Kirby Puckett played second base four times in his career, and three other times he appeared at shortstop. Roger Cedeno, when he was stealing bases and was actually valuable, once moved to second base late in a 1999 game for the Mets' Bobby Valentine. Even Mark McGwire got four official at-bats as a middle infielder. It's true, though he didn't actually don a glove and play the position. McGwire led off a bunch of times in road games when he was injured, just to get extra at-bats. Fernando Vina would then run out to play second base and bat after that. Matters just the same in fantasy as if he had played a whole game there.
While ESPN fantasy games rules state a player must have 20 games at a position from the previous year to be eligible at a spot, and 10 games in-season, not all leagues follow these rules. I've had a long-time league in which one game gets you eligible at a position, and while this can certainly be taken advantage of, it also can be quite fun. Pedro Feliz was an unwanted free agent in that league -- until he donned the catcher's mask and shin guards. Then he was a really valuable No. 2 catcher! Think about it. How many catchers hit 20 homers?
Position eligibility is pretty important in fantasy baseball, as it affects a lot of the way we think. If two players of equal value and statistical relevance are on the draft board in Round 5, wouldn't you take the shortstop over the outfielder? I would. Flexibility is also nice during a season. Players will get hurt, and if you can move Nick Swisher back and forth from the outfield to corner infield, it helps. Imagine what it was like being able to move a 50-homer guy like McGwire from first base to second base in fantasy? No more owning some no-hit middle infielder like Royce Clayton when you can move McGwire and sign Ben Broussard! Woohoo!
As always, an owner should check his league rules to see what counts and what doesn't. It's not fun screwing up a pick live at a draft, when you're waiting to select someone and then find out after you take Ryan Freel to play third base that he qualifies only in the outfield. Nineteen games at a position is not 20, and your pals are certainly gonna let you have it.
There are some pretty good players who will qualify at multiple positions in ESPN leagues, and you'll likely want to use them at the more scarce spot. B.J. Upton, Ty Wigginton and Ryan Theriot jump to mind, for each of them at second base. But what about those one-game wonders? Here is an all-star squad, if you will, of one-game-eligibility guys, or at least fewer than 20.
Pedro Feliz, C, Phillies: As a third baseman you don't really want him in 10-team leagues, because 20 home runs doesn't mean what it used to, but a killer .250 average still does. Everyone's hitting 20 home runs. The theory is Feliz will reach a career-high in home runs this season because he leaves the large San Francisco park for the tiny Philly one, but are 500 at-bats really assured? Greg Dobbs won't be forgotten by this team, and he could steal many at-bats against right-handed pitching. Regardless, I'd set the Feliz over-under for home runs around 20, and at catcher, that's pretty good when you consider only Victor Martinez and Jorge Posada reached that mark in 2007. If you're in a league where one game sets the eligibility standard, Feliz might go in the Kenji Johjima-Bengie Molina range, which is right after the top five. Yeah, Pedro Feliz as a top-10 catcher just sounds odd, but to some it's true! Who else: I don't expect Josh Phelps to have a noteworthy fantasy season, but it is clear the guy can rake at times and there are rumors Albert Pujols and his balky elbow could opt for surgery, leaving first base for Phelps. For some reason Phelps played four games behind the plate in 2007. He's not a good catcher, but to some, he is a catcher. Keep an eye on Detroit utility guy Brandon Inge during the season, he should gain catcher eligibility as well, and like Feliz he has power.
David Ortiz, 1B, Red Sox and Travis Hafner, 1B, Indians: These designated hitters did play some first base in 2007, but not enough for most fantasy owners to enjoy eligibility. Ortiz played seven games at first base, the third consecutive season he was at 10 or fewer. Hafner played 11 games at first, giving him 27 in the past four years total. Personally, I will pounce on drafting Ortiz in round three if others are worried about "clogging" their utility spot. Same with Hafner a round later, really. Who else: All the players who played a game or two at first base are more valuable elsewhere, but if you suffer a bunch of in-season injuries, who knows, you might need to move Chase Utley, Jim Edmonds, Jim Thome, Michael Cuddyer or Jorge Posada to first base.
Alfonso Soriano, 2B, Cubs: He's back! Oh how we've longed for Soriano to return to middle infield, though he's arguably a late first-round pick even as an outfielder. Consider what Brandon Phillips does for the Reds, a 30/30 player whom you might be worried about for batting average at some point. Soriano is a four-time 30/30 guy, once 40/40. He ran less in his debut season with the Cubs, but I refuse to believe that's an official trend, or the team stunted his attempts. Outfield is deeper than second base, no doubt about it. If you can play Soriano at second base all season, even though he got only one inning there in 2007, go for him in round one. Who else: Did you know Brad Ausmus played first, second and third base in 2007? I wouldn't even want him at catcher. Akinori Iwamura is a far better get in fantasy, and he'll be getting 20 games at second base by May, assuming Evan Longoria is a major leaguer. Mark Reynolds, Chone Figgins, Wilson Betemit and Cincy's Freel also played some second base, but not 20 games.
Chipper Jones, SS, Braves: I have Jones in a simulation keeper league in which the makers of the game decide who gets a rating at a position. In general, someone like Jones, who didn't start at the position and logged but a few innings in one game there, would not get a rating. Jones played shortstop on Aug. 1 after Edgar Renteria left with a sprained ankle. It was a glorious thing! Again, the theory here is that there is more depth at third base than shortstop, and now you can let someone else be stuck with David Eckstein at shortstop. Then again, is that the case? Oddly enough, I rank Chipper No. 7 at third base, but if he was also eligible at short he'd have a ranking of No. 8 for me, right after Troy Tulowitzki and Rafael Furcal. Nevertheless, it also changes draft mentality. If you select Alex Rodriguez first, but want to save that corner spot for final-round pick Eric Chavez, it's nice being able to put Chipper somewhere other than third base. Who else: Cincy's Phillips played an inning at short. Remember when he was actually a shortstop? Alex Gordon is the other prize at shortstop, however, for his six innings there. He's not Chipper, yet, but just wait, it's coming. I think Gordon has a big season and is going to be a draft-day steal.
Randy Winn, 3B, Giants: On June 8 against the A's, the Giants started Bengie Molina behind the plate. He left the game with an arm injury, so Eliezer Alfonso came in. No big deal. Then in the top of the 10th inning, Oakland's Donnie Murphy ran over Alfonzo in a collision at the plate, forcing his exit. Alfonzo would hit the 60-day disabled list with a torn knee ligament. In the dugout after the collision, Giants manager Bruce Bochy supposedly starting asking players who could play catcher. Feliz ended up playing there, but there were no other position players on the bench for his spot, so Winn moved from right field to third base and pitcher Noah Lowry made his major league outfield debut. Winn is nothing special as a fantasy outfielder, probably not even a top-50 choice. You know how many third basemen topped both the 14 home runs and 15 steals he delivered? It was just A-Rod, David Wright and Ryan Braun. You'll be drafting them. Winn also batted .300, and this year might have to hit in the middle of the order. If you can play Winn at third base, I still wouldn't make him a top-10 choice over Adrian Beltre and Mike Lowell, but I'd consider in the top 15. Who else: I remember Conor Jackson moving to the outfield a few times, but third base? Yep, he played there. I doubt Arizona will be moving him there any more, but Chad Tracy isn't healthy and Mark Reynolds isn't a lock for stardom. Kevin Youkilis can also play third base, with 13 in 2007, a year after playing 16. Why tease us? Get to 20!
As for outfielders, it seems pointless to mention those infielders or catchers who got into a game or two out there, but among the interesting names are James Loney, Chris Snyder, Gerald Laird, Mike Lamb, Adam Kennedy, Ty Wigginton, Jason Kendall, Kevin Millar, Joey Votto and of course, Noah Lowry. Not sure why you'd use a pitcher in the field, even if your rules allow it. Lowry hit .088 in 2007, incidentally.
Michael (St. Charles, Mo.): "Hey Eric, how do you feel about the scarcity at shortstop this year? To me, it looks like it's a position where you either have to get one of the top 3 (Jose Reyes, Jimmy Rollins or Hanley Ramirez) or just give up on the position considering the second-tier starts with guys like Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Guillen? If you agree that one of these three are a must-get at SS, would you use your first-round pick on one of them no matter what? I can definitely justify drafting Rollins or Ramirez with my first pick, but I'm having a hard time justifying Reyes."
Eric: I will say I think there is a lack of top-notch, reliable depth at second base, shortstop and third base after the top 10 guys, but I wouldn't call this a major problem. I also would have no issue taking Reyes in round one, as early as top three overall, or going with Tulowitzki and Guillen in round four, maybe even round three. In that case second-tier isn't such a bad thing at all. It's like saying Lance Berkman and Carlos Lee are second-tier hitters. They're still really good. What's wrong with Reyes in round one? I rank him ahead of Rollins.
Michael (Chicago): "Now that Johan Santana and Dan Haren have switched leagues there seems to be more aces in the NL. What would this do to the value of aces in the AL in an auction this year? Do you now pay more for Roy Halladay or does it depress values because there are no clear cut dominating starting pitchers?"
Eric: This is an interesting point that I've discussed a few times already. I think it depends on the league and how much you need pitching. It could make C.C. Sabathia, Josh Beckett and maybe Justin Verlander first-rounders in AL-only formats. It seems odd, but as depth leaves it makes it more critical to secure a top option. Then again, without any clear-cut guys separating themselves from the field, I would probably go hitters early in AL formats and let Javier Vazquez or James Shields be my ace. I don't like overspending for pitching.
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