of room to grow into his body and gain strength. At this moment it’s unclear how much power is in his potential, but I would be willing to invest in Freeman and see where it goes. As for the walk rates, last year in his first full season he walked only 2.7% of the time. That is obviously not a good rate, but the good news is that this so far this season he raised that to 10.1%. Obviously a walk rate around 10% is the bench mark, but there are players with lower walk rates that have success (Starling Marte, Charlie Blackmon, Javier Baez). Along with that, a high walk rate does not correlate success, but rather it shows a mature approach.

Even though Freeman may be the third ranked prospect in the organization, he may be less known in the dynasty world. I believe there is a good ground work here with room to grow and time to do so in. He has an ETA of 2021 and at that point, he could have a much higher value than what he does now. Francisco Lindor is on the books until 2022 at this point, and Jose Ramirez is until 2021 and up to 2023 with two club options. Jose Ramirez’s position at that point may also depend on how Nolan Jones is developing. Either way, I would have to believe that Cleveland will make room for him.

Freudis Nova (19 ROK HOU)

Scouting grades according to MLB.com: Hit: 55 | Power: 50 | Run: 60 | Arm: 65 | Field: 55 | Overall: 50

When I decided to do this type of article, I knew Nova was going to be on this list. The number 8 prospect in the Astros system is only 19 and poised for a breakout. Over the past two seasons Nova has spent them in rookie ball and has yet to play this season. Over the last two seasons though we have seen improvement. We saw an increase in most counting stats, except for runs and RBI’s. There was also an increase in average and a decrease in strikeouts. Despite the improvement, there was also a drop in walks. Nova is known for having an aggressive approach, and that increased last season, along with an aggressive jump in pulling the ball from 47.4% to 62.2%. This is concerning as obviously we would like to see the more balanced approach from the year before. Only 19 and an ETA of 2022, there is plenty of time to develop and polish his tools that are already showing.

You may be able to find Nova a little under the radar due to being in rookie ball the past two years and not being on many top 100 prospect lists. What is in your favor is the tools and size of Nova. Being 6’1″ and 180 lbs at this time and with the grades above its tough not to get excited about him. It may be a few years before we finally see Nova in the majors, but I would be willing to take a flyer on him in a deeper league and see how he develops.

Courtesy of Zachary Lucy Photography

Jeremiah Jackson (19 ROK LAA)

Scouting grades according to MLB.com: Hit: 55 | Power: 45 | Run: 50 | Arm: 55 | Field: 50 | Overall: 45

Jackson was the second round draft pick from last years draft. This high school bat has the tools and potential to be a good fantasy shortstop. The power needs time to develop, but in his age 18 season he hit 8 HR and stole 10 bases. If he can continue to produce counting stats like that then he will shoot up the ranks of the organization and become a prospect that owners are going to want. Personally I am always a fan of power/speed guys so Jackson will be right up my ally. Similar to many prospects, Jackson is very prone to strikeouts. Last year he struck out at a 30.8% rate. He definitely needs to bring that down if he wants to be successful. If he doesn’t, then he can turn into someone similar to Jackie Bradley Jr or Ian Desmond. That is still someone you can roster, but he won’t be a top option at the position.

At this moment,  based on who we have gone over so far, I would rather have Freeman or Nova as my long term prospect shortstop compared to Jackson. This is not degrading Jackson, but rather stating that he has more polishing to do and improvements to make if he wants to be in that discussion. I would rather take the wait and see approach with Jackson. If he continues to improve his approach, then I will buy in. Similar to Nova, Jackson has not played yet in 2019 and I am eager to see him play this season.

Osiris Johnson (18 A MIA)

Scouting grades according to MLB.com: Hit: 50 | Power: 50 | Run: 50 | Arm: 55 | Field: 50 | Overall: 45

Osiris was drafted in 2018 with the second round. Last year he split his short season between Rookie ball and A ball. With the aggressive promotion came some struggles. His average was below .200, and he struck out close to 40% of the time. In Rookie ball, we saw a strikeout rate below 20% and an average at .301. He also stole 7 bases and was able to drive in 13 runs in 25 games. Even with the struggles, the promotion to A ball shows that the Marlins were impressed with Osiris and want to be able to put him on a fast track and get to the MLB. Unfortunately he had season ending surgery for a stress fracture in his right leg this past March.

With the season ending surgery, of course it stops his development and entire year. From a fantasy aspect, this may actually help those looking to acquire Osiris. He will be under the radar all season and it has delayed his ETA another year at this point to 2022. If he can come back in 2020 and get right back on track then it could help his stock. Until then he will be out for the year, and buried outside of the top 10 ranks in an organization that is not the strongest at the moment in prospects. For right now, he would be a name I would write down and watch for next season before going and adding him.

Courtesy of Ed Delany, MMN

Ronny Mauricio (18 A NYM)

Scouting grades according to MLB.com: Hit: 55 | Power: 55 | Run: 40 | Arm: 60 | Field: 50 | Overall: 55

Mauricio was signed in 2017 during the international signing period. He has just turned 18 about a month ago and is being challenged with A ball. He batted .273 with 3 HR 32 Runs 35 RBI’s and 2 SB last year in rookie ball. So far in his first taste of a full year of pro ball, he is batting .280 AVG 1 HR 16 Runs and 11 RBI’s with 1 stolen base. The power has not shown, but he has not grown into his 6’3″ frame. The strike outs will be a concern as he matures, at this moment he is averaging around a 20% strike out rate from both years. As long as that number doesn’t increase, he will be in good shape.

Based on his size, and the other shortstops the Mets have in their organization (Amed Rosario and Andres Gimenez) it can be easily seen that Mauricio can slide over to third base–not based on production, but more on size. 6’3″ is tall for a shortstop long term. There should not be a big drop in value if he switches positions as his raw power and below average speed will profile there well. From a fantasy aspect I would go in with the mindset of Mauricio moving positions.

Jorge Mateo (23 AAA OAK)

Scouting grades according to MLB.com: Hit: 50 | Power: 45 | Run: 80 | Arm: 60 | Field: 55 | Overall: 50

Jorge Mateo has been a prospect for so many years it’s crazy he is only 23 years old. Signed in 2012 by the Yankees, Mateo has been on prospect radars since 2014. Five years on prospect lists is a very long time and 2019 is the year that Mateo should finally graduate from prospect status. For years Mateo was towards the top of the Yankees prospect ranks, then in 2017 he was the main piece of the return the A’s got for Sonny Gray. Since hes been in Oakland’s organization it has been up and down. Last season was definitely a down year where his average at .230 and his strike out rate was at 27.3%. This season has gotten off to a better start, Mateo is hitting over .300 and has already stolen 11 bases. Speed is definitely Mateo’s most known tool. He has stolen over 30 bases each of the past years and he is on pace to reach that mark again this year.

Long term, I think Mateo profiles better as a second basemen or an outfielder. The size and defense capability is enough to stay at short long term, though someone with that range could be more useful in the outfield. If Mateo can gain multi-position eligibility then it will help his value in fantasy. For 2019, I would expect Mateo to come up at some point this season, depending on the playing role depends on his value. It could range from a part time role and a bench bat and a pinch runner to a full time role and could be somewhere in between. I would add be adding him once he is called up with the expectation of gaining stolen bases. Long term I do not expect him to be a top option at his position, but he will be useful.

Courtesy of Tori Schneider

Oneil Cruz (20 A+ PIT)

Scouting grades according to MLB.com: Hit: 50 | Power: 60 | Run: 55 | Arm: 70 | Field: 50 | Overall: 55

Oneil Cruz is an athletic phenom given his size and skill set. He is 6’6″ with power/speed capability. This 20 year old was signed in 2015 by the Dodgers and traded to the Pirates two years later in exchange for Tony Watson. Last year, he hit .286  with 14 HR and 11 SB. Along with that he walked 7.7% of the time and struck out 22.6%. We can live with the strike outs if it comes with the counting stats. Last year he spent in A ball.  This year he has started in A+ though he has struggled. Strike outs jumped up to 28.3% and his average dropped 40 points to .238. If he can right the ship then I will be right back on board with Cruz.

Long term there is no way he sticks at short, but his arm strength it can be easy to see him in the outfield. Right now Cruz is a power/speed guy, but I would expect as he grows into his frame that the speed may slow down and with that the stolen bases. Though the power will continue to grow. The part that is unclear is the average and strike outs. If he can bring the strike outs back down and keep the average up then he can become an asset to your team. Cruz is projected to reach the majors in two years and it will be an interesting ride to watch his development.

Bo Bichette (21 AAA TOR)

Scouting grades according to MLB.com: Hit: 65 | Power: 55 | Run: 50 | Arm: 55 | Field: 50 | Overall: 60

Bo Bichette has the biggest name recognition of this list and the highest profile. You do not have to dig deep to find Bichette and he doesn’t deserve to be on this list, though I haven’t gotten the chance to talk about him yet. Bichette is the guy you want most on this list if you are in a redraft of keeper league. In a dynasty league, he will be hard to acquire as he is close to a promotion to the major league level. He was drafted in the 2nd round of the 2016 draft and hasn’t looked back. Each year the Blue Jays have challenged Bichette and he has passed every single one. Now in his first full season at AAA, he has gotten off to a slower start finally hitting below .300. Though if you take away his first five games of the season, he would be hitting .344  instead of .250.

It’s no question that Bichette is the best option at shortstop for the Blue Jays right now. Freddie Galvis is not holding down the position. Bichette is a hitting machine and he will be up sometime soon.  He will have around 10 home runs and will steal you somewhere between 15-20 bases on a consistent basis along with a high average.

Courtesy of Cliff Welch/MiLB.com

Jordan Groshans (19 A TOR)

Scouting grades according to MLB.com: Hit: 55 | Power: 55 | Run: 50 | Arm: 60 | Field: 50 | Overall: 55

After praising Bichette above, the Blue Jays have more than one intriguing shortstop in their system. Jordan is a 6’3″ shortstop taken in the first round of last year. Last year he hit .296 with 5 HR 21 Runs and 43 RBI’s. This type of production in an age 18 season is very impressive. This season he is off to a hot start with a promotion to A ball, .337 AVG 2 HR 12 Runs 13 RBI’s and 1 stolen base. To go along with that he is walking 13.5% of the time and striking out 21.9%. So far the strike outs are higher than last season slightly (19.9%). Steals will never be a major part of Groshans’ game.  Other than that, there is a lot to like so far with Groshans.

Of course as we have seen in many of the prospects we have gone over, his size can be a concern over sticking at the position. While it is not a foregone conclusion that he will be moving, its a chance. Though along with Bo Bichette, there are multiple prospects competing to be in the Blue Jays infield. It would be hard to imagine all of them staying in Toronto. Either way some of these prospects will be changing positions or teams. There could be a scenario where the infield could be Bichette at second, Groshans at short and  Vlad at third.  No matter how this turns out I would be interested in buying into Groshans to be a part of this lineup or another. The Blue Jays have a good problem, it will be interesting to see how they decide to work this out.

Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio Show Join host Cole Freel live on Sunday May 19th, 2019 from 8pm-9:30pm EST for episode #161 of Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio. We are a live broadcast that will take callers at 323-870-4395. Press 1 to speak with the host. You can listen live on blogtalk, majorleaguefantasysports.com, or download the podcast on I-Tunes or any Android podcast app. We will discuss spot starters for the coming week, plus a weekend update, and look ahead to next week.

Our guests this week are Joe Iannone and Bryan Luhrs. Joe is a writer with majorleaguefantasysports.com and his articles publish every Sunday. Bryan is the owner of Real Deal Dynasty Sports and is also a league owner as well as a writer with majorleaguefantasysports.com.

Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio Show: Join host Cole Freel, and Kyle Amore live on Thursday May 23rd, 2019 from 7:30-9pm EST for episode #162 of Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio. We are a live broadcast that will take callers at 323-870-4395. Press 1 to speak with the host. You can listen live on blogtalk, majorleaguefantasysports.com, or download the podcast on I-Tunes or any Android podcast app. Cole and Kyle will discuss the latest happenings in the world of MLB and fantasy. They will take a look back on the previous few days and a preview of the coming weekend. Including spot starts, bullpens, offense, and minor league players.

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Grew up playing baseball since I could hold a bat. Played baseball through high school and college. Somehow became a Yankee fan even though I grew up in a Boston based family. From Connecticut, attended Western Connecticut State University and studied Financial Management. Also self proclaimed: Biggest Casual Curling (sport not workout) fan, so hit me up all your burning curling questions, because I know you have them

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