I can honestly say that a month ago I didn't expect Kansas City Royals future studs Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas to be among the most dropped players in fantasy baseball as July began. In fact, no two corner infielders have been dropped in more leagues over the past week. Similarly, two of the most added middle infielders are also Royals, Chris Getz and Alcides Escobar. OK, is this some kind of joke?
The truth is Getz and Escobar might not seem to be the most talented players, while first baseman Hosmer has drawn comparisons to Joey Votto and third baseman Moustakas possesses 30-homer potential, but stolen bases also count in fantasy leagues, and Getz/Escobar provide them. Getz boasts a pair of multi-steal performances in the past 10 days, and 14 steals for the season. Only 22 players have more steals, and all are owned in more leagues than Getz (7.2 percent). It's not a fluke; Getz has 54 steals in 62 attempts over the past three seasons.
Escobar, of course, is the one fantasy owners are more interested in. The former Brewers great -- well, maybe not, but I do enjoy when anchor Steve Berthiaume talks that way on "Baseball Tonight" -- hit .305 with seven stolen bases in June, scoring 15 runs in the process. Only 11 middle infielders rank better on ESPN's Player Rater over the past 30 days. That doesn't mean Escobar is better than Robinson Cano, Rickie Weeks, Jimmy Rollins or Ben Zobrist, even though he outperformed all of them fantasy-wise in June, but it has boosted Escobar's ownership percentage in ESPN standard leagues to 73.9 percent. I don't think he'll hit .270 for the season, but the Royals have a pair of potential 25-steal middle infielders there. Good for them ... and us!
Perhaps these Royals middle infielders can even hit a gapper or two this weekend at Coors Field. Escobar, acquired in the Zack Greinke trade, has as many home runs as the pitcher. However, there are other team middle infields -- some speedy, some Yankees -- to watch for fantasy purposes this weekend and beyond.
Oakland Athletics: Not that Mark Ellis was going to infringe on Jemile Weeks' playing time anyway, but the trade of Ellis to the Rockies did make things official: Second base is Weeks' job to lose. He's hitting .309 with six stolen bases in 21 games and seems safe as the leadoff hitter. Shortstop Cliff Pennington was moved to the No. 2 spot in the lineup by new manager Bob Melvin, though it hasn't gone well (.183 with one stolen base in 18 games). I'd rather own Rickie's little brother at this point, and I think he'll continue to be an attractive free-agent addition.
San Diego Padres: Padres speedsters Orlando Hudson and Jason Bartlett have seen a mild uptick in ownership of late, as I suppose fantasy owners needing steals have noticed they have combined for 26 of them. They also are hitting .240 between them, with just two home runs. Still, Hudson has stolen his 11 bases -- already a career high -- in only 46 games, which warrants attention if he continues to run this much.
Minnesota Twins: I keep going back and forth on Alexi Casilla, probably because his performance fluctuates so much. In the early part of June, he got hits and ran wild, and the past few weeks he has had plenty of oh-fers and turned into the second-most dropped middle infielder, behind only the Mets' Justin Turner. Tsuyoshi Nishioka is no less frustrating. Who knows what to expect in any given weekend from him? He's still on my radar, though. It's not like Joe Mauer can play second base ... yet.
Los Angeles Dodgers: I enjoy watching 110-pounder (or so it seems) Dee Gordon play, but if there's anyone in baseball who needs a little work in the gym, it's the lanky shortstop. Gordon is really -- and not surprisingly -- overwhelmed at the plate, including a recent 1-for-22 stretch, and while I have no doubt he could steal 20 bases in half a season, the pending return of Rafael Furcal also complicates matters. Perhaps Furcal handles second base instead when he returns soon, or becomes trade bait. I just wouldn't expect much from a raw Gordon the final three months unless he hits more.
New York Yankees: And then there's the lone future Hall of Fame shortstop currently on the disabled list, and expected to return Monday. And no, I'm not talking about Jed Lowrie. The ever-popular Derek Jeter could resume his quest for 3,000 hits on Independence Day, so get ready! Most of his loyal owners have kept him around for the DL stint, as he's available in only 4.3 percent of standard-mixed leagues. Personally, though, I would have cut him. Orlando Cabrera, Darwin Barney and a pair of Escobars (Yunel, Alcides) have been better this season. I could see a rejuvenated Jeter hitting .275 the rest of the way, scoring runs and perhaps stealing 10 more bases, but those statistics are only borderline ownable depending on your roster.
Whatever the case, it's pretty clear if you need speed from the middle infield, it's out there, in Kansas City and other places. And for what it's worth, I'd keep Hosmer and Moustakas owned, if at all possible.
Have a great Fourth of July weekend!