Using Athlon Sports' Big Board as the barometer, here are some potential sleepers who play on the infield to keep an eye on, as well some possible busts to potentially be wary of. Keep in mind that the "bust" tag doesn't necessarily mean that player won't produce, it's more an indication of concern that he won't do so in relation to his position on the Big Board.
Note: Infield includes all players who have C, 1B, 2B, SS and/or 3B eligibility, according to Yahoo!. The player's ranking on the Big Board (200 players ranked) is listed, if applicable. UR means player was not ranked among the top 200. Player rankings from 2012 referenced are from a Yahoo! league that uses the following batting statistics: R-HR-RBI-SB-AVG-OPS.
2013 Fantasy Baseball Infield Sleepers
Dustin Ackley, SEA, 1B/2B (UR)
Following a respectable rookie showing (.273-6-36 in 90 G) in 2011, much more was expected from the No. 2 overall pick of the 2009 MLB Draft. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen, as Ackley scuffled to a .226 average with only 12 home runs and 50 RBIs, although he did score 84 runs. Ackley has all the tools to be a highly productive fantasy player, it’s just a matter of putting it together. If he can be more consistent when it comes to making contact (124 SO), a .270-15-70 line with 90 runs and 20-some steals from this 25-year-old is not out of the question.
Alcides Escobar, KC, SS (No. 148 overall)
A borderline top-10 fantasy shortstop in 2012, there’s no reason to think Escobar can’t be even better this season. He posted career highs across the board in 2012, highlighted by a .293 average, 35 stolen bases and 68 runs scored. As long as his average doesn’t drop thirty or forty points, his other numbers could continue to increase, especially if he finds a home batting second in the Royals’ lineup.
Todd Frazier, CIN, 1B/3B/OF (No. 181 overall)
Frazier took full advantage of Joey Votto’s injury troubles to force Reds manager Dusty Baker to find a way to keep him in the lineup even after Votto, the 2010 National League MVP, returned. That’s what happens when you finish third in the NL Rookie of the Year voting after posting a .273-19-67 line in just 422 at-bats. Baker has already told Frazier he’s the starting third baseman this season, so it’s entirely possible that Frazier could hit 25 or more home runs, post 90 or more RBIs and hit more than 30 doubles over a full season. His multi-position eligibility certainly doesn’t hurt either.
Manny Machado, BAL, 3B (No. 191 overall)
The top prospect in Baltimore’s system, Machado arrived earlier than expected when he made the jump from Double-A to the majors in August at just 20 years old. On top of that, the Orioles shifted their shortstop of the future over to third base, a position he played just two games at in AA prior to his call up. The third overall pick of the 2010 MLB Draft didn’t disappoint with his glove or bat, however, as he made just five errors in 51 games at the hot corner and hit .262 with seven home runs and 26 RBIs. Third base is all his this season and there’s little doubt Machado will hit, a tool that will become even more appealing and valuable whenever he makes the move from third back to shortstop, which is his more natural position.
Will Middlebrooks, BOS, 3B (No. 140 overall)
Spring training got off to a somewhat auspicious start for Middlebrooks, who experienced a scare with his surgically repaired right wrist. The good news is that nothing serious was discovered and he returned to action after a brief absence. Injury may be the only thing that prevents Middlebrooks from hitting 30 home runs and driving in more than 100 runs, considering that was the pace he was on had he played a full season in 2012. Supplanting Kevin Youkilis at third, Middlebrooks hit 15 home runs with 54 RBIs in less than 270 at-bats (75 games) before a fastball fractured his wrist last August. He needs to improve his pitch selection, as he struck out 70 times with just 13 walks, but there’s no mistaking the power and run-production potential of this 24-year-old. Especially when you take into consideration that only three third base-eligible players went 30-100 last season – Miguel Cabrera, Adrian Beltre and Chase Headley.
Anthony Rizzo, CHC, 1B (No. 103 overall)
Despite a brutal 49-game indoctrination (.141-1-9 with 46 SO) to the big leagues with San Diego in 2011, the Cubs traded for the left-handed hitting Rizzo last January, believing the then-22-year-old to be their future first baseman. After tearing up Triple-A once again (.342-23-62 in 70 G), the Cubs called him up in late June and he proceeded to post a .265-15-48 line in a little more than half a season. Now entrenched in the No. 3 spot in manager Dale Sveum’s batting order, a .280-30-100 season isn’t out of the question, especially if he continues to improve his production against southpaws (.208-4-17 in 101 AB last season).
Wilin Rosario, COL, C (No. 118 overall)
All Rosario did last year was lead all catchers in home runs with 28 and he did so in fewer than 400 at-bats. He’s just 24 years old and despite the high number of strikeouts (99), he managed to hit .270 with 67 runs scored and 71 RBIs. Even though he did most of his damage at hitter-friendly Coors Field (.297-18-44) and struck out a lot, his per-game splits from last season translate to a tidy .270-38-98 line with 92 runs scored over a full campaign.
2013 Fantasy Baseball Infield Busts
Edwin Encarnacion, TOR, 1B (No. 31 overall)
There is no dispute that Encarnacion’s 2012 breakthrough season wasn’t special, as he posted a .280-42-110 line with 93 runs and 13 stolen bases. He was the No. 10 player overall in Yahoo! leagues and rightfully so. The question is, can he do it again? Based on his current Big Board ranking, which has him fifth among first-base eligible players, the general consensus appears to be yes, but call me a skeptic. Granted, while playing opportunity was not a given for him early in his career, Encarnacion leaped from .272-17-55 in 134 games in 2011 to his monster ’12 campaign. While he shows enough plate discipline (84 BB, 94 SO) to believe that maintaining the batting average is certainly possible, I’m not sure about the power he discovered last season. Prior to 2012, he managed a home run every 23.3 at-bats. Last season, he hit one in every 12.9 at-bats. While there’s no reason to expect his production to drop off of the cliff, I would expect him to hit somewhere around 30 home runs, not 40. That decline in 10 or more home runs alone is probably enough to drop him from the ranks of the top 30 or so players overall. When it comes to the Toronto first baseman at draft time, try not to dwell too much on last season’s numbers.
Chase Headley, SD, 3B (No. 56 overall)
Prior to last season, Headley had hit 36 total home runs in 529 career games. In 2012, he hit 31 bombs and led the National League with 115 RBIs. The Padre third baseman did the majority of his damage in the second half when he posted an insane .308-23-73 line. The chances of him repeating anything close to that are pretty slim, so for starters the expectations for him this season need to be tempered. A better gauge for Headley, based on his career numbers, is using his .267-8-42 line from the first half of last season as a baseline. Totals of about 20 home runs, 90 RBIs, 80 runs and 20 stolen bases are certainly usable from any third baseman in fantasy, but not from one who’s currently ranked in the top 60 overall. This is especially the case now considering Headley will miss at least the first month of the season after breaking a bone in his left thumb in a spring training game. He is expected to be out anywhere between 4-6 weeks because of the injury, which the team has said will not require surgery.
Victor Martinez, DET, C (No. 95 overall)
This is not to say Martinez will be a complete bust necessarily, but I don’t think he will produce enough to be worth drafting along the lines of a top-six catcher, let alone a top 100 player, which is where he sits on the current Big Board. Not only is Martinez 34 years old, he is more than a year removed from his last game, as he’s coming back from a serious knee injury he sustained prior to last season’s spring training. Also, at this point in his career, Martinez’s value is primarily tied to two categories – batting average and RBIs – as he’s never hit more than 25 home runs in a season and managed just 12 dingers in 2011, his first with the Tigers. If for some reason he’s not able to maintain his average or drive in the runs, then you are looking at merely an average catcher. And that’s if he’s able to maintain his catcher-eligibility in the first place, since he’s nothing more than a full-time DH now.
Mark Trumbo, LAA, 1B/3B/OF (No. 108 overall)
Trumbo was an All-Star, both in real life and in fantasy, in the first half last season, as he mashed his way to a .306-22-57 line. The second half was a different story, however, as he stumbled to a .227-10-38 showing through the dog days of summer. As far as 2013 goes, Trumbo’s biggest issue is that he doesn’t really have a set spot in the lineup, since most of his at-bats figure to come as the DH. The Angels have plenty of other candidates, such as Vernon Wells, who can swing the bat, so if Trumbo struggles out of the gate, he may be hard-pressed to even match his 544 at-bats from last season. The uncertainty surrounding his opportunities alone calls into question his chances of producing along the lines of a borderline top 100 player. And that’s without bringing up his contact issues (153 SO, 36 BB).
Matt Wieters, BAL, C (No. 63 overall)
Wieters set career highs in home runs (23) and RBIs (83) last season as he played in 144 games and got 526 at-bats. His batting average dropped to .249, however, as he struck out a career-worst 112 times. Put it all together and the backstop came in at No. 195 overall in Yahoo! leagues and eighth among catcher-eligible players. Currently, he’s the fourth-ranked catcher and No. 63 overall, according to the Big Board. Unless Wieters makes strides in his plate discipline in his fifth year in the majors, I think it’s a bit too unrealistic to expect him to make the jump from a top 200 player to his current Big Board standing, especially when Miguel Montero, who is ranked No. 114 overall, provided similar numbers (.286-15-88) last season.
2013 Fantasy Baseball Rankings: Big Board
2013 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Outfield
2013 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Starting Pitcher
2013 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Relief Pitcher
2013 Fantasy Baseball: Closer Grid
2013 Fantasy Baseball Deep Sleepers
Fantasy Baseball Studs to Avoid in 2013
Fantasy Baseball 2013: Which Injured Players are Worth Drafting?