Three members of the Texas Rangers infield seem likely to finish the 2022 season among the top 50 hitters on the ESPN Player Rater and perhaps a fourth infielder joins them as a key fantasy provider next season. The Rangers didn’t sniff the postseason, but 1B Nathaniel Lowe found his power and newcomers 2B Marcus Semien and SS Corey Seager, despite neither contending for a batting title, certainly aided fantasy managers.
The Rangers spent significant dollars on improving their middle infield with Semien and Seager, and they have offensive building blocks in place for years. Semien assumed the leadoff role and after six seasons of stealing double-digit bases, he reached a career-best 17 by the All-Star break and kept on running. This was a big deal for fantasy. Seager smacked 30 home runs for the first time. Semien and Seager were top-50 picks on draft day, but Lowe went undrafted in most leagues and has been a top-10 first baseman in fantasy.
Then there is 3B Josh Jung, one of the top prospects in the sport. Jung hasn’t had much success in his brief big league plate appearances after missing much of the season recovering from shoulder surgery, but he projects as a power hitter who hits for average. Perhaps he delivers numbers much like Lowe, who hit .300 with power. Regardless, this is an exciting infield for the Rangers and fantasy managers, for sure. (Now the Rangers just have to figure out the pitching side of things!)
As for other top fantasy infields, certainly the Atlanta Braves, St. Louis Cardinals, Los Angeles Dodgers, Cleveland Guardians and New York Mets qualify. Braves 1B Matt Olson hasn’t had his best season, but 3B Austin Riley has turned into an MVP candidate. Dodgers 1B Freddie Freeman may win his first batting title, while 2B/SS Trea Turner may be the first pick in 2023 roto drafts. Cleveland’s middle infield has been surprisingly terrific, while 3B Jose Ramirez always produces.
We already discussed the season reviews of starting pitchers and relievers, and now it is time to recap infielders for the 2022 season.
Fantasy infield/catcher MVP
Many of the top infielders from preseason drafts are among the top statistical providers, so they were expected to help fantasy managers. Even Cardinals 1B Paul Goldschmidt, the likely NL MVP, was a fifth-round pick in ADP. Braves SS Dansby Swanson and Cardinals 2B/SS/OF Tommy Edman, however, went in the middle rounds, and have returned significant value, enough to be top-10 hitters on the Rater. Swanson has become a five-category roto provider scoring runs and hitting for average atop his lineup, while Edman may lead the majors in stolen bases. Let’s call it a tie here.
One could easily argue for Guardians 2B/SS Andres Gimenez, ignored in most drafts after such a disappointing 2021 season. Gimenez won the second base job and may end up with 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases, while hitting .300, albeit with relatively low totals in runs and RBI. It’s quite a turnaround for the aggressive Gimenez, the former New York Mets prospect returned in the Francisco Lindor trade. In fact, Lindor and Gimenez rank rather closely on the Rater, but only one of them was a fantasy free agent in late-April. Kudos to Kansas City Royals SS/3B Bobby Witt Jr., San Diego Padres 1B/2B/3B/OF Brandon Drury and Arizona Diamondbacks 1B Christian Walker, too.
At catcher, there certainly were undrafted surprises that fantasy managers loved, from surprising Brave William Contreras to Rangers starter Jonah Heim and Baltimore Orioles rookie Adley Rutschman, but it’s hard to overlook Philadelphia Phillies star JT Realmuto. Yes, he was supposed to be a star as a 10th-round ADP pick (No. 3 among catchers after the Dodgers’ Will Smith and Royals’ Salvador Perez), but the lofty stolen base total really made a difference in roto formats. Realmuto is the top catcher on the Rater by quite a bit, and a five-category option for roto formats.
Fantasy infield/catcher LVP
We’ve got an AL and NL nominee here that stands out based on ADP. Everyone fell in love with Tampa Bay Rays SS Wander Franco, enough for him to go in the fifth round, and he’s not among the top 75 middle infielders on the Rater. Franco, 21, missed time this season with a quad injury and then needed wrist surgery, and while he has shown plate discipline, he has not hit for power. Franco’s future remains bright, especially for OBP formats, but perhaps we overrated him for roto formats. We wonder if durability is a factor, too.
Meanwhile, Colorado Rockies 1B/3B/OF Kris Bryant went just a bit after Franco in ADP and injuries derailed his season as well. Bryant hit five home runs. Fantasy managers expected more than 30 blasts with Coors Field as his home ballpark. Perhaps it occurs in 2023. Other infielders that didn’t return draft day value include Braves 2B Ozzie Albies, Diamondbacks 2B/OF Ketel Marte and Los Angeles Angels 3B Anthony Rendon, who has played in 103 games the past two seasons and will surely not be a top-100 pick in 2023.
At catcher, Chicago White Sox on-base machine Yasmani Grandal was not quite an on-base machine in 2022. Grandal, the No. 4 catcher in ADP and just outside the top 100 overall, is not among the top 50 backstops on the Rater. He went in the same round as Realmuto.
St. Louis Cardinals 3B Jordan Walker, Arizona Diamondbacks SS Jordan Lawlar and Cincinnati Reds SS Elly De La Cruz represent three of the top infield prospects that have yet to debut in the major leagues, and while each is currently at the Double-A level, we should see them in the majors in 2023. Walker may be a corner outfielder by then, since the Cardinals are set at third base with Nolan Arenado. Each should intrigue fantasy managers quite a bit. Walker, as of this writing, had 19 home runs and 22 stolen bases in his age-20 season. Lawlar struggled at Double-A, but the No. 6 pick in the 2021 draft will hit. De La Cruz has 27 home runs and 47 stolen bases this season. Wow.
Sophomores to watch
Witt Jr. and Baltimore Orioles SS Gunnar Henderson are already stars, but don’t underestimate Houston Astros SS Jeremy Pena, Pittsburgh Pirates SS Oneil Cruz, Minnesota Twins 1B/3B Jose Miranda and Royals C MJ Melendez. Pena struggled to make contact in the second half, but 19 home runs and 11 stolen bases are just the beginning of his statistical upside. Cruz strikes out nearly 40% of the time, but few can hit baseballs harder. He may challenge for 40 home runs soon. Miranda looks like a 30-homer option in the future and Melendez does as well, and he will qualify behind the plate and in the outfield in 2023.