The middle infield is often viewed as rather top-heavy, with only the upper tiers of players worthy of targeting in your Fantasy drafts. The rest of them are added only in the interest of filling out the requisite roster. They’re kind of like one of those 24-hour diners: Not somewhere you go, but somewhere you end up.
Well, that’s a little harsh, and anyone who drafted Anthony Rendon, Neil Walker or Dee Gordon very late or added them off the waiver wire last season will tell you all you want to hear about the value to be found in the lower tiers of Fantasy infielders. Chances are very good that some diamonds in the rough are waiting for you this season, and this article will spotlight a few off-the-radar names who could be this year’s bargain-bin breakouts. Keep in mind that some of these players are potential two-category contributors at best, and those stats often come at the expense of something else. Before tabbing these or any sleeper picks, make sure to have a glance at the rest of your roster to identify areas of need.
Marcus Semien, Oakland Athletics: Semien was one of the key pieces in the trade that sent SP Jeff Samardzija to the Chicago White Sox, and he is reportedly in line to have the first shot at the A’s starting shortstop position. The 24-year-old played primarily at second and third base during his time with the White Sox, but he has logged 250 games at shortstop during his four seasons in the minors. Semien broke camp with the Chisox last spring, but was batting just .218 when he was sent back to the minors in early June. He posted a solid .267-15-52 line with seven steals in 83 games at Triple-A, and kept it rolling with a .273-3-10 showing in 22 games after being recalled in September.
Semien struck out 27.5 percent of the time last season, but he whiffed at only a 17.6 percent clip in September. He has shown a good batting eye (14.5 percent walk rate in 2014) in the minors, but that has yet to fully manifest itself at the big league level. He has also displayed plus power and decent speed, and it’s that combination that makes him an intriguing Fantasy sleeper in 2015. Semien has slugged 34 homers and swiped 31 bases over his past two minor-league campaigns, though his career batting average is a rather pedestrian .272. Accordingly, don’t expect much in the way of batting average help from Semien this season, but if he indeed wins an everyday job, he could be a surprisingly good – and cheap – source of Fantasy counting stats. Fifteen homers and double-digit stolen bases would not be out of the question. Semien is currently ranked number 320 overall, and 27th among second basemen in the Expert Consensus Rankings.
Jonathan Schoop, Baltimore Orioles: Given the scarcity of cheap Fantasy power these days, Schoop’s is a name you probably need to stash away for when your draft enters its final stages. It may surprise you to learn that only four second base-eligible players amassed more home runs than Schoop during the 2014 season. You know those names: Rendon, Dozier, Walker and Kinsler, but you may not be acquainted with the young keystone sacker from Baltimore, who clouted 28 homers and plated 108 RBIs in 205 minor-league games over the course of the 2012 and 2013 seasons. He looks to be locked in as Baltimore’s starting second baseman, and Schoop’s raw power is a rare commodity indeed among middle infielders, but…(you just knew there was going to be a “but”, didn’t you?) read on for a cautionary note.
While Schoop’s power potential is undeniable, it is tempered by his propensity to swing and miss. The 23-year-old struck out 25.4 percent of the time last season, and only six players with at least 400 plate appearances posted a lower batting average than Schoop’s .209. His career minor-league batting average is a rather lackluster .268, and he batted .256 with 55 strikeouts in 289 plate appearances while at Triple-A in 2013. To make matters worse, Schoop swings at just about anything that makes it to home plate on the fly: among players with at least 400 plate appearances, his 2.7 percent walk rate was worse than any hitter not named Ben Revere. Given his track record in the minors, there’s not much reason to expect Schoop to neither start stealing bases nor bat more than about .240 at best, but his 20-plus homer potential should still carry significant value in Fantasy leagues – and he should be available at a bargain price.
Jedd Gyorko, San Diego Padres: Gyorko was a popular “breakout” pick last spring, but by the time October rolled around, the only things broken were his Fantasy owners’ hearts. After forging a .249-23-63 line in 125 games in 2013, Gyorko spent the first two-plus months of the 2014 residing in the Uggla Zone: batting a meager .162 with five homers before landing on the DL in early June due to plantar fasciitis in his left foot. He was dropped from most Fantasy rosters and pretty much disappeared from just about everyone’s radar screens. He returned in late July, though, and looked a lot more like his 2013 edition, batting .260-5 27 in 55 games the rest of the way. A bit of napkin math gives us a projected 150-game line of .260-14-74 – which falls a bit more in line with his preseason 2014 expectations. There were definite signs of progression during his second half: Fangraphs tells us the Gyorko’s strikeout rate dropped from 25.3 percent to 19.8, his walk rate doubled from 5.4 to 10.8 percent and his line-drive rate rose from 16.6 to 27 percent.
The Padres have brought in some significant offensive upgrades this offseason, which should serve to take some of the load off Gyorko’s shoulders and should lead to him seeing more pitches to hit. Gyorko owns a .320/.386 /.529/.916 career slash line in five minor league seasons, so it’s probably not wise to chalk him off as a “bust” just yet. His power potential is real, and if Gyorko can manage close to 20 homers and a batting average north of .250 this season, he would pay fine dividends in the current power-bereft Fantasy landscape that is the draft’s latter rounds. Gyorko is currently ranked number 219 overall, and 17th among second basemen in the Expert Consensus Rankings, and he could prove to be an absolute bargain at that price.
Brett Lawrie, Oakland Athletics: Being a Brett Lawrie fan is like playing golf. Seriously, stay with me on this: You’re trudging down the 18th fairway on a miserably hot day. Your scorecard has more snowmen than Christmas Wonderland, and you’re thinking that it’s time to give up this silly game. You take a half-hearted swing at a half-buried ball towards a flag you can barely see; you catch it flush…and jar it. Two hops and down she drops. Par – you just made par, my friend. Off to the 19th hole to celebrate your greatness…and you’d better book another tee time while you’re still on a hot streak.
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Just when we’re ready to write off Lawrie and his five-category Fantasy potential, he goes out and does something that reminds us how good he can be when he’s on the field and healthy. In 2012, that “something” was a .291-8-33 line with 11 steals in the first half. The 2013 campaign saw him post .283-6-32 and seven steals in 68 games after the All-Star break – after missing time in the first half due to injuries. Last season, he set a new career standard with 12 home runs – and he did it in only 70 games. Why only 70 games? Because he suffered an oblique injury in early August (which occurred the day he returned from a fractured finger he sustained in mid-June) that again denied his Fantasy owners the opportunity to see what their man could do with a full season’s worth of at-bats. The star-crossed infielder has averaged just 100 games per year in his first three full big-league seasons, and it’s that brittle nature that has caused him to fall out of favor with Fantasy owners.
Lawrie is as fragile as they come, and even when healthy, he can be streakier than a cab driver’s windshield…but he just turned 25 years old, folks. His upside is 20 homers, 10-15 steals and about a .270 average…and that’s tough to find in your draft’s final rounds. Lawrie should be healthy for the start of Spring Training, but his full-tilt playing style figures to make him an injury risk for the foreseeable future. He was a key cog in the mega-deal that sent Josh Donaldson to Toronto, so Lawrie projects to be the A’s full-time third baseman in 2015. Lawrie recently stated that Toronto’s playing surface might have had something to do with his litany of injuries, so perhaps the move west will help him stay on the field. Have a backup plan in place of course, but Lawrie is a die worth rolling…one more time.
Be sure to catch the rest of our Fantasy Baseball sleepers here at SoCalledFantasyExperts.com
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