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Shuffle Up: Checking in with Josh Rutledge; more words about Didi Gregorius

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Love your Rockies (USAT)

Today's Shuffle Up assignment is the middle infielders, everyone who covers the second base or shortstop area for your fake juggernaut. Settle in, settlers, and let's try to figure it all out. (Where's Braun and Miggy? Sorry kids, they're not middle infielders.)

Play to this point matters as an audition, but that's it. The goal is to figure out who will play the best (and collect the juiciest stats) from this point forward, 2013-only. Pretend we're starting from scratch with a fresh draft tonight. Don't worry about the dollar value in a vacuum; they're merely used as tools to compare. And players at the same price tag are considered even.

I'll add extensive comments as the day goes along and I may tweak a ranking here and there. Win the debate below and you may win the rank. Assume a 5x5 scoring format, as per usual, and remember the golden rule: a player doesn't gain 15-20 percent of bonus value simply because you own him.

One change for this week: I adding a brief ranking of some injured players, down at the bottom of the list. Consider it an experiment. The value of injured roto commodities is highly variable, depending on your DL rules and roster space. I'm known for having a more pessimistic view of the average injured played than most people; "live for today" is one of my roto rallying cries.

[Also: MLB Power Rankings: Rangers climb near top]

Important: I will *not* debate the rank of the injured players in any way. I'm not a doctor and it's not my hamstring. If you view the long-term injured players more optimistically (or more pessimistically) than I do, that's fine. I almost see ranking long-term injured guys as a fool's errand (similar to how some football sites are giving you Strength of Schedule data now - can we really predict defense strength that's coming in November?), but we'll throw it out there this week, see how it goes.

Your healthy-player discourse, yes, bring it on. The shopping cart is ready for you now.

$32 Robinson Cano
$30 Troy Tulowitzki
$29 Ian Kinsler
$28 Dustin Pedroia
$25 Brandon Phillips
$23 Starlin Castro
$20 Ian Desmond
$19 Chase Utley
$19 Martin Prado
$18 Ben Zobrist
$17 Jason Kipnis
$16 Josh Rutledge
$16 Jean Segura
$16 Howie Kendrick
$15 Jimmy Rollins
$15 Jose Altuve
$15 Jed Lowrie

We saw a host of contrary opinions with Rutledge in the preseason. The believers pointed to his snappy 73-game sample in Colorado last year, while the doubters worried about the crash landing over the final 31 games (.181/.235/.276, 33 strikeouts). The pros were dreaming of a thin-air spike in Coors Field; the antis were worried about a possible demotion to Colorado Springs (a stop Rutledge skipped last year, making a double jump).

Through three weeks of the fresh season, the believers appear to be in the lead. Although Rutledge is hitting a modest .230 (and has an OBP south of .300), he's provided the category juice we love to see (three homers, 5-for-5 on steals). The Rockies are using him primarily as the No. 2 hitter in the order (that may change if Eric Young keeps starting), and while Rutledge is never going to be the epitome of batting patience and contact rate, he does have his walk and strikeout rates moving in the right direction. I only have two Rutledge shares this year, a mild regret. The dual-position eligibility is worth an extra buck, I suppose.

It pains me to not go all-in with Utley and Lowrie after their hot starts. Heck, maybe I went too far anyway. But we have to be mindful of the obvious elephant in the room, the injury history.

Utley's career has been in a three-season free fall since his 156-game campaign in 2009; he's still a heck of a player when on the field (though not the same batting average contributor), but we have to expect an injury tax at some point. And then there's Lowrie's star-crossed career; he's never gotten past 97 games or 340 at-bats in any season. A healthy Lowrie could be a .285-90-25-85 player over a full season; this is a smart hitter and a powerful hitter. But we have to try to learn something from the flags on the resume.

$14 Elvis Andrus
$14 Asdrubal Cabrera
$13 Everth Cabrera
$12 Matt Carpenter
$12 Rickie Weeks
$12 Alcides Escobar
$12 Kyle Seager
$11 Michael Young
$10 Dan Uggla
$10 Neil Walker
$9 Daniel Murphy
$9 Brandon Crawford
$8 J.J. Hardy
$8 Danny Espinosa

What's the big deal with Andrus again? A .274 career average isn't that big of a deal, he offers marginal power, and his stolen bases dipped to 21 last year (though he's 4-for-4 this season). How much better is he, really, than Alcides Escobar? Arlington helps, but it doesn't turn ordinary or good players into superstars. I never considered selecting Andrus during any March draft; the room always wanted him much more than I did.

Carpenter's power upside is modest and he's not going to run much, but a line-drive bat and OBP skills in the No. 2 slot of a good lineup? Yes, please. And you always want at least one Swiss Army Knife on your roster.

$6 Erick Aybar
$5 Zack Cozart
$5 Andrelton Simmons
$4 Stephen Drew
$4 Yuniesky Betancourt
$4 Jhonny Peralta
$4 Kelly Johnson
$4 Omar Infante
$4 Alexei Ramirez
$4 Marco Scutaro
$3 Mark Ellis
$3 Darwin Barney
$3 Marwin Gonzalez
$3 Didi Gregorius
$3 Chris Nelson
$3 Jedd Gyorko
$3 Emilio Bonifacio
$3 Jeff Keppinger

There's been a lot of talk about Gregorius this week . . . maybe, maybe too much talk. Hopefully I can offer a better explanation of my Gregorius stance in this space.

I certainly understand why some fantasy owners want to make a pickup on a player like Gregorius, a hot prospect with the upside of the unknown. And I probably erred when I talked about passing on Gregorius in favor of a handful of known but unexciting veteran players who have limited ceilings (the Ellis/Getz group). A tip of the cap to the readers who made this point. That said, I stand behind my feeling that Gregorius won't be much of a fantasy player in 2013; I get there through his so-so minor league batting profile and the fact that the Diamondbacks are hitting him in the bottom third of the lineup (curbs the running game, and he's raw as a stealer anyway).

Here's the bottom line: I wouldn't want to make a "resources move" on a Gregorius play in a mixed league; if your additions are capped or cost money, I'm not touching him. I don't want to give up something of value to make the swap. He's going to strike out a lot, I don't buy the two early homers as indicative of special pop, and I know he's still learning as a runner. But if you're able to make a Gregorius grab in a format where pickups are free or readily available (or where you have an obvious drop), I see why you might want to point and click. Your ability to U-turn out of the move comes into play; if you feel safe alternatives are likely to be present all season if and when you eventually need them, then go ahead and kick the tires.

It's important to stay open minded with these things, and sometimes you have to build the "why not?" case when others are saying "why bother?" Some of our fine readers remembered that rule better than I did earlier this week, and I thank them for that. My conclusion isn't really much different, but I should have framed my argument better. Upward and onward.

$2 Jordany Valdespin
$2 Sean Rodriguez
$2 Dustin Ackley
$2 Cliff Pennington
$2 Chris Getz
$1 Eduardo Escobar
$1 Ronny Cedeno
$1 Pete Kozma
$1 Brian Dozier
$1 Mike Aviles
$1 Eric Sogard
$1 Ryan Roberts
$1 Ruben Tejada
$1 Justin Turner
$1 Steve Lombardozzi
$1 Eduardo Nunez
$1 Donovan Solano
$1 Yunel Escobar
$0 Alexi Casilla
$0 Daniel Descalso

Injured Players (please read the disclaimer above; these are courtesy ranks and not intended for discussion/debate). This is roughly how I'd rank them if I were starting a new roster right now.

$16 *Hanley Ramirez
$13 *Aaron Hill
$10 *Jose Reyes
$6 *Derek Jeter
$3 *Gordon Beckham

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