Now that I got the starting pitchers out of the way, it's time to go around the infield.
Our catching list saw a lot of turnover, as the former No. 2 ranked keeper catcher, Victor Martinez, is out for the year with a torn ACL. Even if he wasn't, V-Mart's 2011 power outage would have dropped him down this list, and his future at the catching position is in doubt, to say the least, after he spent just 26 of his 145 games behind the plate last year. His ranking of No. 21 on this list reflects an uncertain future.
The new list also features the addition of several top catching prospects – Devin Mesoraco, Ryan Lavarnway, Travis D'Arnaud and Wilin Rosario – who project to see significant time in the majors this year.
Significant Ranking Changes
1. Carlos Santana, CLE (from 5) – Santana heads the new list thanks to a combination of factors: He's young (26 this year), he has 30-homer power and hit for solid average in the minor leagues (though that hasn't translated – yet), and he's going to see plenty of time at first base and DH. That means less risk of injury and the potential to come to bat more than 500 times again.
7. Alex Avila, DET (from 11) – Few catchers have Avila's offensive floor. Even if he can't quite repeat last season's .295, 19-homer performance, Avila is a young, reliable producer with a solid health history. The one cautionary note: With Detroit's abundance of 1B/DH types, Avila's got nowhere to play but catcher. That's rough, but it makes him no more risky than a National League catcher.
12. Yadier Molina, STL (from 17) – He'll always be Yadier F|STAR||STAR||STAR|ing Molina to me (see: 2006 NLCS, Game 7), but let's give some respect to the guy for blowing away his career high in homers last year while hitting .300 for the second time in his career (and he's got a .293 mixed in there, too). As catchers go, Molina's an iron man.
13. Jonathan Lucroy, MIL (from 20) – Lucroy's just entering his prime hitting years, he's got the catching job essentially all to himself, and he's been tearing the cover off the ball in spring training (for what it's worth). The guy is 13-for-25 (.520) with a homer and three doubles so far. Even in keeper leagues, he can still be had cheap.
18. Geovany Soto, CHC (from 9) – In his four years in the league, Soto has gone good year, bad year, good year, bad year. By that logic, he's due for a good year again this season... and a bad one next year. I value consistency and reliability in my keepers, and Soto just hasn't shown that. He's still under 30, though, and he hits some homers even in his bad years, so he can't totally be buried.
There wasn't a whole ton of movement on the first base list, but there certainly could be as the season wears on. There are a lot of subsets of first baseman. You've got the younger players – Ike Davis, Paul Goldschmidt, Freddie Freeman, Anthony Rizzo, Eric Hosmer, Justin Smoak, Jerry Sands, Yonder Alonso and more – who still have something to prove. Others, like Michael Morse and Mark Trumbo, have to prove that their 2011 breakouts were no fluke. Still others, like Lance Berkman, Paul Konerko and Adam Dunn, are old enough that regardless of last year, they have to prove they've still got enough left in the tank. Ryan Howard, Justin Morneau and Kendrys Morales have to show that their health issues haven't impacted their natural abilities. Depending on how you value all those variables, your own keeper list might be quite different from mine.
I added two names – Brandon Allen, who seems likely to start at first for Oakland, and Lucas Duda, who at least has eligibility at first this year and could gain it for next year if Ike Davis's "valley fever" limits him.
Significant Ranking Changes
9. Freddie Freeman, ATL (from 14) – 21 homers as a rookie will get the blood flowin'. Freeman's big and young, and he has as-yet-untapped power potential. Thirty-plus homers are in his future. Maybe this year, maybe next year. Either way, soon.
10. Paul Goldschmidt, ARI (from 15) – I'm all in on Goldschmidt both in yearly leagues and (especially) in keeper formats. The fact that there's so much negativity on this guy is stunning, considering that if you were to expand Goldschmidt's 177-AB trial last year to a 600-AB season, you'd get this: .250/.333/.474, 27 HR, 88 RBI, 94 R, 13 SB. That's as a rookie. His numbers in the minors over the last two seasons are absolutely pornographic: 65 homers, 202 RBI, 14 steals, a batting average over .300, an OPS over 1.000. Not only that, but he dramatically improved his plate discipline – from a 57:161 BB:K in High-A ball to an 82:92 in Double-A. Oh, and he gets to play for the D-Backs, who play 81 games in the second-best hitters' park in the National League, not to mention another nine or 10 at Coors Field.
13. Anthony Rizzo, CHC (from 23) – Rizzo gets a bump for two reasons. First, he goes from the wasteland of Petco to the home run paradise known as Wrigley Field. Second, all he's got in his way is career minor leaguer (but, I will admit, a decent hitter) Bryan LaHair, whom Rizzo is handily outhitting this spring. Age vs. level is a consideration for Rizzo in particular; while you may not impress everyone on the surface by hitting .330 and smacking 26 homers in the hitter-friendly PCL, Rizzo did it at 21 years old. Many perfectly decent same-aged prospects haven't advanced past A ball.
17. Justin Smoak, SEA (from 10) – Only pedigree keeps Smoak this high. I like him to bounce back some and raise his average to a respectable level; you can see where there's developing plate discipline here. Unfortunately, Safeco is a wasteland for power hitters and the reason that I'm not as high as some on Jesus Montero. Smoak needs to show us some improvement this year.
The list of keeper second basemen didn't change dramatically, but I've tweaked the list to reflect the youth movement at the position. Dustin Ackley, Jason Kipnis, Jemile Weeks and Danny Espinosa headline the young second basemen you can't ignore for keeper purposes.
Significant Ranking Changes
6. Dan Uggla, ATL (from 9) – Uggla after the All-Star break last year: .296/.379/.569, 21 HR, 48 RBI. I'm buying in. Who else at second base has 35-homer upside? Kinsler, and that's it.
8. Howie Kendrick, ANA (from 12) – A former top prospect, Kendrick just keeps getting better and better. I doubt he ever hits any more than last year's 18 homers, but I could see the batting average continuing to rise, and he's a candidate to score 100 runs hitting in front of Pujols.
10. Jason Kipnis, CLE (from 14) – I'm opening myself up to criticism by putting Kipnis in a spot above Dustin Ackley, but I'm convinced that Kipnis is going to outproduce Ackley in both homers and steals, and Ackley's anticipated edge in batting average won't be very big. For what it's worth, Kipnis's seven homers in 136 AB last year amount to a 30-homer pace. I don't see him as a 30-homer guy, but 20 is attainable; he's entering his prime hitting years.
13. Daniel Murphy, NYM (from 23) – This grade is contingent on Murphy not getting wiped out at second base again, of course, but if he does stay in the lineup, Murphy has legit .300/20/90 upside. The Mets' second base prospects are either raw (Jordany Valdespin) or always hurt (Reese Havens), so Murphy's got the job to himself for a while if he can remain on the field. Just don't draft him in any fantasy leagues that count fielding percentage.
14. Chase Utley, PHI (from 6) – If Utley can show that he's healthy and can hit like the good old days, a top-10 spot is his for the taking. At 33 years old, coming off .275 and .259 averages the last two years, Utley looks like a shadow of his former self. As a result, he sees the young bucks pull in ahead of him.
21. Neil Walker, PIT (from 11) – Why do people like Neil Walker? If you owned Walker two years ago and he gave you 12 homers and .296, okay, that's decent for a bargain second baseman. Last year, you got 12 homers, nine steals and .273. He's not a guy who you should actively want starting for your fantasy team, and I think he's at his ceiling.
This list barely changed at all, aside from a couple noteworthy boosts that I'll detail below. The lack of promising shortstop prospects is disturbing, but there's some good youth available there. If you disagree with Starlin Castro being ranked fourth (a ranking carried over from last year), well... I kind of do too, but I don't see who I can put ahead of him for the purposes of keeper leagues. Do we really know what the ceiling is for Castro?
Significant Ranking Changes
7. Dee Gordon, LAD (from 11) – Barring injury, Gordon is as likely as anyone at shortstop to duplicate Elvis Andrus's numbers; of course, he doesn't hit in the Texas lineup or ballpark. Mark him down for 40 steals, and possibly 50-plus if he can learn some plate discipline.
12. Erick Aybar, ANA (from 17) – If you compare Aybar's numbers last year to those of Hanley Ramirez, Aybar wins handily. I'm just saying. He's likely to repeat that 30-steal campaign, hit about 10 homers again, and – like Kendrick – score close to 100 runs with Albert Pujols jacking balls out behind him.
18. Hak-Ju Lee, TAM (formerly unranked) – If Lee isn't the starting shortstop in Tampa by the time this season's out, I'll be surprised. The Rays have no one really holding down the fort at shortstop, and Lee hit .318/.389/.443 with 28 steals in High-A ball last year. He did struggle upon a promotion to Double-A, but I anticipate a strong Double-A campaign this year that gets him called up by July. Move over, Tim Beckham.
23. Stephen Drew, ARI (from 9) – Let's all collectively get over Stephen Drew, who has never done anything special for fantasy purposes aside from his 21-homer season in 2008 and probably never will again. Like his brother J.D., always more projection than results.
Third base is a funny position. The guy at the top of the list, Evan Longoria, has really never lived up to his hype. The guy behind him, Jose Bautista, is too old to rank No. 1 on a keeper list. You've got that middle-high tier of David Wright, Ryan Zimmerman, Pablo Sandoval and Adrian Beltre, and all four of those guys have either been injured or endured unexplained periods of ineffectiveness. Behind them, there's the older tier of guys – Alex Rodriguez, Kevin Youkilis, Aramis Ramirez – approaching their expiration dates. In short, third base is scary. Invest in the two from Toronto.
Significant Ranking Changes
18. Lonnie Chisenhall, CLE (from 22) – Chisenhall was a mixed bag last year, as he flashed some power, but also often looked overanxious at the dish. He has the ability to be a solid, if unspectacular producer at third base, and at 23 years old, he's still projectable.
20. Brent Morel, CHW (from 27) – Do you buy into Morel's eight-homer September? Do I? No, not really. But he does have a little bit of power, he plays in a hitter-friendly park, he's got the job locked down, and I like that entire White Sox lineup to bounce back some this year. His upside isn't much lower than Chisenhall's.