Digging for Diamonds: 2016-17 Sleepers Middle Infield Prospects
Here are the previous parts to the series:
I do not want to spend too much time on a long intro since there are several sleeper middle infield prospects to discuss, so let’s get to it!
Jorge Polanco, 23, Twins: I wrestled with where to place Polanco, as I am not sure he was ever really ‘hyped’ enough to be considered post-hype, but he is also much older than everyone else on my ‘breakout’ list. He has already been named the leading candidate to open Spring Training as the Twins’ starting shortstop, and if he can start hitting less fly balls, he could end up being the next surprise shortstop to help your fantasy team, similar to a “poor man’s Lindor” or “a version of Elvis Andrus who has traded off some steals for batting average points,” and the writer even goes on to suggest he could have a surprise 20-homer season some year similar to Didi Gregorius’s 2016. Polanco doesn’t have the name-value that other young shortstops around the league carry, but he may end up out-producing many shortstops drafted ahead of him. All he needs to do is to realize he isn’t Alex Rodriguez and will never be a 40-homer hitter. If he can level out his swing and start smacking line drives, look out.
Marco Hernandez, 24, Red Sox: I firmly believe that Hernandez has the ability to be a regular shortstop for some Major League team, and soon. Unfortunately, I do not see that happening as long as he is employed by the Red Sox, as Bogaerts is not going anywhere anytime soon. Acquired as the PBTNL in the Felix Doubront trade, Hernandez has always been viewed as a solid defender and a threat on the base paths, but he turned his offense to another level in 2015, hitting .305/.330/.454 between AA and AAA. He hit even better in AAA this year (.309/.343/.444). Getting his first taste of the MLB last season, Hernandez took advantage of what little playing time he was given. Appearing in 40 games, Hernandez hit .294/.357/.373. He produced a decent amount of runs (five RBI, 11 runs scored), and he showed off his great speed beating out infield singles and taking extra bases on his teammates’ hits. He has continued hitting well in Winter Ball this offseason, swatting his fourth homer the other day. He needs a change of scenery, but I always invest in talent and worry about opportunity later. It is much easier to acquire a player before he gets traded as opposed to after.
Corban Joseph, 27, Nationals: No offense to him and his family, but there is nothing ‘sexy’ about Corban Joseph. He will not garner any of the ‘ooo’s’ and ‘ahh’s’ on Draft Day. Heck, even his name puts you to sleep, but he is exactly like the type of guy who comes out of nowhere and helps you win your league. Drafted back in 2008 by the Yankees, Cor-Jo has hit well at nearly every level, particularly as 23-year-old in the International League in 2012. Unfortunately, it was not impressive enough to supplant the likes of some guys named Robinson, Derek, or Alex so he only got a 7-PA cup-of-coffee in 2013. Now 27, he is in his fourth organization as a professional and is coming off his best season as a professional, hitting .315/.369/.442 between AA and AAA. Even though I do not fully trust defensive statistics for minor leaguers yet, he has graded out as a plus defender at second. Most importantly for me and how I analyze players, Joseph had the second-best strikeout rate among all qualified AAA hitters last year. If you are kicking yourself for sleeping on Steve Pearce the past two or three seasons, do yourself a favor and get the next version of him in Joseph, as he could finally get his first real shot at the bigs this year.
Ty Kelly, 28, Mets: Kelly is now with his fifth organization since being drafted in the 13th-round back in 2009, prime ingredients for a sleeper. He played mostly second base and left field last year, but he is extremely versatile and has played every position but catcher thus far in his eight-year career. He was finally given the chance to see what he could do in the Majors last year, as there was nothing left for him to prove in the minors (career .280/.381/.380). When he was called up, he was leading all of the minor leagues in batting average (.391!) and OBP (.478!!). What I love about Kelly’s profile is his ability to *get on base* (cue Billy Beane voice), and Kelly did just that in his brief MLB debut last year. In 71 PAs, he had a 15.5BB% to go with a 12.7K%, tops among all MLB-hitters with 70 or more PAs, admittedly a small sample size. He does not have a clear shot to at bats right now, but his ability to hit, get on base, and field at a variety of position will keep him employed for a long time.
Breyvic Valera, 25, Cardinals: When I first starting following minor leaguers, he was known as “Breyvil.” Why the change from ‘Breyvil’ to Breyvic‘ you ask? Well, it’s likely there was no change. As we have seen with players like Kendrys Morales, international players’ name spellings and pronunciations sometimes can get “lost in translation,” and it can become an incredibly awkward situation. I was named after Cubbie-great Ryne Sandberg, but I got my fair share of invitations to beauty pageants as a child because they thought my name was ‘Renée.’ Whatever his name is, Mr. Valera can hit. A career .302 hitter, Valera was signed out of Venezuela back in 2010 as a NDFA. He hit .304./.363/.362 in 125 games between AA and AAA and was added to the 40-man roster for the first time this offseason, not only due to his ability to make contact, nor his Andrew Benintendi-esque BB/K ratio , but because of his amazing defensive versatility. Like Kelly, Valera has played every position but catcher, and he played 40 games at short and at second last year between AA and AAA, not to mention 20 more games in the outfield. The Cardinals are one of those organizations who always seems to churn out great hitters who come out of nowhere, and Valera could be next in line. Now that he is on the 40-man, expect to see him in the Majors, and soon.
Phillip Evans, 24, Mets: Evans is 2011 15th-rounder who played second, short, and third last season in a breakout year for AA-Binghampton. Prior to this season’s .335/.374/.485 slash, Evans had not hit better than league average since 2012. Still, he was one of the Eastern League’s best hitters this past year and was 23 until September, and he has continued his hot hitting in 19 Winter League games (.311/.386/.446). If he keeps hitting like that in AAA next season, invest, but since he went undrafted in the Rule-V, I would take a wait-and-see approach on him for now. Another name that could put you to sleep, but another guy who could end up providing you a lot of return on your investment. It will be interesting to see what position he plays as he moves up to hitter’s haven, AAA-Las Vegas.
Zach Vincej, 25, Reds: Just wanted to give a quick blurb on Vincej, given the state of the Cincinnati Reds right now. He was someone I had not heard of until he started tearing the cover off the ball in the AFL this offseason, but he had a good year in AA and from what I have read, he looks like he can handle the shortstop position at the Major League level. If Vincej keeps hitting in AAA and Cozart gets moved, he would be a wise pickup for the deep dynasty leaguer. He went unpicked both in the real Rule-V and in my 28-team league’s draft, so I think we all want to see him perform in AAA before investing, but I am always intrigued by strong performances in the Arizona Fall League.