Digging for Diamonds: 2016-17 Post-Hype Middle Infielders

For those who do not know me, I have had the pleasure of writing for The Dynasty Guru for a little over a month now. I am doing a series on sleepers, breakouts, and post-hype candidates at each of the main prospect positions (catchers, middle infielders, corner infielders, center fielders, corner outfieldersstarting pitchers, and relief pitchers). Here are some quick links to the posts that have already been published:

Nov. 28: Post-Hype Catchers, Dec. 5: Sleeper Catching Prospects, and Dec. 12: Breakout Catching Prospects

Here are five middle-infielders who could rediscover their prospect shine from years past by taking advantage of the opportunities they should be given in the upcoming season to become cornerstones of your future dynasty.

Jurickson Profar, 24, Rangers: As a former Rangers fan, it hurts to even type his name now, and with his injury luck, he probably just now got hurt as you are reading this. I am listing the Rangers super-utility player here because he played 19 games at second and 11 at short in 2016, and he played short or second in all of his 373 career minor league games. We are talking about the former number one prospect in all of baseball here. He has underwhelmed so far in his 648 Major League plate attempts, but a lot of that can be attributed to being slow to recover from tough injuries (and sometimes playing through them) and being shuffled around the diamond/lineup. If he can be handed a consistent every-day job at a single position (probably 1B for this year), I believe he can finally capitalize on that tantalizing ability he has not only shown throughout his minor league career, but during flashes in the Majors as well. He probably has the most name value on this list, and maybe my former fanhood is blinding me of true reality, but I would invest heavily in Profar this offseason. It may be your last chance to do so, as he has all the ingredients for a breakout.

Kolten Wong, 26, Cardinals: After making steady improvements in 2015, the Cardinals felt they had their second basemen of the future and locked him up to a five-year, $25.5M deal before the 2016 season. Wong did not deliver in 2016, even getting demoted to AAA for seven games, and it was beginning to look like the Cards had made a bad investment (for once). However, a closer look into his profile for the upcoming season reveals a few positive indicators that he can be a successful second basemen for the Cardinals, and perhaps your fantasy team. For one, he had the lowest K-rate (14.4%) and the highest walk-rate (9.4%) of his career (15.7 K%, 6.4 BB%), and he used his average power and speed to hit five homers and steal seven bases in 361 plate attempts, adding four more homers and another steal in just 34 AAA plate attempts. The Cardinals have already said that he is expected to be their primary option at second this year, and considering the signing of Dexter Fowler to take over in center (a position that the Cardinals have been experimenting with for Wong), I would not call that bluff. He does not have the upside of Profar, but for dynasty owners, he appears to be the better long-term option as a middle infielder to build on, as Profar may wind up the Rangers everyday first basemen if Gallo is not the answer there. The Rangers fan in me wants Ryan Rua to get it and to trade Gallo and Andrus. But I digress…

Dilson Herrera, 23, Reds: Do not judge him by what he has been traded for in real life (he and Vic Black were traded for Marlon Byrd and John Buck back in 2013, then he and Max Wotell got moved for Jay Bruce in August); Herrera is someone who has needed a chance for a long time. He is a former top-50 prospect and is finally on a team that can give him a real opportunity. When, not if, Brandon Phillips gets traded, I have to think the job belongs to him, as there is simply nothing left for him to prove in the minors (.298/.362/.468 in 2168 ABs). He definitely has the glove to stay at second for the majority of his career (and could probably even fill-in at short if he needed to), and his bat reminds me of Ian Kinsler’s, not to throw any reckless comps out there. We are two years removed from his magical 2014 season, but that does not mean there is not a ton of value to be had here. There was a bandwagon for him once, and I believe that needs to be rekindled. Free Dilson Herrera!

Arismendy Alcantara, 25, Reds: No, I have not ditched my Rangers fanhood to become a Reds fan, but I do like of some of their recent moves, starting with their October claim of former Cubs and A’s middle-infielder Arismendy Alcantara. Alcantara’s stock has fallen drastically, from Top-100 prospect to Chris Coghlan-equivalent to waiver-waiver fodder in just two years’ time. It is not hard to see why, as a 32% K-rate in 350 Major League plate appearances can do that to a guy. However, he has never struck out that much in the minors (22% back in his breakout 2013 season in AA), and guys have shown they can be successful in the Majors even with a strikeout rate that high. Miguel Sano, Chris Davis, Trevor Story, Chris Carter, Tyler Naquin, Brandon Moss, Mike Napoli, Franklin Gutierrez, and Ryan Schimpf all put up better-than-average offensive numbers with strikeout-rates above 30% this season, all in over 250 at-bat sample sizes as well. Alcantara may not have quite the same over-the-fence power that most of those other names have, but he put up a .180 ISO in that breakout 2013 and followed it up with an impressive .230 mark in AAA the next year, before floundering in his Major League debut. He has always had impressive speed (152 career steals), and at this point, he looks to begin the 2017 season as the Reds’ Opening Day super-utility player, capable at playing second, short, or any of the outfield spots. I could also envision a scenario where he is given a shot at the everyday job at second if Phillips gets traded and the team wants to leave the aforementioned Herrera in the minors still (please God, no!).  Not to get crazy with the comps, but I remember back in 2013, he was being looked at as someone similar to Starling Marte. Even a Starling Marte-lite is incredibly valuable, particularly as a middle infielder. I would exhibit some patience before investing too heavily, but he could probably come for very cheap right now.

Nick Franklin, 26, Rays: A three-time Top 100 prospect, peaking at 53 way back in 2011, this former 2009 1st-rounder is more like a post-post-hyper. However, guys can still figure things out at age 26 or later, and in Franklin’s case, he could be an interesting super-utility man for the Rays, much like Alcantara could be for the Reds. Franklin was everywhere last year, playing his usual second base in AAA but mostly left field for the Rays. Right now, Roster Resource has him as the Rays projected DH to start 2017, but much like their Profar pick for first base, I just don’t buy it. He had a respectable 103 wRC+ in AAA and an even more respectable 110 mark in his 191 Major League plate attempts. Much like Alcantara, his glove is solid, he strikes out a bit too much, walks a decent amount but not as much as you would like, and has a decent amount of power and speed. He is probably the cheapest guy on this list, especially if his owner in your league has owned him since 2009. Guys like Franklin are incredibly frustrating but can provide a lot of value if they finally figure things out. Patience can be your best friend.

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6 comments on “Digging for Diamonds: 2016-17 Post-Hype Middle Infielders

  1. […] digs for diamonds, discussing the future prospects of some post-hype middle infielders including Jurickson Profar and Kolten […]

  2. Nice piece Ryne. Agree with most of it and I think you make some interesting points on Profar and Franklin, one of whom (Franklin) is free agent/waiver wire available in my league. However, you do seem to believe that Herrera or Alcantara has a shot at the 2B job in Cincy but fail to mention Jose Peraza as next in line. I think the Reds give Peraza the full-time job at 2B, especially after what he did last season. I’m not sure how that effects Herrera and Alcantara other than to leave them in the utility role that Peraza was in this past year.

    • Ryne Alber says:

      Thanks Matthew! Good point on Peraza. I didn’t necessarily forget about him, but I think the team plans on using him in the outfield for now and is perhaps their future shortstop if they trade Cozart (which they should). But I could easily envision a scenario where he is their full-time job at 2nd, but I could just as easily see him playing everywhere until Cozart gets moved. Will be fun to see how their squad looks a year or two from now.

      Still holding out on Pham!! You could easily be right about him as well.

      Thanks for reading as always, take care and Merry Christmas!

      • Yeah, I can see Peraza again in the outfield. I guess I just thought they preferred him up the middle somewhere. Yeah, once Cozart goes, Peraza is definitely going to get a crack at shortstop. There’s really so much going on in Cincy it’s hard to know who is going to end up where, which makes taking a shot on Herrera or Alcantara worthwhile. Unfortunately for me, I traded Herrera two years ago (I got Alex Reyes in return so I’m good).

        As for Pham, I had forgotten about that LOL, But I think he’s back to a utility role. Fowler takes over in CF now and Grichuk moves to LF. That leaves Pham watching from the dugout.

        Hey, Merry Christmas to you, too! Good stuff. Keep it up.

        • Ryne Alber says:

          Always nice to connect with my readers! I’ve found that the rebuilding teams are always the best places to look for future fantasy investments; they often provide opportunities for guys that wouldn’t normally get looks elsewhere. Places like Cincy, and Detroit, and Milwaukee(and perhaps even KC, given all the guys about to reach FA next year) are the places to look for the next breakout.

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