The shortstop position is among the most difficult to judge in fantasy baseball. Every season, the demand for shortstops outstrips the supply, with 2009 as no exception. The collapses of Jimmy Rollins, J.J. Hardy, Jose Reyes, and Rafael Furcal have left large voids for fantasy owners to fill. Unlike most seasons, however, a number of young, high-ceiling options have made themselves available. Need a stopgap? Potential star? Stolen bases? … Team owners, set your eyes on Elvis Andrus, one of the most exciting (and underappreciated) options in fantasy baseball. He is young. He is fast. He is maturing. But, most importantly, he is widely available on the waiver wire and via trade in many league formats.
Coming into 2009, Andrus was rated as one of the best prospects in the minor leagues. Ranked the fifth-best prospect in the Texas League (Double-A) by Baseball America, he could also be found sitting at fourth in the Rangers’ major league-best farm system, which included Neftali Feliz, Derek Holland, Justin Smoak, Martin Perez, Taylor Teagarden, etc. While the 20-year-old possessed an elite glove and great range, his bat needed additional development time in the minors.
Before spring training 2009, Elvis was slated for the Triple-A Pacific Coast League with a probable 2010 arrival. This all changed, however, as Michael Young‘s diminishing glove necessitated a move to third, opening up short for Andrus. While the fielding chops were undoubtedly there (helping the major league team), the bat was very questionable—hurting fantasy league owners. As with many top prospects, however, Andrus was drafted with inflated expectations, due more to his top prospect status than any realistic expectations with his bat.
He did have one thing going for him, however: great speed. In his 20-year-old season at Double-A Frisco, Elvis posted 54 SB in just 535 plate appearances. Still, a lack of pop (four home runs) and a questionable approach at the plate (38 BB vs. 91 K) left significant room for doubt. The glove would make him worth it for the Rangers, but the underdeveloped bat could render him a shortstop version of the 2008 Michael Bourn: huge steals, but a disaster everywhere else. At that juncture, he was a calculated risk. No, a very calculated risk. Nothing more.
Thus far in 2009, Andrus has been a pleasant surprise. He has stolen bases at a significant clip with just a slightly below-average bat. In fantasy, especially deep leagues and those that employ more than two middle infielders, this makes Elvis a quality asset. His ’09 batting line stands at .269/.332/.385 with five home runs and 23 stolen bases (92 percent success rate) in just 370 plate appearances. Just as encouraging are his 27:55 walk-to-strikeout ratio and 21.7 percent line drive rate, which mean he has adjusted well to major league pitching and is driving the ball. While his .311 BABIP is above average, it looks to be a bit low for a player with his line drive rate, speed, and groundball percentage (53.6 percent). In addition, he has only hit successfully on 20 percent of his bunt attempts. Again, a low rate that should recover in the future and help improve his batting average.
Particularly exciting is Andrus’ 16.8 strikeout percentage, as it outdoes his 18.9 percent rate from 2008, which was posted at Double-A. Don’t expect the K-rate to regress, either, as his good eye (21.6 percent O-Swing v 60.2 percent Z-Swing) and good contact skills (86.2 percent contact percentage) hint that his strikeout rate should remain steady, and perhaps even improve to the 15 percent range.
Andrus’ weighted pitch type values show few weaknesses other than a minor problem against curveballs (-1.34 wCB/c). Perhaps the best feature is his above-average performance against change-ups (1.08 wCH/c) despite seeing over 65 percent fastballs. This shows an advanced ability to recognize off-speed pitches, wait on change-ups away, and drive them to the opposite field. Andrus has put five extra base hits into the Arlington power alley, including a 400-foot bomb. Check out his Arlington hit chart. The batted ball distribution is balanced, although there are too many fly outs to right and not enough pulled. Still, not bad for a guy who doesn’t turn 21 for another week.
For the rest of the year, expect Andrus to post a .275 batting average with about a .720 OPS, finishing the season with about eight homeruns. This, when, coupled with 35-plus stolen bases, make his complete lack of RBI easier to handle. In a 12-team mixed league, Elvis profiles as a just below-average shortstop. And since he is much easier to acquire than most high-steals players, he is a great option for a team in need of speed that can’t mortgage the farm. Need a shortstop? Elvis might be exactly the kind of player you’ve been waiting for.
Elvis has a big career ahead of him. So, for those in keeper leagues especially: keep an eye on him. While he does not profile as a keeper this season (other than those in extremely deep keeper leagues), he is a guy you want next year. The 2009 Baseball America Prospect Handbook projects Andrus to become “Edgar Renteria in his prime”. For those of you too young to remember the Old Edgar, he was once among the best shortstop options in fantasy baseball. See: Renteria, Edgar, circa 1999 and 2003, when he went 11-37-.275 and 13-34-.330, respectively. Elvis could do just that, with additional steals thrown in. Not bad production at shortstop, huh?
While “Edgar Renteria in his prime” is certainly a welcome outlook, in a perfect world, our boy Elvis could one day approach Jose Reyes territory, albeit with 50 stolen bases per year, not 70. (But if Andrus gets 750 plate appearances like Reyes does, all bets are off.) The power projections are very similar, as too is supporting cast of the Texas and New York offenses. If Andrus can get a spike in walks similar to Reyes’ 2007, expect nothing short of greatness, both in fantasy and on the diamond.
Of just as much reason for excitement is Elvis’ budding home run swing. Pundits have projected him for 10-20 homeruns per season when he matures, though his power potential is already beginning to show. With just a 27.4 percent flyball rate, Andrus has posted a home run in every 65 at-bats, good for a HR:FB% of 8.1 percent. While having just 16 other extra base hits is a legitimate concern, the .116 isolated slugging percentage can be explained by his high groundball rate. As Elvis begins to hit more fly balls, the slugging percentage and home runs will rise—great news if you’re in an OPS league.
While this year’s “power spike” is a welcome one, there is cause for concern. If you look back to the Arlington hit chart, you will notice very few fly balls to left past the middle of the outfield. Until he learns to pull the ball with more authority, he will never reach his power potential. Use this to your advantage, however. If you notice the fly balls reaching further into left field, make sure to pluck Andrus from an unsuspecting owner before its too late. You’ll be glad you did.
The bottom line is, don’t miss out on Andrus next season or in 2011. He is a player to reach on. I repeat: GET ELVIS NEXT YEAR. If you’re in a keeper league, he could develop into a consistent second- or third-rounder, with a shot to be a perennial first-round pick. Even if he doesn’t hit full tilt next year, you’ll enjoy his production from the second-half of the draft.
With just about six weeks left in the season, lots of teams are looking for reliable production out of the shortstop position. Elvis Andrus projects as a .275-.280 hitter the rest of the way, with just under 10 homerun power and a 35-plus steals pace. The only concern left is his inability to drive in runs, as he’ll bat ninth behind OBP black holes Taylor Teagarden, Hank Blalock, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Still, with his skill set, Andrus should be a good option at a low price for teams in need of a shortstop and steals. Go get Andrus if you can, and don’t you dare miss out on him next season.