To remind everyone: These rankings are based on position eligibility. Players who are eligible at multiple positions will be ranked in comparison with others at each relevant position. You will also note asterisks next to the names of certain players. These indicate health risks. Health concerns have been taken into consideration, as have expected talent and expected playing time to yield expected production.
Position eligibility and evaluation criteria for these rankings are explained here.
For both the middle infielder (MI) and corner infielder (CI) rankings, I omitted the top 12 players at first base, second base, shortstop and third base. I assume that the top 12 players by position will likely be drafted in most leagues for their primary position. Tsuyoshi Nishioka, the Japanese batting champion signed this month by the Twins, also has been omitted from my middle infielders ranking (like my second base ranking) because I know nothing about him or projecting Japanese league players. Rank him as you feel appropriate.
Rank Name Team Oliver Slash (2011)**
1 Brian Roberts* Orioles .274/.349/.408
2 Dustin Ackley Mariners .287/.378/.435
3 Neil Walker Pirates .251/.301/.422
4 Chone Figgins Mariners .263/.353/.320
5 Ryan Raburn Tigers .270/.333/.465
6 Howie Kendrick Angels .280/.318/.414
7 Mike Aviles* Royals .276/.307/.398
8 Danny Espinosa Nationals .241/.312/.403
9 Ian Desmond Nationals .261/.312/.399
10 Eric Young Jr. Rockies .238/.316/.313
11 Erick Aybar* Angels .267/.314/.358
12 Cliff Pennington Athletics .237/.322/.328
13 Miguel Tejada Giants .268/.302/.378
14 Alcides Escobar Royals .267/.310/.357
15 J.J. Hardy* Orioles .251/.313/.395
16 Jhonny Peralta Tigers .256/.315/.408
17 Yunel Escobar Blue Jays .273/.245/.374
18 Reid Brignac Rays .249/.297/.374
19 Juan Uribe Dodgers .258/.308/.432
20 Marco Scutaro Red Sox .256/.315/.408
*Assuming health (which means assuming the amount of health I expect from them).
**Oliver's 2011 projections have been updated. Most of the projections are essentially similar, but for the most up to date projections, subscribe to THT Forecasts by clicking here. If you are unsure of whether to subscribe to THT Forecasts, you can read about why I love THT Forecasts by clicking here
Noting that 16 of the 20 names on this list are repeats from the bottom 40 percent of the second base and shortstop rankings, the shallowness of the middle infield becomes apparent. As with his second base ranking, I love Dustin Ackley but doubt he will get called up to the majors before May. His ranking here is solely based on total value due to playing time; I view Ackley as a top 10 second basemen once he gets called up to the majors.
Brian Roberts, Neil Walker and Chone Figgins are solid MI plays with upside, while Howie Kendrick and Mike Aviles are "safe" plays with minimal up or downside, offering all-around light contributions to every category sans RBI.
Given their heavy diet of strikeouts, Ryan Raburn and Danny Espinosa are high upside, moderate downside risks on this list. Both are capable of 20 home runs and double-digit stolen bases. Raburn's proven more in the majors and is likely less of a batting average risk, but Espinosa is undoubtedly more balanced. Espinosa might also get better lineup slotting, though the Tigers seemed to like Raburn's bat down the stretch last season. Both are quality $1 fliers in auction leagues and solid end-of-draft picks in snake drafts.
This list also includes four new names: Yunel Escobar, Reid Brignac, Juan Uribe and Marco Scutaro. Outside an AL or NL only league, there is no reason any of these guys should even be on anyone's bench in 2011. They, along with Miguel Tejada and J.J. Hardy, are either on the wrong side of 30, the wrong side of being talented, or, in the case of Scutaro, both.
Considering that defensive ability is not a fantasy category, the retro movement toward athleticism has bled the middle infield dry of fantasy assets.
Rank Name Team Oliver Slash (2011)**
1 Kendry Morales* Angels .289/.335/.510
2 Pedro Alvarez Pirates .245/.330/.460
3 Lance Berkman* Cardinals .262/.374/.443
4 Paul Konerko White Sox .266/.345/.455
5 Michael Young Rangers .277/.328/.419
6 Ian Stewart Rockies .234/.321/.441
7 David Freese Cardinals .262/.322/.413
8 Casey McGehee Brewers .273/.325/.426
9 Buster Posey Giants .300/.376/.480
10 Mike Napoli Angels .257/.338/.507
11 Aubrey Huff Giants .265/.339/.448
12 Ike Davis Mets .260/.335/.441
13 Derrek Lee Cubs .257/.339/.421
14 Gaby Sanchez Marlins .271/.336/.437
15 Chipper Jones* Braves .263/.373/.415
16 Scott Rolen* Reds .271/.343/.413
17 Chase Headly Padres .264/.333/.403
18 Michael Cuddyer Twins .270/.340/.449
19 Russell Branyan* FA .248/.330/.484
20 Chris Carter Athletics .250/.339/.489
*Assuming health (which means assuming the amount of health I expect from them), being tendered a contract.
**Again, Oliver's 2011 projections have been updated from these figures.
Unlike the middle infield, there is plenty of fantasy value to be found in the corners. Morales is overrated in my view, but he's a top-tier corner infield option as a not-top-12 first baseman... at least if he does not get drafted in the fifth round again this year...
As I noted in my first base rankings and in the 2010 preseason, first base is as deep as it gets in fantasy baseball. Accordingly, even most of the residual first basemen are better than even the best of the not-top-12 third basemen. Outside of David Ortiz, Vladimir Guerrero and Hideki Matsui, I imagine that most utility players will come from first base (with some coming from the outfield corners).
I love Chris Carter as a cheap Adam Dunn-type, but the A's have given no indication of how they plan on using him next season. Given Daric Barton's slick glove at first, the recent signing of Matsui and the trend towards athleticism with the A's, Carter is currently blocked and jobless for 2011. If the A's give him regular playing time, however, Carter instantly jumps ahead of Michael Young in my corner infield rankings.
I really like Ike Davis and I've swapped him for Derek Lee on my top 20 first basemen rankings, but I still have not been able to convince myself to rank him higher. Davis does not seem likely to hit more than 25 home runs. I view him most akin to a cheap version of Morales.
As I noted in my third base rankings, Chase Headley offers 15/15 upside and could make a solid $1 CI buy for deeper leagues, but, at 26, he's not done much so far and he is now three years removed from being a "top prospect."
Headly is not worth a starting third base job outside of NL-only fantasy rosters, but he might make a solid late-game gamble.
On a final note, I have updated my first base, second base, shortstop and third base rankings since their initial posting. Feel free to review them. As always, leave the love/hate in the comments.
Jeffrey Gross is a 23-year old law student (and Cubs fan) who currently resides in Madison, WI. In addition to writing for The Hardball Times, he currently writes baseball analysis for the Game Of Inches blog under the pseudonym David "MVP" Eckstein and has previously worked for The Daily Illini and Northern Star newspapers as a film critic and sportswriter (respectively). You can reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
or by comment at http://www.gameofinches.blogspot.com
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