It’s an exceedingly quiet day on the transactional front, which affords an opportunity to look at some higher-level developments around the game as the 2018 season comes to an end. My perusal of the stat pages revealed that there are several interesting middle infielders — by trade, if not always by use this year — who have posted surprisingly strong campaigns.
There are obviously other shortstops and second basemen who have likewise excelled beyond expectations — e.g. Scooter Gennett and Trevor Story — but it feels as if they’ve received proper recognition and examination already. It’s worth taking a closer look at this handful of players:
- Jurickson Profar, Rangers: Yes, folks, the former top overall prospect in baseball has finally arrived … at the ripe old age of, um, 25. Through 567 plate appearances this season, Profar has produced a .255/.337/.457 slash with 18 home runs and ten steals. He has gone down on strikes just 79 times while drawing 52 walks. While the defensive work hasn’t been valued as highly — whether due to frequent position shifts, Profar’s shoulder issues, short-sample blips, or otherwise — he has made up for that with highly valued work on the bases. All said, it’s the sort of campaign that was once envisioned for a player who debuted at 19 years of age. He’ll remain arbitration eligible for two more campaigns and could step in at third base if Adrian Beltre departs, though Profar’s capabilities in the middle infield still help buttress the Rangers’ options (including in potential trade scenarios).
- Johan Camargo Braves: While Camargo has been handling third base this year, and doing so with aplomb, he spent most of his time in the minors at short and could still factor there in the future, so he gets a spot on this list. Interesting young infielders abound in Atlanta, but this one has come from way off the radar to turn in a season every bit as impressive (if not moreso) than those of his more celebrated brethren. If his 2017 results suggested some likelihood of regression, Camargo’s 2018 follow-up indicates that he has made serious strides. Through 499 plate appearances, he owns a .273/.353/.457 slash with 18 home runs. He’s drawing free passes in ten percent of his trips to the dish (double his rookie rate) while strikeout out twenty percent of the time. Only a surprisingly poor baserunning grade (-3.4 BsR) has held him to an even 3.0 fWAR on the season.
- Joey Wendle, Rays: Entering his age-28 season, Wendle had appeared in just 36 MLB contests. Thus far in 2018, he has contributed 521 plate appearances of .301/.356/.439 hitting with seven long balls and 15 steals. Wendle may struggle to sustain those numbers, given that he’s relying upon a hefty .355 BABIP and isn’t quite supported by Statcast (.341 wOBA vs. .320 xwOBA). Still, he offers value in the other facets of the game and at worst seems to be quite a useful, affordable asset for the surprising Rays. It’s all the better for Tampa Bay given that Wendle was acquired out of DFA limbo over the winter.
- Marcus Semien, Athletics: We can probably stop waiting for Semien to break out at the plate. He’s yet again firmly ensconced between the 90 and 100 wRC+ range — smack dab in the middle, in fact, at 95. He might finish with only about half the dingers he smacked in 2016 (27), but is reaching base at a palatable enough clip. So … his inclusion on this list is almost entirely dependent upon what one thinks of his glovework. Semien is humming along at +8 DRS and +7.8 UZR after mostly posting poor metrics in past seasons. He hasn’t entirely eliminated the errors that once plagued him, though with twenty this year he’s still well shy of the 35 he recorded in 2015. What he is doing is earning big marks for ranging to balls and converting them into outs. The result? 3.6 fWAR and 4.0 rWAR.
- Jose Peraza, Reds: There isn’t a ton to get excited about with Peraza, who has posted solidly average marks in most regards while providing an extra boost on the bases. Still, that makes him a potential regular player — much more than he seemed capable of after his first full MLB run in 2017. At 24 years of age, he’s youthful and controllable. Peraza has made clear strides in the power department, where he has socked nearly as many dingers (13) as he had at all levels in the prior three seasons combined (14). He’s also converting his frequent contact into a high-enough batting average (.290) to support a reasonable on-base percentage (.328) despite a piddling (albeit still-improving) 4.4% walk rate. Though the defensive metrics aren’t in love with the glove, it’s good enough to hold down the position. The overall package is sufficient to induce the Reds to pencil in Peraza at short for some time, giving top prospect Nick Senzel a look in the corner outfield this fall rather than exploring other potential infield configurations.