The Shuffle Up: Fantasy baseball corner infielder draft rankings tiers

In past fantasy baseball eras, the corner positions were fun zones, one-stop shops to get just about everything you wanted. That's not really the case in the current game. First base has an age problem — most of the key players are in their 30s — and third base isn't as statistically diverse as it used to be. And both positions are top heavy. If you're breaking a tie between a corner infielder and something else in the first quarter of your draft, you probably should take the cornerman, all else equal. We're tackling how to handle the corners in this edition of the Shuffle Up series.

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For every position, I create personal salaries, essentially a way of constructing tiers. The numbers themselves don't matter in a vacuum; what matters is how the players' salaries relate to one another, where the talent clusters and where it drops off. Assume a 5×5 scoring system, as always. Players at the same draft cost are considered even.

The salaries are more my gut feel on a player and not necessarily part of a formula or overall bankroll structure.

Have some disagreements? That’s good! That’s why we have a game. I welcome your respectful disagreement anytime: @scott_pianowski on Twitter/X.

Scott Pianowski's tiered rankings: Catchers | Outfielders | Middle Infielders | Corner Infielders | Starting Pitchers | Relief Pitchers

Remember the golden rule: no player takes on extra (or less) value simply because you roster him.

The Big Tickets

Freeman moves into his age-34 season but I'm fine considering him with a top-half pick in the first round. The Dodgers' lineup provides lovely buoyancy, Freeman has played essentially a full season for six straight years, and he even started running since he joined the Dodgers two years back (36 bags). This is a perfect player, bound for the Hall of Fame.

The Atlanta offense was too good to be true last year, but all the key pieces are back, making Olson and Riley very safe picks. Riley has been remarkably consistent for three years running, and even if Olson gives back last year's batting-average gains, he's going to be a monster in the power and run-production columns.

Ramírez had a 39-point drop in slugging last year, and the Guardians had the fifth-worst offense in the majors. Nothing the team did in the winter suggests this problem has been fixed. I can't spend an early pick on a player surrounded by this much seaweed.

Legitimate Building Blocks

If you want to rank De La Cruz lower, I'll accept it. His floor is "back in the minors come June 1." There are holes in his swing and he batted .191 in the second half of the year. But he also had 13 homers and 35 steals in essentially two-thirds of a season, and that kind of category juice has to be respected.

Bregman just missed the 2019 MVP; he's downshifted to a lower level of production since. This sets him up for the Boring Veteran Value stage of his career. Bregman's return from offseason finger surgery probably held him back in the early part of 2023, but he was his normal .290/.394/.507 self after the break. This is a target pick for me.

Steer's production was much better than his Statcast profile; his hard-hit numbers were all below code, and the data suggests his batting average was 19 points too high and his slugging 47 points fortunate. And now the Reds have a glutted infield — for reasons no outsider can seem to fathom, they threw a big contract at free agent Jeimer Candelario.

[2024 Fantasy Baseball Draft Rankings: C | 1B | 2B | SS | 3B | OF | SP | RP]

Perhaps an injury will clear up the playing time, but I'm concerned about who might be squeezed here. Even if Steer is in the lineup, he's likely headed to a pesky regression season.

Talk Them Up, Talk Them Down

Paredes is another player who the Statcast data frowns on; according to the under-the-hood metrics, he should have batted .230 and slugged a mere .369. Those 31 homers are unlikely to repeat, and the 98 RBI could come crashing down given how Tampa Bay loves to juggle the lineup card.

Hayes reminds me of the player Andrew Benintendi used to be; a solid average, a little power, the occasional bag — and unfortunately, you don't get a thing for his angelic defense. Maybe Hayes' power deserves more respect after last year's slugging-percentage boost, but remember he still hit a modest 15 homers. It's likely this is as good as it gets.

If you missed the Middle Infield Shuffle, we had nice things to say on Drury, a sneaky value on the pedestrian Angels, guaranteed regular playing time and perhaps the cleanup spot. He hit for a plus average last year and gave us a very repeatable 26 homers, and he covers both first and second base. Drury doesn't run at all, but it's not difficult to find cheap speed in other areas. The Angels aren't going anywhere in the depressing post-Ohtani days (and Mike Trout's career arc is also a sad story), but we still need to audit every lineup for potential value. Drury is a steal with a Yahoo ADP around 232.

Some Plausible Upside

Abreu topped down to a .383 slugging percentage and an OPS+ 13% under league average, and now he steps into an age-37 season. The top half of the Houston lineup will break some of his fall, but I'm not interested in Abreu unless the price is an absolute giveaway.

Maybe Suárez isn't the full batting-average drain you might fear; his career average is .248, but he batted .232 in Seattle. He's getting back to the National League (and into a deeper lineup) at the right time. Scoop up a value when others ignore him — his current ADP is 247.6.

Garcia has a middle-infield profile at a corner-infield position — a puny .358 slugging, just four homers in 123 games, but a surprising 23 bags. Stolen bases often are want-to stats more than anything else, and the Royals — likely to be a sub-.500 team again — will probably let their players steal aggressively.

Rizzo might be useful in leagues with regular lineup changes; the key is to use him at home (.819 OPS last year). Rizzo's 2023 fade can probably be wiped out, as he wasn't the same player after a late-May concussion.

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