In 2010, Marlins shortstop Hanley Ramirez had whatby his own lofty standardscould be considered a down year.  Hanley “only” batted .300 after hitting .330 or better two of the previous three years.  He “only” hit 21 HRs, the lowest total since his rookie campaign. 

He also failed to reach 100 Runs scored for the first time in his career, and his RBI and SB numbers were on the lower end of his career averages.

And yet, Hanley Ramirez remains a no-brainer top three pick in fantasy baseball leagues. 

Ramirez’s “down year” line of .300-92-21-76-32 still made him the 15th most valuable player in fantasy baseball in 2010 according to Baseball Monster, a website that quantifies fantasy value for standard rotisserie leagues. 

Among shortstops, he was #1 and only the Rockies’ Troy Tulowitzki was close.  In 2009, Ramirez was the 5th most valuable player at any position.

What these statistics should tell you is that even if Ramirez only qualified at 1B or OF, his five-category production would make him worthy of a first round pick.  Add in the fact that you can plug him in at SS, fantasy baseball’s shallowest position, and it’s clear why a legitimate case can be made for him going No. 1 overall in fantasy drafts.

So if Ramirez is an obvious top three pick, how early should you consider Tulowitzki, who nearly matched Ramirez’s output last year? The answer: early, but not as early as you might think.

Again, let’s remember that we’re talking about a below average year for Ramirez.  In 2009, Tulowitzki had an even better year than he had in 2010, but he was still far less valuable than Ramirez.  Ramirez gets a boost from his position eligibility, but the biggest reason he is a top five pick is that he’s proven that he is capable of top five production. 

Tulowitzki has proven he is capable of top 15 overall production, which is still extremely valuable at SS.  He’s just not in the same stratosphere as Ramirez, as least not yet.

The other thing to consider before you take the Tulowitzki plunge is the risk factor.  While Ramirez missed several weeks at the end of last season with elbow inflammation, he still easily surpassed 500 at-bats, as he has every year in his career. 

Tulowitzki, on the other hand, missed large chunks of the 2008 and 2010 seasons with injuries and has only made it to 500 at-bats twice in four years.

Of course, the fact that Tulowitzki was able to put up such impressive numbers in 122 games in 2010 points to his upside.  But another risk factor with Tulowitzki is his streakiness. 

As of September 1st, Tulowitzki had a total of just 12 HRs, 55 RBIs and 9 SBs through 92 games.  He was hitting at a .315 clip, but was still on the verge of being a major bust.  Tulowitzki came alive in September with 15 HRs and 40 RBIs in 28 games, an astounding hot streak that salvaged his 2010 season. 

Heading into last season, it was widely believed that a major part of Tulowitzki’s fantasy value was his ability to swipe 20 bags, as he did in ’09.  But he finished with just 11 SBs in 2010.  If Tulowitzki’s SB totals continue to fall, his value will be more and more tied to incredible HR streaks, which makes for a risky proposition.

None of this is to say that Tulowitzki shouldn’t be considered in the mid-to-late first round of fantasy drafts.  He is still young and could continue to improve, and his potential production at SS is very appealing.  Just realize there is a significant drop-off between him and Ramirez.

In fact, Tulowitzki’s value could end up as close to the Mets’ Jose Reyes as it is to Ramirez’s. 

Reyes is even riskier than Tulowitzki, considering his recent injury history and inconsistent production, and you can’t expect him to hit more than about 15 HRs.  The big question with Reyes, though, is how much he’ll run.  If he only steals 30 bases, he may not end up being much more valuable than Jimmy Rollins, Derek Jeter, Alexei Ramirez or Elvis Andrus. 

But if Reyes can return to nabbing 55-plus SBs, his overall value could come close to Tulowitzki’s.

Overall, Tulowitzki is a good gamble in the late first round, while you should probably hold off on Reyes until the third round in 12 team leagues.  I just wouldn’t feel comfortable coming out of a draft with Reyes as my second best player.

No other shortstop is worth considering until round five or six at the earliest.  Rollins and Jeter are declining, Alexei Ramirez is the definition of inconsistent and Andrus is still somewhat unproven.  The perennially overrated Stephen Drew is just plain boring (where does the Drew hype come from?!?!??), and there will be players available in the 15-20th round of drafts that can give you similar production.

Outside of Drew, I would gladly take any of these guys if they fall a round or two further then they should.  But I wouldn’t reach for them when there are still more elite players out there at other positions. 

If I miss out on the mid-round shortstops, I will settle for a more forgotten declining veteran like Rafael Furcal, a solid-but-unspectacular bat coming off a down year like Yunel Escobar, a post-hype speed candidate like Alcides Escobar or a younger guy with 15-15 potential like Asdrubal Cabrera, Mike Aviles, Ian Desmond or Danny Espinosa. 

In fact, I might try to take two guys from that list.  I suppose you could also consider taking a poor contact hitter with 20 HR potential like J.J. Hardy or Alex Gonzalez in the later part of the draft.

Are any of those guys particularly exciting?  Certainly not.  But because of the dearth of talent at SS, they probably won’t put you too far behind the other managers in your league, unless they happen to own Hanley, Tulowitzki or perhaps Reyes.

Read more MLB news on