Fantasy Baseball Rankings Tiers: Middle infield update

Kansas City Royals shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. (7)
Bobby Witt Jr. has ascended to fantasy baseball superstardom. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The Shuffle Up series rolls on with the middle infielders. This is how I would rank the player pool if I were entering a fantasy baseball draft today. What’s happened to this point is merely an audition. Assume a 5×5 scoring system, as always.

The salaries are tied to data and observation but unscientific in nature. This isn’t a formulaic exercise. The goal is to show where the pockets of value cluster. Players with the same salary are considered even.

Respectful disagreements? That’s good. That’s why we play. Catch me on Twitter/X: @scott_pianowski.

And away we go.

Witt would have a strong case to be the No. 1 overall pick today in the entire player pool. He’s turned into a superstar at age 24 and his stats are all merited — his batted-ball profile suggests a .335 average and a ridiculous .649 slugging percentage, and he’s the fastest player in baseball. And the Kansas City lineup has been more helpful than expected; the Royals rank seventh in runs per game.

Henderson’s development is easy to trace — he’s walking more, striking out less, hitting the ball hard more often, and pulling the ball more often. I’ve always viewed Adley Rutschman as the most likely future MVP on this Baltimore roster, but maybe Henderson is going to get there first. He’ll be parked in the first round for the foreseeable future.

Betts has always had a streaky profile in his Los Angeles time, and that’s been the story in 2024. He posted an absurd .368/.477/.624 slash the opening month, he was ordinary in May (.735 OPS), and he’s batting a mere .150 through five June games, though he did homer in the Pittsburgh series. Betts has too much back-class for fantasy managers to ever do anything rash with him, but it’s fair to wonder if the stress of playing shortstop — and he’s been below average in the field, too — is affecting him at the plate. I’d prefer we see Betts back in his comfortable outfield slot next year, if not sooner; it’s possible the Dodgers will address this issue at the trade deadline.

Semien’s average is below what you’d expect and he’s not running much this year, but he’s still on pace for 118 runs and 91 RBI, and he’s one of those players who wants to play every day. Some fantasy managers look at Semien’s games-played resume as a bug, thinking he’s due to get hurt one of these seasons. While anyone can get hurt, I think Semien’s log is more of a feature, symbolic of a professional who knows how to care for his body and negotiate the long, demanding season. He’s still welcome on all of my rosters.

Westburg managers would love to see the Orioles face more lefties because he slots leadoff when those games come around. Westburg’s profile is a good reminder that being aggressive doesn’t have to be a dirty word at the plate — despite mediocre strike-zone judgment, he’s earned a .299 average, 23 points higher than his actual number. It’s almost unfair to see a secondary prospect like Westburg click in Baltimore (he was never ranked inside the top 70 on the main clipboards), given how many blue-chippers this organization currently has. Assuming a fair health runout, the Orioles are set up to bully the American League for the remainder of the decade.

Bill James taught us long ago that versatile players are often underrated while specialists tend to be overrated, and that underrated frame applies to García. The Kansas City infielder is providing plus value in four of the five main categories, and at least he’s a non-zero in the home run column. When he wants a base, he takes it — Garcia is 14-for-14 on steals this year, and the Royals openly talk about being an aggressive team.

I wish I had a better explanation for Lindor. He’s still just 30. He’s making plenty of contact and plenty of hard contact — his expected average should be 44 points higher. He’s still providing category juice, too, on pace for 26 homers and 25 steals. If you believe the average corrects, you bump him up to the 20s. If you believe what’s on the back of the baseball card right now, the power and speed still justify a slot in the high teens.

Toronto ranks 24th in runs per game and Bichette is one of the biggest disappointments of the offense. He’s also a below-average fielder, which leads to speculation that he’ll eventually move off the position. Heck, there’s even talk that the disappointing Blue Jays should think about blowing up their core at the trade deadline, reboot and start over. Bichette’s approach stats don’t look much different than previous years and his career shows a consistent pattern of surging in the second half (OPS rises by 68 points), so maybe there’s a spike coming. But if I were walking into a fresh fantasy draft tonight, I couldn’t take anyone from the Toronto lineup proactively. Also, keep in mind the restructured Rogers Centre has played as a pitcher park for two seasons now.

So long as the Cubs don’t sour on Morel, I’m not going to — his batted-ball profile suggests a .265 average and .509 slugging. He’s been comically unlucky to this point. And he’s on pace for 31 homers and 15 steals. Patience, please.

Gonzales had some prospect buzz before the 2022 season (rising as high as No. 20 on some scouting clipboards) so his fast start with Pittsburgh isn’t that big of a surprise. His plate discipline is ordinary but good things happen when he connects, with hard-hit metrics all pinned to the right (he’s earned a .302 average and .515 slugging). He’s also resourceful as a runner, capable of stealing about 10 bases in a full season. Gonzales probably won’t hold that .885 OPS all year, but he feels like a full-season starter and fantasy contributor.

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The Brewers are a stunning fifth in runs per game and the surprising Ortiz is a part of the story. His 147 OPS+ is second-best on the team and he’s struck out just two more times than his walk total — anytime that ratio is close to one, we’re talking about a good offensive player. The Brewers can’t seem to decide where they want to slot Ortiz in the lineup — he’s batted in every position but cleanup this year. But that also speaks to the versatility in his offensive game — great OBP skills, some pop. The Corbin Burnes trade doesn’t sting today as it did for Milwaukee fans four months ago.

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