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AL Shortstops: Day Two
by Tim Polko

Today's Fantasy Rx

American League Shortstop with Positive Draft Value

Quick Key to the tables:
AB = At-bats.  H = Hits.  BA = Batting Average.  HR= Home Runs.
RBI = Runs Batted In.  SB = Stolen Bases.  R = Runs.  B = Bats.  T = Throws.
Pos = Position qualification based on 20 appearances or max. # of games in 2005.
Age = Player's Age as of October 2, 2005.
4x4 = BA, HR, RBI, and SB in 12-team, $260 leagues with 23-man rosters in 2005.
5x5 = BA, HR, RBI, SB, and R in 12-team, $260 leagues with 23-man rosters in 2005.
RAR = Runs Above Replacement in 2005; Adjusted RAR = RAR modified to
consider a player's 2005 defensive rating in Scoresheet fantasy baseball.

We ranked players in order from the highest draft value in a 4x4 league to the lowest. As the majority of fantasy leagues allow you to keep anyone traded to the other league, we listed each player in the league where he started the season.

Juan Uribe481121.2521671458S
CH White Sox4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 26B:R    T:R89-1.36

We acquired Uribe in a sim league last year primarily for his defense, but given his age, overall development, and slowly improving skills, we expected a season comparable to 2004. His terrible first half obviously concerned us, but while his patience fell short of preferred levels, he roughly maintained the skills of his previous campaign. Uribe reemerged as an offensive force down the stretch, registering a .257/.325/.444 performance with 10 HR, 33 RBI, 32 R, and a 21:36 BB:K in 241 AB, highlighted by a .304/.379/.641 output in 92 September at-bats, which proved necessary in holding back the Indians' charge. He absolutely should build on that foundation as he heads toward his twenty-seventh birthday next summer, which puts Uribe right on track for a career year in the neighborhood of $20 even if he ends up hitting second as recently reported.

Willie Bloomquist24964.2570221427S2
SEA Mariners4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 27B:R    T:R77-4.3-5.7

A hamstring injury ended Bloomquist's season a month early, but he otherwise enjoyed a decent year, reaching career-highs in several quantitative categories while improving his contact rate to a level that suggests a forthcoming move near a .270 BA. Of course, he still does not deserve an everyday job or more than a Dollar Days MIF selection, but he seems a sure bet for double-digit steals and a few bucks of profit on your endgame ante.

Bobby Crosby33392.276938066S
OAK Athletics4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 25B:R    T:L7813.517.6

Two significant injuries nicely hid Crosby's overall progress and his growing value in almost all non-standard leagues. The 2004 AL Rookie of the Year jumped his contact rate from .74 to .84 despite a fractured rib that cost him six weeks in the spring, a June quad problem, and a broken ankle in late August that sent him to the DL for three more weeks. In between these problems, Crosby somehow still emerged as Oakland's new #3 hitter. Consequently, if his power and speed rebound this summer as he returns to full health, Crosby may garner MVP consideration as soon as this fall. He looks like an absolute steal anywhere under $15 as he heads toward his prime and a few $30 seasons hitting in front of Eric Chavez.

Mike Morse23064.278323327S
SEA Mariners4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 23B:R    T:R551.31.3

The unheralded throw-in with Jeremy Reed and Miguel Olivo in the Freddy Garcia deal, Morse earned a trip to Seattle with his .253/.317/.407 performance in 182 AB for AAA Tacoma(PCL). He replaced Wilson Valdez as the starter at the beginning of June and crushed the ball for over a month, however when his averages started slipping, the Mariners promoted Yuniesky Betancourt to improve their defense at shortstop. Morse slid into a utility role and then in September earned a 10-day suspension for steroids, probably due to drugs he took over a year ago for which he had already served time for violating the minor league policy. I believe Morse likely will remain on Seattle's bench indefinitely due to his limited quantitative upside and defensive prowess. Given his developing plate discipline, he probably merits a roster spot in some leagues if he enjoys a strong spring that forecasts the potential for an increase in playing time over the summer.

Nick Punto39494.2394261345S2
MIN Twins4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 28B:S    T:R56-10.4-11.8

Problems with Punto's right calf and hamstring severely limited him in the first half even forcing him to the DL for a month at the beginning of the summer. He failed to exceed a .300 OBP in any month after his return despite spending most of that time in the #2 hole, effectively sabotaging the Twins' offense. Punto remains a decently patient hitter with some speed, but the acquisition of Luis Castillo correctly pushes him back to the bench. Do not spend more than two bucks on him if looking for cheap MIF speed.

John McDonald16646.277016618S
Age: 31B:R    T:R54-1.4-1.4

Toronto essentially loaned McDonald to Detroit, selling his contract to the Tigers in July and buying back his rights in November. Although he remains a respected defender, he unfortunately offers little on offense with poor plate discipline set to send his batting average down near his .241 career mark. Given McDonald possesses no more than minimal power or speed skills, his upside for 2006 appears to peak at roster filler.

Marco Scutaro38194.247937548S2
OAK Athletics4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 29B:R    T:R45-0.2-6.2

I currently expect both Antonio Perez and Marco Scutaro to break camp on Oakland's bench, but despite his last two years of service with the team, Scutaro lacks Perez's upside and belongs behind him at every position on the infield depth chart. Passable power and plate discipline only provide Scutaro with replacement-level value due to his unimpressive overall tools. He only belongs on your roster as more than roster filler if he somehow lands another starting gig for an injured Athletics' infielder.

Maicer Izturis19147.246115918S3
LA Angels4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 25B:S    T:R43-3-2.2

Missing nearly two months at the end of spring did not prevent Izturis from emerging as a bench asset for Los Angeles. While he badly slumped in the second half, Izturis possesses impressive plate discipline, very useful speed skills, and even a hint of power potential. He easily could slam into double-digit value if he remains healthy and takes full advantage of his speed, so consider targeting Izturis with a minimal endgame bid. You also should not ignore the possibility of Izturis blossoming into a starter upon moving franchises as the Angels' wave of middle infield prospects crests the majors over the next two years.

Juan Castro27270.257533027S3
MIN Twins4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 33B:R    T:R33-3.7-3.2

A few minor injuries over the course of the season culminated in right knee tendonitis, which forced Castro to the DL in August and disrupted his best month of the year. The good news is that an improved contact rate resulted in a career-high batting average, though given the continued collapse of his other skills, Castro appears highly unlikely to return to positive value this summer. Make every effort to avoid rostering him in any league.

Alex Cora25058.232324725S2
Age: 29B:L    T:R22-9.1-11.2

While an MSM ignorant of the wonders of Dustin Pedroia currently projects Cora to start at shortstop for the Red Sox, Cora's performance over the past couple of years only warrants a bench job in Boston. I expect improved stats against right-handed pitchers to drive a rebound in his averages, but Cora also lacks more than a couple bucks of upside even if he somehow opens the year as a starter. Since you should not mistake him even for a short-term solution for a franchise always looking to improve at every position, Cora qualifies as merely fantasy roster filler.

Omar Infante40690.222943836S2
DET Tigers4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 23B:R    T:R12-12.6-11.8

The long-term contracts awarded Carlos Guillen and Placido Polanco should not prevent Infante from seeing regular playing time given the historical fragility of that middle infield duo. I also expect a welcome surge in Infante's offensive output this summer as he enters his third full season in the majors despite only turning 24 two weeks ago. His contact rate jumped from .78 to .82 as his ground-fly ratio dropped from .84 to .66. Only a severe drop in his walk rate and general patience suggests he will not rebound to a very impressive level, but with his HR/SB upside keyed to his relative youth, he only needs an average BA to return to double digits. Consider Infante a superb bargain anywhere you can grab him for a few bucks, though obviously exercise more caution in sim leagues due to his spotty plate discipline.

Ramon E. Martinez11231.277114011S
Age: 32B:R    T:R11-1.5-1.9

Signing with the Tigers last fall, Martinez missed most of April due to a sprained thumb and then moved to Philadelphia with Ugueth Urbina for Placido Polanco in early June. His playing time largely disappeared, and now he appears likely to land no more than an NRI this winter. Diminished plate discipline and meager quantitative upside leave him as little more than roster filler in any league regardless of where he lands.

Jason Bartlett22454.241316433S
MIN Twins4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 25B:R    T:R12-3.9-3.9

Minnesota's moronic decision to demote Jason Bartlett after scarcely six weeks of regular duty ranks among the dumber moves of the year even if we ignore the roto havoc the Twins wrecked on many teams' SB points. He unsurprisingly excelled in his second summer at AAA Rochester(IL), compiling a .332/.405/.459 with 5 HR, 33 RBI, and a 29:34 BB:K in 229 AB. Although the abrupt disappearance of his speed over the last two seasons worries me, the Twins thankfully seem committed to playing Bartlett every day this year, giving him a chance to translate his minor league skill set into big league stats. Bid into the high single digits with the expectation of a solid BA and no less than a dozen steals.

Yuniesky Betancourt21154.256115124S
SEA Mariners4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 23B:R    T:R11-4-4

Signed out of Cuba last January, Betancourt hit .273/.301/.410 with 5 HR, 20 RBI, a 12/19 SB%, and a 9:18 BB:K in 227 AB for AA San Antonio(TL) last spring. He moved to AAA Tacoma at the beginning of June, compiling a .295/.323/.443 line with 2 HR, 30 RBI, a 7/12 SB%, and a 6:14 BB:K in 183 PCL at-bats. Betancourt then joined the Mariners at the end of July, immediately moving into the starting lineup for defensive reasons and contributing very little with his bat. The good news is that he held an .809 OPS against southpaws, demonstrated intriguing plate discipline in September, and posted a .76 G-F that indicates plenty of power potential. I do not expect him to emerge as a significant offensive threat for a couple of seasons, but Betancourt's long-term future remains very bright as he develops into an asset at shortstop for Seattle. Snagging Betancourt almost anywhere in single digits should net you an excellent long-term bargain in keeper leagues.

Shortstop Week continues tomorrow.

Today's Fantasy Rx: At least a couple of the four likely starting shortstops discussed should emerge as good values during draft season. Uribe, Crosby, Bartlett, and Betancourt all will improve with additional experience and each possesses the skills necessary to crest $20 relatively soon. Omar Infante qualifies as the other intriguing target, especially if his low BA last summer drives down his salary. Target him for a dozen steals and savor any additional stats he brings to your squad.

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