Many fantasy leagues are won or lost due to the quality of a team's middle infielders. If you don't draft a solid middle infield duo, it'll be a long, frustrating summer of scouring the waiver wires.
That's what will make Robinson Cano even more valuable this year. While Cano continues to get better, the rest of the field is falling behind. It's why Cano projects to go higher in this year's drafts than any previous one.
CREAM OF THE CROP
1. Robinson Cano (31 HR, 105 RBI, .316 avg., 4 SB)
You'll find no argument here. No one else is even remotely close. The best part is his durability. He has played at least 159 out of a possible 162 games each of the last six seasons. If you're lucky enough to get him in the first round, you are off to a great start. Don't screw up the rest of your draft.
2. Dustin Pedroia (16 HR, 83 RBI, .293 avg., 29 SB)
3. Ian Kinsler (20 HR, 70 RBI, .257 avg., 18 SB)
4. Jason Kipnis (16 HR, 77 RBI, .262 avg., 25 SB)
5. Brandon Phillips (17 HR, 83 RBI, .280 avg., 15 SB)
Pedroia's value gets a little bump with John Farrell as his new manager. Expect Farrell to take full advantage of Pedroia's 80% career stolen base success rate. Kinsler has proven his .319 average in 2008 was an extreme aberration. His long swing is more likely to result in an average in the .250's, which it has been three of the last four years. Kipnis is the youngest of this bunch, but needs to hit lefties better (.215 in 2012). He slumped badly in August (.180 avg.) hurting his overall numbers. Phillips is as consistent as they come, playing over 140 games with 17 or more home runs each of the last seven seasons.
6. Aaron Hill (24 HR, 81 RBI, .283 avg., 9 SB)
7. Ben Zobrist (18 HR, 77 RBI, .264 avg., 16 SB)
8. Chase Utley (16 HR, 81 RBI, .271 avg., 14 SB)
9. Martin Prado (11 HR, 66 RBI, .297 avg., 9 SB)
10. Rickie Weeks (18 HR, 59 RBI, .254 avg., 16 SB)
11. Neil Walker (14 HR, 70 RBI, .280 avg., 7 SB)
12. Jose Altuve (5 HR, 32 RBI, .287 avg., 37 SB)
13. Dan Uggla (24 HR, 77 RBI, .240 avg., 2 SB)
14. Daniel Murphy (6 HR, 54 RBI, .290 avg., 6 SB)
15. Josh Rutledge (14 HR, 59 RBI, .270 avg., 15 SB)
16. Kyle Seager (17 HR, 65 RBI, .255 avg., 11 SB)
17. Michael Young (10 HR, 71 RBI, .296 avg., 2 SB)
18. Howie Kendrick (12 HR, 70 RBI, .303 avg., 14 SB)
How's that for a deep tier? Basically, it means if you miss out on the top five second basemen, you can put off choosing one until the later rounds. I'm still scarred from Hill's .205 average in 2010 to put him in the second tier. A change of scenery has helped him tremendously, however, as he has been a .300 hitter since joining Arizona at the end of 2011. Tentatively draft him with confidence. Is that possible?
Utley is the interesting one in this group. Cano used to play second-fiddle to Utley in these rankings. Can Utley, 34, come close to his old form? He did hit .299 in September last year, so there is hope. There are some guys at the bottom of this tier who can help you in average, but have little power or speed.
18. Dustin Ackley (11 HR, 54 RBI, .244 avg., 12 SB)
19. Marco Scutaro (7 HR, 58 RBI, .285 avg., 6 SB)
20. Kelly Johnson (15 HR, 49 RBI, .242 avg., 10 SB)
21. Gordon Beckham (13 HR, 48 RBI, .240 avg., 5 SB)
These are all guys that will be on the waiver wire at some point during the year. Ackley suffered a sophomore slump, hitting only .226 last year. Look for a rebound. Beckham has been a bust so far in his career.
BEST OF THE REST
Jurickson Profar. Omar Infante, Jemile Weeks