2018 Middle Infield Prospects (Fantasy Baseball)
I scream. You scream. We all scream for prospects.
I know that doesn’t rhyme, but it’s pretty damn true, isn’t it? Sure it is. If you play fantasy baseball, and since you’re reading this article, I bet you do, there’s a 99.9% chance that you love prospects to some degree.
We think we know, but we don’t. Minor league stats are all fine and dandy, but until a prospect gets some major league experience, their true fantasy value will never be known.
For the five middle infield prospects below, there’s a good chance they’re going to find their way onto fantasy rosters at some point this season. Will they succeed and provide solid value? We’ll have to wait and see.
Willie Calhoun (2B/OF – TEX)
Little guys can hit for power, too. Willie Calhoun might only be 5’8 on a good day, but the Rangers’ pint-sized prospect packs a ton of power in his bat. Don’t believe me?
Just take a look at his 2017 minor league numbers. He slugged 31 home runs and 27 doubles in 486 at-bats to go along with a .300/.355/.572/.927 slash line.
“Oh, well, offensive numbers are always inflated in the Pacific Coast League!” Alright, fine. In 2016 at Double-A Tulsa, Calhoun cranked another 27 home runs and 25 doubles in 503 at-bats.
Want more? Ok. He hit 11 home runs and 23 doubles in 285 at-bats in 2014. I know, none of these numbers wow you, but they do show that Calhoun has 30+ homer upside at the big-league level.
What’s great about Calhoun is that he’s not an all or nothing hitter like fellow second base slugger, Rougned Odor. Calhoun struck out in only 11.4% of his at-bats last season in Triple-A and hadn’t had a strikeout rate above 15.9% at any stop in his minor league career.
He might not run a whole lot, or barely ever, but Calhoun has all the makings of a strong four-category fantasy producer in 2018. Currently slotted in as the Rangers starting left fielder, Calhoun should still retain second base eligibility in most leagues and makes for an intriguing high-upside selection in the second half of fantasy drafts. I listed him first since he’ll be in the lineup on Opening Day while Torres might not be up until May or June.
Gleyber Torres (SS – NYY)
If it weren’t for Torres needing Tommy John surgery early last season, he wouldn’t even be on this list. The Yankees were getting ready to call Torres up to play second base before he went under the knife. For good reason, too. New York has a gaping hole to fill at the hot corner, and Torres was proving he was ready in the high minors.
In 202 combined at-bats between Double-A and Triple-A, Torres hit .287/.383/.480/.863 with seven home runs, seven steals, 34 RBIs, and 31 runs scored. Extrapolate those out to a full season, and you’re looking at a 20/20 season with around 100 RBIs and 90 runs. Not bad, not bad at all.
There’s plenty of room for growth with his batting average, too. Torres’ hit tool has been graded as plus to plus-plus, and MLB rated it a 65 on the 20-80 scouting scale.
His plate discipline keeps improving as he matures as a hitter, too. If he continues improving, there should be many .300+ seasons in his future.
Torres’ greatest asset is his lightning-quick wrists. He’s able to get the bat through the strike zone quickly and make solid contact more often than not.
The same can be said about his speed, which is slightly above average. No one will ever confuse him for a burner on the base paths, but he’s fast enough to swipe 20-30 bags most seasons.
However, he’ll need to work on his selectiveness when attempting to steal a bag. His seven steals in 2017 came in 13 attempts. That won’t get it done against Major League catchers.
For 2018, Torres is likely going to be delayed by the Yankees for service time concerns, but you can expect him to be manning second or third base in the Bronx full-time by the end of May. His upside and the lineup that will be around him makes him worth using a late-round pick on in drafts this spring.
Scott Kingery (2B – PHI)
We’ve reached the player with the most power/speed upside on this list. Kingery always displayed solid wheels, but proved he’s much more than just a speedster in 2017, slugging 26 home runs and 29 doubles in 543 at-bats. He also chipped in 103 runs, 65 RBIs, and a .304/.359/.530/.889 slash line.
I’m sure some of you are wondering what caused Kingery’s home run spike in 2017. That’s a great question, thanks for asking. First off, he started hitting fly balls at a higher clip than he ever had in prior seasons.
In 2015, Kingery hit fly balls 35.9% of the time and improved that number to 41.2% in 2016. In 2017, that percentage rose all the way up to 46.1%, including 50.4% at Double-A.
It wasn’t just that he was hitting more fly balls either. Kingery’s HR/FB ratio skyrocketed from 2.9% to 12.8%. So, for every 100 fly balls that Kingery hit, 10 more went over the outfield fence compared to 2016.
Is that sustainable? Probably not, but Kingery has enough power to pop 15-20 home runs annually in his prime.
The speed is where Kingery will get most of his fantasy value. Basically, all scouts have graded his speed as at least plus and some, like Fangraphs, have graded it as a 70 on the 20-80 scouting scale.
Kingery is currently blocked at second base by Cesar Hernandez, but honestly, that’s not much of a roadblock. We’re one Kingery hot streak or Hernandez cold streak away from Kingery taking over at second base in the city of brotherly love. And when he does, expect solid speed at the very least, and like some power and a decent average as well.
Franklin Barreto (2B/SS – OAK)
This is the biggest boom or bust player in this article. Barreto possesses an intriguing power/speed blend, but also has a lot of swing and miss to his game which causes his batting average to fluctuate. Just look at his 2017 season for instance.
Barreto had a 15/15 season in Triple-A with a 27.6% strikeout rate before being called up to Oakland. Once he was called up, he added two more home runs and steals but also struck out in 43.4% of his 76 plate appearances, which is downright terrible.
He might have good power and speed, but the batting average is what worries me, both for 2018 and long-term. In addition to his strong swing and miss tendencies, Barreto has been aided by high BABIP’s for most of his minor league career. Even in his 76 plate appearances with the Athletics last season, he had a .333 BABIP for only a .197 average. Overall, he projects as a .230-.250 hitter long-term, unless he can develop more discipline at the place.
Like Kingery above, Barreto doesn’t have a starting gig to start 2018, but also isn’t that far off from full-time at-bats. Oakland’s current second baseman, Jed Lowrie, is hardly what you would call durable. The same can be said for Marcus Semien at short.
All it will take is an injury from one of those two to open up playing time for Barreto. He’s not worth drafting, but keep an eye on him.
Brendan Rodgers (SS/2B – COL)
If we were ranking the players on this list by overall fantasy upside, then Brendan Rodgers would be the top dog, even over Gleyber Torres. Unfortunately, we’re going to have to wait a little bit to see Rodgers grace a Major League diamond. Rodgers only has 150 at-bats under his belt at Double-A and will still be only 21 years old when the 2018 season gets underway.
Rodgers has produced well in his first two minor league seasons, but 2017 was by far his most productive campaign yet and gave us a glimpse of how special he can be offensively. In 372 combined at-bats between high Class-A and Double-A, Rodgers racked up 18 home runs, 64 RBIs, and 64 runs with a .336/.373/.567/.940 slash line. Like Calhoun above, Rodgers doesn’t have much for wheels, but could sneak some 10-15 stolen base seasons in at some point in his career.
We likely won’t see Rodgers until the latter half of the 2018 season, but his offensive upside is too great to ignore, even in 2018 re-draft leagues. If your league has deep enough benches, grab Rodgers and stash him.
If not, keep a close eye on him and be ready to pounce whenever the rumblings of his call-up begin. Rodgers could be a difference maker down the stretch and into the fantasy playoffs.