Editor's Note: Player analysis profiles appear in the positions at which the players are projected. Profiles of players who may be eligible at other positions in your league include fantasy baseball advice related to a potential increase in value as a result. A player must have started at least five games or have played at least 10 games to be eligible at another position. Criteria for fantasy baseball leagues vary, so check your league rules.
Pros: Reyes, arguably the most dynamic baserunner in the majors, once again unleashed his nearly 20-homer power with 16 last season. His place atop the Mets' slate has allowed him to cross home at least 99 times in each of his four full seasons. Increases in his doubles and isolated power are promising; Reyes may be doing less sprinting and more trotting in the near future.
Cons: He attempted just 71 steals in 2008 and snagged his lowest number of bases in the last four years. If you make Reyes your first pick, you're at a slight disadvantage for establishing an elite power base.
Fantasy tip: He earns heavy consideration for the top pick but typically goes within the top five tabs. Given the sharp drop-off at shortstop soon, he's a sensible pick, though.
Pros: Han-Ram overcame a menial 67 RBIs with a 30-30 season. An elite power-speed package, Ramirez has seen his pop mature in his three-year career - more than 19 percent of his flyballs cleared the fences last year. He was a bit banged up at the end of 2008 but seems to be ready for 2009.
Cons: There's concern his steals would decrease if he's dropped to the three-hole in the Marlins' order. Though this may be nitpicking, his contact rate dipped slightly to 81.9 last year as he more so repeated his 2006 strikeout level.
Fantasy tip: Ramirez is in the exclusive discussion for the No. 1 overall pick this year and should go anywhere within the top three selections.
Pros: J-Roll has stolen 40 bags in three of his last four seasons, including a career-best 47 in 2008 despite missing significant time to a sprained ankle. He also posted the best on-base percentage and batting eye ratio of his career despite a regression in batting average.
Cons: The problem: Many expect Rollins to hit 25 homers every year. Though he hit 55 combined in 2006 and 2007, he slapped just 11 out last season. An abnormally high number of flyballs left the yard for him in those two campaigns.
Fantasy tip: The ordinarily durable Rollins usually goes late in the first round. Despite his fluctuations, he's more stable than arguably any surrounding player in that draft period, and he's the last elite shortstop. Just don't lock him in for 20 dingers if you pick him.
Pros: It was a grand entry into the States for the Cuban defector (.290-21-77 with 13 steals) as he clubbed 14 homers in the second half and displayed a solid contact rate. He actually hit better away from hitters' haven U.S. Cellular Field, so a proper acclimation should help him. He's switching to his natural position, so he should be more comfortable in 2009.
Cons: Will a sophomore slump infect his game? He will have to rectify his 0.30 walk-to-strikeout ratio to avoid being eaten alive by adjusting MLB pitchers. His post-break .269 average gives credence to that problem.
Fantasy tip: There's ample risk for overvaluation and disappointment here, but Ramirez is a suitable choice if you can wait until the early middle rounds for him.
Pros: When healthy, Furcal approaches 100 runs scored, 20 steals and a .300 average. He topped 560 at-bats in six straight years before 2008. From 2003 on, Furcal has posted a 0.80 batting eye ratio.
Cons: A ruptured disk in his back all but made his 2008 a non-factor. Back problems have lingered for Furcal since 2007 as well, and he already experienced a freefall in his power that year. His stolen base totals were also gradually dropping since 2005.
Fantasy tip: Be wary of his recent injury trials, but a selection of Furcal's speed in the early middle rounds isn't a far cry from sanity. He may once again be overhyped by speed zealots, so be sure to wait for proper value.
Pros: Drew's power potential blossomed during his second full MLB season. A torrid .326 second half (including a .337 September) made up for early difficulties at the dish.
Cons: His plate discipline tanked despite growth elsewhere. His home-road batting average splits are polarized in favor of hitter-friendly Chase Field. He has never run much at the professional levels, meaning, during any slumps (.242 in June), he won't even help your steal total as a consolation.
Fantasy tip: Drew could pan out as a top-five fantasy shortstop, but you'll probably have to pay too steep a price for him in mixed processes. Feel free to "settle" for the promising youngster if you fill in other roster spots before the middle rounds.
Pros: He's the Captain! Seriously, a .300 average and 150 games played are good bets for the vet. With his short swing, he has maintained a moderately productive plate discipline and hits atop an order considered one of the best slates in the AL.
Cons: That swing may be lengthening a bit. Formerly a moderate tater source among shortstops, Jeter has no such stability now, and his isolated power (.107) ranked among the league's bottom 20. His stolen bases have declined in each of the last two seasons.
Fantasy tip: Neutralize name value; he's on the downswing. He has added worth if you can somehow grab him as a middle infielder. However, he'll probably go as a midrange to low-end No. 1 shorty - his rightful 2009 place.
Pros: Each of Peralta's first four full seasons has produced 20 homers and 70 RBIs, including a career-best 89 ribbies last year. His strikeout rate dropped, his contact rate was a career best, and his isolated power went up by 37 points.
Cons: His batting eye (0.38 last year) remains cringe-worthy, meaning a .300 average might not be in the cards even after a .292 2005 outcome. Despite his decrease in K's, he has still topped 125 in each of the last four years.
Fantasy tip: The signs point to a modest increase in power, but you should wait for him until the early middle rounds. His batting average still won't help you much. Consider him a low-end No. 1 fantasy shortstop.
Pros: He's a durable, experienced hitter who approaches a .300 average and 100 runs scored when healthy. He hit .295 after the All-Star break last year.
Cons: Many disturbing trends here, with drops in homers (13 - a continuing demise), RBIs (66), batting eye ratio (0.33), isolated power (.131) and home run percentage on flyballs (8.0). In Tejada's case, whatever his age might be, an increase in doubles means he's losing some muscle on his lofts.
Fantasy tip: Like Jeter, Tejada's best value this year would come if he fell to a middle infield spot in the middle rounds of deep mixed leagues. Even as a low-end option, he's risky as a starting shortstop, though, given his deteriorating patterns.
Pros: We hope you bought low on fantasy baseball's top hitter in July 2008. He added six points to his batting average in his second full MLB campaign, and his contact rate remains above the approximate league average.
Cons: Peaks and valleys - he's a streaky stickman who doesn't swipe bags. Hardy's terrible start last year was too quickly forgotten - his plate discipline is mediocre. His clip on balls in play (.306) was a bit above normal despite his chance to improve there.
Fantasy tip: Don't overpay for erratic performance. He's on the bottom rung of No. 1 shortstops and should be saved for the middle rounds. Let someone else splurge on the basis of Hardy's hot stint.
Pros: Tulo hit .327 in 226 second-half at-bats last year. He seems to be recovered from a torn left quadriceps that marred his '08 season. Surprisingly, he hit better on the road last year in just 23 more at-bats.
Cons: A .152 April marked his second straight lackluster start to a season. Before tearing his quad, he suffered a lacerated hand when taking frustration out on a bat - maturity issues? He still struggles to hit righties for average and doesn't make noise on the basepaths.
Fantasy tip: Many fantasy owners are giving up on Tulo too soon. You'll pay an exponentially lower price for him this year. He's a low-end No. 1 shortstop that could put up the stats of a top-five option if he regains form.
Pros: In his age-33 season, Cabrera logged his most at-bats in a single year (661) while just missing out on 20 steals. He has hit either eight or nine homers in each of his last four seasons. His contact rate and batting eye ratio once again dwarfed the league averages. He joins an improved A's offense that now boasts outfielder Matt Holliday and first baseman Jason Giambi.
Cons: O-Cab moves to a hitters' nightmare, especially for right-handers. His isolated power dropped again after a 2007 freefall. He's hitting more groundballs - will he still be able to beat some of them out? He still has some basepath ability, but the A's don't attempt as many steals as Cabrera's former squad, the Chicago White Sox.
Fantasy tip: Even with his unfavorable home park, it's worth taking a chance on Cabrera as one of the safer fantasy middle infielders. Don't expect him to crank 10 taters, but he should be fair elsewhere.
Pros: Escobar's power and batting eye swelled in his first full major league season. His combination of pop and batting eye makes him an ideal fit at No. 1 or No. 2. He scored 71 runs in a weakened Braves offense last year.
Cons: El Magico's once coveted multipositional eligibility has vanished for 2009 drafts. Will more flyballs leave the yard? His farm patterns and frequent grounders don't justify it.
Fantasy tip: Escobar has ample upside compared to numerous options around him. Though you can't draft him for speed, he can help you in the other four categories more than what else you might find in the middle or late rounds.
Pros: Aviles picked up the shortstop slack after his early-season call-up, hitting .308 or better in all four of his full months while consistently making solid contact. He hit double-digit homers in his last two years at Triple-A Omaha.
Cons: Does the 27-year-old rookie have anything left to offer? He didn't walk much in the bigs, and he saw a ton of fastballs. Will he adjust to a likely increase in opposing off-speed arsenals?
Fantasy tip: His positional versatility is an asset, but an extra month of action may take its toll on Aviles. He could be worth the risk if he falls past the middle rounds.
Pros: He returns to his favorite league (.293 career clip on NL teams), possibly to hit atop the San Fran slate. Productive batting averages (.314 April, .305 September) provided bookends to an otherwise disappointing season.
Cons: Renteria saw a return to the norm last year with a .270 clip as his '08 .332 average is seemingly anomalous among recent performances. After his career-high 100 RBIs in 2003, he has either declined or sustained a previous annual total in each succeeding campaign. His batting eye quotient has wavered of late.
Fantasy tip: Having a hitter with Renteria's experience at a middle infield spot would be an upgrade over a less proven option. Remember, though, Renteria's "proven" element in this case also includes "on the decline."
Pros: Theriot has swiped at least 20 bags in his first two full MLB campaigns. His batting average jumped 41 points as he improved on his elite batting eye ratio and contact rate. He keeps the ball on the ground, aiding his speed in the two-hole. He may even hit leadoff if the team moves outfielder Alfonso Soriano down in the lineup.
Cons: His feeble stick yields a dead end for power and RBIs. His loss of eligibility at second base removes his formerly valuable fantasy versatility. Newly inked infielder Aaron Miles throws another cog into the Cubs' middle-infield rotation.
Fantasy tip: Consider Theriot a great mid- or late-round source for steals and average. He's an ideal candidate for a middle infield roster spot in deep mixed leagues.
Pros: Betancourt has shown contact rates (89.3 last year) that you look for late at this position. New M's manager Don Wakamatsu is expected to employ an aggressive baserunning style, meaning Betancourt could again showcase the double-digit steals he registered in '06.
Cons: He stumbled a bit from his more promising '07. Though he showed improved discipline last year, he still strikes out too much relative to his walk counts. He probably won't improve his run total much if he's stuck in the bottom of the order.
Fantasy tip: In the last few deep-mixed rounds, you can take a chance on him if you're looking for an upside middle infielder.
Pros: Greene clubbed at least 10 homers for the fifth consecutive season. He actually hit more homers at PETCO Park than on the road. Still, Busch Stadium may push a few of his flyballs over the barrier. He's ready to play after a self-induced broken hand ended his 2008 efforts.
Cons: His 2008 putridity: a .213 average, a 0.22 batting eye ratio and a .126 isolated power rating. More than a quarter of his at-bats ended in K's - the fourth straight year of at least 20 percent.
Fantasy tip: If you wait to fill out your middle infield spot or don't mind losing out on speed and good contact rates from there, be prepared to settle for Greene's game. A moderate bounce-back is possible for this shortstop with pop.
Pros: Another Boston prospect made a successful MLB debut as Lowrie registered 46 RBIs in 260 at-bats, many of which came while replacing the injured Julio Lugo. His defense may be his best asset to earn playing time. An injured wrist reportedly sapped his power potential during his major league stint last year.
Cons: Lowrie will duel with Lugo for the starting spot this spring, though his versatility may actually prompt the Sox to keep him on the bench. He hit .213 in September and struck out in 26.2 percent of his at-bats.
Fantasy tip: Remember, this position may be undecided when your draft unfolds. Despite his offensive waning last year, Lowrie has more upside, but he may be best left for AL-only setups. His multipositional eligibility would make him an instant add for deep mixed benches if he wins the starting gig.
Pros: If you're looking for steals (at least 20 in each of the last two seasons) and an above-average contact rate (85.9 in the last four years), Bartlett is one of the better bottom-tier options at this position. He hit .353 in August and September after missing most of July with a sprained knee.
Cons: Power? Sorry, fresh out. Bartlett's career high for homers was five in 2007. Though that was his first full MLB season, he has never swung robust lumber. His walk-to-strikeout ratio dropped more than 50 percent from 2007.
Fantasy tip: Bartlett remains a steals specialist but isn't stable anywhere else. That's the only reason you should draft him in the late rounds of deep mixed formats.
Pros: Guzman enjoyed several stints as a hot waiver wire pickup last year and hit .356 in the last two months of the season. He boasted his highest dinger total since 2002, with another high contact rate. Guzman benefits from keeping the ball on the floor.
Cons: Once a benefit in fantasy leagues, Guz's steals total has declined in each of his last three full campaigns. His average on balls in play has been abnormally high since 2006 - is that now the norm? It's probably too risky to draft him to find out.
Fantasy tip: Avoid banking on a repeat of 2008. Though he has shown positive signs in the last two years, deep mixed drafters should save him for the final round or two if they're forced into considering him.
Pros: An ANWR-esque well of power rests within Wood's - well, wood. Fifty-four homers in his last two Triple-A seasons and a .285 career farm average make prospectors slobber. He made minute improvements in plate discipline and hit four September dingers.
Cons: Feel the breeze. See his 0.09 batting eye ratio in 150 big-league at-bats last year. The post-hype prospect has no place to start, and Erick Aybar performed admirably at short in 2008, so Wood's early contributions may be limited.
Fantasy tip: Like Wood's plate approach, selecting him in mixed leagues means you're going for broke. If and when he blossoms, you should scoop him up immediately, but avoid him on draft day unless the Angels give him a starting role.
Pros: The versatile infielder returned to an MLB starting lineup last year and proved to be more than just a backup utilityman with 60 RBIs, 76 runs and seven steals. He's assured most - if not all - of the playing time at short this year given his 2008 performance.
Cons: Now 33 years old, is there anything more he can do to top that? He has never displayed massive power, high batting averages or dynamic base thievery. He's simply uninspiring.
Fantasy tip: Deep AL-only managers looking for a middie with playing time could give him a whirl to round out a roster. His job security and versatility are his main - probably only - selling points.
Pros: Though the Twinkies have enjoyed putting Punto all over the field, he looks to be entrenched at short this year. Even in limited time last year, Punto rebounded from a disappointing 2007 (.210 average) by adding 74 points to his clip.
Cons: Falling into line with other low-end options here, Punto's season high for homers is four. His groundball-to-flyball ratio stands in a three-year decline, meaning his weak airlifts will continue to hinder his potential.
Fantasy tip: Punto should only be selected in deep mixed drafts if you need a bench middie to occasionally plug in for steals. You're not gaining anything from having him as an everyday fantasy player, though.
Pros: A successful Dominican Winter League (.348-5-30 in 164 at-bats) stay should help. His 53 runs scored and 39 RBIs in just 346 at-bats last year show positive signs for growth in a full-time gig. His high contact rate works in his favor for staying in the starting lineup.
Cons: Aybar has spotty plate discipline and has yet to display his base thievery from his farm years, even with the aggressive Angels. He endured extensive hamstring and finger injuries last season and has logged three DL stints since 2006. The Angels may want to find space for the young Brandon Wood, which may come at Aybar's expense.
Fantasy tip: Taking Aybar as anything more than a bench player in mixed setups would be imprudent. He has steals upside, but is he ready to show it?
About Tim Heaney
Tim's work has been featured by USA Today/Sports Weekly, among numerous outlets, and recognized as a finalist in the Fantasy Sports Writers Association awards. The Boston University alum, who competes in the prestigious LABR and Tout Wars, has won numerous industry leagues in both baseball and football.
He appears frequently, including every Sunday, on Sirius XM Fantasy Sports Radio, as well as every Wednesday on 1570 AM WNST in Baltimore.
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