By now the torch from the star shortstops of yesterday should have been passed to the players in their prime.
Derek Jeter and Jimmy Rollins should have already passed it to Troy Tulowitzki and Jose Reyes and possibly to young stars Starlin Castro and Dee Gordon.
As it turns out, Rollins and Jeter still dominate their position while Tulowitzki can’t stay healthy, and Gordon was not ready for the honour.
In the big leagues, shortstops carry a wide array of talent. You have one-dimensional sluggers such as J.J. Hardy and Jhonny Peralta, singles machines like Ruben Tejada and Alcides Escobar, and players in the middle including Asdrubal Cabrera and Marco Scutaro.
Possibly the most exciting shortstop in baseball who is likely to soar in the rankings in years to come, Starlin Castro took a step in the right direction this season with the Cubs. The 22-year-old established career highs with 12 triples, 14 home runs, 25 steals, and 78 RBIs. The only complaint would be his 36 walks, which results in a rather ordinary .323 on base percentage.
Castro did offer some consistency at the plate, hitting better than .280 against both right-handers and southpaws. He still has some maturing to do as his lack of plate discipline is matched by inconsistent defense.
The young Dominican has the ability to be an All-Star and a Gold Glove winner, but maturity will determine whether he will rise to stardom or tease us with his potential.
Even a down season by Jose Reyes ranks as better than most.
The former Mets star turned in the orange and blue for an array of colors in Miami. After a slow start he really picked it up hitting .312 with eight home runs following the All-Star break. On the season, Reyes totalled 11 home runs, 12 triples, 40 steals, and a .287 average.
Midway through the season Reyes took to the third spot in the Marlins lineup where he was expected to drive in runners rather than set the table as a leadoff man. He transition to the role well and could end up being a player with 100 runs, 80 RBIs, and a .300-plus average in a good year.
At just 29-years-old, Reyes sits just 16 hits shy of 1500 for his career and still in his prime. He could be a first or second round pick in next year’s fantasy leagues.
The Nationals’ NL East Division Title was earned with their pitching, but no one would have thought that the two big boppers in the lineup this season would be Adam LaRoche and Ian Desmond.
While LaRoche has enjoyed some success in the past, Desmond was considered a low average hitter with the ability to post double digits in home runs and steals. Desmond provided a lot more than that this season as he blasted a career-high 25 round-trippers with 21 steals while hitting .291.
For certain, Desmond is still far from a MVP candidate, as his plate discipline remains an issue. He drew just 30 walks this season compared to 113 strikeouts, resulting in a pedestrian .335 on base percentage.
The 27-year-old has at least proven to be a dangerous hitter and still has time to improve and become a perennial All-Star in the National League to rival Reyes.
One of the all-time greats, Derek Jeter continues to add to his legacy. Jeter’s whopping 216 hits mark the second highest total of his career. He is also hitting the ball with some power, as his 47 extra base hits are his highest total in six years.
Though he has lost some speed over the years, Jeter remains a well-rounded fantasy contributor with 15 home runs and nine stolen bases to go along with the .316 average. He is also remarkably consistent with a .308 average prior to the All-Star break and a .325 average following the mid-summer classic.
With 3,304 hits in his stellar career, Jeter continues to chase history and now ranks 11th on the all-time list. With a similar season next year, Jeter should easily reach sixth overall and then the chase for 4,000 will come into view.
At 33-years-old, Jimmy Rollins is supposed to be on the decline and while he is far from his MVP form of 2007, Rollins remains an elite fantasy star. The .250 batting average is well below his career norm, but Rollins established a career-high with 62 walks. Rollins also blasted 23 home runs, his highest total since that MVP season, plus he scored 102 runs and swiped 30 bases.
Though the Phillies missed out on the postseason, Rollins enjoyed a memorable year. He collected his 2,000th hit and stole his 400th base.
Rollins will likely generate some Hall of Fame consideration once he retires, but for now he is still adding to his legacy and earned the right to figure prominently in the Phillies lineup next season.
And now for the biggest disappointments at the positions …
The Tigers managed to wiggle their way into the playoffs, no thanks to Jhonny Peralta. The power-hitting 30-year-old played a big role in last year’s success when he blasted 21 home runs with 86 RBIs and a .299 batting clip. This season those figures dropped to 13 home runs, 63 RBIs, and a .239 average.
Peralta is something of a one-trick pony since he does not steal bases or hit for a high average. His lack of pop this season rendered him useless in fantasy leagues.
After a down 2010 season, Yunel Escobar bounced back last year in his first full season with the Blue Jays. He swatted 11 home runs, scored 77 runs and hit for a .290 average. The Blue Jays expected similar contributions this season, but Escobar did not answer the call.
The average dipped to .253, his home run total down to nine, and worst of all the on-base-percentage was a disappointing .300.
Even with decent defense and his youth (he’s not even 30-years-old), Escobar’s uneven 2012 performance has the Blue Jays considering other alternatives for next season including fellow Cuban Adeiny Hechavarria.
Every season a prospect attracts the attention of the fantasy baseball world and becomes a top sleeper who ends up getting overvalued in drafts. In 2012, that phenom was Dee Gordon, a 24-year-old shortstop with the Dodgers who turned heads by stealing 24 bases in 56 games all while hitting .300 as a rookie in 2011.
The good times did not last in this season, as Gordon’s speed was deemed useless because of his inability to reach base. Gordon hit just .228 with a horrendous .281 on base percentage.
Though Gordon still found a way to swipe 32 bases, he was such a liability in the other statistical categories that he became impossible to play and eventually landed on the waiver wire in most fantasy leagues. Now that the Dodgers have acquired Hanley Ramirez, Gordon may find himself in a platoon and specialist role next season.