MLB Top Prospects: SS sleepers for fantasy baseball dynasty/keeper leaguesSporting News — (Frank Neville)
Young shortstops are among the game’s biggest stars, and in recent years it seemed as though almost every season produced another outstanding rookie SS and fantasy baseball favorite at the position (Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor, Corey Seager, etc.). Top prospects Fernando Tatis, Jr. (No. 4 in our prospect rankings) and Bo Bichette (No. 15) could continue that trend this year, although they probably won’t open the season in the majors. Still, these are names that all Dynasty/Keeper leaguers should already know, and those in re-draft leagues need to have them on their radars, too.
While fantasy owners wait for Tatis Jr. and Bichette, there are a few other rookie shortstops who could break camp as starters for their respective clubs.
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MLB Top Prospects: SS
The Padres’ Luis Urias (No. 26 in our prospect rankings) played mostly second base last season, but this year he’s poised to be San Diego’s opening day shortstop. Urias has struggled with plate discipline in his brief time in the majors, and he looked a bit out of sync when I saw him in spring training. He’s also been battling a hamstring issue, although the club appears to believe he’ll be healthy by the time the season starts. At his best, Urias has great hand-eye coordination and good pitch recognition, which have allowed him to walk almost as much as he’s struck out in his pro career. This spring, I think he’s simply been anxious and has tried to do too much. Once he settles down, he should return to form. He doesn’t have much power or speed, but his pure hitting tools and on-base skills mean he should hit for average and score runs while batting near the top of the San Diego lineup.
Richie Martin, whom the Orioles selected in the 2018 Rule 5 draft, could very well open the year as Baltimore’s starting shortstop. Martin, who has underwhelmed as a pro after an excellent collegiate career, broke out last year in Double-A with the Athletics before being selected first overall in December’s Rule 5 draft. The rebuilding Orioles have an incentive to give him regular playing time because they’ll need to return him to the A’s if he doesn’t remain on Baltimore’s major league roster. Martin has competed well this spring and looks like a new hitter compared to his early days with Oakland. He’s now using his lower body more effectively than he did earlier in his pro career, which has allowed him to stay more under control and drive the ball with more authority. He probably won’t ever develop much power, but he has the bat speed, plate discipline, and hand-eye coordination to hit .275 with a few home runs while also swiping 15-plus bases.
Kevin Newman is competing to be the Pirates’ starting shortstop. He hasn’t hit very well this spring, but his competition, Erik Gonzalez, has been even worse. With roughly a dozen games left in Grapefruit League play, there’s still time for Newman to turn things around. At his best Newman makes lots of contact and sprays line drives around the field. He doesn’t have the leverage or swing path to hit for power, but he has solid pitch recognition and good hand-eye coordination which will allow him to hit for average. Newman probably isn’t the long-term answer for the Pirates at short, but if he does emerge as the starter, he should hit for average and steal 15-plus bags over a full season.
Fernando Tatis Jr. won’t be on the Padres’ opening day roster, but he could make his big league debut sometime around midseason. Only 20, Tatis is a precocious talent who is still learning to harness his abundant tools. Last season, Tatis fractured his thumb in the midst of an impressive showing at Double-A and missed the last part of the year. This spring he hasn’t shown any rust as he’s blistered Cactus League pitching for a .696 slugging percentage through the first half of spring training. He’ll need to tighten his plate discipline to succeed against advanced pitching, but he has the hand-eye coordination to hit for a solid average. His elite bat speed and excellent leverage allow him to generate plus power while his athleticism is more than sufficient to stick at shortstop. If he can improve his plate discipline, he profiles as a future star who could hit for average with 25-30 home runs and 15-20 stolen bases in the majors.
Toronto's Bo Bichette is another electric young talent who could arrive in the majors later this season. He’s looked great when I’ve seen him this spring, and he’s been the Blue Jays best hitter through the first half of Grapefruit League action. Bichette sometimes gets a bad rap for his aggressive swing mechanics and emotional demeanor, but he’s actually a very smart, controlled hitter with an excellent work ethic. At the plate, Bichette maintains great balance and a direct swing path even with his large leg kick. In the at-bats I’ve seen this spring he’s been more consistent and he’s shown improved pitch recognition. Despite his small stature he has outstanding bat speed, above-average raw power, and an ability to drive the ball out of the park to all fields. He’s worked hard to make himself an average defensive shortstop, and he should stick at the six even though he profiles better at second due to average range and an average arm. Once he gets a big league shot he has the skills to hit for average, stroke 20-plus home runs, and steal 15-20 bags.