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 outfielders, starting pitchers, and relief pitchers). Here are some quick links to the posts that have already been published:
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.