- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
At this point in spring training, I keep a close eye on each team's potential batting order, because let's face it, where a fellow hits in a lineup can affect his statistical production, and thus his draft and trade value. ESPNDallas.com colleague Richard Durrett wrote Friday about the possibility of the Texas Rangers putting their two starting middle infielders in the top two spots in that mighty lineup. He could be correct, in which case I wouldn't like Michael Young in fantasy quite as much as I've been professing.
Young led all big leaguers in at-bats and hits from the No. 2 lineup spot a year ago, and while much of the attention on the veteran this winter has been about position changes and trade requests, the fact is Young remains productive. He's a career .300 hitter who still provides 20-plus home runs and a healthy number of doubles, RBIs and runs scored. Move him down in the order, after Josh Hamilton, Adrian Beltre and Nelson Cruz (the proposed 3-4-5 hitters) and he would likely knock in a few more runs, but also score fewer. Plus, he'd bat fewer times. That I don't like. If a guy is going to hit .300, I want the most at-bats possible so it has the largest impact. Moving from the No. 2 slot to sixth costs, on average, more than 100 at-bats over the course of an entire season. Would you rather have Ichiro Suzuki hit sixth? I sure wouldn't.
Plus, Young is so much better offensively than Elvis Andrus that I fail to see why the Rangers would hamstring their lineup in this manner. Yes, Andrus took more walks and is obviously a base-stealing threat, but he delivered a lame 18 extra-base hits in 2010. That's it. Young hit 36 doubles, the same number of triples as Andrus (3) and 21 home runs. Young's OPS was 131 points higher, and while I do expect Andrus to improve his number Young is also capable of more. In 2009, Young's OPS was .892, a number only 17 hitters reached in 2010. The Rangers don't need to fall into the trap of simply placing their fastest players at the top of the lineup. Look at the Boston Red Sox, likely planning to hit Jacoby Ellsbury last in the order. The Rangers can do that with Andrus.
I do like Ian Kinsler in the leadoff spot, though. As Durrett noted, Kinsler performed more like a leadoff hitter than a run-producer last season anyway, and seeing as the second baseman is a former 30/30 guy (in 2009) the speed is not a problem. He also takes walks. He's not on the field enough -- injuries play a large role in why fantasy owners don't covet him -- but I think the Rangers are best served by Kinsler and Young setting the table, not Andrus hitting singles and, I should add, negating much of his stolen-base prowess by getting caught nearly half the time. Juan Pierre and Nyjer Morgan were the only players to get caught stealing more than Andrus.
What does this all mean to a fantasy owner? Well, if the Kinsler-Andrus duo kicks off the Rangers' lineup, I would bump up Kinsler's value some. While we know the ability to steal bases is not directly related to lineup position, as colleague Tristan H. Cockcroft noted in our 2011 Draft Kit, I think he'd bat more and score more runs, which are good things. For the record, Kinsler has 106 stolen bases in his career, with 58 coming in 65 attempts over 265 starts in the leadoff spot. The other 48 steals have come over way more starts (346) scattered through the lineup, and in 59 attempts. Clearly, in his case, Kinsler has run more while leading off. If he continues to play more of a small-ball approach, as he did in 2010, perhaps Kinsler could steal at least 30 bases again.
If Young hits sixth, adding in the chance that he might not play every day, his value drops. I would hope there would be no hard feelings from the organization coming out of this winter's drama with him, but batting fewer times and depending on Mitch Moreland, Mike Napoli, Yorvit Torrealba and center fielder Julio Borbon to drive him in is not close to the same as Hamilton, Beltre and Cruz. I have Young as my No. 7 third baseman, a shade below Jose Bautista. If he hits sixth instead of his normal second, I'd be more likely to pass on Young and take the similar Aramis Ramirez or Casey McGehee a few rounds later.
Then there's Andrus. Look, we knew it would take time for him to develop power. That he's so patient at the plate is a very good thing for his future batting averages. Hit him first or second, and he'll likely emerge quicker. Hit him eighth or ninth, and he might not be as patient. As for the runs scored, Andrus and Borbon would be, in a way, like leadoff hitters. Kinsler and Young, if they hit 1-2, have a track record for knocking in runs. So I don't think where Andrus hits in the lineup is that big of a deal. But for Kinsler and Young, it is.