The Shuffle Up: Fantasy baseball middle infielder draft rankings tiers

Kansas City Royals shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. (7)
Is Bobby Witt Jr. poised to deliver a career fantasy year? (Photo by Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The Shuffle Up series moves along, tackling the middle infield position today. Everyone below has second base or shortstop eligibility (or both) in the Yahoo game.

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.

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

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

The Big Tickets

The Royals' lineup is top-heavy and Witt is still learning how to work the count and get good pitches to hit, but so what? He was a 30-homer, 49-steal monster in his second season, his age-23 season, and there's a major upside still untapped. So what if his OBP hasn't matured yet? That's not a standard 5x5 category. Heck, Witt's relatively low walk rate means you get more at-bats (and potential batting-average juice) for your buck. After Ronald Acuña Jr. is off the board, Witt is my preferred pick.

As we talked about in the Outfield Shuffle, Betts gets a small bump for his three positions of eligibility, and there's also a lovely floor here. When have you ever rostered Betts and regretted it? The Dodgers' lineup is deep enough that Betts can still be an RBI force at the leadoff spot, and his leadoff position ensures a lovely chunk of volume.

Turner struggled out of the gate in 2023, likely pressing to justify the big contract in his new city. The second half was back to Turner's expected level: .292/.348/.554, 16 homers, 11 bags, 51 runs and 44 RBI over 67 games. He's currently going around Pick 14 in early Yahoo drafts, which is an obvious steal. Grab it while it lasts.

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

I am generally reluctant to draft into injuries, so with Seager coming off hernia surgery and perhaps not ready for the opening of the season, I will tread carefully.

A big part of Semien's value is volume, but given that he's played a full year in six straight seasons, I view this as a feature, not a bug. No matter what Seager's status winds up being, the Rangers have a very deep lineup, top to bottom. Semien and Betts are the two best bets for at-bat volume, frontmen for loaded offenses. These are guys you pick proactively.

Legitimate Building Blocks

Abrams finally percolated to the top of the Washington lineup in the middle of the year, and he flashed star potential. Over 71 games in the top spot, this was the haul: 48 runs, 11 homers, 34 steals (in 36 attempts), even an acceptable 30 RBI. The Nationals didn't get much when they traded away Max Scherzer and Trea Turner, but Abrams' development makes the Juan Soto deal look acceptable, maybe even a win.

From a rate perspective, Altuve was fantastic last year, not much different than his MVP level back in 2017. But entering his age-34 campaign, I wonder how long the stolen bases will hang around, and I think we need to bake in missed time to the draft-day cost. He's a reactive pick for me, not a proactive pick.

Swanson had a minor dip in his first Chicago season, not that repeating his dream 2022 return was a realistic projection. But much like Turner above, I'd like to invest in Swanson now that he's comfortable and familiar with his new club and city. I'm figuring Swanson for a playable average, 25 homers or so, double-digit steals and good counting stats. These are the boring vet years, not the shiny-new-toy years, but those are the types of players you often get bargains on.

Bogaerts was listed as a fade in the Shortstop Primer; we'll recount the argument here:

I'd prefer my early picks be spent on players still on the escalator, those that haven't had their best season yet. We probably can't say that about Bogaerts, whose good-not-great 2023 slash (.285/.350/.440) was his weakest in six years. The Padres just moved Bogaerts to second base, with Ha-Seong Kim (probably a better defender already) going to shortstop, and prospect Jackson Merrill not far off.

That doesn't speak to what Bogaerts does with his bat, but in a broad sense, it underscores this is a player in the second half of his story. It's hard to believe the Padres looked at Bogaerts a year ago and were willing to cut an 11-year, $280 million contract for the down phase of his career. The crater seasons aren't here yet, but attrition has already kicked in.

Talk Them Up, Talk Them Down

Giménez has been all over the place through four years, with these OPS+ returns: 101, 74, 141, 98. We know it's probably prudent to discount outlier seasons, so the middle years can be wiped out. What's left? A league-average offensive hitter tied to a lesser offense. He's overpriced for my taste.

Drury is 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 233.

Edman is a defensive wizard anywhere they put him, so the playing time is likely secure. But he's toggled between batting first and last the last few years, and if the Cardinals finally accept that Edman's OBP doesn't belong at the top of the order, we're looking at a major drop in volume. I'm confident I won't draft Edman anywhere, despite the appealing versatility.

Peña was more patient in his second season but his slugging and homer output dropped notably, and he's merely a contributor with stolen bases, not an aggressive thief. His barrel rate and hard-hit metrics were very low, so a .259 career average looks like the high end of his range. After seeing Peña star in the 2022 playoffs, I was wondering if that was a springboard to step forward in his second year. But maybe this is as good as it gets.

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

Toronto's Turner has posted an OPS+ over league average for 10 straight seasons, and it was shocking when Boston didn't attempt to retain him, who wanted to stay. OK, so Turner gets a ballpark drop now that he's no longer mashing in Fenway. But the Blue Jays have a better supporting cast and they'll find 550 at-bats for Turner; probably looking at a .270/.340/.445 type of slash. Turner covers all the infield bases for Yahoo leagues and can be had quite affordably around Pick 190.

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