- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
I guess I'm a sucker for middle infielders. Who knew? As I peered over the ESPN Fantasy second-half rankings, I was struck with just how differently I ranked the second basemen and shortstops (better) and the closers (worse) compared with the rest of the group. The closers part doesn't surprise me one bit -- I'm always passive on saves -- but the middle-infield difference was interesting. Do I like Chase Utley, Dustin Ackley and others because I really like them statistically, or did I just give them an extra bump because of position scarcity? I think the answer on both is yes!
The concept carries weight because, let's face it, we all want to build teams our way. As I wrote in Monday's blog, there's just too much decent pitching available for me to grasp for it early in drafts. I regarded our mid-July rankings exercise this way -- like a draft -- and went heavy on hitters. But in addition to favoring power and major speed options, I appeared to go heavy on the middle infielders. Here are a few players I seemed to like considerably better than the consensus:
Hanley Ramirez, SS, Florida Marlins: Indeed, we start at the top, or more accurately, at No. 14. Fantasy's No. 2 player from draft day has not performed anything like it, but I left him in my top 10 because he is showing signs of turning his season around as the team's cleanup hitter, and he still possesses the same power/speed combination he did in March. He's capable of being that over the final 10 weeks. Only three of the other eight rankers agreed with making him a top-10 guy. What a compelling player we have here. I admit, if he was an outfield-only eligible, he might have been in my third round, but still, I believe.
Asdrubal Cabrera, SS, Cleveland Indians: Nobody else had him in their top 30, which I found a bit surprising. Forget about the past seasons, he clearly has skills we all underrated. I ranked Cabrera fourth at shortstop, not far behind the DLed Jose Reyes. I guess I believe in both of them. Cabrera is doing fine in July, and I'll take a 20/20 shortstop with 100 runs scored in the fourth round any day.
Chase Utley, 2B, Philadelphia Phillies: I figured this rank would look more awkward than it does, really. Colleagues Matthew Berry and Nate Ravitz don't believe, ranking Utley 97 and 101, respectively. I watch Utley nearly every day. He's running fine, and already has stolen eight bases in 41 games. Other than his health, a lack of steals was my biggest concern, and he seems fine there. Plus, Utley is hitting for average (after a slow start), with enough power to matter. My rank of 51 does come with some hedging, but not much.
Alexei Ramirez/Starlin Castro, SS, Chicago teams: I have Ramirez at No. 73 and Castro at 76, in each case the highest of the group. I don't think the ranks are making a statement, but rather reflect the position scarcity. I was also quite positive, when compared to others, on Stephen Drew and Dan Uggla in my top 100, and shortly thereafter Jhonny Peralta, Erick Aybar, Neil Walker and Kelly Johnson. Wow, this was clearly a trend for me.
Dustin Ackley, 2B, Seattle Mariners: Here's where it gets interesting. At first I considered putting Ackley in my top 100, which is not like me since I normally don't jump on the rookie bandwagon. However, I did so with Kansas City Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer at No. 84. I surely did not end up ranking Ackley 56 spots better than the consensus, at No. 138, because the slugging Mariners are hitting him third in their order, though it should help his RBI potential. I did so because even in a small sample size, Ackley sure looks like he can play well enough at this level to hit around .300 with double-digits homers and steals, not merely in 2012, but even this truncated campaign. The lefty hitter has already smacked three home runs (and two triples) in 20 games, with a healthy walk rate and no trouble at all against left-handed pitchers (7-for-11). Hey, I believe, and don't mind being alone on "Ackley Island."
Ryan Roberts, 2B/3B/OF, Arizona Diamondbacks: Yes, he might not hit much better than his current .257 batting average, but the power and speed are real and sustainable. Adding that second base eligibility made a big difference; I rank Roberts at No. 136, 50 spots better than the next-highest rank.
Scott Sizemore, 2B/3B, Oakland Athletics: Now I really feel like I'm on an island. Nobody else ranked him at all! To be fair, Sizemore came in at No. 244, but it shows I'm on board with his quick start in Oakland being legitimate. Sizemore should have hit last season with the Detroit Tigers. The Athletics stole him in a trade, and the case could easily be made for him to hit third or fourth in that weak lineup. On most teams, he'd fit in nicely at sixth in the lineup. On fantasy teams that can use him at second base -- heck, third base is pretty weak, too, especially given all the injuries -- he's becoming standard-league ownable. And that, my friends, puts him in my top 250.