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2016 Baseball Position Battles: Middle Infielders

Baseball season starts one week from yesterday with a 3 game series at The Hawk against the University of San Diego Torreros. Back to the only sport that matters. Today, we take a look at the middle infielders.

"How the hell did the D'Backs give me up for Shelby Miller?!?!?!"
"How the hell did the D'Backs give me up for Shelby Miller?!?!?!"
Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

Today, let's take a look at the middle infield (2B and SS): our departing players, returning players, and the positional battles to come. Later today, we'll look at the corner infielders, and on Sunday, the pitchers (where it doesn't appear any role, outside of Kyle Wright on Fridays or Saturdays, is locked in) and catchers will get the treatment.

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan a stately pleasure-dome decree; in Nashville, we've got Hawkins Field.

Middle Infield

Departing Players

SS/Hair Model Dansby Swanson

2015 Stats: .335/.423/.623, 24 2B, 6 3B, 15 HR, 64 RBI, 16-18 sb-att

You don't lose the #1 overall pick in the MLB draft, team leader, and defensive stalwart like The Mansby and not feel the loss, but I won't dwell on it here.

Real men also cry, Lebowski.  Real. Men. Also. Cry.

Returning Players

#2 2B Tyler "Soup" Campbell

Senior R/R 5'11 170lbs

2015 Stats: .229/.297/.286, 4 2B, 1 3B, 2 HR, 26 RBI, 6-11 sb-att

If those stats don't jump out at you, it's because that's not why he's likely locked down the starting 2B gig over some younger, more exciting players (for now, at least).  Instead, look at this stat: .987 fielding percentage.  For comparison, Dansby Swanson - a veritable God with a glove - had a .974 fielding percentage last year.  In short, Campbell can be counted on defensively.  With Corbin looking to break in two freshman potential studs in Alonzo Jones and Connor Kaiser, he will likely want their double-play cohort to be someone he'll never have to worry about, defensively.  Enter the Soup Can Kid.  Campbell, best known for his out of nowhere heroics in the 2014 CWS (when he had to start at 3B for a just suspended Xavier Turner), is exactly the type of player who can be a solid senior leader on an extremely young team.  If he can bat 9th, take pitches, sac bunt (lead the team in this category with 11 last year), and play lock down, errorless, defense, all while teaching the young'ns the Vanderbilt Way, his value will be immeasurable.  With starter's reps in the offseason, it is not unlikely that Campbell will be able to pull off a .250/.325/.325 season at the plate.  Don't expect fireworks, but if he can turn himself into a league average 2B/bottom of the lineup guy at the plate, all while providing his usual golden glove, we'll take it.  It he can tap into that 2014 postseason magic, we'll take that, too.

So Who Will Replace Dansby Swanson's Hair?

Well, no one... but some elements of his bat and glove may be replaced eventually by...

#12 SS Connor "Soze" Kaiser

Freshman R/R 6'4" 185lbs

2015 Stats: N/A

Why lead off with Kaiser, when it's Jones who has the electric tools?  I'll let explain:

The list of impressive prospects and recruits in Vanderbilt’s class is almost endless. Vandy has two outstanding arms in Chandler Day and Donny Everett, among others, while Connor Kaiser, though not having some of the same acclaim as some other former elite prep prospects, could end up being the jewel of the class before all is said and done.

With Kaiser, the comp is former Dore and current Baltimore Oriole Ryan "Flash" Flaherty, both in body type and skills. Though not as highly touted a prospect as some of the others, and likely not to be the same caliber of player the 2015 version of Dansby Swanson was (literally no NCAA SS, middle infielder, and possibly player will be even close to that good this year), wouldn't you take 3 years of a right handed hitting Ryan Flaherty clone?  Thought so.  Prospects tend to get elevated in the rankings due to an exceptional tool, usually power or speed.  Kaiser's not that guy.  Rather, he's more of a "do everything well" player like Flaherty or Bryan Reynolds (both of whom were largely overlooked by the prospect rankers).  All of this is not to say he was overlooked as a prospect.  He was an Honorable Mention for Perfect Game All American, the #3 prospect (#1 SS) in the state of Kansas, and is a rangy defender with a plus arm.  He'll likely have to fight off the next guy I'm about to write up all year (and all of his years at Vandy if he wants to lock down the SS position), but early word out of Nashville is he's the favorite heading into the season.  I'm looking forward to seeing what he brings to the table.

#8 SS/2B Alonzo "Ludicrous Speed" Jones

Freshman S/R 5'10" 200lbs

2015 Stats: N/A

As I'm still not sure where Jones will play in the field this year (he could also lead-off and DH), let's start off with a segment of what I wrote about Jones in yesterday's Outfield Position Battle Preview:

It is conceivable that Corbs could try speed-freak 1st Team Perfect Game All American Alonzo Jones at LF and move him to 2B or SS next year (like he did with Tony Kemp), so he is the most likely guy.  Jones oozes potential, as he has legit 80 speed, but I get the sense that Corbs is going to give him every shot to compete at SS, and would likely rather have him play back-up SS and DH this year.  I'd like to see what his speed can do in the outfield, but not everyone can switch positions seamlessly.

Jones is likely the most likely of our position player freshmen to have superstar potential.  Think of Ludicrous Speed Jones this way: would you take a more highly touted, faster Jeren Kendall who has the glove to play SS?  Yeah.  Thought so.

Here's what Perfect Game wrote about the 1st Team All-American:

Ran a 6.17 60 at PG National! Good hitting tools. Showed very well with bat at PG AA Game with power from both sides of the plate.

For those of you unfamiliar with 60 yard dash times, let me give you a quick primer.  First of all, anything 6.5 seconds or faster is considered lightning fast.  Jeren Kendall, for instance, was clocked at a blazing 6.49.  Mike Trout runs a 6.4.  Ichiro Suzuki, in his prime, was rumored to have run anything from a 6.3 to a 6.4.  Carl Crawford and Michael Born's fastest was a 6.2.  Kenny Lofton claims to have run the fastest ever 60 yard dash by a major leaguer (6.19).

If Perfect Game clocked it correctly, Alonzo Jones is faster than all of them.  If the scouting report is to be believed, he's Deion Sanders with a bat that will play.

So why do I think Connor Kaiser and Tyler Campbell will start over him?  Well, I'm just going on word out of Hawkins field.  Regardless, Corbs is going to find a way to get Ludicrous Speed Jones on the diamond, whether it's SS, 2B, LF, DH, or as a Swiss Army Knife player who primarily DHs, and gets spot starts at all of those positions.

Let's get him on the base paths and watch the screen go plaid.

Up next, later today, the Corner Infielders.