Middle infielders are not exactly a gold mine for Fantasy players, as shortstop is widely considered one of the weakest and thinnest positions in Fantasy Baseball. This season, however, there is an influx of talented middle infielders, such as Carlos Correa who is an elite option that should contribute well in every category. Other youngsters are getting hype at the position, including Corey Seager, Xander Bogaerts, and Francisco Lindor, and dominate the Top 5 picks at the position.
Second base doesn’t offer well-rounded elite options, but offers elite speed at the top of the draft in Jose Altuve and Dee Gordon. The depth of second base also shouldn’t be overlooked this season, with the likes of Neil Walker, Daniel Murphy, and Dustin Pedroia outside of the Top 12 in ADP at the position.
Popular sleepers at middle infield currently include Ketel Marte, Jonathan Schoop, Trea Turner and Trevor Story. These are names everyone will be on this season, and by the end of Spring Training, they could shoot up draft boards.
This article will focus on players who have received little hype but should return their value and then some. When looking for late round targets, I focus on two things in particular. The first is the potential to produce double-digit home runs and steals. The second is a player who has secured a high leverage place in a batting order that should produce a lot of runs.
Of course, these things are big indicators of Fantasy value, so finding them deep in the draft isn’t easy. Here are a few players I will be targeting at middle infield late in drafts in 2016.
Middle Infielders to Target
Joe Panik, 2B, San Francisco Giants (NFBC ADP: 21st at 2B, 268th overall)
Panik checks off the boxes I mentioned in the introduction. Double digit production in steals looks like a long shot considering he stole just three bases in 100 games last season. However, he has shown the ability to steal bases in the minor leagues, as he stole at least 10 bases in 2011, 2012, and 2013. With that said, an uptick from his three steals in 2015 can be expected.
The possibility for 10 home runs is strong due to the volume of plate appearances Panik is likely to see in 2016. Projecting a 7.5% HR/FB rate and 34% flyball rate on 670 plate appearances would give Panik 14 home runs on the season, all of which are very reasonable. Even if some plate appearances are taken off that projection, he will not be a zero home run contributor like many options late in drafts in the middle infield.
The lineup situation is strong for Panik, which is a major boost to his Fantasy value. Panik is penciled into the second spot in the Giants lineup, which features some combination of Buster Posey, Hunter Pence, and Brandon Belt batting behind him. Combined with his ability to get on base, he has posted strong on-base percentages throughout his career in both the major and minor leagues and has the potential to score 80 runs.
Daniel Murphy and Dustin Pedroia offer comparable profiles to Panik heading into 2016, yet he currently comes at a 100 pick discount from them. That makes him a great middle infield target late in drafts.
Marcus Semien, SS, Oakland Athletics (NFBC ADP: 13th at SS, 250th overall)
Defense is the key concern for Semien even though it doesn’t count for Fantasy purposes because it could cost him playing time. However, the A’s infield doesn’t exactly have a lot of other options as Eric Sogard is listed as his backup and Franklin Barreto won’t be called-up until late in 2016, at the earliest. That said, I’m not worried about Semien’s playing time.
A 15/15 season is well within reach for him, but his counting stats could be lacking due to both a poor A’s lineup and a poor spot in that lineup. That was illustrated to us last year as even with 15 home runs, Semien managed just 110 runs and RBIs combined.
Semien is currently slated to bat ninth in the A’s lineup, but question marks can be found throughout the lineup giving him a chance to move up in the order. If he does, a jump in counting stats will supplement some nice home run and stolen base production.
Brad Miller, SS, Tampa Bay Rays (NFBC ADP: 15th at SS, 269th overall)
Miller hasn’t lived up to the hype he got as a prospect, however, he took a step forward last year leaving us to dream for one more offseason about what he can do. Miller struggles against left-handed pitchers, which could lead to lost at-bats, but there is no obvious platoon option currently on the Rays roster.
With full time at-bats, Miller could provide sneaky power numbers as his average fly ball distance has increased each of the past three seasons. This doesn’t mean it will increase again this year, but rather shows that he has the potential for power growth.
The park and division change should also create more home run potential for his bat. According to Baseball Prospectus’ park factors, Safeco Field played fairly neutrally in the home run department for left-handed batters last season. In contrast, Tropicana Field was considered the second best home run park for left-handed batters.
Other parks Miller will frequently bat include Yankee Stadium and Camden Yards which are ranked fourth and fifth best respectively for left-handed power. It’s ambitious, but 20 home runs aren’t out of the question for Miller.
Miller’s exact role has yet to be seen with his new club, making this a riskier pick in terms of his stolen base and counting stats production. However, the potential payoff is big, especially if he can solidify a role at the top or in the middle of the revamped Rays lineup.