Late Round Infield Impact Options

Good morning, good afternoon, or good evening – whichever is applicable to you. You are hitting the road for a weekend getaway; naturally your first stop is at the local convenient store to grab a couple of beverages and some munchies for the road. What should be a three-minute excursion turns into a 10 minute front row seat for the over indulgent lottery player.

We’ve all seen them, the defeat is ingrained upon their face as they attempt to analytically assess the path to lottery success. I have been witness to “What number is that ticket on?”and “Do you have any between the numbers 70-85?” more times than I care to remember. After their moment in the sun has concluded, you step to the counter and happily pay for your items. Before you lies the remnants of failed lottery tickets, and as you exit the burned up cigarette upon the Entry/Exit door ledge serves as a reminder of the time that was lost.

As a fantasy player I’ve become overexposed to players to some degree. From league only, to deep-deep mixed, I have been forced to have at least a cliff notes profile on 800 players or so. During this offseason I’ve covered some late game options for OF, reviewed late game Catchers, and previewed some intriguing late game SP options a couple of weeks ago. Having missed out on IF up to this point, I wanted to take a look around to see what late game infielders could provide real value.

For the purpose of this posting I focused my efforts on players being drafted beyond the t0p-300 in NFBC drafts. These players may not have much to offer on the surface, but in the not so distant past they have shown enough at some point to suggest there is something worth grabbing on to.

First Base

Kennys Vargas – I have written for Fantasy Assembly for over a year now. During that span I’m not sure there’s a player I’ve covered more than Vargas. As the Ides of March come to pass it appears Vargas has positioned himself as the DH to begin the season.

There’s plenty of swing and miss in his bat but, his minor league track record would suggest a good walk rate is to come. Once the plate discipline is honed, look for that 6’5″/275 LB man-child to find his power stroke. Finding 30 home run potential at 436 overall and 30th among first basemen will provide you with a big steep ahead of your competition.

AJ Reed – The Astros roster could be the deepest in baseball from a talent level standpoint. Despite the wealth of talent, I still find myself questioning how well the pieces fit. At this point in time it would appear Reed is “competing” against Yulieski Gurriel for the starting first base job. Given the contract commitment to Gurriel, the only thing Reed is competing with is an injury to Gurriel or a corner outfielder.

It certainly is concerning to see Reed’s plate discipline erode a little more at each level. Still, he projects to be a 30 home run type bat, and even with the increased strikeout rate he should have a .250-.260 batting average floor. At 35th among first basemen and 486th overall, the chance of playing time opening up makes this speculative add worth it with two weeks of spring training yet to be played.

Steve Pearce – Like Reed, Pearce would seem to be a platoon option at best at this point. Unlike Reed, there are several paths to playing time for Pearce. Devon Travis and health have gotten along as well as me and Mrs. Coleman; Ezequiel Carrera offers no intrigue; Jose Bautista + OF + Turf= DL Stint, and Justin Smoak is… Justin Smoak.

Any of those scenarios could result in a 500+ plate appearance season for Pearce, and with that would come 20-25 home runs and enough contact to keep the batting average in the .260-.270 range even with the exposure to RH pitching. With more than two weeks left for the other shoe to fall, Pearce is certainly a guy to target and stash at 26th among first basemen and 398th overall.

Second Base

Joe Panik – Panik was one of two hitters to walk more than strikeout among league qualifiers last season. All that plate discipline and contact was rewarded with a .245 BABIP – nearly 95 points behind his 2015 total. Aside from a little less hard contact, Panik was in line with his career totals as he continued to spread the ball across the diamond. His 20.7% Soft contact was below his career norm, and an ever so slight uptick in fly ball rate helped Panik get his first double-digit home run season.

If his career BABIP of .298 returns you could be looking at another .285+ batting average season. Pair that with his solid walk rate and you could be looking at a .375 OBP option who could prompt a move up the lineup. DJ LeMahieu is going 10th among second basemen and 87th overall – with a mirroring skill set I’d much rather have Panik at 24th among second basemen and 316th overall.

Kolten Wong – It’s quite possible that Kolten Wong’s disappointment stems solely from the fact we overrated him to begin with. Since 2013 in AAA when Wong hit .303 with 10 home runs and 20 stolen bases, he has only shown glimpses of hope. He swiped 20 bags in 2014 but hit .249, and 2015 featured a career high .262 average but netted a mere 11 home runs and 15 steals over 150 games played. Yet, once again, I will target Wong for a potential breakout.

A big gain in walk rate last season has him on the door of a double-digit walk rate. Paired with last season decrease in K’s and Wong is inching toward a volume contact player. Perhaps the additional contact can be benefited by the three-year decline in soft contact and three-year improvement in pull rate.

A .270 average with 14 homers and 15 steals won’t win you a league, but it is likely to be an upgrade over the likes of Jedd Gyorko, Josh Harrison, and Brandon Phillips. At 25th among second basemen and 328th Overall, evidently few others share my optimism.

Joey Wendle – Offers the same speed/power skill set as Wong, but recent results have been more promising. Wendle failed to wow anyone in his 28 game debut last season, but he also held his own. His 104 plate appearance cameo produced a 5.8% BB rate and a 15.4% K-rate, both improvements over his AAA marks from last season. Over the last two minor league seasons, Wendle has produced a total of 22 home runs and 26 stolen bases.

Rosterresource.com currently has Wendle destined for a AAA repeat, but with only Jed Lowrie and Adam Rosales standing in his way, you can’t help but to feel optimistic. At 42nd among second basemen and 640th overall, Wendle is better served as league only material at this point. That will all change once the flag goes up on the annual Jed Lowrie DL clock.




Third Base

Travis Shaw – Shaw finally got his first extended look at full-time work in 2016. After 145 Games and 530 PA, Shaw’s accomplishments earned him a ticket out-of-town. In today’s game, a 16 home run corner infielder with an OBP a shade over .300 doesn’t have much appeal to a contender. The Brewers, however, see a 26-year-old former prospect who has yet to establish himself as a failure.

Doesn’t the script sound somewhat familiar? Anyone recall Jonathan Villar from 2016? Being in rebuild mode affords teams, such as the Brewers, the luxury of extracting all the value they can from these project types. Best case scenario would have Shaw returning to the double-digit walk rate he produced from 2011 to 2014 as he was rising through the Sox system. More patience would lead to improved Swing rates and ultimately more contact. The additional contact will feed into his 44% career fly ball rate putting 25 home runs in play.

Last season Shaw was five for six on stolen base attempts and he managed to swipe seven bags in both 2014 and 2013. As a team the Brewers ran away with the number one ranking swiping 42 more bags than the runner-up. At 26th among third basemen and 310 overall, Shaw has the potential for a .260 average with 25 home runs, 10 steals, and 160 combined runs and RBIs.

Martin Prado – When I brainstormed player targets for this posting, Prado was the first name that came to mind for third base. Naturally in the background I hear the play-by-play of Prado pulling up lame during WBC action on Wednesday. So as I am typing this, Prado is scheduled for an MRI on Saturday.

Assuming a clean bill of health, Prado can be expected to hit near the top of the Marlins lineup. Assuming Prado hits 2nd, he will find himself hitting behind Dee Gordon, the 47th overall player in NFBC drafts. Hitting behind him will be Christian Yelich (59th), Giancarlo Stanton (38th), and Marcell Ozuna (181). Prado has hit above .280 in each of the last five seasons; his lowest OBP during that span was a .321 mark in 2014.

Prado’s value is that of a compiler. Good health could net him 630 PA. Combine the OBP and that lineup and you could be looking at 170 combined runs and RBIs from a player being drafted as the 29th third baseman off the board and 338th overall.

Pablo Sandoval – I find it impossible to quit the Panda. In 2015 I told everyone within a 50 mile radius that Panda would thrive in the Boston market and become a cult hero of sorts. After hitting .245 with 10 home runs in 126 games I was done – all my years of support and this is what he gave me! No thank you Mr. Sandoval.

As 2016 approached, his ADP was the equivalent of his 2015 with a 10% reduction in numbers. So there I was urging readers to buy in one more time. Three games and 7 plate appearances later, Sandoval once again proved that it could always be worse. So here I am, once again, suggesting Sandoval’s value potential at 30th among third basemen and 362nd overall has potential for value.

I don’t care what he weights, and I don’t care what he looks like in a form-fitting shirt. Give me 140 games with a GB/FB rate of 1.15 and maintain the respectable contact rates. If Sandoval can check all three of those boxes, a .275 batting average with 15 home runs and 165 run+RBIs could be a conservative projection.

Shortstop

Tyler Saladino – The release of Brett Lawrie gives Saladino the keys to the keystone to begin the 2017 season. While most have begun the Yoan Moncada countdown, I’m more excited about what Saladino could offer for 2017. Over his minor league career, Saladino has shown a good plate approach with an improving K% as he rose up in levels. Saladino’s ground ball profile will make his average somewhat BABIP dependent as well as capping his power. Still, Saladino’s speed should lead to a favorable BABIP, and his natural power can generate double-digit home runs if given an extended look.

In 573 career plate appearances, Saladino has 19 career stolen bases in 26 attempts. With a team that could struggle to score runs at times I would imagine that Saladino will be given a green light rather often. With 25 or more steals in three minor league seasons, 25 stolen bases would seem to be obtainable. Saladino’s ADP is skewed  because of the Lawrie release, but as of this posting Saladino is the 27th shortstop off the board and 426th overall. Even if he manages to hit .240, 12 homers and 25 steals would produce some nice value.

Johnny Peralta –  About a month ago I wrote about my lack of faith in Jedd Gyorko as a starter. If ADP is the voice of the public, Johnny Peralta is clearly the odd man out of the Cardinals infield. At 30th among shortstops and 458th overall, the injury riddled 2016 quickly erased those 38 home runs between 2014 and 2015 from perspective owners memory banks. While Peralta’s 2016 will be classified as a disappointment, his 8 home runs in 313 plate appearances were right in line with his recent home run pace.

A slight decrease in walks occurred last season, but it did not come at the expense of his K% which remained below his career mark of 19.8%.  Peralta’s skill set isn’t as appealing now as it was before Freddy Galvis was hitting 20 home runs. What happens if the overall power surge from 2016 is short-lived? In 2016, Perlata’s 17 home runs from 2015 would have ranked 14th among shortstops – in 2015 that total was good for the 3rd best mark at the position.

Matt Duffy – At 331st overall, Duffy has been targeted primarily as bench depth thus far – and rightfully so. Duffy’s “breakout” rookie season was more a product of volume. That type of profile works, but when you appear in only 91 games the numbers look much less appealing. The near 40 point drop in batting average was the biggest concern for his future outlook. A ground ball lean and mid-low 80’s contact rate leave you susceptible to BABIP fluctuations; it’s just the reality of these type of players. Duffy posted a .336 BABIP in 2015; that total dropped to .290 in 2016.

The Rays seem committed to given Duffy an extended run at shortstop this season, so barring an injury I fully expect he will be a 145 game player once again. Take that volume, mix in some BABIP fortunes and a high dose of contact, and you could be looking at a .285 hitter with double-digit pop and 15 stolen base potential.

*****

Every day someone in this country is awarded with a financial windfall thanks to the lottery. It is this very hope that keeps Mary/Marv coming back to the local convenient store on a day-to-day basis. It is also this reason that you get the occasional urge to by just one ticket.

As fantasy owners so much stock and emphasis is put into the top levels of the draft/auction. In reality more and more leagues are determined by both the quantity and quality of late game or waiver wire impacts. Unlike Mary/Marv, we are not left blindly pursuing a predetermined result. With proper analytics and a small dose of luck, our league winning ticket is just one end game breakout away.

 

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Josh Coleman
Father of four SP1 children. Replacement level husband to a top tier wife. I love my family, value my friendships, and spend as much time as possible (too much according to the aforementioned Mrs. Coleman) dedicated to the pursuit, of another Fantasy Championship. I'm the oddball at the bar who prefers Fantasy Baseball to Fantasy Football.
Josh Coleman

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