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July 15, 2013

Mid-Season Outliers

Middle Infielders

by Baseball Prospectus

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Over the All-Star break, we'll be highlighting some of the players who've overperformed or underperformed their projections during the first half by imagining what we might write about them if the Baseball Prospectus annual were updated today.

Everth Cabrera
DOB: 11/17/1986
Age: 26
Height/Weight: 5'10" 190 lbs.
Bats/Throws: B/R
San Diego Padres

Consider Cabrera the Marco Scutaro of his generation: he has a short stride, low hands, and a quick cut, he rarely chases outside the zone, and he even more rarely swings and misses. He shoots singles in all directions—only one major leaguer has a higher groundball rate than Cabrera this year—but he has sneaky pop in what Bud Black once called "a little power-packed body." He also has elite speed, and his shortstop defense has consistently been marked well by FRAA. Had he not been sidelined by a hamstring pull in mid-June, Cabrera would have set a career best for total bases before the All-Star break; even with the injury, he managed to match his career-best WARP mark. The late bloom isn't so suspicious if you consider Cabrera's unusual development path, as the Rule 5 pick was originally pushed into a full-time major-league job after playing just four games in High-A. —Sam Miller

Matt Carpenter
DOB: 11/26/1985
Age: 27
Height/Weight: 6'3" 215 lbs.
Bats/Throws: L/R
St. Louis Cardinals

Carpenter spent the offseason learning to play second base, and the results have been positive beyond the imaginings of anyone outside the Cardinals organization. Halfway through the year he's already displayed an apt glove at the keystone, is cemented in the leadoff spot, and remains among the league leaders in WARP. A line-drive and on-base machine with a terrific approach, the knock on Carpenter had been his subpar power for a corner infielder, but now that he's a middle infielder he has more than enough pop. At age 27, Carpenter is at his peak and providing tremendous production for pennies on the dollar, and his positional flexibility means he can always move somewhere else whenever the Cardinals put in a call for Kolten Wong. —Ken Funck

Danny Espinosa
DOB: 4/25/1987
Age: 26
Height/Weight: 6'0" 205 lbs.
Bats/Throws: B/R
Washington Nationals

After twice ranking among the league's top second basemen in extra-base hits, Espinosa opted to continue playing through the rotator cuff tear in his left shoulder that he endured for most of last year. He might have been of more value to the Nationals on the disabled list. The switch-hitter, whose power and speed—in tandem with strong defense—were intriguing enough for the Nats to look past his undisciplined approach and strikeouts, spent the first half sandwiching a whole lot of whiffing and very little whacking around a two-week recovery from a broken wrist. Rookie Anthony Rendon, defensive questions notwithstanding, usurped Espinosa's job in early June, and the veteran's strikeout-laden performance for Triple-A Syracuse has only underscored the depth of his plunge. Espinosa and the Nationals' medical team must soon decide whether surgery and a lengthy recovery are now the optimal course of action; the 26-year-old's 2013 campaign appears to be a lost cause either way. —Daniel Rathman

Didi Gregorius
DOB: 2/18/1990
Age: 23
Height/Weight: 6'1" 185 lbs.
Bats/Throws: L/R
Arizona Diamondbacks

When the Diamondbacks traded away top prospect Trevor Bauer for a package headlined by shortstop Didi Gregorius, we weren't the only writers publicly questioning the sanity of the move; after all, the D-Backs had made Bauer their top draft selection in the summer of 2011, and the return seemed less than spectacular given the value of a young and talented starting pitcher. What we overlooked was how valuable a major-league-caliber shortstop is, especially if his bat plays better at the major-league level than it did in the minors. The 23-year-old Dutchman might lack a first-division stick, but the one he does swing is much better than we believed it would be. When you factor in his above-average chops at a premium position and his secondary skills, we pundits who were so quick to dismiss the trade return as foolish or lacking perceived substance owe the Diamondbacks a hat tip and a mea culpa. —Jason Parks

Howard Kendrick
DOB: 7/12/1983
Age: 29
Height/Weight: 5'10" 205 lbs.
Bats/Throws: R/R
Los Angeles Angels

If it weren't for Miguel Cabrera doing otherworldly things, Kendrick would be right in the mix for the batting title the scouting reports always said he would win one day. The 29-year-old's batting line has been buoyed by both a career-high line drive rate and a return to a more aggressive approach at the plate. In 2007 and 2008, his first two .300 seasons, Kendrick had swing rates above 52 percent, but he dipped down to an average of 47.8 percent over the next four years. He's upped that to what would be a career-high rate thus far this season, and he's done it without decreasing his walk rate. Throw in a near 20-homer pace, and you get a potential career year for a former top prospect who hasn't quite lived up to expectations. —Bret Sayre

Jhonny Peralta
DOB: 5/28/1982
Age: 31
Height/Weight: 6'2" 215 lbs.
Bats/Throws: R/R
Detroit Tigers

Sometimes math can tell you a lot. Peralta's 2013 campaign has seen a triple-digit increase in his batting average on balls in play compared to 2012, which goes a long way toward explaining his 70-point increase in batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage. What math can't tell you is why this has happened; no doubt some of it is luck, but some of it is clearly more solid contact, as evidenced by an increased number of doubles and line drives. Peralta is not the MVP candidate his first-half numbers imply, and he's sure to come back to earth as the season goes on, but as long as he continues to drive the ball and overcomes his lack of range by catching everything he can reach, he'll remain a solid big-league shortstop. —Ken Funck

Jurickson Profar
DOB: 2/20/1993
Age: 20
Height/Weight: 6'0" 165 lbs.
Bats/Throws: B/R
Texas Rangers

Injuries throughout the Rangers lineup gave Profar a shot at steady playing time, and with nothing left to prove in the minors, the 20-year-old prodigy looks to be in The Show for good. His pedestrian numbers so far aren't really worth discussing—few doubt Profar will turn into an offensive force with a high batting average and 20-plus bombs in the not-too-distant future. The real question is what the Rangers will do now that he's arrived. They could play positional Plinko to open up a spot for Profar in the middle infield, where he profiles as a potential Silver Slugger candidate—but that would require moving someone like Ian Kinsler to the outfield or first base, where he would lose value. They could move Profar to the outfield, but then he would lose value. They could trade Profar, or trade a productive veteran like Elvis Andrus to make room for him, but how dumb do you look if Profar becomes a superstar somewhere else, or doesn't pan out if you keep him? No one said GMs have an easy job. —Ken Funck

Jean Segura
DOB: 3/17/1990
Age: 23
Height/Weight: 5'10" 200 lbs.
Bats/Throws: R/R
Milwaukee Brewers

In this year's Annual we wrote that Segura has "the potential for double-digit home runs, a high batting average, and 30 steals at his peak." Welcome to Segura's peak, as the young shortstop is just a few swipes away from achieving all of those milestones in the first half of his rookie season, and has displayed a steady glove to boot. Having proven he belongs, Segura's next challenge is to adapt to the adjustments veteran pitchers have already started to make—something his aggressive approach will hinder but his raw athleticism will help. Segura's low walk rate and reliance on the vagaries of batting average will leave him prone to slumps, but his speed and power will more than make up for that, and as long as he can stick in the middle infield he'll be tremendously valuable. —Ken Funck

Rickie Weeks
DOB: 9/13/1982
Age: 30
Height/Weight: 5'10" 215 lbs.
Bats/Throws: R/R
Milwaukee Brewers

For the second straight year Weeks spent the early part of the season floundering, this time posting a .183/.285/.280 line through the end of May and striking out in nearly 30 percent of his plate appearances. And for the second straight year Weeks rediscovered his stroke with a vengeance, this time posting a scorching .355/.429/.677 June line and cutting his whiff rate to 20 percent for the month. Streakiness has defined his career, so predicting whether he'll continue to channel Rogers Hornsby or turn back into the pumpkin that lost playing time to Jeff Bianchi and Scooter Gennett is a fool's errand. The other pillars of his career have been bad defense and injuries; the former is ever-present, the latter is overdue, and all three make Weeks a risky commodity for either the Brewers or another team looking for an infield bat. —Ken Funck

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