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January 19, 2015

Fantasy Players to Target

Second Basemen

by BP Fantasy Staff

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You know the drill by now. We suggest acquiring these five second basemen in your fantasy baseballing leagues this season.

Howie Kendrick, Dodgers
Howie Kendrick is my kind of player to target because he gets undervalued in fantasy baseball for a lot of the usual reasons. When we think of a top-ten second baseman, we imagine a player who either gives us 20-plus home runs or 20-plus stolen bases. What we do not think of is a player who provides the bulk of his value through plus runs scored and plus runs batted in, while being slightly above average in the sexier (home runs and stolen bases) categories and batting average.

Now, I get it: there is sound logic behind taking high stolen base and home run players (because those numbers are better predictors of future success than runs and RBI), but while this logic continues to spread among fantasy baseballers, players like Kendrick are becoming underrated. By “players like Kendrick,” I mean players whose skills drive repeatable success in accumulating bases. hile Kendrick never became the batting champion many predicted when he broke into the league, his hit tool allows him to provide a .280-plus AVG and 120 to 160 combined runs and RBI. Additionally, Kendrick has provided 19-plus combined home runs and stolen bases each of the last six seasons (every season he received at least 400 plate appearances).

All in all, by providing consistent fantasy production in a somewhat unusual way, Kendrick tends to be undervalued, especially because we are no longer dreaming on his upside. Combine this with Kendrick moving to a better park (at least for power) and I will be happy to take him this year. In case you have any additional doubts, I leave you with this plus-plus smile. —Jeff Quinton

Rougned Odor, Rangers
While Odor’s name and numbers might not jump off the page for those in mixed leagues, AL-only players know he had a significant impact once he was called up in May of last year. Odor played in 114 games at the major league level and tallied just 417 plate appearances on his way to earning $11 in AL-only leagues, according to valuation expert Mike Gianella. As of this writing, Odor is in line to start at second base in Texas, though he may face competition for playing time from Luis Sardinas and Jurickson Profar as the season goes along. It’s still fairly safe to assume he’ll see more plate appearances this year than last.

Odor is a very advanced player for his age as he’s still about two weeks away from his first legal drink. He made the jump to the majors after just 62 games above Single-A, all of which came at Double-A, where he ended 2013 and started 2014. Odor hit above .300 while also stealing 32 bases in 42 attempts between the two levels in 2013, but these skills failed to translate to the majors initially. Twenty-seven of those steals came at the High-A level, and he’s not exactly what you’d call a burner on the bases despite his seven triples in the majors last year. Odor stole just four bases in 11 attempts in the majors last year. He has decent speed and enough instincts to swipe double-digit bags in a full season of playing time, but his aggressiveness will also get him caught a handful of times.

Odor carried value in AL-only leagues thanks in large part to his sneaky power (nine home runs, 48 RBI, 30 XBH, .142 ISO), but the key to him becoming a legitimate mixed league target will be his AVG. He posted a .259/.297/.402 triple slash line in the majors last year, but he’s hit for a better AVG in the minors and reports on him from that time saw a potential .300 hitter. Odor has a high-contact profile (17 percent strikeout rate last year) and with time his pitch recognition skills should help improve his walk rate (four percent) giving him a higher AVG floor. He’s not quite there yet, though, and that makes him better suited for your middle-infield spot or as a starter in deeper formats. In keeper leagues, Odor makes for a good buy-low candidate as he’ll be a complete player once he improves his average. —Nick Shlain

Martin Prado, Marlins
In terms of fantasy consistency and positional flexibility, few can match the value Prado has brought to his fantasy owners since he became a full-time regular back in 2009. While never a standout in any one category, Prado has provided consistent production in four of the five standard categories, and his career .340 OBP has made him a reliable option in OBP leagues. Over the past six seasons, Prado’s average season looks like this: 13 HR/74 RBI/64 Runs/.290 AVG. While not jaw-dropping numbers, this is the type of steady production you pray for from your fantasy MI, and it’s worth bumping up your sheet price on him a couple of ticks.

Prado will retain his second-base eligibility once again this season, which adds to his value, making him a top-15 player in mixed leagues at both 2B and 3B. Following an offseason trade, Prado will now take his services to South Florida, where he will replace Casey McGehee as the Marlins’ starting third baseman. The move to Miami could possibly drop his value in the eyes of some, but I believe Prado could be in for a big season with the Marlins. Miami has been aggressive in the offseason, and they have built themselves a sneaky-good offensive roster. Along with the acquisition of Prado, the Marlins added Dee Gordon to hit leadoff and Michael Morse to hit cleanup and protect Stanton. With Yelich and Ozuna taking additional strides at the plate last year, this lineup will score its share of runs.

Prado did struggle in the first half last season, but heated up after the break posting a .296/.321/.497 slash line and hitting eight of his 12 home runs on the year. Prado should have no lingering effects from his season-ending emergency appendectomy in September, and will be healthy to begin spring training. Prado’s consistent production and positional flexibility makes him a second baseman you will want to grab. —Keith Cromer

Neil Walker, Pirates
This should be a shock to absolutely no one, as I'm fairly confident I wrote Walker up as a target last year as well. Actually, both Craig and myself did (those crazy 2014 rules--thank heavens for Ben and his iron fist in 2015). The Pittsburgh second sacker has been a steady fantasy performer for the last five seasons, and has gradually moved up from deep league value play to mixed league stalwart. Of course, if you're looking for upside that could strike fear into the hearts of your opponents, the guy who's being selected in front of Walker in early NFBC drafts is the one you want (Javier Baez), but in our current offensive environment, Walker provides consistency and an extremely high floor. Given the question marks surrounding many of the non-elite names at the position, security should be more highly valued than at other positions--and even more so because shortstop is even weaker and many second basemen will end up being played at middle infield yet again.

As Walker settles deeper and deeper into our fantasy consciousness, here are some interesting facts about him:

  • In his six-year major league career, Walker has never hit fewer home runs than he has the previous season. Of course, this is going to be put to the biggest test yet, as his 23 homers in 2014 were a career high by quite a distance (seven to be exact). Also, his leveling up in power (at least relatively speaking), has gone hand in hand with a more aggressive approach to strikes—the 71.1 percent of strikes he swung at this year was a career high, and hasn't caused him go to outside the zone with additional regularity. Projecting more than 20 for him again is likely a touch rich, but he's more likely to hit 25 than 10.
  • Stripping away the power, Walker carries great value in the underrated fantasy categories. While homers and steals get many headlines in fantasy circles, the other three standard categories carry just as much weight--and Walker was one of just six second basemen to hit above .270 and collect both 70 runs and RBI. Those other five hitters: Anthony Rendon, Ian Kinsler, Robinson Cano, Chase Utley, and Howie Kendrick. Of course, Walker also played in 16 fewer games than the second lowest total of those six. Eighty in both categories would have narrowed the group to just Rendon and Kinsler.
  • Walker was a first-round pick in the 2004 draft and a top-100 prospect. As a catcher. He actually played nothing but catcher during his first three minor-league seasons before being moved off in favor of a spot at the hot corner--and he didn't start playing second base until 2010.

Right now, Walker is being selected as the 10th second baseman off the board in NFBC formats (which are 15-team mixed)—and despite the fact that I think even that's not high enough for him, this is more targeted at your home league. The two names directly in front of him on the board are Kolten Wong and Javier Baez—and while each is a better bet to finish in the top-five at the position than Walker, neither is as strong of a bet to finish in the top-10. I'd be shocked to see either come off the board behind Walker in any league this year. Not spending on the position will leave you in the weeds, trying to rely on a young risk with less upside like Jonathan Schoop, Nick Franklin or Marcus Semien. —Bret Sayre

Kolten Wong, Cardinals
Wong put up a triple-slash line of just .249/.292/.388 in his rookie campaign of 2014. Those are pretty unimpressive numbers, and they led to Wong finishing as just the 18th-best fantasy second baseman, per ESPN.com, behind immortal names such as Justin Turner and Scooter Gennett. Yet when you take into account Wong’s job security moving forward, his minor league pedigree and his potential ability to contribute across the board, it’s not hard to envision a world in which Wong finishes as a top-12 second baseman as early as 2015.

It felt to me as though Wong improved as the year progressed, but the numbers don’t bear that out. The now-24-year-old hit .242/.299/.392 in 186 PA in the first half, then .255/.286/.384 in 216 PA in the second half. However, Wong dramatically improved his line-drive and fly-ball percentages while dropping his ground-ball and infield fly ball tendencies. While grounders aren’t the worst thing in the world for a plus runner, the jump in line-drive rate is a welcome sight. Keep in mind, Wong generally hit between .280-.300 in the minors leagues and profiles as a solid contact hitter. I’d be willing to bet that his second-half line-drive rate, coupled with a BABIP friendlier than the .275 mark the posted last year, leads to an MLB average of at least .270 in 2015.

Even if I’m wrong, though, and Wong doesn’t see a big jump in AVG, extrapolating his counting stats out for 550-plus PA makes him a valuable asset. Wong hit 12 homers and stole 20 bases in 433 PA last year, meaning he could be a 15/25 candidate next year. That’s enough to push him into the top-15 range even without a jump in average, and if he does find a way to raise his average, too, we’re talking about a serious asset. Wong is a fairly well-known name because he was a significant prospect and plays for a high-profile team, but I’m still willing to bet he’s undervalued based on his uninspiring triple-slash output. In a 12-team league, though, I’d be cool rolling with Wong as my starting 2B, and he could make an exceptional MI in standard mixed leagues. —Ben Carsley

BP Fantasy Staff is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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