Late-Season Middle Infield Help: Panik, Mercer, Flores by Scott Strandberg September 5, 2014 Normally, I produce tiered second-base rankings for my first piece of each month. Now that it’s September and trade deadlines have passed in 99.9% of fantasy leagues, it’s not very useful for me to fill this space with my thoughts on players that owners cannot acquire. Therefore, I scoured waiver wires to find three lightly owned middle infielders who could help fantasy owners over the season’s crucial final weeks. Joe Panik (15% Yahoo, 20.8% ESPN, 26% CBS) 194 PA – .318/.366/.397, 23 R, 1 HR, 15 RBI, 0 SB Despite providing consistent production that has him at No. 7 among fantasy 2B over the last month, Panik’s ownership rates are far from widespread. Eno Sarris wrote a great piece yesterday in which he interviewed Panik about his approach at the plate, so I’m not going to get too long-winded here, but we should definitely still take a moment to discuss his fantasy value. The reason Panik’s ownership rates remain down is that his batting average is pretty empty. The 23-year-old doesn’t possess home-run power, as he has just 22 dingers in 1,834 career minor-league plate appearances. He also doesn’t steal many bases, with a 36-for-52 success rate in the minors. He hasn’t swiped more than 10 bags in a season since Low-A. However, the time has come to employ Panik in deep mixed leagues. The reason for this is based mostly on the fact that, after spending much of his time in the majors batting 6th or 7th, Panik is now the everyday No. 2 hitter in San Fran’s lineup. It’s a small sample, but in his 69 plate appearances batting second this season, Panik is hitting .344/.391/.438 with 13 runs. In other words, 57% of the runs Panik has scored this season have come in the 36% of the year that he’s hit second in the order. He won’t hit homers. He won’t steal bases. He probably won’t drive in many runs either. But as long as Panik keeps getting on base and scoring truckloads of runs, he’s going to be a valuable fantasy commodity. It’s easy to look at his .354 BABIP and predict he’ll get soaked in the chilly water of regression, but his healthy 25.2% line-drive rate shows that there’s hope in a hopeless world after all. Jordy Mercer (12% Yahoo, 14.5% ESPN, 32% CBS) 469 PA – .256/.301/.377, 49 R, 9 HR, 44 RBI, 2 SB I’ve been the proud conductor of The Jordy Mercer Hype Train™ since last June. Unfortunately, “The Mercernary” got off to a putrid start in 2014, with production just as bad as the nickname I’ve been trying to give him. Mercer’s season line is still pretty unattractive, thanks to the fact that he followed up a .175/.232/.190 April with a .225/.244/.350 May. Much to my delight, The Mercernary dramatically improved his production as the season progressed, turning an ugly first half into a redemptive second: Pre-All Star – .250/.288/.360, .648 OPS Post-All Star – .268/.327/.413, .740 OPS Like Panik, Mercer is far from a sexy option, but he’s still plenty good enough to provide value at MI in deep mixers. Playing for the Pirates should keep his counting stats at productive levels, seeing as their .725 team OPS is good for second in the National League, and his sneaky power doesn’t hurt his cause either. Wilmer Flores (1% Yahoo, 0.6% ESPN, 6% CBS) 187 PA – .242/274/.315, 16 R, 2 HR, 16 RBI, 1 SB We’re reaching pretty darn deep with this one, seeing as Flores has pretty much stunk up the joint ever since he got his first call-up last season. In his 288 major-league plate appearances, Flores is hitting a ghastly .231/.265/.308. However, don’t forget that the 23-year-old was a fixture on top 100 prospect lists for years. Just look at his numbers from the upper levels of the minors: Double-A – .311/.361/.494, .855 OPS Triple-A – .321/.260/.543, .903 OPS This year, the Mets have been experimenting with Flores at shortstop, despite the fact that he was moved off the position in 2011 and absolutely no one sees him as a shortstop long-term. Being the glass-half-full kind of guy that I am, I’ve been hoping that, as Flores gets more comfortable playing short, his bat might come around. Over the last week, he’s shown signs of life for the first time all year, going 9-for-27 with a homer, a steal, six runs and two RBI. It’s a tiny sample, obviously, but Flores is hot for the first time in 2014, raising his season OPS by a full 60 points in one week. If you’re an NL-only owner desperate for some help up the middle, you could do worse than rolling the dice on a former top prospect who’s riding a hot streak.