The depth at shortstop this season is actually better than many might think. With the emergence of some younger stars, the position is regaining some of the form it had when names like Nomar, Jeter, and A-Rod were first coming up. With a return of the balance between speed and power across the league, there seems to be something for everyone to enjoy no matter if you are grabbing Hanley Ramirez early or Xander Bogaerts later. One battle though will certainly give NL-only owners pause and will have those of us in deeper leagues checking daily box scores.
In Arizona, Didi Gregorius held down the job well as a rookie and had one of only a handful of seasons by a rookie shortstop since 1969 with a WAR greater than 1.0 (he came in at 1.4). Defensively, no one will question his skills. The questions come at the plate. He struggled against lefties the bulk of last season and drastically tailed off after the All-Star break. While he shows speed in the field, Gregorius did not steal a base last season and has not found his way to double-digits in the category since his Double-A season in 2010.
The young infielder has never hit more than eight home runs in a season which further mitigates his fantasy value if he is not providing speed. Certainly he has the ability to score runs in the Arizona lineup, but he is a hindrance in three offensive categories and only mediocre when it comes to average. Though his BABIP was slightly lower than his historical numbers in the minors, Gregorius is not likely to be a .290 hitter over a full season. With totals that could only reach 50 runs scored and 50 RBI, the single digit home runs and lack of steals coupled with a lack of average make Gregorius a less than desirable target in any format.
Which brings us to Chris Owings. While scouting reports indicate that he is not as strong defensively as Gregorius, his minor league numbers indicate a far stronger bat at the plate. Over his time in the minors, he has found a way to hit in the upper-.200’s and lower-.300’s while producing home runs in the mid-to-upper teens. His speed may not set the world on fire, but the fact he stole 20 bases last season in Triple-A and added 16 steals over three levels in 2012 indicate that he provides the type of balance that owners need to look for in this position. As we have discussed in this space, getting speed at Shortstop is key. The players in the middle infield have the highest average projections for steals among any position. Owings gives that in addition to the power.
GM Kevin Towers has indicated this will be a fully open battle to start Spring Training. While the team invested heavily to get Gregorius to being with, they clearly believe that he either needs to be pushed or is not the right balance of offense and defense to be in the lineup every day. Fantasy owners should be watching the developments closely. A win by Owings adds another dimension to a deep position. In mixed leagues that require a Middle Infield spot, he can add plenty of value. NL-only owners would certainly be able to see him as a potential starter.