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Fantasy Fast Forward: Infield Diamonds in the Rough

03-04-11-Casey-McGehee

You should take Evan Longoria and Robinson Cano in the first round. You shouldn’t take Asdrubal Cabrera or David DeJesus in the first round. These are directions I shouldn’t have to waste your time with.

However, I do have some helpful hints that you should waste your time with… because you know you’re just sitting at work or at home, reading every great article Sports of Boston has to offer, instead of doing the 37 other things you SHOULD be working on right now. Really, you’re looking to waste your time… so you’ve come to the right place. You’re very welcome.

March is fantasy baseball month. Sure, hoopheads will say it’s “March Madness” time, but really, for the fantasy fanatics among us, it’s fantasy baseball month. The die-hards have already done about a dozen mock drafts online… believe me, the draft lobbies on Yahoo and ESPN have been full for weeks. So here you are, already behind in doing your homework… brings you back to your high school days, doesn’t it? Well, you’ve come to the right place.

Fantasy baseball drafts come easy in the first five rounds. Pick the best player on the board… start stockpiling your studs. But fantasy baseball leagues are really won in the last five to ten rounds. If your picks click, you’re rounding the bases on your way to fantasy glory. If your picks strike out, then come July, you’re getting a jump on fantasy football studying, since your baseball team has already bitten the dust.

So this series of articles is aimed at focusing on those latter rounds… finding those “diamonds in the rough,” the roster depth guys that will help you look like a genius for drafting them.

Today, we focus on sleeper picks around the infield.

First Basemen

Kendry Morales, LAA

I challenge you to find a funnier video from the 2010 season than when Morales broke his ankle as he crossed home plate, jumping high in the air in celebration of his game-winning home run last May. What can I say, I love watching other people get hurt. If you miss out on the top 10 first basemen, I’d take Morales with confidence. Before his injury, he was on a 30-homer, 100-RBI pace last season, and there’s no reason why he can’t reach those benchmarks this season… assuming his coaches have asked him to tone down his celebratory leaping for 2011.

Aubrey Huff, SF

At age 34, you’d think Huff would start to regress. He hasn’t, and he won’t. AT&T Park seems perfect for the guy, and with 1B and OF eligibility, his value increases even more. He’ll hit about .300 for you, and go for at least 20-25 homers and 85-90 RBIs, which should put a smile on your face after you draft him so late.

Derrek Lee, BAL

In his prime, there wasn’t a fantasy baseball team of mine that didn’t have Derrek Lee on it. I never thought he got enough respect in fantasy land, and even at 35 years old now and playing for a new team in Baltimore, I still think too many people look past him on draft day. He battled through back and thumb problems last season to still hit 19 home runs and rack up 80 RBIs in a lackluster Cubs batting order. Hopefully healthy now, he takes his talents to Camden Yards, which is a much friendlier ballpark for right-handed hitters. I think his batting average comes back to the .280 range this season, and if he stays in the lineup consistently, 20 HRs and 85 RBIs should be reasonable goals for Lee in 2011.

Second Basemen

Ben Zobrist, TB

Would the real Ben Zobrist please stand up? After a breakout 2009 campaign, Zobrist fell off the map in 2010, batting just .177 after the All Star break. But with second base being one of the thinnest positions going, Zobrist will be a starter in most fantasy leagues, and he’s one of the few 2B guys that could get you 20 HRs and 20 SBs this season, if his power comes back. I like his upside, and his flexibility with multiple positions certainly helps his cause a great deal also.

Neil Walker, PIT

Yup, I just highlighted a real, live Pittsburgh Pirate as a sleeper pick. It’s true… I don’t think the Pirates are going to be as terrible as they have been the past 15+ years, and that’s due heavily to the trio of Walker, Jose Tabata, and Pedro Alvarez in the middle of their lineup. The team still can’t pitch their way out of a paper bag, but that’s not what we’re here to discuss. We’re here to talk about Neil Walker, a rare middle infielder with power potential. You should be able to wait until the last few rounds to get this guy, then watch him score 75-80 runs, hit 18-20 home runs, and bat a solid .280-.290.

Tsuyoshi Nishioka, MIN

Do you know how many times I had to spell check this guy’s name? Anyway, Nishioka is making his U.S. debut this year as a Twin, after signing a three-year deal coming over from Japan, where he won two stolen base titles in seven seasons with the Chiba Lotte Marines. He’s penciled in as the second base starter for the Twins, and should hit near the top of their order, in front of Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau. That should translate into solid run totals to go along with him being a near lock for 20+ SBs. Don’t fear the unknown… if you miss out on the Canos, Pedroias, and Utleys of the world, wait about a dozen rounds and feel comfy putting your trust in T-Nish. That’s not his nickname yet, but I’m working hard to make it happen.

Shortstops

Stephen Drew, ARI

So you missed out on Hanley and Tulo in the first round, and the second tier of shortstops (i.e. Jeter, Rollins, Reyes, and Andrus) has passed you by as well. Shortstop is probably the thinnest position going this year, so you might be inclined to panic. Don’t. This is where you simply turn to a proven, entrenched starter who will hit at or near the top of a good lineup, and give you something… anything. One guy I like is Arizona’s Stephen Drew. He’s not going to light the world on fire with a huge stat line, but he’ll give double digit totals in home runs and steals, he’ll hit for a decent average, and probably score you 75-80 runs too. You could do a lot worse.

Rafael Furcal, LAD

If it weren’t for hamstring and back injuries slowing his 2010 production down, Rafael Furcal would have likely finished the season as one of the top seven or eight fantasy shortstops last year. So again, if you’re left picking off the shortstop scrap heap, jump in feet-first and take a risk by going with the veteran Dodger shortstop. He won’t give you much in terms of power, but Furcal can still run the bases well, give you at least 20 steals, and could score you up to 90 runs. For a late-round shortstop pick, I think you’d have to be happy with that.

Alcides Escobar, KC

Rarely do I look fondly upon a Kansas City Royal, but I like what I’ve read so far about Mr. Escobar. Coming over from Milwaukee, where Escobar wasn’t a big part of the Brewer offense, I see his production poised for a solid uptick this season playing for another lousy Royals team. He’s another guy that should get in that 20-steal neighborhood, and if he hits near the top of the Kansas City lineup, like he should, he could produce a decent run total, maybe somewhere between 70 and 80 runs on the year. All this being said about these three sleeper shortstops, I’m really advising you to target one of the top six guys at the position this year… otherwise, you’re looking at a potentially huge hole in your fantasy lineup.

Third Basemen

Casey McGehee, MIL

Love me some Casey McGehee this season, I’ll tell you that! Here’s a stat, courtesy of the worldwide leader in sports, Mr. ESPN… since June 1, 2009, which is about when McGehee became a full-time starter, how many third basemen have more RBIs than Casey McGehee? The answer: just one, A-Rod. McGehee has outproduced Evan Longoria, Ryan Zimmerman, David Wright, and every other hot corner hottie over the last year and a half, yet he doesn’t get the same love and respect. With 25 homer, 110 RBI potential, I like McGehee to be a huge breakout star in 2011.

Placido Polanco, PHI

If you can cover your power numbers in other positions and you can get away with just drafting a solid batting average guy at 3B, Polanco could be your guy. He’ll be hitting in a very potent Phillies lineup that should score in bunches, and he’s a near lock to hit at least .285, which won’t hurt your team. At 35 years old, age and health may come into play, but not even you can’t predict injuries.

Pedro Alvarez, PIT

Look, a second Pittsburgh Pirate in this article… what are the odds!?! Alvarez isn’t going to win any batting titles, and he may strike out 150 times as a full-time player now, but his power upside is absolutely there… a breakout 30-homer season is not a pipe dream. If you miss out at filling your third base spot early, which again, this is a position I’d aim to grab in the first few rounds because it gets thin quick, roll the dice with Alvarez and hope that his sophomore year isn’t filled with wedgies and detention, like my sophomore year was.

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