by Moonlight Graham

No position has undergone more change over the last decade than the Middle Infield. Long a collection of slap hitting, base stealers and the occasional power guy, it saw drastic change with the emergence of big guns like Alex Rodriguez, Miguel Tejada, Jeff Kent and Barry Larkin.  Even marginal, late round options like Jose Valentin were good for better than 20 HR.

However, retirement, injury and position change have all been factors in depleting the ranks of the Middle Infielders that’ll give you a boost in the power department.  While some do remain, (Hanley Ramirez and Chase Utley will cost you a first rounder), for the most part, many Fantasy Baseball owners will settle for the mid-round options that produce low, double-digit HR’s, a solid BA and a decent number of SB.  The trick is, to find that one player who could break the mold and give you a top tier performance for a second tier price.

Fantasy Stars

-  Unless you’ve got one of the first two picks, you can forget Hanley Ramirez.  After that, Troy Tulowitzki and Jose Reyes top the Shortstop list but neither is a sure thing. Tulo comes off a terrific season but Fantasy Baseball owners still bear the burn marks from his disastrous ’08 season.  New York Mets’ star, Reyes, is not only coming off of a campaign lost to injury but was just cleared to play after a thyroid condition sidelined him for most of camp.  Don’t reach for either.  On the other side of the bag, Utley and Ian KInsler are the cream of the crop but Cincinnati Reds’ second sacker, Brandon Phillips, may be the best value.  He’s a guaranteed 20-20 from a position where that’s rare and he bats cleanup.  Going with that theory, we’d also have to add Robinson Cano of the New York Yankees, as he’s been moved to the five hole of that very potent lineup.

Fantasy Sleepers

- Cleveland’s Asdrubal Cabrera had a terrific season and gives you the added benefit of dual eligibility.  Look for him to ring up double digit HR.  Rickie Weeks makes his annual appearance on the Moonlight Fantasy Sleeper list; this time coming off of a wrist injury.  He opened ’09 stronger than he ever has, only to be felled, once again, by injury.  He’s been healthy throughout the spring and, at 27, could finally deliver the production Milwaukee’s been waiting for since he first came up.  As late as he’ll go, his 20-20- potential makes him worth a selection.

Fantasy Slippers

- The Phillies’ Jimmy Rollins continues to go relatively high for a guy whose stats have slipped so much in two years.  While he’s still a top option at the position, his sub .300 OBP last season is cause for serious concern.  Let someone else reach for him too early. In Baltimore, Brian Roberts is battling back problems that have plagued him throughout camp and will likely cost him SB when he returns.

Fantasy Stiffs

- Even in an NL only league, do everything you can to avoid Luis Castillo.  The BA and SB he posted last year, modest as it was, will disappear as he moves back behind Jose Reyes and gives up AB to sacrifice bunts. Forget a bump in RBI in the new/old spot, as outfielders play at Little League depth when he’s up and no one can score from second on a base hit.  At shortstop, Seattle’s Jack Wilson simply can’t hit or get on base anymore.  He slumped to .250/.290 in those categories last year and failed to reach the 100 hit mark.  Stick a fork in old Jack.

Moonlight Graham’s Top Ten Fantasy Middle Infielders

Hanley Ramirez                                            Chase Utley

Troy Tulowitzki                                            Ian Kinsler

Jose Reyes                                                  Brandon Phillips

Ben Zobrist                                                  Aaron Hill

Yunel Escobar                                               Dustin Pedroia

Jimmy Rollins                                                Ben Zobrist

Derek Jeter                                                  Jose Lopez

Jason Bartlett                                               Brian Roberts

Alexei Ramirez                                              Rickie Weeks

Stephen Drew                                               Dan Uggla

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