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June 23, 2011

Prospects Will Break Your Heart

Positional Primacy: Second Base

by Jason Parks

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I had to go the dreaded creative tier route with these rankings, because let’s face it, the talent at the position is plenty deep, but it’s not plenty sexy. (Unless you find general on-the-field competence attractive. If that’s the case, well, you probably spend quiet evenings at home alone in a provocatively lit room, with a bottle of wine and a collection of Tom Emanski’s finest on the ready. Fundamental fetish.)

Who are second basemen: Failed shortstops? Tweener outfielders with athleticism? Players who fail to eclipse the vertical heights of 5-foot-9? The answer is yes. It’s a position cast with inherent deficiency, but not a position that has a high tolerance for deficient tools. First and foremost, keystoners of modern vintage need to pack an offensive punch. Defense is great and we all love it, but the position will face judgment based on the quality of the stick over the quality of the leather. If a second baseman’s defense is worth the price of admission, I’d question why he wasn’t playing shortstop. Again, defense is more than icing on the cake, but let’s not pretend that all-glove, no-bat types are in high demand at the position, or that they are top prospects solely because of their defensive merits.

The following tiers will present some of the top players at the position, but thanks to promotion (Ackley, Weeks) and developmental [read: positional] opportunities created by skill sets (Hamilton, Segura, Franklin), this list doesn’t really feature anyone I would classify as a top-tier talent. Sure, our definition of what “top tier” means may differ in a general context, but that’s not what this exercise is about. It’s about ranking players in an unstable environment. My unstable environment. It’s about the second rule. Remember the second rule? It’s a fantastic rule. Let’s get started.

“You Must Be At Least This ____ Tall to Ride the Second-Base Ride ”

5-foot-10 and Over Division
Jason Kipnis (Indians)
Requirements: 5-foot-10
The case for: Kipnis is a solid but unspectacular player, with a well-rounded offensive skill set. At the plate, he has a smooth left-handed stroke, showing good barrel awareness and some pop. The offensive ceiling isn’t crazy, but you can see the necessary components for batting average, on-base ability, 10-15 home runs per season, and a lot of doubles. His defense isn’t going to win awards, but it shouldn’t break hearts either; he has a good glove and an average-at-best arm. He’s going to be a solid-average major-league regular for 10 years. He’s the current Leader of the Pack at the position and should already be in the majors.

Kyle Seager (Mariners)
Requirements: 5-foot-10
TCF: Seager has a plus hit tool with pitch recognition skills and a sound approach. He shows some gap power, but doesn’t project to clear many fences at the major-league level. He’s a fundamental player in the field, with average tools but good instincts and a knack for making plays. He lacks a sexy ceiling, but could develop into second-division starter with good batting average, on-base ability, and some doubles power.

Corban Joseph (Yankees)
Requirements: 6-foot-0
TCF: Joseph has a solid-average to plus hit tool with a mature approach at the plate. Though he lacks average power potential, his swing allows for hard contact. He has average projections on defense, but he’s not a liability with the glove and shows a propensity for adjustment. He projects to be second-division starter, but that’s only if the bat projection hits its mark.

Taylor Lindsey (Angels)
Requirements: 6-foot-0
TCF: A supplemental first-round pick in the 2010 draft, Lindsey has some potential with the bat, showing a swing conducive for contact and some natural pop. It remains to be seen if he can develop into a plus hitter with some doubles power, but the projections are in place for that eventuality. His defense is a question mark, but his actions should improve with repetition, and his arm will play despite being fringe-average. Lindsey has a solid-average future at the position (value tied to the bat), but it’s very early in the developmental process, and there’s a long journey ahead.

Steve Lombardozzi (Nationals)
Requirements: 6-foot-0
TCF: He’s an average all-around player, with a plus-plus grit component and baseball bloodlines. Lombardozzi has well below-average power, but the bat itself is solid, and he shows the ability to make hard contact. His speed is average, but it plays up in game action. His work in the field is equally average, but it’s effective thanks to a healthy dirt-to-uniform ratio and instincts. He has a second-division future if his tools continue to play-up, but it’s a good bet he’ll have a reserve role on a 25-man roster as a floor.

Under 5-foot-9 Division
Jose Altuve (Astros)
Requirements: 5-foot-5
TCF: The official prospect of the “Up and In” podcast, this diminutive Venezuelan is the feel-good story of the 2011 minor-league season, a player you feel compelled to champion and cheer. But here’s the thing: Altuve is more than mere novelty; the 21-year-old is a legit hitter and has a legit future at the major-league level. Let’s keep some perspective here: Altuve isn’t going to be a first-division starter or perennial All-Star in the majors. He has a good hit tool and a Gaedelian strike zone, but the ceiling is limited, and you can only dream so high with a player that stands so low. I think Altuve will eventually find a home in the bigs, but the role is undetermined; he could float in between the worlds of a second-division starter and a reserve. That’s quite an accomplishment, given his height and the fact he weighs less than Matt Adams’s shadow.

Ronald Torreyes (Reds)
Requirements: 5-foot-7
TCF: This 18-year-old Venezuelan has the necessary tools and stature to develop into the next Jose Altuve. OK, he’s not quite that small, but the tools are similar: He has a promising hit tool, surprising pop for his size (you’ll read this line again), and some flash with the leather. It’s early in the developmental journey, but Torreyes is already turning heads and looks like another legit prospect in the Reds’ system.

Sean Coyle (Red Sox)
Requirements: 5-foot-8
TCF: The Red Sox must love the promise Coyle offers up; they selected him in the third round of the 2010 draft and ponied up $1.3 million to sign him. Only 19 years old, Coyle has the tools to justify the bonus, with a projectable hit tool, surprising pop for his size (told you), plus speed, good defensive chops, and instincts for the game. Seriously, scouts seem to love this kid, and it’s more than just a curious fascination that stems from watching someone his size rip balls over the fence like a power hitter. It’s hard to project Coyle’s future at this stage, but he is definitely a prospect worth keeping an eye on.

Johnny Giavotella (Royals)
Requirements: 5-foot-8
TCF: The soon-to-be 24-year-old infielder isn’t a special force at the plate, and he isn’t going to hit in the middle of a major-league lineup, but he can hit a baseball, and it’s only a matter of time before he proves it in the bigs. Giavotella doesn’t have much power potential, but he has plenty of pop, as the ball often finds the sweet spot of his bat. His defense isn’t going to change the world, but it’s good enough if his bat is good enough, and he puts in the wrench work to improve. He could develop into a second-division regular at the major-league level.

Delino DeShields Jr. (Astros)
Requirements: 5-foot-9
TCF: He has the bloodlines and tools, but the on-the-field production hasn’t lived up to the hype. When DeShields was drafted eighth overall in the 2010 draft, I thought it was an overdraft but also understood the tool-based argument. DeShields is a legit 80 runner, with a projectable hit tool and more strength than the average speedster. On defense, he has more than enough athleticism to handle either center field or second base (playing second this season), but will need time to find refinement at either position. At the top of his tool-based projection stands a first-division starter with the ability to hit for average, steal a ton of bases, and hit for some power (about 10 home runs). DeShields is currently getting crushed by a full-season league, but he’s only 18 years old and maintains a high ceiling despite his present statistical results. Give him time to find his feet.

Kolten Wong (Cardinals)
Requirements: 5-foot-9
TCF: Wong has excellent bat speed and hit tool projection, with surprising pop for his size. He could end up in left field or second base, and has the tools and instincts to become solid-average wherever he plays. He could develop into a first-division starter, but let’s see how his game transitions to pro ball before building the projection.   

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

Related Content:  Hit Tool,  Jose Altuve,  Tools

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