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Fantasy Baseball Middle Infield Shuffle Up: Tiered rankings

Scott Pianowski
·8 min read
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Here’s our second issue in the Shuffle Up season. If you missed the corners from two days back, jump over here. Today’s assignment is the middle infielders, those players who hold second base or shortstop value in Yahoo’s game. (If I missed a middle qualifier, let me know on Twitter. Yahoo has the friendliest position qualification rules on the Internet.)

Players at the same salary are considered even. Assume 5x5 scoring, which is still the most prevalent setup in the fantasy world.

Shuffle Up Series: Corner Infielders | Middle Infielders | Starting Pitchers | Outfielders | Catchers | Relievers

The Big Tickets

$44 Fernando Tatis Jr.

$41 Trea Turner

$41 Trevor Story

$38 Francisco Lindor

$34 Manny Machado

$32 Alex Bregman

$31 DJ LeMahieu

Story’s always had one of the best sprint-speed scores in the league, so it was no surprise that he stole 15 bases last year, tops in the NL. It’s just about a willingness to do it. And although his aggressiveness at the plate will always lead to a fair amount of strikeouts, his three-year batting average comes out to .292. He’s still a five-category god, someone who fully belongs in the first round . . . I probably like Turner an eyelash lower than consensus, as I can’t project him for more than 20 homers (14-16 seems more realistic) and the overall depth of the Washington lineup is a problem. He’s also likely to lose anywhere from 30-50 points from last year’s batting average. Nonetheless, he carries solid plate discipline skills and this is an age-28 season, the sweet spot. Just make sure you make up for the power later.

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

I’ll repeat a couple of the corner profiles on multi-position guys because I want to make sure you consider them. Bregman wears the scarlet letter, but he didn’t forget how to hit in a year. He could have been the MVP in 2019 — Mike Trout won the coin flip — and he’s still in the go-zone, entering his age-27 season . . . Understand what happens when players leave Colorado — they no longer get the free gifts at home, but they’re also no longer taxed by the Coors hangover when they play on the road — their timing isn’t all messed up. Matt Holliday was a Colorado-to-St. Louis success story, and of course LeMahieu has blossomed in New York. New Cardinal Arenado can’t be salaried at his thin-air peak, but he’s still too good to let past the third round. What you make of LeMahieu’s power — he could hit 12-15 home runs, or he could be double that — likely determines how proactive you’ll draft him. He also covers three positions, a potential godsend if COVID-19 issues wreak havoc on the schedule.

Colorado Rockies' Trevor Story
Trevor Story remains a first-round staple. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Legitimate Building Blocks

$28 Adalberto Mondesi

$27 Bo Bichette

$26 Xander Bogaerts

$26 Whit Merrifield

$25 Ozzie Albies

$25 Tim Anderson

$24 Corey Seager

$21 Gleyber Torres

$21 Cavan Biggio

Mondesi is one of the debate-inciting players of the spring, an early-round player who some fantasy managers won’t even consider. It’s important that we mind the gap between real-life and fantasy value. Sure, Mondesi’s career .284 OBP is awful, and his OPS+ is 85 — that’s 15 percent below a league-average offensive player. But his batting average risk is overblown — he’s batted .276, .263, and .256 the last three years — and the Royals seem content to start him every day, despite his flaws. Mondesi is going to dominate the steal category, likely keep a good batting slot all year, and heck, his walk rate did tick up in September (while he was busy swiping a ridiculous 16 bases). He’s not a zero in the home-run column, either — 29 home runs over his last 909 at-bats. I’m not saying you have to target Mondesi in the third round, but I’m fine to consider it. Keep an open mind here.

Anderson’s career BABIP is .348, so stop waiting for his batting average to collapse. It never does. He’s likely going to bat first in what should be a Top 5 offense . . . The Red Sox pitching staff could bring a grown man to tears, but the park is still an offensive giveaway — almost no foul territory, friendly for extra-base hits, favorable batting eye. It’s a year where you can do well at any shortstop salary point, but I suspect I’ll be snagging a fair amount of Bogaerts in the third round.

Talk them up, talk them down

$19 Javier Baez

$18 Ketel Marte

$18 Dansby Swanson

$17 Keston Hiura

$16 Max Muncy

$16 Jeff McNeil

$15 Jose Altuve

$14 Brandon Lowe

$14 Marcus Semien

$13 Mike Moustakas

$13 Carlos Correa

$13 Dylan Moore

$12 Ian Happ

$11 *Isiah Kiner-Falefa

$11 Didi Gregorius

Swanson’s breakout has already happened — he was a star in 2019 before second-half injuries and had he maintained last year’s pace for a full year, he’d be a second-round pick in ADP this spring. Keep in mind he was a Top 5 prospect in baseball not that long ago. This is your last chance to land him at a multiple-round discount . . . Altuve’s batting average is still bankable, but he’s shut down the running for two straight years, and he’s missed chunks of time for three straight seasons. Now into the age-31 year, it’s time to stop drafting him proactively . . . Hiura had a ridiculous BABIP two seasons back (.402) and then it collapsed last year (.273). Move that somewhere in the middle, though most of the projection systems have his average in the mid .250s. It concerns me that the Brewers have already shifted Hiura down the defensive spectrum — that’s something that’s supposed to happen in the middle of your career (or later), not at age-24. I can’t project him for more than 10 steals, and he’s a player with some pop, not elite power. If he’s going to maintain a Top 70 ADP, he won’t be on any of my teams.

I initially forgot Kiner-Falefa was grandfathered into catcher eligibility (which usually would keep him off this list altogether; everyone who grabs him will likely use him at catcher if they can). It bumps him a tier; he's an ordinary bat, but it's such a watered-down position, and the playing time adds significant value. He's also going to run some.

Plausible upside, but not without fleas

$10 Eduardo Escobar

$9 Nick Solak

$8 Paul DeJong

$8 Jorge Polanco

$8 Andres Gimenez

$6 Chris Taylor

$6 Kolten Wong

$6 Jean Segura

$6 David Fletcher

$5 Tommy La Stella

$5 Gavin Lux

$5 Jurickson Profar

$5 Joey Wendle

$5 Jonathan Villar

Wendle has several ways into the lineup, which is critical in the “new lineup card every day” Rays. His career average is .277 and he’s capable of a category-juice season, something like 10-12 homers and 15-18 stolen bases. A perfect target for the top of your bench . . . If the Brewers will leave Wong along at the top of the lineup, he’s capable of a .280-85-13-58-20 type of season. His excellent defense should mark a daily spot in the order. He doesn’t maintain power against lefties, but he hangs in well enough to keep a full-time position. He’s been underrated most of his career . . . Villar can play multiple positions, but he’s a below-average defender at all of them. The Mets fancy themselves pennant and World Series contenders; their best theoretical lineup shouldn’t include much of Villar. His ADP is around 160, but I wouldn’t even consider him until we’re well past 200. He’s the type of player a non-contender can view as set-and-forget, but the Mets need to shoot higher.

Rest of the rack

$4 Elvis Andrus

$4 Wilmer Flores

$4 Starlin Castro

$4 Ryan McMahon

$4 Willy Adames

$4 Jake Cronenworth

$4 Willi Castro

$4 Amed Rosario

$4 Nick Madrigal

$4 Jon Berti

$4 Nick Ahmed

$4 Andrelton Simmons

$3 Jonathan Schoop

$3 Cesar Hernandez

$3 Ty France

$3 Brendan Rodgers

$3 Marwin Gonzalez

$3 Garrett Hampson

$3 Jose Iglesias

$3 Miguel Rojas

$3 J.P. Crawford

$2 Luis Arraez

$2 Mike Brosseau

$2 Adam Frazier

$2 Enrique Hernandez

$2 Rougned Odor

$2 Donovan Solano

$2 Kevin Newman

$2 Niko Goodrum

$2 Chad Pinder

$2 Nico Hoerner

$2 Freddy Galvis

$2 Orlando Arcia

$2 Carter Kieboom

$1 Wander Franco

$1 Josh Rojas

$1 Josh VanMeter

$1 Aledmys Diaz

$1 Brandon Crawford

$1 Johan Camargo

$1 Joe Panik

$1 Leury Garcia

$1 Scott Kingery

Andrus was a strange signing for the A’s, on the wrong side of 30 and with a collapsing speed score. His strike zone judgment improved last year but his bat cratered; that’s what age deterioration looks like. Did Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill really sign off on this move? . . . Cesar Hernandez was another middle who stopped running last year, and that’s a major shot to his value. Don’t look at the current Cleveland lineup, it will only depress you . . . McMahon and Hampson could easily challenge for $10-and-up seasons, but remember what Gene McCaffrey said long ago about Colorado’s lineup management — this is a team that can’t wait to get its best team off the field. When you draft a secondary Rockies hitter, you gave yourself a six-month chore, grinding those daily lineups.

Previous Shuffle Ups:

Corner Infield (2/24)