Commentary

The ins and outs of position flexibility

How to take best advantage of players eligible at more than one position

Updated: March 5, 2010, 4:21 PM ET
By Pierre Becquey | ESPN.com

Positional flexibility in fantasy baseball is one of the great, underrated assets a player brings to the table. Whether you're contemplating a trade or a free-agent pickup, or simply want to deploy the best lineup you can on any given day, the ability to move players around to suit your needs is just as important as finding the right mix of talent for your squad.

However, while positional flexibility is great for you, it can work against you as well by chewing through a position's depth much faster than you might have anticipated, throwing unforeseen variables into the positional scarcity equation and leaving you scrambling at a position you had originally thought to be immune to depth depravation.

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To wit, the idea of positional flexibility is a double-edged sword that can both give you an advantage or work against you on draft day. It's a pitfall that can be avoided with some careful planning and understanding of exactly who qualifies where, and how many owners will covet them.

First, a reminder that ESPN positional eligibility is determined by games played the prior season. A player must have 20 games played at a particular position in order to qualify at that position. If he does not appear in at least 20 games at one position, then he will qualify at the position he played the most. For pitchers, the standard is five starts or eight relief appearances. Additional positional flexibility is granted throughout the season as hitters gain 10 games at a position, and pitchers make either three starts or five relief appearances.

(For players who could potentially add position eligibility this season, check out the KaraBlog). Insider

That said, let's take a look at what is considered the most depth-challenged position in fantasy baseball, the middle infield, where a minimum of 30 players need to be rostered in ESPN standard leagues (10 second basemen, 10 shortstops and 10 middle infielders), a challenge which gets even more difficult the deeper a fantasy league gets.

The Middle Men

Hard to fill

The following is a list of the mixed, AL- and NL-only middlemen who qualify at multiple positions. The bolded players are those who rank in the top 250 and are mixed-league material.

Ben Zobrist, Tampa Bay Rays, 2B, OF
Asdrubal Cabrera, Cleveland Indians, 2B, SS
Ian Stewart, Colorado Rockies, 2B, 3B
Martin Prado, Atlanta Braves, 2B, 3B, 1B
Maicer Izturis, Los Angeles Angels, 2B, SS
Jhonny Peralta, Cleveland Indians, SS, 3B
Casey McGehee, Milwaukee Brewers, 2B, 3B
Julio Lugo, St. Louis Cardinals, 2B, SS
Ronnie Belliard, Los Angeles Dodgers, 2B, 1B
Skip Schumaker, St. Louis Cardinals, 2B, OF
Luis Valbuena, Cleveland Indians, 2B, SS
Eugenio Velez, San Francisco Giants, 2B, OF
Adam Kennedy, Washington Nationals, 2B, 3B
Jeff Keppinger, Houston Astros, 2B, 3B
Jerry Hairston Jr., San Diego Padres, SS, 3B, OF
Emilio Bonifacio, Florida Marlins, SS, 3B
Mike Fontenot, Chicago Cubs, 2B, 3B
Willy Aybar, Tampa Bay Rays, 2B, 1B
Willie Bloomquist, Kansas City Royals, SS, OF
Nick Punto, Minnesota Twins, 2B, SS

Ian Stewart
Ron Chenoy/US PresswireIan Stewart is eligible at second base and third base this season, but is it really a no-brainer to draft him at second?

For all intents and purposes, Ben Zobrist is a second baseman, but is Ian Stewart? The middle infield is stacked with quality options, with 38 players in the top-250 eligible to fill the 30 middle-infield spots. Technically, yes, Stewart is more valuable as a second baseman or middle infielder than a third-sacker, but as we'll see below, if too many players like Stewart slip from the corner-infielder pool, it could cause some problems there. It's possible that he'll be targeted by both those needing a second baseman and those needing a third baseman, so don't think you can wait on him just because the next few teams are set at second.

In AL-only leagues, second base is considerably deeper than third base, and that's a good thing, because there's no raiding other positions for reinforcements. The highest-ranked player to qualify at both the corner and middle infield is Willy Aybar. The lack of depth really comes into play at shortstop, where Asdrubal Cabrera is the fourth-ranked option, as opposed to ninth at second base, and Maicer Izturis is more likely to be a starting shortstop than just a middle infielder. Expect Jhonny Peralta to be equally coveted by shortstop and third-base seekers, so if he's in your plans, don't try to sneak him in the last round. Things will get thin very fast at shortstop, especially as the first few teams double up and take a shortstop and then fill their middle infielder slot with another shortstop before some other squads have addressed the position at all.

In NL-only leagues, second base looks solid, albeit because two of the top-10 options are raided from the corner-infield pool. Ian Stewart and Martin Prado are top-10 players at both second and third, so if you find yourself needing one of them, act quickly. There will be plenty of suitors. Meanwhile, the shortstop pool is fairly untainted, with 15 of the top 16 options qualifying only at shortstop. That means that you're probably better off grabbing a second baseman first, and can even consider filling your middle-infield need with another second baseman before you grab your first shortstop.

First And Third

Don't assume a cornucopia of players at the corner

The following is a list of the mixed, AL- and NL-only cornermen who qualify at multiple positions. The bolded players are those who rank in the top 250 and are mixed-league material.

Pablo Sandoval, San Francisco Giants, 1B, 3B
Kevin Youkilis, Boston Red Sox, 1B, 3B
Mark Reynolds, Arizona Diamondbacks, 1B, 3B
Victor Martinez, Boston Red Sox, C, 1B
Adam Dunn, Washington Nationals, 1B, OF
Michael Cuddyer, Minnesota Twins, 1B, OF
Jorge Cantu, Florida Marlins, 1B, 3B

Ian Stewart, Colorado Rockies, 2B, 3B
Martin Prado, Atlanta Braves, 2B, 3B, 1B
Garrett Jones, Pittsburgh Pirates, 1B, OF
Chase Headley, San Diego Padres, 3B, OF
Mark DeRosa, St. Louis Cardinals, 3B, OF
Mark Teahen, Chicago White Sox, 3B, OF
Jhonny Peralta, Cleveland Indians, 3B, SS
Ramon Hernandez, Cincinnati Reds, C, 1B
Casey McGehee, Milwaukee Brewers, 2B, 3B
Nick Swisher, New York Yankees, 1B, OF
Daniel Murphy, New York Mets, 1B, OF
Jake Fox, Oakland Athletics, 3B, OF
Ronnie Belliard, Los Angeles Dodgers, 2B, 1B
Adam Kennedy, Washington Nationals, 2B, 3B
Oscar Salazar, San Diego Padres, 3B, OF

Let's begin at the top of the list with the three All-Star caliber players who are eligible at both third and first. All three need to be treated as third basemen. Reynolds is the 10th-ranked first baseman but the seventh-ranked third baseman, even when you include Youkilis and Sandoval. More importantly, in mixed leagues, there are only four third basemen ranked in the top 100 after Reynolds, but a total of seven first basemen.

It would be eight if you include Victor Martinez. V-Mart as a first baseman? Improbable, but not impossible. With only 10 catchers needed in ESPN standard leagues, there are more top-250 catchers available than there are catching slots to fill. However, if every player who qualifies at both corner infield and one other position was drafted at that "other" position (outfield, middle infield, catcher), then it would still leave 34 top-250 players to fill the 30 first-base, third-base and corner-infield slots, and exactly 30 of them rank better than the 11th-ranked catcher, Mike Napoli. No problem, right? Not if you consider that the utility spot will gobble up another 10 first-base, third-base or outfield types. Now, if confronted with a choice of playing Mike Napoli, Bengie Molina or Kurt Suzuki at catcher and Victor Martinez at first base/corner; or Victor Martinez at catcher and your choice of Nick Swisher, Casey Kotchman or Daniel Murphy, what would you choose to do?

Focusing on AL-only leagues, there is a sharp drop-off from the top six third basemen to the rest of the field, so Youkilis not only needs to be treated as a third-sacker, but as an elite option at the position, even though he is ranked No. 3 at both spots. The options at first base go far deeper, but once again, beware the diluting effect of other players' eligibility. Chris Davis ranks as the 10th-best option at first, and you'd be fine with him as your starter. However, with Youkilis, Martinez, Michael Cuddyer and Nick Swisher all qualifying at other, shallower positions, the 10th team to get its starting first baseman may be settling for the aforementioned Kotchman, with corner infield still to fill. Speaking of which, do not wait to fill your corner-infield spot. There are exactly 30 players listed at first/third who don't also qualify at another position. If Martinez and the outfield-eligible players are taken out of the pool, it leaves zero margin for error; as soon as other teams start filling their utility slots with cornermen, you're looking at fishing in Jose Bautista territory for your last corner slot.

In NL-only leagues, third base is deep thanks to a slew of multiple-eligibility players, but beware that seven of the top 11 also play either first base, second base or the outfield. Of those, however, only two, Prado and Ian Stewart, likely will be played elsewhere since the pool of first basemen -- which includes Sandoval, Reynolds, Cantu and Prado -- is deeper than third. Assuming Adam Dunn is drafted as a first baseman and not an outfielder, James Loney is the 10th man off the board, with Adam LaRoche at No. 11 in case Dunn does get the "OF" treatment. Like in the AL, you won't want to wait until the last minute to fill in your corner. There are only 28 roster-worthy players who qualify either at first or third but not anywhere else. Make sure you have your CI needs met before you fish for your fifth or sixth outfielder.

The Jacks Of All Trades

Players who qualify at three or more positions

Martin Prado, Atlanta Braves, 2B, 3B, 1B
Juan Uribe, San Francisco Giants, 2B, SS, 3B
Craig Counsell, Milwaukee Brewers, 2B, SS, 3B
Augie Ojeda, Arizona Diamondbacks, 2B, SS, 3B
Fernando Tatis, New York Mets, 3B, 1B, OF
Jerry Hairston Jr., San Diego Padres, SS, 3B, OF

Notes: Pretty short list, and only one player, Prado, is worth owning in mixed leagues. In NL-only leagues, Prado is even more singular; a player who qualifies at second base but might be worth consideration at third base, because he's a top-10 option there, as well.

Pierre Becquey is a fantasy editor and Fantasy Sports Writers Association award-winning contributor to ESPN.com

Pierre Becquey

Fantasy Sports
Pierre Becquey is a senior editor for ESPN.com fantasy games.