Fantasy Baseball Position Primer: Middle Infield

Not so long ago, back when middle infielders were supposed to look like this dude or this dude, we expected the best of them to hit 30-plus home runs. Today, in a much different run-scoring environment, our projections for second basemen and shortstops are relatively modest.

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Only six middle infielders reached the 20-homer plateau last season, and none topped Ian Desmond's 24. Only four middles finished the year with more than 80 RBIs, and none reached 100. Banking on significant production in the power categories from these spots, is ... well, it's probably a terrible plan.

Generally speaking, the pool of second basemen and shortstops is rich with players who can produce useful-if-not-spectacular power/speed totals — guys like Alexei, Jimmy, Howie and Kolten. The middle also offers a small number of players with zero power, but top-tier speed — burners like Dee, Elvis and Alcides. If you pass on the early-round options at second and short, you can at least find a one-cat specialist later in your draft.

But really, all you're guaranteed to find at these positions — up and down your draft board — are pressing questions. For example...

Can Troy Tulowitzki possibly stay healthy after averaging only 88 games-played over his last three seasons? (Sure, you can do well with 90 games from Tulo, plus 70 from a scrap-heap shortstop. But he's a high-maintenance managerial experience, a dice-roll as a top-20 pick. Much easier to own in mixed than only.)

Will Dee Gordon ever again be the guy we saw last spring, when he slashed .344/.375/.478 in March and April, then ran with impunity in May (21 SB)?

Can Javier Baez somehow not strike out 250 times, if he plays a full season?

Is there a bounce-back coming for Dustin Pedroia? Or Jason Kipnis? Or Jean Segura? Where does Jose Altuve's average go, a year after posting that .360 BABIP? When does Addison Russell join the party, and what would that mean for Starlin Castro? Why are we still drafting Elvis Andrus, like, 90 picks ahead of Alcides Escobar? And is owning Brett Lawrie a bad idea, or a really, really bad idea?

We're dealing with a lot of issues here, and that list above is just a sampler. These spots present uncommon risk, but there's no shortage of talent in the upper tiers. Let's review...

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Position averages for the top-20 second basemen, last three years

2014 — 76.8 R, 12.3 HR, 62.2 RBIs, 13.2 SB, .281 AVG
2013 — 73.2 R, 13.8 HR, 68.0 RBIs, 11.1 SB, .281 AVG
2012 — 79.1 R, 16.1 HR, 70.4 RBIs, 13.7 SB, .275 AVG

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SECOND BASE TIERS
TIER ONE

Robinson Cano
Anthony Rendon
Jose Altuve

TIER TWO

Ian Kinsler
Dee Gordon
Brian Dozier
Dustin Pedroia
Jason Kipnis

TIER THREE

Kolten Wong
Mookie Betts
Daniel Murphy
Howie Kiendrick
Neil Walker
Josh Harrison
Ben Zobrist
Chase Utley

TIER FOUR

Brett Lawrie
Jedd Gyorko
Javier Baez
Martin Prado
Asdrubal Cabrera
Brandon Phillips
Aaron Hill
Arismendy Alcantra
Scooter Gennett
Rougned Odor
Marcus Semien
Bradley Miller

TIER FIVE

Chris Owings
DJ LeMahieu
Didi Gregorius
Wilmer Flores
Emilio Bonifacio
Jose Peraza
Omar Infante
Joe Panik
Luis Valbuena
Jonathan Schoop
Josh Rutledge
Stephen Drew
Alexander Guerrero
Jose Ramirez
Yangervis Solarte
Micah Johnson

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Javier Baez, spring training beast (Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)
Javier Baez, spring training beast (Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)

Position averages for the top-20 shortstops, last three years

2014 — 70.3 R, 11.3 HR, 56.9 RBIs, 16.6 SB, .271 AVG
2013 — 67.5 R, 12.5 HR, 58.8 RBIs, 14.2 SB, .274 AVG
2012 — 74.9 R, 14.2 HR, 63.3 RBIs, 18.9 SB, .271 AVG

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SHORTSTOP TIERS
TIER ONE

Hanley Ramirez
Ian Desmond
Troy Tulowitzki

TIER TWO

Jose Reyes
Alexei Ramirez
Elvis Andrus

TIER THREE

Jimmy Rollins
Starlin Castro
Ben Zobrist

TIER FOUR

Xander Bogaerts
Erick Aybar
Jhonny Peralta
Alcides Escobar
Danny Santana
Jean Segura
Javier Baez
JJ Hardy
Asdrubal Cabrera
Jed Lowrie
Bradley Miller
Andrelton Simmons

TIER FIVE

Chris Owings
Jung-Ho Kang
Jordy Mercer
Didi Gregorius
Jose Peraza
Brandon Crawford
Everth Cabrera
Josh Rutledge
Wilmer Flores
Yunel Escobar
Jose Iglesias
Francisco Lindor
Jose Ramirez
Stephen Drew
Mike Aviles
Addison Russell
Adainy Hechavarria
Eric Sogard
Jonathan Villar
Chris Taylor