Sunday night, Alexi Amarista played a little center field and a little left field. Not so ground-breaking if you consider he’s been doing a lot of this sort of thing recently. Since the All-Star break, Amarista has played at every position other than the third, first, pitcher and catcher. There’s an outside chance that Amarista can put up real value for daily leaguers, in the vein of — but of course not quite exactly like — Emilio Bonifacio.
Bonifacio was the organizational player / utility guy the Nationals once got for giving the Diamondbacks Jon Rauch, before the Nats sent him (along with Jake Smolinski) to the Fish for selling Josh Willingham and Scott Olsen. Bonifacio struck out a little too much for a guy with no power, didn’t walk enough, and didn’t look like a shortstop really, even if some of the tools were decent, the defensive package wasn’t impressive. He came up as a second baseman, played some third base for the Marlins, and sprinkled in nine games at shortstop in 2010 to give owners a tease of what was to come.
It took an injury to Hanley Ramirez to put him at shortstop for a full season. With his first run of good batted ball luck (.372 BABIP), Bonifacio hit .296 with 40 steals and established eligibility at shortstop in 2011 (with some third base and outfield eligibility added in for good measure). Then he came into this season as the primary plan at center field, and you fantasy owners knew that even with a more mediocre batting average, they could something like a Rajai Davis at shortstop, or a Dee Gordon approximation all over the diamond.
To call Amarista an approximation of Bonifacio might actually sell the Padre short.
Now that he’s played ten games in left field, eight at shortstop, 29 at second base, and six in centerfield, Amarista has got many of the eligibilities that Bonifacio enjoys. He doesn’t have the same speed as the Marlin — Bonifacio had a 61 stolen base season in High-A ball, while Amarista only peaked at 38 in a similar situation and has stolen fewer and fewer bags since — but Amarista does have other things going for him.
He doesn’t strike out as much as Bonifacio. Amarista never struck out more than 14.1% of the time at any of his full-season stops, while Bonifacio routinely struck out in the high teens in the minors. In the major leagues, Bonifacio’s strikeout rate has kept his batting average down. If Amarista can manage as much power as Bonifacio (.077 career ISO), and some of the speed, he should be able to beat Bonifacio’s batting average most years (.269 career batting average). Those are, after all, the skills involved in batting average: contact, speed, and power.
Amarista has the tiniest upside, perhaps. He’s routinely bested Bonifacio’s ISOs in the minor leagues. Right now, he’s showing the ability to hit for near league average power. There’s a chance he can be the equal of Emilio Bonifacio with the bat. What he gives up in walk rate, he gives back in contact and power upside. And he should add value on the basepaths and his glove might be able to stick on the infield.
Then again, there’s obviously downside, given Amarista was traded for a reliever and was also considered a lesser prospect. Bonifacio shared those pains. Amarista, though, might not have enough power or speed to be the same factor in fantasy leagues.
Even the eligibilities are not a done deal for Amarista. At least the Angels didn’t think he was a shortstop anymore — even as he was consistently rated the best defensive second baseman in his leagues — and now it looks like the Padres might like him better at the Super-Utility position. Amarista’s eight shortstop starts are still two short of adding the position in some leagues, and if the team wants him in the outfield going forward, he could come up tantalizingly short of adding the one position where he could really get playing time in most fantasy leagues.
Only eight qualified shortstops have managed to put up league-average offensive numbers so far this year. Any multiple-position player offers some extra value on the bench in daily head-to-head leagues — as extra plate appearances or as a single-player backup across a few positions — but shortstop eligibility is where a fantasy player makes his meat.
If Alexi Amarista qualifies there, and if he can keep hitting the ball with a modicum power, and if he starts stealing bases at a more efficient rate — then he could have an Emilio-Bonifacio-esque in-season impact on the fantasy game at that difficult position. How’s that for being definitive?