In part one of this little mini series, we looked at all of the catchers and corner infielders that I’ll be relying on once the 2020 season gets underway. As much as I enjoy talking about Yadier Molina and Jose Abreu, those guys aren’t exactly dripping with excitement. They’re high floor foundation pieces who are useful fantasy assets, but aren’t the types of players who will carry a team to a fantasy championship. It’s like going to your local burger joint and ordering a plain cheeseburger – it’s not likely to disappoint, but it won’t be a particularly memorable meal either. Middle infielders and outfielders are the bacon, caramelized onions, and special sauce that can be added to that plain burger to make it exceptional. Sometimes, experimenting with exotic ingredients like spicy peppers can lead to indigestion, but it can also lead to a special, unique experience. And there’s plenty of spice to go around in these groups.
All of these ingredients are represented at second base, shortstop, and in the outfield. Power, speed, average, and counting stats – they can all be found in abundance here. The key is to determine who to target and when to target them. Today, I’ll be sharing the middle infielders that I targeted and ended up drafting across my five NFBC leagues for the 2020 season. I originally intended to cover outfielders as well, but since Magoobot’s self-editing mechanism malfunctioned years ago, there’s only room for the guys up the middle today. There’ll be a whole post dedicated to outfielders in part three.
Just like last week, I’ll be breaking things down by position, briefly discussing my pre-draft strategies followed by a quick analysis of each player that I ended up drafting. Both the 12 team NFBC Online Championship and 15 team NFBC Draft Champions formats require that you start 1 2B, 1 SS, and 1 MI at all times, so that’s something to keep in mind during this exercise. As a quick refresher, each player will be placed into one of the following four categories:
The Studs: These guys are the cream of the crop at their positions. Elite talents with proven track records who project for more of the same in the near future.
Risky Business: These are the high risk, high reward options. There’s elite upside here, but there’s also at least one big red flag in their respective profiles. Could provide high-end production at a bargain rate or leave a gaping hole on your (my) roster.
The Fallback Options: These are the players who you settle for if you miss on your primary targets. Could be boring vets, low ceiling youngsters, or just players who don’t elicit strong feelings one way or another.
The Lottery Tickets: These are the $1 scratch-offs that you play hoping for that $500 million jackpot. Cheap and dripping with upside. These are typically young, unproven players at the MLB level, but it could also be the profile of an injury-prone vet or someone who has struggled at the highest level, but has shown something special at some point in his career.
With all of that boring stuff out of the way, let’s get to it!
Middle Infield (2B/SS)
Strategy: One of the reasons that I focused mainly on high average, reasonably priced sluggers at corner infield, and cheap, middle-of-the-road options at catcher, was so I would have plenty of draft capital to spend up the middle. Shortstop, in particular, is loaded with high-end fantasy options, so grabbing one (if not two) of the top players here is a priority. I see second base as being top heavy this year, but a bit soft in the middle, so the strategy there is to pounce early or wait a bit. Make sure to bank speed from at least two out of the three starting middle infield slots (2B/SS/MI).
Lindor is a top five overall player on my board, so considering the fact that I drafted out of a middle slot (6-8) in each of my five leagues this year, it’s not too difficult to see how I ended up with him in three leagues. How do I love Frankie? Let me count the ways. Over the last three seasons (2017-19), Lindor has:
- averaged a 110/34/85/.278/21 batting line
- been the only player in MLB with at least 30 homers and 15 steals in each season
- scored the 3rd most runs (329), hit the 10th most homers (103), and has the 16th highest SB total (62) in MLB
- knocked in as many runs (255 RBI) as Mike Trout
Let’s see… what else can I say? He’s 26 years old, is a switch hitter with no split issues, has one of the lowest K-rates in the game (14.0% career K%), and is durable (avg 702 PA per season since 2016). Power, speed, contact skills, durability, job security, prime age, consistency. And I hear he makes a mean frittata!
If I were to make a short list of players outside of the first round who could make the jump into next year’s elite group, Albies would certainly be on it. In his age 22 season in 2019, Albies produced a 102/24/86/.295/15 line in 702 PA. This was a follow up to his 105/24/72/.261/14 line in his first full MLB season the year prior. His walk rate (5.3% to 7.7%), exit velocity (86.3 to 88.8 mph), and barrel rate (4.7% to 6.6%) all saw substantial improvements, and he’s never had a K-rate over 17% in his short career. Also, his 37 career stolen bases in 45 attempts (82.2% success rate) and 28.6 ft/sec sprint speed (86th percentile in MLB) indicate that he has some SB upside if given the green light more often. Hitting in the second spot in the Braves lineup behind Ronald Acuna Jr. and in front of Freddie Freeman should keep the counting stats flowing in. The one rub in his profile is a .253/.314/.430 career slash line vs right-handed pitching (as opposed to a robust .355/.386/.596 line vs southpaws), but there have been reports that the 23 year old switch-hitter is using the extra offseason time to fine tune his swing mechanics from the left side. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Albies among the fantasy elite in short order.
Mondesi and Torres might be polar opposites as far as fantasy players go, but, ironically enough, they occupy the same space in this exercise. Mondesi is a high ceiling, low floor player due to his durability issues and shaky plate discipline, while Torres is a high floor, medium ceiling player due to his reliable power but lack of speed. Despite playing in only 177 games over the past two seasons, Mondesi’s 75 steals is tied for the 3rd most in MLB during that span. His 23 HR over that same period indicate that he’s not just a speed-only player, but his 28.5% K% suggests that there’s some potential downside from his .268 batting average. Torres has proven himself to be a .270+ hitter, as he’s never hit below that mark in a full season and cut his K% by almost 4% (from 25.2% to 21.4%) from 2018 to 2019, and his 62 HR over the last two years is more than George Springer, Anthony Rendon, and Juan Soto (among many others) in fewer PA than any of those other players. Neither the soon-to-be 24 year old Mondesi nor the 23 year old Torres are without risk, but the impressive skills, pedigrees, and track records indicate that the best is yet to come for these young studs.
There’s a whole lot to like about Bichette. He’s performed well at every single level in his professional career, and he slashed .311/.358/.571 in 212 PA with the Blue Jays after being called up last season. His 23.6% K% in the majors represents the only time that he’s been over 20% in his career, and it’s still quite an impressive mark for a 21 year old getting his first taste of big league pitching. Despite stealing only 4 bases as a Blue Jay, he logged plenty of steals throughout his minor league career, including 32 SBs at AA in 2018. So what’s the problem? Bichette’s .273 xBA last season was almost 40 points lower than his actual batting average, and his .472 xSLG was almost 100 points lower. Also, he’s already being drafted like an established high-end fantasy option entering his second season, which is typically full of adjustments for young players. As bright as Bichette’s future appears to be, one needs only to take a peek at the learning curves that 2017 Trevor Story and 2018 Cody Bellinger and Rafael Devers experienced in their respective sophomore seasons to understand the risks involved here.
It’s difficult to categorize Tim Anderson. He’s just shy of the studs category, too good to be a fallback option, and too expensive to be a lottery ticket. So here we are. Calling Anderson a free swinger would be an understatement. Since 2016, his 3.3% BB% is the lowest in MLB among 291 qualified players. Never saw a pitch he didn’t like. And prior to last season, he had a .258/.286/.411 career slash line. That doesn’t sound all that great, does it? So what makes Anderson appealing? Over the last three seasons, he’s hit at least 17 homers and stolen at least 15 bases each year, and he won the AL batting title last season with a .335 average. While another batting title shouldn’t be expected, his xBA last season was .294 and he’s slated to hit near the top of an improved White Sox lineup this year. How does a prorated version of a 90/20/70/.280/20 pace sound? It’s music to my ears (the good AIC/Tool type, not the Justin Bieber type).
The best thing about drafting a player like McNeil isn’t necessarily what he brings to the table (which isn’t insignificant), but what he allows you to do with the rest of your roster. Outside of his low K-rate (13.2% in 2019; 12.1% career), nothing really jumps off the page. Exit velo, launch angle, walk rate, barrels – all hovering around league average. He’s a gap-to-gap hitter without any major weaknesses who projects comfortably as a .300/20/7 type of player. Basically a slightly younger, more versatile (2B/3B/OF eligible) version of Michael Brantley. Are you interested in a player like Mondesi, but concerned about batting average downside and durability issues? Pair him with McNeil (like I did in one league) and you’ve essentially just rostered two Starling Martes. Interested in Joey Gallo’s power but not his potential average draining qualities on your roster? Grab McNeil, and voila! Jose Abreu times two. McNeil isn’t a fantasy superstar, but he has plenty of value from a roster construction standpoint.
Segura burned quite a few fantasy owners last season, myself included. He certainly appeared to have the profile of a .300/20/20 type of player with the potential for 90+ runs scored hitting atop the Phillies loaded lineup, but things didn’t quite work out that way. A .280/12/10 season with meh counting stats is what he produced instead. It was the first time he stole fewer than 20 bases in a season since 2012, and the first time he hit lower than .300 since 2015. The good news is that not much changed in his profile at all. Among all qualified players, Segura had the 6th lowest K-rate (11.8%) in MLB and his average exit velocity actually increased slightly. Sprint speed was down a bit, but still higher than when he stole 22 bases in 2017. He was successful when he decided to run (10 out of 12 in SB attempts); he just ran less often than usual. Last year appeared to represent something close to his floor, and he still ended up as the #177 overall player on the player rater. Entering his age 30 season, the skills that made him a top 60 overall pick just a year ago appear to still be intact. As an added bonus, he’ll be gaining either 2B or 3B eligibility to go with SS, depending on where new skipper Joe Girardi decides to play him this year. Segura didn’t cost a top 150 pick in any of my leagues (and likely still won’t if you’ve yet to draft), which makes him a terrific value.
Entering last season, Wong seemed to have settled into a low-end starter/superutility kind of role after a promising start to his career. In his first two full seasons (2014-15), he averaged a 62/12/52/.257/18 line in 523 PA, flashing solid speed and even a bit of power potential. Over his next three seasons (2016-18), that production took a nosedive to a 45/6/34/.259/7 average line in 393 PA. The power never materialized, the speed disappeared, and his playing time took a hit as well. He looked like nothing more than waiver wire fodder in fantasy moving forward. In his age 28 season in 2019, however, Wong produced a 61/11/59/.285/24 line, which allowed him to finish as the #16 2B and #129 overall player according to the player rater. Not too shabby. The good news is that his plate discipline was very solid (8.6% BB% and 15.1% K%), and not only did his 24 steals finish tied for the 12th most in MLB, but he was a very efficient thief as well (24/28 = 85.7% success rate). The bad news? Just about everything else. His quality of contact wasn’t just bad, it was horrendous. Wong had the 7th lowest average exit velocity in MLB (83.6 mph – just above Dee Gordon) among all qualified players, and his barrel %, hard hit %, and xSLG were all in the bottom 9% of all players as well. While his speed numbers were very solid, his 27.6 ft/sec sprint speed ranked 212th in MLB. He struggled quite a bit against offspeed pitches as well, hitting .206 and slugging .258 on those offerings. That being said, Wong has a very reasonable price tag this year, and has been rumored to be in the leadoff mix for Cards. Could be a sneaky source of runs and steals as a mid-round MI option.
Newman’s profile is actually very similar to Wong’s. Near the bottom of the league in contact authority (exit velo, hard hit %, barrel %. xSLG), but among the league leaders in contact rate (11.7% K% – 6th lowest among qualified players). In fact, his $9.3 value last year was identical to Wong’s. Newman’s 61/12/64/.308/16 line in 531 PA was actually superior to Wong’s on a per-game basis, and it passes the smell test for the most part. He’s slated to hit atop the Pirates lineup, and doesn’t appear to have any competition for playing time. Another solid MI flier at a reasonable price.
The most remarkable thing about Johan Camargo is probably his simulated stats. Seriously, have you see them? 21/6/22/.301/3 in 146 PA through May 7th. Breakout alert! That aside, Camargo is quite unremarkable. His 2019 was a disaster, he has next to no speed (2 SB in 314 career MLB games), and he’s not even guaranteed playing time. What makes him somewhat interesting are the facts that he has a shot to start at 3B (which would give him dual 3B/SS eligibility), he was fairly productive as a 24 year old in 2018 (63/19/76/.272/1 in 524 PA), and he’s typically not even being drafted in 12 team leagues (my lone share is the result of a reserve pick in the DC format). Might be worth a shot as a versatile depth piece.
SAGNOF alert! If you’re looking for cheap speed from your MI slot (and who isn’t these days), Madrigal and Straw should definitely be on your radar. Madrigal stole 35 bases in 532 PA across three minor league levels last season, and Straw has 180 steals across all levels (including 70 in AA/AAA combined in 2018) in five professional seasons. Madrigal only has Leury Garcia to worry about as competition at 2B, and Straw saw playing time at all three OF positions and both MI positions last season. He has a chance to be the Astros new version of Marwin Gonzalez. Both players are super cheap, especially Straw, who has been going routinely undrafted in 12 team leagues.
Lux has absolutely crushed the upper levels of the minors since 2018 to the tune of a 66/17/46/.316/9 line in 411 PA at AA and a 54/13/39/.392/3 line in 232 PA at AAA. He held his own in his initial cup of coffee with the Dodgers last season, and looks to have the inside track at the lion’s share of playing time at 2B this season. The negatives are that he’s likely to be relegated to the bottom third of that stacked lineup (which will hurt his counting stats), and probably won’t be in the starting lineup every single day. Might be a year or two early here, but the potential rewards outweigh the risks to me.
Swanson is an interesting player. One look at his career numbers (40 HR, 26 SB, .245/.318/.385 slash line in four MLB seasons) is enough to elicit a yawn, but there might be more here. His K and BB rates are roughly league average, but he saw significant spikes in barrel % (from 4.1% to 10.1%), exit velo (86.8 to 89.8 mph), and launch angle (12.9 to 14.2 degrees). He’s routinely among the league leaders in sprint speed as well. Prime age (26 years old) and pedigree (former #1 overall pick) round out the profile of a player who still might have some untapped potential.
These are the players who I’ll be relying on up the middle on my teams. Who are you counting on as your double play combos this year?