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July 26, 2007

Future Shock

Positional Rankings - Second Base

by Kevin Goldstein

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Second base is rarely a deep position in the minors, as many future big league jobs on the right side of the middle infield will be filled by players who are currently shortstops. Nonetheless, there are a few decent prospects here, but overall, along with catchers and first basemen, it's the third consecutive uninspiring list. If there's any good news for the position, it lies in the fact that there is a surprisingly high number of upper-tier draftees from this June at second base, and they'll be discussed later on. The usual caveats apply-a guy has to be in the minors, has to technically still be a prospect (someone with fewer than 130 big league at-bats), and 2007 draftees are not eligible, but are instead discussed separately.

1. Matt Antonelli, Padres
Age: 22.3
Hitting: .314/.409/.499 at High-A (82 G); .409/.519/.659 at Double-A (12 G)

The first-round pick of the Padres in last year's draft, Antonelli went homerless in his pro debut, and far too quickly got a rep as a singles hitter with on-base skills and decent speed. One year later, he's the top prospect in the minors at the position, but that's because Antonelli can hit, has shown very real power potential, and is suddenly looking like the kind of player who could put up 20-20 seasons with near-.400 on-base percentages. That's all-star territory, and nobody else on the list has shown that kind of potential.

2. Adrian Cardenas, Phillies
Age: 19.8
Hitting: .301/.355/.435 at Low-A (90 G)

Cardenas took advantage of all the scouts flocking to Florida to see teammate Chris Marrero have a Player of the Year season at Monsignor High, and wound up getting selected just after the first round, going to the Phillies with the 37th pick overall. While Marrero has had a huge breakout year in his full-season debut, Cardenas should not be forgotten about. A sub-par shortstop, he's turned into a solid second baseman with good fundamentals after getting moved over to the keystone at the start of the season. Cardenas makes consistent, hard contact with gap power, and has a little bit of projection. With Chase Utley embedded at second in the big leagues, it's hard to see what Cardenas' future is in the organization, but the Phillies are still two or three years away from having to worry about it.

3. Eric Patterson, Cubs
Age: 24.3
Hitting: .302/.364/.489 atTriple-A (99 G)

Patterson is such a different player than his older brother. Corey far surpasses him in terms of athleticism and tools, but Eric is much more of a baseball player, armed with sound instincts and a good approach. He's also no slouch tools-wise, though, with above-average speed and enough juice in his bat to slug 12-18 home runs annually. He deserves a shot at the Cubs' job in 2008, but the parent club is loaded with veteran infielders, which leaves Patterson with no obvious opening unless one is created for him.

4. Chris Coghlan, Marlins
Age: 22.1
Hitting: .325/.419/.534 at Low-A (81 G); .167/.280/.262 at High-A (12 G)

Coghlan was selected in the pick just prior to Cardenas, and also did not become a second baseman this year, as he played third in college. On both an athletic and a baseball level, Coghlan fits better at second, as he's no a power hitter, but is instead more of a line-drive type with plus speed and enough strength to occasionally sting a ball over the fence. Defensively, he's still struggling at the new position, particularly on balls hit up the middle and on turning the double play, but the organization believes he'll become an average defender by the time he's ready for the majors.

5. German Duran, Rangers
Age: 23.0
Hitting: .307/.365/.543 at Double-A (95 G)

Duran's been one of the bigger breakouts in the minors this year, but at the same time, we might have missed on him a bit coming into the year. He had a solid .284/.331/.446 line at Bakersfield last year, and scouts I've spoken to had generally positive reviews of him last year, but now he's taken it to another level. He's a lefty-masher (1090 OPS) who is merely good against his fellow right-handers, and on a physical level, he's short, thick, and unathletic, profiling as an offensive second baseman at best. Still, he's taken a great leap forward.

6. Alexi Casilla, Twins
Age: 23.0
Hitting: .269/.347/.347 at Triple-A (81 G); .233/.250/.256 at MLB (14 G)

Make no bones about it, Casilla has had an off year, but scouts still like his game, and many are chalking it up to a bit of a case of big league-itis. Casilla's game revolves around his abilities to make contact and run well, and this year he seems to be doing it only against left-handers, against whom he's hitting .340/.392/.489. His walk rate is down, as is his stolen base rate (22 for 32), but he's still the heir apparent to Luis Castillo, beginning next year.

7. Danny Richar, White Sox
Age: 24.1
Hitting: .285/.348/.479 at Triple-A (PCL, 66 G); .349/.404/.566 at Triple-A (International League, 31 G)

Richar put himself on the map when he transformed from organizational player into prospect with a 20-homer season in the Cal League in 2005, though his stock slipped a bit when he hit just eight in the following year at Double-A. He was nearly back to his '05 pace with eight home runs in 66 games when he was shipped to the White Sox in a rare prospect-for-prospect deal in which Arizona acquired outfielder Aaron Cunningham. Richar does nearly everything well, he can hit for a little average, has some pop, draws a few walks and is an above-average runner while also playing solid defense. His greatest strength is a lack of significant weakness, making him highly similar to current second baseman Tadahito Iguchi, for whom he will likely take over from at second for the Sox next year.

8. Kevin Melillo, Athletics
Age: 25.2
Hitting: .266/.361/.461 at Triple-A (72 G)

Melillo's 2007 campaign is pretty much on pace with the expectations held for him. He's very much an is-what-he-is kind of guy with little room for improvement, but what he is should be good enough for some full-time jobs in the big leagues. Offensively, he's highly similar to current Oakland second baseman Mark Ellis, hitting in the .260-.270 range with double-digit home run totals, although he does have better plate discipline and should be able to outshine Ellis in the OBP department. The bad news is he's nowhere near in Ellis' company defensively, as both his range and his work around the bag are below average, though he does make all the plays he gets to. The club has a $5 million option on Ellis for 2008; a $250,000 buyout and Melillo's big league minimum salary would free up over $4 million for other things, while losing the A's very little, if anything, at the position.

9. Jarrett Hoffpauir, Cardinals
Age: 24.1
Hitting: .345/.420/.527 at Double-A (61 G); .333/.420/.533 at Triple-A (18 G)

This is the biggest breakout of the bunch. Hoffpauir was a sixth-round pick in 2004, and he always put up impressive numbers in college, but an Eckstein-esque frame and lack of tools prevented him from being seen as an elite pick. His numbers this year are nothing short of fantastic, and all of the peripherals indicate that it just might be for real, including more walks (35) than strikeouts (25) in 263 at-bats. Scouts are impressed with Hoffpauir's feel for contact, but he's not just a slap hitter, as he can punish mistakes by driving them into the gaps. Defensively, he's made just five errors on the season, though his first step is a little slow, and he's not especially rangy. If the Cardinals go into a full rebuilding mode, the player who was on the verge of oblivion going into the year is suddenly looking like he just might get a chance.

10. Michael Holliman, Tigers
Age: 25.1
Hitting: .273/.367/.464 at Double-A (98 G)

Six years ago, Holliman was one of the top prep players in the state of Texas, and had an outside chance of going in the first round, but his bonus demands dropped him entirely out of the draft, and after a college career that was well below expectations, he wasn't drafted until the 16th round in 2005. While his full-season debut last year was a rousing success-he hit .278/.386/.501 for Low-A West Michigan-critics pointed out that he was too old for the league, an accurate assessment. Jumped up two levels to Double-A this year, Holliman continues to hit, and thus continues to improve his prospect stock. He has average power but a pure power approach to hitting, with a high strikeout rate that will prevent him from ever hitting for a high average. However, a high walk rate and the ability to hit 40 doubles and 15-20 home runs annually should more than make up for it. One scout saw him as a bit of a switch-hitting Dan Uggla-not bad company to be in.

2007 Draftees

The 2007 draft featured a surprisingly high number of second basemen in the top 100 picks. By way of contrast, in 2005 there were no second baseman taken in the first 100 selections. The Giants took the top high school option in Nick Noonan; he's splitting time between short and second in his pro debut and tearing up the Arizona League, keeping his average in the upper-.300s while showing gap power and striking out just six times in his first 26 games. Two other supplemental first-round picks, Charlie Culberson (also with the Giants) and Ryan Dent (Red Sox, unsigned) are high school shortstops who will likely need to slide over to second. The first college selection was Arizona State's Eric Sogard, who went to San Diego in the second round, and immediately drew Dustin Pedroia comparisons for his size, alma matter, and all-out style of play. A third-round pick by the Cubs, Florida State's Tony Thomas had a huge year for the Seminoles, but scouts didn't love his tools.

Honorable Mention

Travis Denker, Dodgers: After a disappointing 2006, the little line-drive machine is hitting .306/.383/.455 for High-A Inland Empire.
J.C. Holt, Braves: Another waterbug type, Holt knows his limitations and plays to his strengths-slapping the ball around and utilizing his plus-plus speed.
Daniel Mayora, Rockies: A rail-thin Venezuelan, he's taken advantage of the hitting paradise of Low-A Asheville to put up .322/.377/.507 rats, but on the road his OPS falls to 724.
Scott Sizemore, Tigers: Still recovering from a very slow start, the former VCU star is hitting .359 in his last 15 games.
Justin Turner, Reds: Another one of those tool-less college guys, Turner is the ultimate grinder, and his .304/.372/.447 line at Low-A Dayton makes him a real prospect.

Keep An Eye On

Brian Dinkleman, Twins: And you thought he faded into oblivion after that first season of American Idol. (I bet he's never gotten that joke.) An eighth-round pick last year, Dinkelman put up massive numbers at an NAIA school, but the big jump to pro ball has not been the challenge most expected. After hitting .289/.373/.488 at Low-A Beloit, Dinkelman moved up to the Florida State League, where he's been even more impressive, mashing at .322/.405/.513 in his first 29 games for Fort Myers. He's a lefty bat with a good approach, plus hitting skills and a little bit of speed, and scouts are taking notice.

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

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Schrodinger's Bat: Cal... (07/26)
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