The theme of this edition of my corner infielder rankings is simple: everyone’s amazing. In short, I felt compelled to move a number of players up, not down, which meant a lot of meaningful contributors that I would be happy to roster fell off or down the list. But my overall feeling about the corner infielder positions is a positive one. In other words, they’re so deep that they’re spilling over with talent.
That also made ranking players quite difficult. For instance, I’m super excited about the resurgence of Joey Votto, and I think I buy the changes he has made more than Kyle Seager‘s (more on them below). But weighing my expectations against their year-to-date performance — where Seager has outshined Votto — was difficult. Ultimately, I put Seager six spots ahead of Votto, but I still haven’t fully convinced myself that he’s better. That’s just one example, but it goes to show that you should be happy rostering a lot of guys in the 30s and 40s and, in some cases, they could easily leapfrog those currently ranking above them in my next set of rankings.
Sorry to See You Go
Certain players are no longer ranked simply due to their performance. With fewer than 30 games to play, you can’t wait anymore for Eduardo Escobar, Miguel Cabrera, and Hunter Dozier to turn it on. They’re all good players that you can own, but there are more interesting bats out there.
The same goes for Hanser Alberto and Donovan Solano. Neither have been bad. However, a few weeks ago I labeled them as “empty batting average types.” Nothing has changed since then. They’re still both hitting over .300, but neither has more than two home runs. Accordingly, I knocked them off to make room for players with more upside.
Finally, I took the dramatic step of moving Daniel Murphy, who was previously ranked 26, off the list. He has done basically nothing since I elevated him into the top-30, culminating in this mea culpa moment of mine. For a minute there, it looked like he would play every day and regain his old form. To be sure, he’s doing neither.
Welcome back Josh Donaldson who, with health, is one of the better hitters in all of baseball. If anything, my ranking of him is conservative given that he might get off days here and there or be slow to get going.
Mike Moustakas is finally healthy again but hasn’t looked great in his return. He’s hitting just .221 with two home runs. I still believe in his raw power and he plays in a bandbox, so I’m not moving him out of the top-30 yet. Keep starting him and expect better days ahead.
There are so many new young faces that I don’t even know where to begin. The two I like most for the rest of this season are Ryan Mountcastle and Dominic Smith, whom I’ve ranked 30 and 31, respectively. The number four prospect in the Orioles system, Mountcastle has 60-grade raw power and hit 25 homers at AAA last year in basically a full season. I don’t expect him to sustain his current .324 AVG — which is propped up by a .400 BABIP and belied by a 24.4 K% (23.5% at AAA) — but the power is real. The reverse is true for Smith, who has a more manageable .343 BABIP and 22.1% strikeout rate supporting his .313 AVG, but whose exit velocity on fly balls is mediocre at best. Seven home runs have set power expectations too high for Smith, but he could provide middling power with close to a .300 AVG, which plays.
Alec Bohm hit his second home run Tuesday night. His 11.1 BB% and 12.7 K% are fantastic and extremely impressive for someone his age. I’m higher on Bohm than Mountcastle and Smith long term, but I’ve ranked him 36. I just want to see a little more power before I move up if only to be sure that he’s more Anthony Rendon than David Fletcher.
I also really like what Brandon Belt‘s been doing. He’s now hitting .337 with five homers. He looks a little more closed off in his stance, which is fueling fewer hits to the pull side and a career-high .429 BABIP. That won’t last, but I like seeing a change yield some tangible results and I’ve added him to the list at 40. And while I don’t buy that new Padre Mitch Moreland is suddenly the best power hitter in MLB — he’s rocking the second-highest barrel rate in the league — I do think he might be valuable going forward if he finds more plate appearances in San Diego. He slots in just after Belt at 41.
I think you should speculatively add Bobby Dalbec and Ke’Bryan Hayes, each of whom already have a home run. The former is a power-first bat with a lot of swing and miss in his profile, while the latter shines in no single offensive category, but has speed and could find some power at the major league level. Lastly, I think you can start Jon Berti if you’re desperate for stolen bases, and post-hype prospect Jeimer Candelario is hitting .297 (!) with four homers. If nothing else, he should be on your watch list as not too long ago he was a 50-grade future value prospect.
It’s such a short season. As much as I think Freddie Freeman is a better pick than either Jose Abreu or Manny Machado for 2021, I have to move them above him to 5 and 6 as they’re both winning leagues right now. Abreu and Machado have 12 and 11 homers, respectively, to Freeman’s five. And like Freeman, they’re both hitting over .300. Machado has even chipped in three stolen bases.
Luke Voit has similarly set the league on fire. I have more questions about the sustainability of his performance than the above sluggers, but note that Voit’s league-leading 13 home runs are supported by his 17.3% barrel rate, .682 xSLG, and whopping 48% hard-hit rate. He’s comfortably inside my top-15 now.
In the last edition of these rankings, I touted the augmentation of Eric Hosmer‘s launch angle. Since then, he hasn’t stopped elevating. He’s now hitting .302 with seven homers thanks to his career-high 33.3 LD% and career-low 45.7 GB%. A hitter’s line drive rate takes far longer than this to stabilize, so I’m ranking Hosmer somewhat conservatively here at 17 (an argument could be made to push him at least to 13).
Finally seeing something out of Rhys Hoskins, I bumped him back up to 19. Afteran atrocious start to the season, Hoskins has been on fire, bumping his AVG all the way up to .269 with six homers to boot. If you haven’t read this thread on Hoskins from Derek Carty, you probably should, but the tl;dr is that he’s walking more, striking out less, and hitting the ball hard and putting it in the air, which all will lead to good things. As for Vladimir Guerrero Jr., whom I’ve been moving down in tandem with Rhys in each edition of these rankings, he showed some signs of life at last. He’s still hitting just .269 with five home runs, but he has impressively hit six balls over 110 mph this year, and if he continues to elevate better as he has over the last three weeks, then I’ll have ranked him too low at 20.
Jake Cronenworth can’t be stopped. He’s hitting .356 with four homers and a stolen base. I said this last time, but it’s worth repeating. Cronenworth’s Statcast page is a sea of red: 100th-percentile xwOBA and xBA, 99th-percentile xSLG, 93rd-percentile sprint speed, 90th-percentile whiff rate, and 88th-percentile barrel rate. If someone is trying to sell high on him, make that move and grab my number 23 corner infielder.
For his part, Miguel Sanó is now up to seven homers with a passable .236 AVG. The bottom has yet to fall out despite Sanó’s gross, league-leading 54 strikeouts. But be cautious with the big slugger. And I alluded to this above, but Votto has three home runs in his last four games. He’s leading off for the Reds potent lineup and hits in one of the best hitters’ parks in baseball. Also, there’s this:
— Kyle Horton (@Hortonimo) August 30, 2020
Apparently, Votto went through a process in 2019 where he started crouched and then hit for more power later in the season when he loosened up. He has gone through the same transformation this year, and you can get him off the waiver wire if you act fast.
The first big name to tumble down the rankings was Pete Alonso, who’s basically Miguel Sanó in sheep’s clothing. If you watch his at-bats, they’re largely non-competitive. Like Sanó, Alonso’s raw power is undeniable. However, he’s now hitting just .208 with six home runs and a 27% strikeout rate. Just like Sanó, Alonso is simply a guess hitter who lucks into home runs when he makes contact. For further evidence of that phenomenon, here’s the list of pitchers off whom he has hit a home run this year: Ryne Harper, Justin Shafer, Josh D. Smith, Jeffrey Springs, Daniel Castano, and Chad Green. Although he could, like Votto, easily hit three home runs over his next four games, I would still worry that they were the product of fortunate guesses on meatballs rather than a sustainable change in approach. The raw power keeps Alonso in the top-25, but the approach (or lack thereof) limits his ceiling.
Josh Bell, too, looks like a lost cause. He’s hitting .205 with only four homers, and his strikeout rate has increased over 50% from 19.2% last year to 30.3% now, supported by a 16.6% swinging-strike rate. Bell fit the pieces together as recently as last year, but his first half to 2019 is looking more and more like the outlier. I’ve moved Bell to 25 accordingly just behind J.D. Davis.
Gio Urshela has similarly been slumping, though not to the same degree as Bell or Alonso. If there weren’t so many names I needed to push up the list, I probably wouldn’t have pushed Urshela down so far to 32. Indeed, as recently as last night Urshela hit another home run (though one of the inside-the-park variety). Nonetheless, I think he fits better around names like Dominic Smith, Kyle Seager, and Kris Bryant than Donaldson or Hoskins. Speaking of Bryant — I’ve moved him down to 34. In the preseason, I wrote about why I was completely out on him, and everything I said there has come to fruition. Even when healthy, Bryant has hit just .191 with two home runs. That’s fueled by a pulled-fly-ball-centric approach backed by very little raw power. The result? A lot of low BABIP balls in play and few home runs. As it stands, his barrel rate sits at an anemic 6.3%.
I had previously left Carlos Santana in the top-25 given his fantastic plate discipline (33 walks to 28 strikeouts). And that does give me hope for Cleveland’s first baseman. Still, with a .211 AVG and four homers, Santana just hasn’t been getting it done. He has a fantastic .380 OBP, but he has also shown in the past that he can simultaneously be an exceptional real-life baseball player and a lackluster fantasy option. So while I like what I see under the hood, I think the reality is that he might be better ranked at 37 than 22.
Like Santana, Brian Anderson has been fine, but a .223 AVG with five home runs isn’t what you expected when you drafted him and I’ve therefore dropped him to 42. He also just doesn’t hit the ball very hard, as evidenced by a 42nd-percentile barrel rate and 23rd-percentile exit velocity. Not exactly inspiring stuff. Tommy Edman similarly falls to 43 given his one home run and one stolen base on the season. He’s hitting .274, but he could be in danger of losing his green light as he’s been caught stealing twice already. Both of these guys also play in large ballparks, further capping their offensive ceilings.
And, finally, Jesús Aguilar has hit a grand total of zero home runs since the last edition of these rankings. He’s hitting for average, but his static play caused him to fall to 45 to make room for more exciting names like Dominic Smith, Dalbec, and Bohm. Conversely, Edwin Encarnación has basically only hit for power this season. He has six home runs and a .167 AVG — not far off from Alonso’s season line — forcing me to move him down to 46. Unless his age has finally caught up to him, I don’t really expect Encarnacion to hit under the Mendoza line the rest of the way. But you certainly can’t expect anything higher than a .240 AVG.