The infield is definitely the strength of the current roster the Rangers have assembled. We have them projected for 32.2 WAR, and their main infielders, counting projected platoons at catcher and second base, account for 14.9 in projected WAR. That’s about 46% for those of you without a calculator handy. But despite being such a strength, the positions on the right side of the infield are wild cards.
At second base, the Rangers have 21-year old Rougned Odor and 22-year old Jurickson Profar. Profar was Baseball America’s #1 prospect entering the 2013 season, and Odor ranked 42nd on that list last year. Profar ended up missing the entire 2014 with a torn shoulder muscle, and Odor was called up in May because (surprise, surprise) the combo of Josh Wilson and Donnie Murphy wasn’t cutting it at the keystone. Earlier this offseason I took a look at whether Odor improved as the year went along. The answer was yes and no, but he didn’t do anything late in the year to indicate that a breakout is imminent. But improvement isn’t always linear, and we shouldn’t be surprised if Odor just figures it out all of a sudden at some point.
What could potentially hinder Odor “figuring it out” is Profar taking away plate appearances. Apparently the plan for Profar is to begin the year at AAA until he shows he’s healthy and can be productive. For that reason, Profar isn’t a fantasy option during draft season. He may be a waiver stash at some point, but he’s hardly even worth drafting in AL-only leagues at this point. But if and when he does make it back to the show, it could really cut into Odor’s value.
Our projections have Odor seeing 385 PA with 0.9 WAR and Profar getting 280 PA with 0.8 WAR. If it plays out like that, neither one of them will have fantasy value outside of AL-only leagues. But there’s definitely a chance that Profar doesn’t make it back to the big league roster. He never had surgery to repair that torn shoulder muscle, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if he was dealt if he can display his health. Or maybe Odor is the one to be dealt if Profar gets healthy. Ultimately these uncertainties limit either player’s fantasy value and only Odor is worth drafting in AL-only leagues or as a middle infielder in deeper mixed leagues.
The other uncertain position is first base where Prince Fielder will attempt to return after undergoing cervical-fusion surgery on his neck. If that sounds scary, it should. He’s supposedly healthy, but you’re more trusting than me if you’re confident in that fact. As Jeff Zimmerman noted earlier this offseason, the range of outcomes for Fielder is quite wide. Can he return to playing 160 games a year or will he play 40? Will his power bounce back? If so, to what degree?
Deciding whether to gamble on Fielder finishing on the high side of the range will cost you a pick in the sixth round of 12-team mixed leagues. That makes him the ninth first baseman of the board on average. If you think he can crack the top five at the position if he remains healthy, maybe you take the plunge. But given the trajectory his numbers were on prior to his injury, I find it hard to believe he can finish better than seventh at the position. With the amount of downside that comes with Fielder, that’s not enough potential return to warrant the investment.
The left side of the infield is more settled. At short, Elvis Andrus is projected by Steamer to do something similar to what he did last year. The problem is that whet he did last year is nowhere close to what he did in 2013. A lot of that has to do with how other Rangers struggled, which took a chunk out of his run and RBI totals. He should see some rebound in those categories this year, but it’s hard to see him approaching 90+ runs and 65+ RBI again. He also stole 15 fewer bases last year and saw his success rate drop from 84% to 64%. With 27 steals last year, it’s hard to reasonably project him for much more than 25 steals. His average is projected to bounce back a hair as well, and he might hit a homer or two more.
All in all, that means he could improve on his finish as the 12th most valuable fantasy shortstop. But he’s currently going seventh among shortstops, which basically takes away any rebound value he might have had. The price is probably appropriate, but it’s unlikely to provide to much of a return.
At third base Adrian Beltre continues to defy the aging curve. Since joining the Rangers at the age of 32, his WAR has been 5.2 or higher in each of his four seasons, and his wRC+ has been between 135 and 142 in each season. Obviously his defense is a big part of his WAR contributions, and Steamer doesn’t project that to decline. They do project a modest decline in his offensive production down to a 129 wRC+. But when you run the third base Steamer projections through the z-score ranking method, Beltre projects to be the top fantasy third baseman. He’s going third among third basemen behind only Anthony Rendon and Josh Donaldson and will cost you a third round pick in 12-team leagues. As consistent as he has been and as shallow as third base is these days, that seems like a more than appropriate price tag.
Finally, behind the plate, the load will be shouldered primarily by Robinson Chirinos with the newly-acquired Carlos Corporan picking up the slack. Chirinos is projected for about 450 plate appearances, and if he gets that much work, Steamer projects him to be a borderline top 20 fantasy catcher. That would make him an option in AL-only leagues. But I worry a bit about Corporan cutting into Chirinos’ playing time a little more than projected a) because he’s a better pitch framer and b) because Corporan can hit from the left side as a switch hitter.
Adam Rosales is projected to pick up 100-150 stray plate appearances in a utility role, but no other Ranger is projected for more than 35 PA as an infielder.