2014 Fantasy Baseball: Infield Sleepers
Shawn Childs, High Stakes Fantasy Baseball Winner and Contributor from scoutPRO.com is helping FFToolbox readers dominate their fantasy baseball leagues this season.
Jonathan Schoop is the future 2nd baseman for the Orioles. He missed half of the 2013 with a stress fracture in his lower back. He showed upside in the minors in 2011 (.290 with 13 HR's, 71 RBI, and 12 SB's), but injuries over the last 2 seasons have limited his at bats and production. His K rate (15.3 %) is respectable in the minors, but he doesn't take many walks (7.8 %). Schoop has talent, but he needs to prove him can handle major league pitching. He will compete with Jemile Weeks and Ryan Flaherty for the starting 2B job. Possible upside down the road, but he appears to need more time to develop before he make a fantasy impact.
Boston called up Xander Bogaerts on August 20th last season. He had part time at bats (44) over the last 6 weeks of the season. Xander hit .250 with 1 HR in 5 RBI in the regular season. The Red Sox played him in all 6 games in the World Series at 3B due to his value with the glove. With Stephen Drew no longer on the roster, Boaerts is expected to be the starting shortstop this season. He has shown 20 HR power in the minors with an improving approach at the plate (12.2 % walk rate in 2013). His K rate (19.0 %) was about the major league average in his minor league career. With full time at bats with Boston, his K rate will most likely rise. In his 71 at bats in the regular season and the playoffs, Bogaerts had 21 K's (25 % K rate) and 11 walks (13.1 %). Xander will be an intriguing young player in 2014. With no changes to the Red Sox roster on the left side of the infield, he should get 500+ at bats. I expect 20+ HR's in his first full season and Bogaerts will be one of the early favorites for rookie of the year. I'd set then bar around .265 in batting average. His talent suggests he has upside in this area with more experience.
Wil Middlebrooks was a bust in 2013. He was expect to make a nice step forward after a nice 2nd half run in 2012. His lack of approach at the plate (26.2 % - K rate and 5.4 % - BB rate) was flashing like a beacon on the night, but fantasy players were sucked in by his upside in power. His lack of contact led to a stint in AAA (.327 with 10 HR's and 35 RBI in 179 at bats). He made much better contact at AAA (19.4 % K rate), but his high career strikeout rate in the minors (25.6 %) suggests he will have more growing pains in the near future. He is expected to being the starting 3rd baseman for the Sox with Bogaerts moving to short. Xander was a much better player in the playoffs with the bat and the glove. As long as Boston doesn't bring Stephen Drew back, Middlebrooks should get full time at bats. He has 30+ HR power with batting average risk. He has no real upside in speed and he barely takes a free pass. I see 25 HR's with 80+ RBI, but he may hit under .250.
Dioner Navarro was expected to have some upside earlier in his career, but he hit his way out of the league in 2011 (.193). After a couple of injuries in Cinci in 2012, he was able to get back to the majors where he did enough to earn a back role for the Cubs in 2013. Last year Dioner gave Chicago 240 very good at bats (.290 with 13 HR's and 34 RBI). Navarro hit over .300 in 4 months last season and he hit .319 over the last 5 months of the year. He handled himself well against LH pitching in limited at bats (.361 with 6 HR's in 66 at bats). Last year he had a smokin high HR/FB rate (18.8 %), but he had a low FB rate (33.7 %). His K rate (13.5 %) was in line with his career resume. His walk rate (8.7 %) showed more upside earlier in his career. If his power is for real, he could be a sneaky play as a C2. I expect him be an edge in batting average and he has a chance to hit 15 HR's if he can get 400+ at bats.
The Tigers cleared the door for Nick Castellanos in the offseason. He played a successful season at AAA where his approach at the plate showed improvement (K rate - 16.8 % and BB rate - 9.1 %). Nick is career .303 hitter in the minors. His swing is built to hit the ball to all fields so his upside in power is limited in his rookie season. In a way, his path is similar to Miguel Cabrera. Cabrera didn't show plus power in the minors and he only had a .286 career batting average. Castellanos has power to right center so he will have upside in HR's down the road. Nick is a talent player with upside in batting average when he gets some major league experience. From a fantasy prospective, he may fall short of expectations in 2014. I see him as a nice value player in an AL only league. I'd draft him thinking 15/60 with a neutral batting average.
Mike Moustakas may have been the caption of the YOU SUCK award in 2013. The Royals wheeled him out day in and day out and he came up empty more times than Charlie Sheen on a bad tear. He crushed many teams for me last year as I rode him into the ground. His K rate (16.2 %) improved from 2012 (20.2 %). His walk rate (6.2 %) is below the league average. Moustakas was brutal against lefties (.196 with 2 HR's and 10 RBI in 107 at bats). Over the first 3 months of the year, he only hit .215 with 5 HR's and 15 RBI. At no point in the season did he look like a major league ready hitter. Moustakas was a .282 career hitter in the minors with 84 HR's and 335 RBI in 1736 at bats. He has 25+ HR power with a strong enough approach to have upside in batting average in the future. Mike is a FB hitter (44.5 % in 2013 and 45.7 % in his career). His HR/FB rate (6.9 %) was very low last year. His major league resume will scare you to death on draft day, but there is a shining star with upside power hidden in his skill set. Of all the Royal's possible power hitters, Moustakas has the best stroke for upside power. One deep breath and two Hail Mary's and your prayers may be answered.
Last year Jonathan Singleton was suspended for 50 games for testing positive for marijuana. He played well in 2012 at AA (.284 with 21 HR's and 79 RBI) and it appeared he was ready to make the majors last season after some time at AAA. His season didn't start until June and he struggled when he was at AAA (.220 with 6 HR's and 31 RBI in 245 at bats). His K rate (30.3 %) was brutal at AAA, but it is 22.3 % in his minor league career. His walk rate (14.7 %) has been elite in his career. Singleton is a nice prospect, but he doesn't look like an elite player. His biggest competition for at bats in the majors is Brett Wallace so the bar isn't set too high. I banking on Singleton winning the job out of spring training.
Brad Miller outplayed Franklin last season in the majors. He was a better run scorer (39 %) and run producer (17 %). His K rate was a respectable 15.5 %, but his walk rate (7.2 %) came in short of the major league average. Brad handled himself pretty well against lefties (.270), but he hit all of his HR's (8) off of RH pitching. Miller hit .334 in his minor league career with 27 HR's and 30 SB's in 867 at bats. His minor league K rate (16.1 %) was in line with his major success and he did take more walks in the minor (11.3 %), which led to a career .409 OB %. Of his 215 career games in the minors, 199 have been at shortstop. Miller has a more stable skill set at this point of his career. I expect him to be the starting SS for Seattle and he has 15/15 upside with a possible plus batting average with 550 at bats. To me, he looks like the best option to bat leadoff against RH pitching.
Jurickson Profar had a solid opportunity to have success in 2013, but he wasn't ready. Texas cleared his path for full time at bats in the offseason by sending Ian Kinsler to Detroit. Profar is a very talented player, but he lacks size at this point of his career. His batting average was only .276 in his minor league career, but he did a very good job of taking walks (11.6 %) with a low K rate (13.8 %). In the majors last year, Jurickson made less contact (19.4 % K rate) with a shorter walk rate (8.0 %). He really struggled against LH pitching (.188 with a .250 SLG %). Profar hit under .230 in each of the last 4 months of the year. Jurickson had 34 HR's and 53 SB's in his 1306 career minor league at bats. His skill set is the strongest on the Rangers to bat leadoff, but he'll need time develop. Profar is expected to be a perennial .300 hitter with possible a 20/30 skill set when he adds more strength to his frame. This year I expected to make a nice step forward where he hits double digit HR's with 20+ SB's with a neutral batting average. Possible top 15 second baseman in 2014, but he has downside risk in 4 categories.
Maikel Franco is the biggest threat to Cody Asche for playing time at 3B. He made a huge step forward in 2013 as he dominated 2 levels in the minors (.320 with 31 HR's and 103 RBI). Franco even played better at AA (.339 with 15 HR's and 51 RBI in 277 at bats). His K rate (12.0 %) was a huge plus, but he doesn't take many walks (5.2 %). Prior to last year, Maikel showed more power in batting practice than in games. He has no speed. With his high contact rate, he could move quickly to the majors if Asche stumbles. Nice bench gamble in an NL only league.
I may be a bit balsy by putting a 21 year rookie, who has never had an at bat above AA, as a middle of the order hitter for the Cubs. When the cupboard is empty, it's time invest in some new inventory. Javier Baez has the reputation of being a free swinger that can make hard contact with pitches that are off the plate. He is career .286 hitter in the minors with 53 HR's, 158 RBI, and 46 SB's in only 828 at bats. He played great at High A in 2013 (.274 with 17 HR's, 57 RBI, and 12 SB's in 299 at bats), but he was even better at AA (.294 with 20 HR's, 54 RBI, and 8 SB's). His K rate (24.0 %) will invite batting average risk as he pushes his way to the majors. His walk rate (5.9 %) is a liability as well. The only skill that Javier lacks is plate discipline. As this point of his career, he has always been better than his competition. When he reaches the majors, he'll need to be more selective or major league pitchers will never throw him a strike. I think there is no doubt he will play in the majors in 2014. Baez will either force Castro to 2nd base or he will move over to 3B. The Cubs have 3B Kris Bryant on the fast track to the majors as well so it would make the most sense just to let Javier play SS in his first season. The power is for real, but he can't make a long term impact without taking more pitches. Baez has shown speed in the minors, but he doesn't have plus speed.
Alen Hanson probably doesn't have a strong enough glove to an option at short for the Pirates in the near future. Hanson is a career .292 hitter in the minors with 28 HR's, 183 RBI, and 109 SB's in 1445 at bats. Alen will start the year at age 21. He has made 92 errors over the last 2 years. Hanson will have a 10/30 skill set with upside when he make it to the majors.
St. Louis traded away Freese to create an opportunity for Kolten Wong, but they also brought in Mark Ellis as insurance. The Cardinals gave him 59 at bats in the majors last season, but he only hit .153 with no HR's and 3 SB's. Wong hit .301 in his minor league career with 24 HR's, 122 RBI, and 50 SB's in 1129 at bats. His walk rate (8.3 %) should come in about league average while having a low K rate (12.5 %). He tends to be a GB hitter (60.9 % in his short at bats in the majors), which will restrict any upside in power early in his career. His skill set may work well batting 2nd in the Cardinals if he can handle the step up to the majors. Ellis has a solid glove and he is more than serviceable if Kolten is ready to make a step forward. It might make sense to handcuff Wong with Ellis if your team has enough bench space. Possible 30 SB upside with upside in batting average in the near future.
Arizona gave Chris Owings 55 at bats in September last season. He hit .291 with no HR's, 5 RBI, and 2 SB's. His K rate (16.4 %) came in lower than his minor league career (20.0 %). He only had a 3.5 % walk rate in his minor league career. Chris hit .291 in the minors with 47 HR's, 221 RBI, and 46 SB's in 1968 at bats. He has a potential 20/20 skill set, but his last of approach may lead to some slumps early in his career. His glove can match Gregorius, but he should be an above average shortstop so his offense may give edge in playing time for the Diamondbacks.
Josh Rutledge is good example of a young player with a short resume getting drafted at full value in 2013, but his lack of plate discipline led to him hitting his way out of the majors in late May (.242 with 5 HR's, 13 RBI, and 5 SB's in 157 at bats). He played well at AAA (.371 with 4 HR's and 24 RBI in 143 at bats), but he played even worst after he was recalled in June (.143 with 1 HR and 3 RBI in 70 at bats). His failure led to a 2nd trip to the minors. Josh played well in September in limited at bats (.328). His K rate (19.8 %) was slightly below 2012. His walk rate (7.0 %) did show some growth. Rutledge is a career .328 hitter in the minors with 26 HR's, 134 RBI, and 32 SB's in 998 at bats. He doesn't have a great approach, but his K rate is low enough where his batting average should be an asset in Colorado. I expected him to emerge as the starting second baseman for the Rockies. He has the most upside on the team at the position. His skill set isn't ideal to bat at the top of the lineup, but he may ended up being the best option if he hits well. Possible 15/20 skill set with upside across the board.
The Dodgers signed Alex Guerrero to a four year $28 million contract in October. He was a career .302 hitter in Cuba with 103 HR's, 412 RBI, and 10 SB's in 1963 at bats. His K rate (11.1 %) was very low and he even show the ability to take walks (9.3 %). Guerrero has 20 HR power with a strong enough stroke to hit the ball the other way. He is almost a lock to win the starting second baseman job for LA. Possible .270 hitter with 15 HR's and 60 RBI in his first season in the majors.