Matthew Pouliot

Strike Zone

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2014 Breakdowns: Second Base

Wednesday, February 19, 2014


By my projections, this is a down year for second basemen. Totaling up the numbers, I have the top 10 shortstops ahead of the top 10 second basemen, though it evens out after that. Perhaps it could be considered a transition year. For the first time since 2010, Robinson Cano doesn't top the list of second basemen, getting replaced by the younger Jason Kipnis. Players like Jurickson Profar, Anthony Rendon and Kolten Wong are very much on the way up, but probably aren't quite there yet, and looking ahead to 2015, we have an unusually strong crop of true second base prospects headed by the Rangers' Rougned Odor, the Orioles' Jonathan Schoop, the Red Sox's Mookie Betts and the Cubs' Arismendy Alcantara.

 

So, here's a look at a few second basemen who appear underrated and overrated right now. For my complete rankings at every position, check out the online draft guide. It includes an overall top 300, top 250s for both AL- and NL-only leagues, 1,000 player profiles, 1,500 player projections, keeper rankings and much more.

 

 

Underrated

 

Jason Kipnis - Indians - The feeling here is that Kipnis doesn't need to exceed his 2013 performance to justify being ranked over Cano; he simply needs to match it. That's not a given, of course, even if he is reaching the popular peak age of 27. Last year's strikeout rate of 21.7 percent suggests his .284 average could regress this year. On the other hand, he struck out just 16.2 percent of the time in 2012, and even with his strikeout rate up last year, he was still making contact at a rate better than the league average. No one at second base can match his power-speed combination, and he's in a pretty comfy spot as the Indians' No. 3 hitter. I think he makes for a really nice second-round pick in mixed leagues.

 

Martin Prado - Diamondbacks - It took a long time for Prado to get going in his first season with the Diamondbacks, but after finding his stroke, he came in at .324/.374/.490 in 253 at-bats following the All-Star break. During that span, he drove in 48 runs in 64 games, which is probably why he'll find himself back towards the middle of the order this year. Last year, he made 41 starts batting second, 28 batting fourth, 34 batting fifth and 24 batting sixth. It'd be terrific for his fantasy value if he could land in the cleanup spot on a more regular basis this year, but the Diamondbacks would prefer Miguel Montero win that spot in order to break up the right-handed stranglehold. The worst-case scenario is that Prado gets stuck hitting sixth behind Mark Trumbo's all-or-nothing game, but even if that happens in April, it won't necessarily last. I have Prado hitting about .300 with solid enough run and RBI numbers to rank him sixth at second base.

 

Gordon Beckham - White Sox - Annually a disappointment, Beckham shook off a fractured hamate bone to hit .342 in 41 games over the first half of last season before stumbling the rest of the way. He never really hit for power at any point, but that's not surprising given the nature of his injury; while players can return from a broken hamate in about six weeks, it often takes far longer for their power to come back. What I did like is that Beckham ended up with the best strikeout rate and line drive rates of his career. Beckham should regain his 15-homer power this year and settle in as at least a solid AL-only second baseman. How useful he'll be in mixed leagues could depend on his lineup spot; he struggled as a No. 2 hitter last year, but he makes about as much sense there as anyone else on the White Sox (assuming that they go with Dayan Viciedo over Alejandro De Aza in left field most of the time). If he returns to batting eighth, he'd be less interesting.

 

Overrated

 

Robinson Cano - Mariners - It will probably be a few years before the Mariners have any regrets about Cano's 10-year, $240 million contract, but fantasy owners shouldn't pay the usual rate for the 31-year-old now that he's dealing with a pitcher's park and a weak supporting cast. Cano got a taste of playing with lesser teammates for the first time last year because of all of the Yankees' injuries, and he still drove in 107 runs anyway. However, his run total collapsed all of the way to 81, and a similar total could be on the way this year with guys like Corey Hart and Logan Morrison hitting behind him. My guess is that we'll see something like .295-24-90 from Cano this season. I have him beating Kipnis in four categories, but the big difference in steals is enough to swing things back Kipnis's way.

 

Daniel Murphy - Mets - The intriguing thing about Murphy's 2013 season is how he was so much more valuable than usual without him actually hitting any better than usual; his .286 average and .734 OPS were both below his career marks. Of course, it helped a lot that he got 87 more at-bats than ever before and more than doubled his career steal total by going 23-for-26 on the basepaths. Murphy won't catch teams by surprise with his basestealing again, and despite two completely healthy seasons in a row, he still rates as a pretty big injury risk. Plus, his RBI number figures to diminish with the Mets having fairly weak leadoff options. I'd still take him as a mixed-league MI in April and May, but others are better bets to provide lasting value.  

 

Anthony Rendon - Nationals - I think Rendon has a great chance of being a $20 player in 2015, but I'm down on him for this year. For one thing, he's a worse bet to stay healthy for as long as he plays second base (something that I imagine will change in 2015, with Ryan Zimmerman likely moving across the diamond). For another, he currently looks like the Nationals' No. 8 hitter, limiting his runs scored and RBI totals. He's not even assured of that, given that manager Matt Williams has labeled second base an open competition between he and Danny Espinosa. I think Rendon will hit -- I actually have him with the fifth best OPS projection among second basemen -- but since his solid average will come with a middling home run total and few steals, the fantasy production will probably be pretty modest.

 

Sleepers

 

Dustin Ackley - Mariners - The hope is that Ackley, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2009 draft, turned the corner while hitting .313/.392/.456 over the final two months of last season, but there is the matter of finding him some place to play. Second base certainly isn't an option, and he didn't impress in center field last season. Left field probably makes the most sense, but he'll face competition there and there might not be any room for him at all if the Mariners end up signing Nelson Cruz. Still, for now, Ackley looks like a sleeper. He makes an awful lot of contact, and he showed enough power to hit 12 homers as a 24-year-old in 2012. He could be a nice AL-only option with the possibility of a .270-.280 average and decent all-around numbers.

 

Rickie Weeks - Brewers - The Brewers have Scooter Gennett penciled in at second base after he surprised with a .324 average in 213 at-bats last season. Gennett, though, doesn't walk and possesses little power, so if his average drops to the .270-.280 range, which is more what his minor league numbers suggested he'd hit, he's going to be a pretty mediocre regular. Weeks, of course, has been brutally inconsistent, and he's so terrible when he's off his game that it makes it difficult to stay patient. On the other hand, this is a three-time 20-homer guy with a history of scoring tons of runs who happens to be the same age as Cano. Maybe another team will take him on if the Brewers insist on going with Gennett. He still has mixed-league upside.

 

Emilio Bonifacio - Cubs - Some wind was taken from these sails with the news that the Cubs wanted Starlin Castro batting leadoff (really?), but at least for the moment, Bonifacio is the one second baseman I have projected to steal 30 bases (Jose Altuve and Kipnis are the only other two over 20). In my mind, Bonifacio rates as the Cubs' best leadoff option. He had just a .295 OBP with the Blue Jays and Royals last season, but he came in at .360 and .330 in his last two seasons in the NL, which, combined with his terrific steal percentages, makes him a pretty solid choice to bat first (NL leadoff men had a .333 OBP on the whole last season). Of course, there is the matter of finding him a position, but with the outfield unsettled apart from Nate Schierholtz and Luis Valbuena topping the depth chart at third, it's not going to be difficult at all to find room for Bonifacio. He could be quite the source of cheap speed.

 

Scott Sizemore - Yankees - If all goes according to plan, Sizemore will open the season in the minors, with Brian Roberts playing second, Kelly Johnson starting at third and Brendan Ryan and Eduardo Nunez serving as utilitymen for the Yankees. That's probably for the best, given that Sizemore has essentially missed two seasons with knee injuries. Sizemore, though, had the makings of a solid regular before getting hurt, and he has the power to pop 15 homers if he lucks into 400 at-bats for the Yankees. It's just probably going to be mid-May or June before he's a candidate to contribute.



Matthew Pouliot is the Executive Editor of RotoWorld.com and has been doing the site's baseball projections for the last 10 years. Follow him on Twitter at matthewpouliot.
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