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January 27, 2014

State of the Position

Second Basemen

by Paul Sporer

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Perceptions of second base can vary wildly from person to person, but part of that comes from a skewed perception of depth. Depth at a position doesn’t mean there are 10-12 flawless options. Even first base, the unquestioned deepest position in most seasons, doesn’t offer that many prime assets. Second base has been deep the last couple of years with a strong top tier, thick middle tier, and a handful of later options either carrying real upside or a high floor that won’t kill you. Both profiles carry their own distinct value based on your roster composition at the time.

Given the dearth of talent we’ve seen at one or both of the middle-infield positions in recent years, the bar to clear for depth isn’t terribly high. If several breakout potentials actually come through, second base could end up just flat out being deep, as opposed to being deep with the disclaimer “for a middle-infield position.”

Second base is sometimes laden with multi-positional players, though the only position where they are definitely going to be more valuable is shortstop. Unlike catchers qualifying at first base, it wouldn’t be insane to use a shortstop-eligible player at second base, so those affected will still count toward the second-base depth. This primarily impacts Jed Lowrie, Ben Zobrist, and also Jordy Mercer, who had a sneaky-solid season in 365 PA. Other guys like Nick Punto, Jonathan Herrera, Daniel Descalso, and Maicer Izturis also carry both middle-infield positions, but none of them have enough bat for it to matter.

The League Breakout
This position is decidedly tilted in favor of the American League with no less than the top three coming from the junior circuit, and some rankings going four or five deep with ALers at the top. Robinson Cano, Jason Kipnis, and Dustin Pedroia are the unquestioned top trio while Ian Kinsler and Jose Altuve have been given top-five consideration.

The NL’s top tier has a pair of guys who have to prove they can repeat in Matt Carpenter and Daniel Murphy, as well as some steady-Eddie types like Brandon Phillips, Martin Prado, and Chase Utley (he steadily gets hurt, but also produces when he plays). I couldn’t label him steady after an 87-game season, but I think Aaron Hill has a good shot at being the NL’s top 2B earner in 2014.

The Strategy in Mixed Leagues
In shallow leagues, if you don’t dive into the pool early for one of those three stud American Leaguers, you can reasonably wait a while. Carpenter, Kinsler, and Zobrist are the only other second basemen going in the top 75 picks of early mock drafts. Five other guys are averaging a pick in the top 110: Altuve, Phillips, Murphy, Jedd Gyorko, and Hill, my aforementioned favorite. I like that value pool quite a bit.

In deeper leagues, I would strongly consider double-dipping into the second-base pool, using it to fill your middle-infield position as well. In addition to that tier in the top 110 highlighted for shallow leaguers, the next group features several guys who would make a passable starting second baseman if you are loaded elsewhere or an excellent middle-infield option if you decide to stack yourself up the middle. These guys are going in the 140-200 range: Utley, Howie Kendrick, Jurickson Profar, Brian Dozier, Neil Walker, and Anthony Rendon. Profar, Dozier, and Rendon are the meat of the breakout tier, with Profar and Rendon carrying the prospect status that portends future greatness while Dozier surprised with an 18 HR/14 SB season last year and has the skills for more, especially when you consider that 16 of the 18 homers came in the final four months of the season. If he could strikeout less often, we could see the .244 AVG jump, too.

The Long-Term Outlook
A lot of the growth in the position will come from guys already producing, with Gyorko, Altuve, Rendon, Profar, and Nick Franklin all at age 25 or younger. Those guys will look to join Kipnis as the next wave of stars, as the position currently features a lot of 30-plus-year-olds in the upper tiers, which means the cliff could come soon.

Second base isn’t a prospect hotbed, often acquiring players from other positions when their defense is unable to hold up at their original spot, usually shortstop. Kolten Wong is the top prospect at the position and offers some nice upside, primarily with batting average and subsequently runs scored given his surrounding team.

Two other top names are currently blocked, and one, Texas’s Rougned Odor, looks like he will be for quite some time. The other is Boston’s Mookie Betts, who sits behind Pedroia, but he has just 51 games at High-A heading into his age-21 season, so there is some time. Odor is even younger, turning 20 in a week, but he already has 144 excellent PA at Double-A under his belt. He is blocked by the 21-year-old Profar at second base and the 25-year old Elvis Andrus at shortstop, a position Odor can handle.

Jonathan Schoop started out as a shortstop, but Manny Machado put an end to that before even J.J. Hardy could, though he has at least temporarily ended Machado’s run at shortstop, giving the team some amazing depth at the position. Schoop has transitioned well to second and he could be the first of the non-Wong prospects to contribute given his proximity (289 PA in Triple-A, and a taste of MLB) and openness of the position (Jemile Weeks is currently penciled in as the starter).

The position is healthy, boasting both established talent and more-than-adequate potential on the rise. All formats should enjoy their dealings with the position whether they are trying to get a superstar, a mid-tier contributor, or that dynasty-league prize set to pay off in 2016 and beyond.

The Closing Haiku
A f***ing haiku?
Gyorko, Wong, Profar, Zobrist
Those are funny names

Paul Sporer is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Paul's other articles. You can contact Paul by clicking here

13 comments have been left for this article.

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