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Silver League Update: An Infield Full of Surprises

We're over a month into the season, not yet so far that it's time to bank your victories, but far enough that results are starting to matter, and you start to wonder which surprises are Jose Bautista ... and which ones are Chris SheltonLast week's article brought up a discussion of one of the players who has surprised me the most: David Freese. He's killing the ball right now, but I suggested he's a great sell candidate, because surprise players have this way of falling back to earth. Spirit of St. Louis thinks I'm wrong, and since he's been at or near the top of the standings all year, I have to confront a possibility I usually ignore: I might be wrong. 

It also got me thinking about some other surprise players, and wondering what kind of production we can expect going forward. By happy accident, they form a full infield. Joining third baseman Freese will be 1B/OF Bryan LaHair, second baseman Jose Altuve, and shortstop Derek Jeter. The four of them have disparate backgrounds, but all have been among the best at their positions so far and none were expected to do anything like that. I'm not saying they were expected to be bad, just not superstars. Let's go around the infield in the traditional order:

Bryan LaHair, 1B

LaHair is off to the monster of monster starts (it kills me to remember I dropped him in another league before he even played), batting .370/.460/.767, with a wOBA of .501. He's swatted seven homers and eight doubles. It's he like stole Albert Pujols's talent. To be fair, though, LaHair's got talent of his own. He won't be sustaining an ISO of .397, a HR/FB% of 38.6%, or a BABIP of .504 (.504!) all season long, but he's got a minor league record of (mostly) high BABIPs and ISOs. Last year he clubbed 38 homers for the Iowa Cubs; the two years before he hit at least 25.

LaHair wouldn't be the first Quad-A player to have a stellar month in the Majors only to lose the magic as the season wears on. He also wouldn't be the first 29-year-old to thrive when he finally gets a shot to prove himself. I wouldn't trade the farm to get him, but I wouldn't sell him unless I got a lot in return.

Jose Altuve, 2B

Altuve actually came into the year with high expectations. Sort of. When you're shorter than David Eckstein, expectations only go so high. Still, he was a well-rated prospect and scouts and fantasy projectors were cautiously optimistic about his chances. A decent average and a handful of steals seemed likely enough for a hitter that could be a low-end starting second baseman or a high-end middle infielder. What we've gotten is a .529 slugging percentage and a .346 batting average.

His BABIP is riding high at .386, but his speed and minor league numbers suggest he should be the type of player who sustains a high BABIP. Not that high, but high enough. Power's never been his strongest suit, but he maintained very high slugging percentages in two levels of minor league play last year, so he could keep it up. I think he'll be a solid contributor, but he's also probably at the high-water mark of his value. If you can trade him for a more established player who's underperforming, I wouldn't hesitate.

David Freese, 3B

Freese is another 29-year-old off to a great start. Technically, last year was his "first real chance," and he certainly proved himself, hitting 10 homers and batting .297 in 333 at-bats, not to mention his postseason heroics. The train that started last season just keeps on rolling, as he's already hit six bombs with a .315 batting average. I said last week that I think those numbers are unsustainable, and I haven't changed my mind. His HR-FB% jumped from a pretty high 16.7% last year to a crazy 26.1% this year. To put that number in context, while it isn't exactly up with LaHair or Matt Kemp, it would have led baseball last year.

Looking deeper into his minor league numbers though, I have to admit that the guy's got some power. His ISOs have usually been over .200 and his his lowest BABIP (in more than four games) was .345. I do think his average will drop, but something like last year's power output seems pretty reasonable projected over a full slate of plate appearances.

Derek Jeter, SS

The last player on this list, Jeter is sort of the "which one doesn't belong" of the group. He's one of the most famous athletes in the world. He'll be a first ballot-Hall of Famer. He's won more World Series than most franchises. And he wasn't exactly predicted to do well this year. Gone were the days of Jeter in the first few rounds; before the year he found himself closer to the end of the starting shortstop rankings than the beginning. On the heels of a disappointing season in which he batted .297 but hit just six homers, he already has five. At 38, it seemed entirely reasonable that his Hall of Fame career was about to hit a sharp slope on the decline curve.

A month in, and he's third in the Majors with a 33.3% HR/FB% and batting .390/.425/585. If there's bad news, it's that he's stolen just one base (see, he is getting old!). It goes without saying that Jeter won't continue to do this -- but nobody would. Still, it seems to me that if this were the year that he falls completely apart, a month like this wouldn't have been possible. He seems like a good bet to finish among the top shortstops who weren't drafted in the first two rounds.

Somehow, the teams that drafted these players aren't in the Silver League's top two -- instead they occupy spots three-five. (King Fish 2.0 got Freese and LaHair; no wonder he's surviving picking Pujols first overall.) The pack remains tight, by the way, with nine teams between 60 and 80 points. (Somehow, I'm one of them.) I don't expect any of these four players to change hands anytime soon; they're one of the hardest types of players to part with -- players on a hot start who look like they won't have too far to fall when they come back to earth. If anything, you might want to try trading for one of these guys as soon as he has a bad week or two.

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