Second basemen preview: Plenty of depth in this top-heavy position
If each of the five infield positions, including catcher, was represented by one of the Great Lakes for fantasy purposes, second base would traditionally be Lake Huron. It’s sort of forgotten and, while not the shallowest of the positions, isn’t one of the deeper ones for fantasy owners. All that has changed in recent years, however. Second base isn’t becoming the Lake Superior that is first base, but there’s an argument that it is the next deepest infield position.
In 2014, a second baseman, Jose Altuve, led the majors with a .341 batting average. Another one, Dee Gordon, swiped 64 bases, the most in the league (Altuve was tied for second with 56). Two second basemen, Brian Dozier and Neil Walker, hit 23 homers. Dozier and Anthony Rendon finished second and third, respectively, in runs scored. All told, five second basemen—Altuve, Rendon, Gordon, Ian Kinsler and Dozier—ranked among the top-25 hitters in standard 5x5 leagues. In 2013, that number was just two, and both of those players, Robinson Cano and Jason Kipnis, have the ability to get back among the top 25 this season.
Despite the relative depth of the position this year, it is also top-heavy. Altuve, Cano and Rendon (who’s primarily a third baseman, but eligible at second) will all likely cost you a top-20 pick. Another second baseman may not come off the board for another 40 picks or so, when people start to consider Kinsler and Gordon especially, but also the likes of Dozier and Kipnis. In most drafts, however, it will be another 20 to 30 picks before those players hear their names called, alongside Boston teammates Pedroia and Mookie Betts, a starting outfielder with second-base eligibility. You should be creating tiers at every position, but with the wide gaps between groups of players here, it’s perhaps more important at second than any other position to have a good handle on your tiers.
Another facet of the position that has to be taken into account is the fact that a lot of the starting fantasy options, even the ones at the top, are specialists. Altuve is an elite three-category player, but he’s not moving the needle in homers or RBI. Dozier could give you a 20/20 season, but he’s going to be a drag on batting average. Gordon could very well lead the league in steals again, but he’s not going to do anything in the power categories, and he’ll also likely regress in batting average, as we covered in his player profile. It’s possible that only Rendon and Cano contribute positively to all five standard categories. Kinsler and, depending on how much you believe, Betts have a chance to do so, as well.
This creates an opportunity for the fantasy owner with foresight. There are plenty of other spots where you could end up with a specialist in your starting lineup, chief among them third base, shortstop and third outfielder. The depth of the outfield position makes it the perfect spot to pair with a specialist at second base, but you can do it with third, short or even first base, too. Here are a couple examples that fit all manner and price of second baseman, along with Steamer projected stats for 2015. Following that is a player whose expected production, when doubled, equals each pair.
Jose Altuve + J.D. Martinez = .287 BA, .331 OBP, 32 homers, 155 runs, 140 RBI, 42 steals, or two Charlie Blackmons
Brian Dozier + Ben Revere = .261 BA, .316 OBP, 20 homers, 141 runs, 104 RBI, 52 steals, or two Jose Reyeses, or nearly two Starling Martes
Pairing players isn’t just possible with your second baseman. In many instances, it will make sense. These were just two examples that were easy to find simply looking for the opposites of Altuve and Dozier. Countless other yangs to each player’s yin exist and multiple positions and price points. Finding the right one can help you get the most bang for your buck out of this ever-deepening position.
Betts figures to get most of his playing time in the outfield this season, but he’s still eligible at second base in most formats. I wanted to mention him here because he’s a prime breakout candidate, but we already tackled that in his player profile. Please check that out if you want the full rundown.
Breakout, part two: Kolten Wong, St. Louis Cardinals
Just because we already predicted one fantasy second baseman to break out earlier in the off-season doesn’t mean we’d leave you without another in the primer. Wong spent most of the 2014 season with the big league club, though he did require a stint at Triple-A Memphis to recalibrate after serious struggles in the first month of the season. Wong never fully put it together at the plate, but he did belt 12 homers and swipe 20 bases in 433 plate appearances. He was also the victim of some bad luck, evidenced by a .275 BABIP despite an 18.9-percent line-drive rate and 1.4 GB/FB ratio. His expected BABIP was a robust .334, so there’s reason to believe his batting average and OBP will improve this season. He’s just 24 and is a threat to go 15/25 this season.
O.K., so Baez isn’t a sleeper in the traditional sense, since only people in prolonged hibernation wouldn’t know who he is. The original flagship of the Cubs’ prospect fleet, Baez is far enough down draft boards that he qualifies in the strictest sense of the word. Most now see Kris Bryant and Addison Russell with a higher ceiling, but it’s Baez who is the only one expected to start the year in the majors.
There’s a chance Baez begins the year with Triple-A Iowa if he doesn’t make more contact during spring training, though that looks like a long shot. We know strikeouts are going to be part of his game, but there is absolutely no doubting his power. He hit nine homers in just 229 plate appearances and they had an average true distance of 405 feet. Steamer projects him for 28 homers and 14 steals in 585 plate appearances. You’ll likely have to offset his batting average and OBP elsewhere, but 30/15 is within reach for a guy with a current average draft position of 131.61, which is the end of the 11th round in a 12-team league.
A Cub as both the sleeper and deep sleeper at second base? Ryne Sandberg must be so proud. Alcantara is going to play all over the field for Joe Maddon, so right off the bat you're getting value in multi-position eligibility. In 70 games and 300 plate appearances last year, Alcantara had 10 homers, eight steals, 31 runs and 29 RBI. This was no mirage, as he hit .307/.353/.537 with 10 homers and 21 steals in 366 plate appearances at Triple-A Iowa before his promotion. In 2013, at just 21 years old, he hit .271/.352/.451 with 15 homers and 31 steals in a full season with Double-A Tennessee. The catch, here, is that Alcantara may not get more than the 300 trips to the plate he had last year, playing a sort of Ben Zobrist-lite role for the Cubs. It is, however, well worth paying the scant price it will take to get him to find out.
For four consecutive seasons, we knew exactly who Walker was. He wouldn’t cost much on draft day and would give you decent power without a whole lot else. Seemingly everyone has owned him at some point. Once you resign yourself to the back-third of the starting class at the position, you inevitably focus on Walker. Something funny happened last year, though. Walker’s power graduated to significant from decent. He hit 23 bombs and had a HR/FB ratio of 13.9 percent. Walker’s average true home run distance of 395 feet was the 20th shortest of all hitters with at least 18 homers.
ESPN’s hit tracker places every homer into one of three categories: no-doubters, plenty of distance or just enough. Ten of Walker’s 23 homers fell into the final bucket. It’s no surprise that Steamer projects him to fall back to 16 homers this year. If that ends up being the case, then he’s just one of the final starting options, same as he has always been, and not the top-10 second baseman he was last year.
The 20-year-old Peraza appears set on the fast track to the majors. He began last year with High-A Lynchburg, earning a promotion after slashing .342/.365/.454 with 35 steals in 304 plate appearances. He was just as good at Double-A Mississippi, compiling a .335/.363/.422 line and stealing 25 bases in 195 plate appearances. Peraza will almost certainly start the year in the minors, but chances are he makes it to the big league level at some point this season. His hit and speed tools project him as a potential Jose Altuve clone. A natural shortstop, Peraza’s ascent is aided by his glove. The Braves will have one of the best defensive middle infields in the league when Peraza joins Andrelton Simmons.
Early second baseman rankings
1. Anthony Rendon
2. Robinson Cano
3. Jose Altuve
4. Ian Kinsler
5. Mookie Betts
6. Jason Kipnis
7. Dustin Pedroia
8. Brian Dozier
9. Dee Gordon
10. Kolten Wong
11. Josh Harrison
12. Daniel Murphy
13. Chase Utley
14. Javier Baez
15. Neil Walker
16. Ben Zobrist
18. Howie Kendrick
19. Brett Lawrie
20. Aaron Hill
21. Arismendy Alcantara
22. Martin Prado
23. Scooter Gennett
24. Asdrubal Cabrera
25. Rougned Odor
26. Marcus Semien
27. Jurickson Profar
28. Brandon Phillips
29. Chris Owings
30. DJ LeMahieu
31. Jose Peraza
32. Emilio Bonifcacio
33. Omar Infante
34. Brad Miller
35. Josh Rutledge