As promised, it’s a rare midweek Strike Zone, this one looking at underrated and overrated second basemen. I’ll have two more columns next week in order to continue playing catchup. Here’s a look at the schedule I’m aiming for:
Monday, March 6: Third basemen
Thursday, March 9: Shortstops
Monday, March 13: Outfielders
Monday, March 20: Starting pitchers
Monday, March 27: Relievers
Friday, March 31: Pre-Opening Day/weekend draft notes
Rougned Odor (Rangers): My favorite target at any position last spring, Odor isn’t going to make such a great value pick this time around. Still, I have 20 spots higher in my top 300 than his current Yahoo ADP of 43. As valuable as Odor was for fantasy purposes last season, he didn’t really exceed expectations offensively; his 105 OPS+ was actually down from his 107 mark as a 21-year-old in 2015. Odor’s approach is an issue, as made obvious by last year’s 135/19 K/BB ratio. He didn’t used to swing at everything, though, and he has the contact ability and bat speed to be an elite hitter as he matures. He also has very good speed, and he was able to translate that into more success as a basestealer last year, finishing 14-for-21 after going just 10-for-24 in his first two seasons. I think Odor will up his batting average and hit about 30 homers again. He’ll likely start off batting fifth behind Mike Napoli, which isn’t ideal, but he could finish the season as the Rangers’ No. 3 hitter. He’s a great third- or fourth-round pick.
DJ LeMahieu (Rockies): Even though he’s coming off a career season in which he won the NL batting title, LeMahieu isn’t getting all that much respect in spring drafts. He’s the 10th second baseman off the board in Yahoo mixed leagues, sporting an ADP of 107. I place him fourth at the position and 40th overall. It’s largely about Coors, but it’s also because LeMahieu is probably going to spend all year batting second, making him a great bet in runs scored. It also could help some that Bud Black, who has always favored the stolen base, has taken over as the Rockies’ manager. Obviously, there’s a big difference in the risk of stealing bases in old Petco Park versus Coors Field, but Black is still talking up the steal anyway, and LeMahieu swiped 23 bases in 2015 before dropping down to 11 last year. I don’t think LeMahieu will hit close to .350 again, but .300-.310 is plenty realistic, and that he figures to get a ton of at-bats at the top of the order makes that average even more valuable.
Jason Kipnis (Indians): Kipnis regained his power stroke last year and finished with 23 homers after totaling 15 the previous two years combined. I think that power is likely to stick around, particularly in light of the home run spike and Progressive Field’s emergence as an elite offensive park (it sported the AL’s top run factor last year and is fourth in the majors over the last three years). Kipnis is in a cushy situation batting second in an excellent offense, and while there might be a little cause for concern about the rotator-cuff strain he’s dealt with the last week, he’s been rather durable for the most part (he’s averaged 145 games the last five years). He’s the ninth second baseman taken in Yahoo leagues right now, whereas I place him fifth.
Devon Travis (Blue Jays): Health is a far bigger question for Travis, who has been limited to 163 games in two seasons since breaking in as the Blue Jays’ second baseman. He’s been a big success while healthy, hitting .301 with 19 homers in his 627 major league at-bats, and he’s the Blue Jays’ best option in the leadoff spot this year if he can stay on the field. In a best-case scenario, he maintains that .300 average, hits 20 homers and contends for the league lead in runs scored this year. I’m not quite that optimistic, but since he can be had in the middle rounds of drafts, he makes for a great MI or a fallback starter at second base. His ADP at Yahoo is 211, exactly 100 spots lower than his place in my top 300.
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Brian Dozier (Twins): Dozier’s homer binge last year was the stuff of legends. Two months into the campaign, there was talk of sending him down to the minors for a spell. Two months later, he was rivaling Barry Bonds’ best pace, hitting 22 homers in 36 games during one span. Dozier, though, hardly showed the kind of exit velocity last year one expects from a top power hitter. He helped his chances of getting homers by hitting more flyballs, but that increase in flyballs came out of his line-drive rate, not his groundball rate. I expect we’ll see Dozier return to being his former self this year, hitting .240-.250 with 25-30 homers. That still makes him a top-10 second baseman, but it won’t justify his current ADP of 34.
Daniel Murphy (Nationals): Murphy was always a solid hitter in New York, but he boasted career highs of 14 homers and 78 RBI before finishing at 25 and 104 in his first season in Washington. His .347 average was 50 points better than anything he had done the previous four years. Obviously, some slippage is coming. It’s just a matter of how much. I’m guessing Murphy’s 2017 will look a lot more like his 2015, though he’s a better bet for runs and RBI than he used to be since he’ll be hitting third or fourth in a strong order. I have him seventh at second base, whereas he’s in a near dead-heat with Rougned Odor for fourth in Yahoo’s early drafts.
Jonathan Schoop (Orioles): This one doesn’t pertain quite so much to Yahoo, since Schoop has a reasonable ADP of 171 there. Still, some are projecting an additional breakout for Schoop, and I’m skeptical he has much upside beyond what he did last year (a solid .267-25-82). Schoop has some of the game’s worst plate discipline, and while it could be taken as a good sign that his strikeout rate improved last year, his poor contact rate didn’t show a similar gain. Until Schoop can get his OBP up, he doesn’t deserve to hit in the top half of the Orioles’ order, and until he hits in the top half of the order, he’s not going to have a chance to be a big asset in runs and RBI. He’s also not a basestealer at all, totaling five in three seasons. I place him 15th among second basemen.
Starlin Castro (Yankees): It’s kind of odd to be listing Castro as a sleeper, considering that he’s been mostly treading water for five years now. However, his current ADP of 240 in Yahoo is awfully low for a perfectly reasonable MI option. Castro hit a respectable .270 with 21 homers last year, and he did that in his first season in a new league after six years with the Cubs. Also, for as long as Castro has been around, he’s just turning 27 this month. The Yankees will surely have a better offense this year, so Castro should top last year’s poor run and RBI numbers. He probably won’t go back to stealing many bases, which limits his upside some. Still, I have him 13th at second base.
Howie Kendrick (Phillies): The Phillies traded for Kendrick with the intention of playing him in left field, but he’ll be second base eligible for one more year. The 33-year-old was injured and ineffective at the beginning of last year, but he did put up decent numbers starting in mid-May, coming in at .265 with eight homers and 33 RBI in his final 373 at-bats. He’s going from a very tough park for right-handed power in Dodger Stadium to a favorable one in Philadelphia, and he should get to hit second regularly. Prior to 2016, he had batted .285-295 for five straight seasons, and this is the best environment for power that he’s ever gotten to play in. I think he’ll prove to be a solid MI option in mixed leagues, at least early on. Injuries could become a factor later.
Joe Panik (Giants): A concussion suffered last June seemed to take a toll on Panik’s numbers year, and he somehow hit just .239 even though he struck out in only nine percent of his plate appearances. He had batted .309 in 173 major league games going into last year. Panik doesn’t have enough power or speed to possess much upside for mixed leaguers, but the batting average should return, making him a solid No. 2 hitter for the Giants. Assuming he does land in that lineup spot, he’d be a nice value in NL-only leagues.
Whit Merrifield (Royals): Merrifield is part of a four-man competition for second base in Kansas City, so he’s far from a sure thing at this point. Still, based on his numbers from 81 games as a rookie -- he hit .282/.323/.392 -- he deserves the gig, and if he gets it, he could wind up as the team’s leadoff man. Merrifield swiped 32 bases in Triple-A in 2015 and combined for 28 steals between the majors and minors last year, giving him modest fantasy potential. The power production won’t be there and I’m not projecting much better than a .260 average, but he could be a bargain in AL-only leagues anyway.
Dilson Herrera (Reds): Herrera debuted in the majors as a 20-year-old with the Mets in 2014. Three years later, he’s still looking for a chance to establish himself. However, there’s a lot to like about his game if he can stay healthy; he’s going to be a 20-homer guy in time and he’s typically hit for average. The Reds picked him up in the Jay Bruce deal last year, and there’s some daylight for him in Cincinnati now with Brandon Phillips gone, though he still figures to start the year in Triple-A. Since likely second baseman Jose Peraza has versatility in his favor, an outfield injury or a Zack Cozart trade could get Herrera a chance later.