Shortstop is an especially thin position in fantasy leagues this year, due to a combination of injuries and good old poor performance. Many of the top options at the position, such as Jose Reyes, Troy Tulowitzki, Everth Cabrera and Asdrubal Cabrera, are currently on the disabled list. Hanley Ramirez has only managed to play in 19 games this year, and Derek Jeter has yet to see the field at all.
Then there’s a slew of highly owned shortstops who have struggled mightily. Jimmy Rollins is the No. 14 shortstop on the year so far, but at least he’s not Starlin Castro, who finds himself all the way down at No. 24 on the list. The fact that Castro is still owned in over ninety percent of leagues blows my mind; I can’t even make a case for owning him in a twelve-team, mixed redraft league at this point.
To illustrate how truly putrid shortstop has been in fantasy this year, I’ll point out that Elvis Andrus is hitting a paltry .240 and is the ninth-best shortstop on the player rater for the season. Replacement options are scarce, but a position thief in Pittsburgh has swashbuckled his way into fantasy relevance.
Jordy Mercer (Ownership rates: 2% Yahoo, 2.4% ESPN, 6% CBS)
Mercer, a third-round draft pick in 2008 out of Oklahoma State, has completely taken over the starting shortstop job for the Bucs. Clint Barmes seems a mere afterthought after Mercer’s ten consecutive starts at the position over the last two weeks. I saw Mercer play several times in college, and I always wondered whether his hit tool would play at the higher levels.
In college, Mercer was right around a .300 hitter with 25 homers in three seasons. Keep in mind that this was before the NCAA switched to the offense-suppressing new bats; a .300 collegiate hitter wasn’t exactly impressive in that offensive environment. As he climbed through the minors, my concerns seemed valid, as he posted a batting average around .260 at most of his minor-league stops.
Then, last year, something seemed to change. Mercer developed an ability to get on base that he hadn’t shown before. He posted a much-improved .287/.357/.421 slash line in Triple-A, good enough to get him a call to the majors. He was used mostly as a defensive replacement and pinch-hitter with the Pirates in 2012, logging just 68 plate appearances in 42 games. He never got a chance to get into a rhythm, posting a modest .210/.265/.371 line in his limited chances at the plate.
This year, Mercer showed the Pirates enough in Triple-A (.333/.404/.448) for them to bring him back up and eventually give him the starting job over Barmes. To put it simply, he has excelled. So far this year, his slash line is sitting at .297/.345/.495, good enough for a .360 wOBA through 122 plate appearances. The four homers and three steals he’s contributed aren’t exactly hurting his cause, either. He’s not likely to keep up this level of production all year, but the Pirates certainly seem to have found something here.
Since being handed the starting job in Pittsburgh, Mercer has been a top-eight fantasy shortstop. His ceiling is probably low double-digit homers and steals, but with the scarcity of shortstop production this year, he’s absolutely worth a look in deeper formats—or if you’re one of those people who decided that you needed a 74-game sample before you stop letting Castro flush your team down the toilet.
As a quick side note to wrap things up, if you didn’t follow my advice about picking up Kyle Gibson, do so now. He’s expected to make his first big-league start on Saturday. Coincidentally, as I predicted, Gibson is taking Pedro Hernandez’s roster spot (Hernandez had been recalled for an emergency spot start on Sunday). It just took considerably longer for Gibson to crack the majors than I had hoped.