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In the past two years, baseball has seen an explosion in the number of shortstops with legitimate home run power. Everyone from Francisco Lindor to Tim Anderson seems capable of belting 20 dingers on an annual basis. Most of those players are being drafted in the first 10 rounds or so, but both of our players for this column, Eduardo Escobar and Paul DeJong, are currently projected for over 20 HR but are going after the 150th selection in fantasy drafts.

In many leagues, Eduardo Escobar went largely undrafted or was available off the waiver wire at some point in the year. There was real skepticism about DeJong’s ability to repeat his power from 2017. Then his injury meant that he was dropped outright in many leagues. Both players offer power and shortstop eligibility, but which one makes a better target after pick 150?

Keep in mind, our preseason Champ / Chump conclusions are based on whether we think a player will outperform their current ADP. For example, a pitcher we view as "Tier 2" can be a Champ if they're being drafted as a Tier 3 pitcher, or they could be a Chump if they're being drafted as a Tier 1 pitcher. Now, let's take a closer look at Escobar and DeJong, shall we?

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Eduardo Escobar (SS/3B, MIN) – ADP: 170

Escobar started last season as a no-name utilityman who sometimes found his way onto rosters as an injury replacement or player owned during brief hot streaks. Before 2017, he’d never hit more than 21 HR and offered a averaged a .305 wOBA, .259 batting average, and 40 runs per season. It made sense that most fantasy owners refused to believe in him at the start of 2018. Even the Minnesota Twins started the year with Escobar batting in the sixth spot.

After a hot start, Escobar began hitting cleanup for the Twins, and his increased power and improved contact started to pay dividends in both runs and RBI. Escobar finished the 2018 season with another productive batting line (23 HR, 75 R, 84 RBI, 2 SB, .272 BA). It was enough to make him the 11th-most valuable shortstop and the 13th-most valuable third baseman in standard 5x5 leagues. Escobar’s ability to slot between short and third also provided some additional value in terms of finding at-bats and production when other starters had the night off.

Despite Escobar building on a useful 2017 season, his ownership level still lagged behind his performance, and to some extent that doubt is built into his current 2019 ADP (170.83). Unfortunately, there are good reasons to be skeptical of him repeating that type of season.

Escobar is entering his age-30 season, and he has played 150 games only once in his career. Previously, Escobar’s playing time was limited because he was a utility player, but it’s easier for a guy to stay healthy when he’s only playing five games a week. Moreover, Escobar’s batted ball profile doesn’t indicate he’ll improve or even repeat his 23 HR from 2018. His actual BA (.272) outperformed his xBA (.250) by 22 points. His actual slugging percentage (.489) outperformed his xSLG (.426) by 63 points. Just as significantly, the Minnesota Twins sported a below-average offense in 2018, and there is little reason to believe that will change in 2018. It’s fair to expect regression back to just 20 HR and a .260 BA, and at that point, Escobar is little more than a place holder.

Currently, Escobar is being drafted ahead of Elvis Andrus (ADP of 172), Paul DeJong (ADP of 191), Garrett Hampson (ADP of 197), Marcus Semien (ADP of 204), Chris Taylor (ADP of 211), and Andrelton Simmons (ADP of 219). All of those players have their issues, but given the other shortstops available near or after Escobar, his value starts to fade even though he is still available relatively late.

Verdict: Chump (based on ADP of 170)

 

Paul DeJong (SS, STL) – ADP: 191.07

DeJong started the 2018 season well enough. He played in every single one of the Cardinals first 41 games and had accumulated eight HR, 22 runs, and 19 RBI with a .260 batting average. Assuming that DeJong saw 600 at-bats, he would have finished with a 32 HR, 88 runs, 76 RBI season, which would have been good enough to slot him in ahead of Escobar as the 11th-most valuable shortstop.

Unfortunately, DeJong took a pitch off his hand that broke his fifth metacarpal. The injury required surgery that supposed to keep him out of baseball for another 8-12 weeks. DeJong returned to the lineup on July 6, less than eight weeks after the surgery. He struggled at the plate initially. In his first month back, DeJong hit .210 with an .090 ISO. Statistically speaking, he would have been better off waiting another month to get healthy because from August 7th (about 12 weeks after his surgery) to the end of the year, DeJong hit .242 with a .231 ISO, 28 runs, and 41 RBI.

Last season, the Cardinals owned the ninth-best offense in baseball, and they’ve just added Paul Goldschmidt. The team may not be a lock to join the top-five offenses in baseball, but there’s no reason they shouldn’t improve somewhat. A full season for Harrison Bader should more than offset Tommy Pham’s departure. It’s unclear where DeJong will hit in the batting order. He’s not a high-OBP player, and he bounced around last year, but even if he slots into the bottom half of the lineup, as he sometimes did after his injury last year, DeJong should still manage more than 180 combined runs and RBI.

In a field of offensively-impressive shortstops, DeJong currently looks like one of the few true sleepers. Most projection systems aren’t giving him credit for being an everyday player, which means that his counting stats are being entirely undervalued. Given his track record prior to last year, it’s reasonable to expect DeJong could hit better than the .255 that he is projected for almost everywhere. At the age of 25 and in a strong offense, DeJong could very well be a true value in every category other than steals. If he excels this season, he should emerge as a top-80 player. That’s the type of return that helps win leagues. Expect DeJong to rise up draft boards as the season approaches, but even at 150, he should still be a good value at shortstop.

Verdict: Champ (based on ADP of 191)

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