Middle infield fantasy values: Buying into Zack Cozart in latest Shuffle Up

Everything’s coming up Cozart this season (AP)
Everything’s coming up Cozart this season (AP)

What we’re doing is ranking the players for expected 5×5 roto value the rest of the season. What’s happened to this point is merely an audition. Don’t worry about the prices in a vacuum; what really matters is how the commodities relate to one another on this list. Players at the same cost are considered even.

Today’s assignment: middle infield. You won’t find outfielders on this list, and I’ll give catchers their own shuffle, too. Starting pitchers come later in the month.

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I reserve the right to tweak this list in the first 24 hours of debut. Your intelligent and respectful disagreement is most welcome, but be sure to defend your arguments. Win that debate, win that rank.

You’re supposed to have some disagreements, that’s why we have a game. And if you don’t care for my ranking results, that’s fine; go follow another baseball writer who speaks your language and says what you want to hear.

I’m still fiddling around with the ideal format for the presentation; if you don’t like what you see, no worries. I welcome suggestions, as well.

I ranked players on the disabled list, but I will not debate their prices. They’re worth whatever you want them to be. Generally, everyone seems to be more bullish on long-term injury guys than I am. I’m also not ranking anyone in the minors.

And please remember the golden rule of Shuffle Ups: no player gains (or loses) 15-20 percent of value simply because you roster him.

Enough preamble, game on. If I missed anyone who qualifies, let me know. Again, this is middle infield:

$33 Jose Altuve
$31 Manny Machado
$28 Francisco Lindor
$27 Corey Seager
$25 Daniel Murphy
$24 Trea Turner
$23 Carlos Correa
$22 *Robinson Cano
$20 Jean Segura
$18 Xander Bogaerts
$18 Dee Gordon
$18 Brian Dozier
$18 Matt Carpenter
$18 Jose Ramirez

I really didn’t know where to slot Bogaerts. It’s pretty late in the season for him to still be homerless. But he’s trimmed his strikeout rate down to an elite level, and his high BABIP is a non-story to me, because it’s always high.

His career hit rate trades at .341, and Fenway Park is a lovely place to set up shop, with the attractive hitter’s background and almost no foul territory. Throw in the steals and the important slot in a deep lineup, and I’m inclined to give Bogie the benefit of the doubt.

$17 Chris Owings
$17 Rougned Odor
$17 Ian Kinsler
$16 DJ LeMahieu
$16 *Trevor Story
$15 Cesar Hernandez
$15 Jonathan Villar
$15 Jedd Gyorko
$15 Starlin Castro

Owings is a sneaky case, given the high BABIP and modest walk rate. But he’s clobbering a line drive 29 percent of the time, and his plus wheels will buy a few extra hits. And the Snakes are the king of DGAF running; they love double steals and swiping a base in any count or situation.

With A.J. Pollock currently on the disabled list, Arizona will probably keep Owings near the top of the order on a regular basis. Anyone in good Arizona real estate sounds like a fun fantasy own to me.

This Gyorko start isn’t a fluky thing, he’s been good for a long time. Consider what he’s posted over the last calendar year: .272/.332/.539, with 33 homers in just 133 games. Unless injury pops up, he should be the St. Louis cleanup man for the rest of the year. The breakout is in the past tense, it’s already happened. And he’s a godsend in Yahoo leagues, where he qualifies at all four infield positions.

$14 Hernan Perez
$14 Dustin Pedroia
$14 Ben Zobrist
$14 Jonathan Schoop
$14 Jason Kipnis
$14 Eduardo Nunez
$13 Zack Cozart

It’s easy for some fantasy owners to dismiss Cozart out of hand, since he’s been a so-so fantasy contributor for such a long time. A .350 average? Forget that, it’s tied to a .404 BABIP. We’ve seen this story before.

But let’s try to build a case of why Cozart’s quick start might be real. He’s doubled his walk rate, always a good thing. He’s settled in as the No. 2 hitter in Cincinnati’s lineup, behind Billy Hamilton and ahead of Joey Votto. That’s a good thing. His swinging strike rate is the lowest of his career, and he’s also offering at fewer pitches out of the zone. Control that area of the game, and you’ll control your at-bats.

$12 Aledmys Diaz
$12 Addison Russell
$11 Elvis Andrus
$11 *Troy Tulowitzki
$10 Brandon Crawford
$9 Neil Walker
$9 Brandon Drury
$9 Josh Harrison
$9 Alex Bregman
$8 Marwin Gonzalez
$8 Didi Gregorius

Gonzalez is another fun Swiss-Army knife; he qualifies at five Yahoo positions, for crying out loud. I love how he’s tripled his walk rate. His HR/FB clip is unsustainable, sure, but he’s probably not going to keep that .267 BABIP either.

He’s given us double-digit pop and double-digit speed before, hit as high as .279. And if one of several teammates get hurt, he could be a lock to everyday play. In the meantime, we’ll accept the 4-6 starts per week, at least in daily-format leagues. I understand he’s less interesting if you’re setting things once a week. Houston’s been one of the better offenses all year, and the Astros are the top-scoring team in May.

$7 Freddy Galvis
$6 *Asdrubal Cabrera
$6 Brandon Phillips
$6 Jed Lowrie
$6 Javier Baez
$6 Brad Miller
$6 Tim Beckham
$6 *Logan Forsythe
$5 Ryan Schimpf
$5 Yangervis Solarte

Maybe Beckham will keep his gig even when Matt Duffy is ready to play. Or perhaps others will wheel around so Beckham can stay; Brad Miller hasn’t been much fun this year.

Beckham’s pulling the ball more this year, he’s hitting the ball hard more often, and he has a terrific line-drive rate. Obviously he’s clubbing he ball over the fence, too. And we’re talking about a former first-overall pick. Get out the post-hype sleeper page, it’s time for another entry.

$4 Chris Taylor
$4 Tim Anderson
$4 Kolten Wong
$4 Jose Peraza
$4 Joe Panik
$4 Devon Travis
$3 Ian Happ
$3 Corey Spangenberg
$2 Taylor Motter
$2 Yolmer Sanchez
$2 Andrelton Simmons
$2 Jorge Polanco
$2 Nick Ahmed
$2 Dansby Swanson
$2 *Marcus Semien
$2 Jose Reyes
$2 Adam Frazier
$1 Scooter Gennett
$1 Orlando Arcia
$1 Whit Merrifield
$1 Patrick Valaika
$1 Derek Dietrich
$0 Erick Aybar
$0 Andrew Romine
$0 Adam Rosales
$0 Miguel Rojas
$0 Eduardo Escobar
$0 Danny Espinosa
$0 Jordy Mercer
$0 Eric Sogard
$0 Jace Peterson
$0 Jose Iglesias
$0 Alcides Escobar

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