Arrows Up: Early-Season Middle Infield Trends

One week into the season, it’s obviously too early to place much weight on any player’s performance thus far. In these early days of the season, I like to instead take a look at situational trends that alter players’ fantasy potential going forward. From position battles to lineup placement, there’s plenty to talk about from a fantasy perspective, without looking too much into small-sample statistics.

I identified three middle infielders whose fantasy arrows are pointing up, two of whom are widely available on waiver wires. (Position eligibility and ownership percentages from Yahoo.)

Marcus Semien – SS – 47% owned

When this season opened, it didn’t look like much changed for Oakland’s starting shortstop from the start of last season. Semien worked his way up the batting order as last season went on, bouncing around between the No. 2 and No. 7 spots from mid-May onward, and even saw 16 starts in the leadoff spot. However, 2017 started with the 26-year-old right back down at the bottom of the lineup, batting ninth twice and eighth once in the team’s first three games.

This weekend, it seems the A’s realized that a 36-year-old Rajai Davis might not be their ideal leadoff hitter. Seeing as they began the season with a 36-year-old Rajai Davis as their leadoff hitter, Oakland doesn’t exactly have an ideal guy for that spot, hence why Semien and his career .305 on-base percentage are getting a look in the top spot.

If he sticks in the No. 1 spot, Semien’s fantasy prospects go through the roof. For fantasy purposes, 20+ homers and 10+ steals plays a whole lot better at the top of the lineup than at the bottom. Aside from Semien or Davis, Matt Joyce seems to be the A’s best option to lead off, so Semien could get a long look.

Jorge Polanco – 2B, 3B, SS – 7% owned

There was a lot of uncertainty regarding Polanco’s role coming into 2017. He was pretty clearly the Twins’ top option at short, but when both Eduardo Escobar and Danny Santana made the team, I was a bit concerned about how regular Polanco’s playing time would really be — and even moreso when he sat out Minnesota’s second game of the season, with Escobar getting the starting nod. Thankfully, Polanco started the Twins’ next four games, assuaging fears about the consistency of his starting job.

Manager Paul Molitor is still tinkering with his lineup, but seems to be looking at Polanco as his No. 5 hitter. The 23-year-old batted fifth against a lefty on Friday and a righty on Saturday, before dropping one spot to sixth on Sunday. With regular playing time, Polanco should be good for double-digit homers and steals. If he can hold onto a favorable spot in the lineup, it won’t take long before his paltry ownership rate skyrockets, especially if he can put up numbers in line with his career averages:

  • MiLB (2,546 PA) – .286/.346/.411, 8.5% BB, 13.3% K
  • MLB (310 PA) – .290/.335/.444, 7.4% BB, 16.5% K

Tyler Saladino – 2B, 3B, SS – 14% owned

Saladino’s .258/.300/.377 major-league slash isn’t exactly inspiring, but neither are the White Sox, so he’s leading off. It’s hard to expect him to put up much better numbers than that, but he’s a threat for 20 steals and ten homers, and that looks pretty good for fantasy purposes in the No. 1 spot in any lineup. He’s a bit of an unknown quantity in the batting-average department, but if he can prove that last year’s .282 AVG wasn’t a fluke, his projection improves considerably. (Don’t bet on it, he’s a career .261 hitter in the minors.)

Yoan Moncada will be breathing down his neck eventually, but even when/if Moncada takes his job, Saladino is versatile enough in the field to continue receiving regular playing time.

We hoped you liked reading Arrows Up: Early-Season Middle Infield Trends by Scott Strandberg!

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Scott Strandberg started writing for Rotographs in 2013. He works in small business consultation, and he also writes A&E columns for The Norman Transcript newspaper. Scott lives in Seattle, WA.

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What do you think about Mondesi (3% owned; 3 SBs last week) and Schmipf (31% owned)? I kinda like both these guys better than the ones you noted.