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January 27, 2014

Fantasy Players to Target

Second Basemen

by Baseball Prospectus

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Once viewed as one of fantasy’s most shallow positions, second base has enjoyed a multi-year run as a fantasy-friendlier position thanks to a mix of established stars and new young talent creeping into the game. That’s reflected in the staff choices below, as a nice mix of players young and old comprise this collection of second baseman we think you should target in 2014.

Matt Carpenter, Cardinals
Matt Carptenter is an interesting case in that he's likely to regress some next year but I doubt that his numbers will fall off drastically enough to drop him below guys like Ben Zobrist and Ian Kinsler in 2B rankings. I doubt he scores 126 runs again but Carpenter holds a very solid 10 percent walk rate and he did put up 73 extra-base hits in 2013. The lineup behind him is very solid as well, and he has the opportunity to tease 100 runs scored again. He's not above Cano, Pedroia, or Kipnis, but he should be a very valuable 2B again this year. —Mauricio Rubio

Jedd Gyorko, Padres
Gyorko had a fine rookie season, popping 23 home runs in 125 games. Only Robinson Cano had more at second base, but he did so in 35 more contests. With 13 homers coming at Petco Park, there’s no debating Gyorko’s legitimacy at a power-thin position; he’s high on the list to lead all second basemen in long balls in 2014. Now the bad: Gyorko’s .249 BA really sucked the life out of his fantasy value, and a repeat performance would again make the 25-year-old a slightly improved and younger version of Dan Uggla. I expect the batting average to climb to the .260-.265-range, as he showed far more discipline on the farm with a career strikeout rate of (roughly) 17 percent, compared to 23.4 percent last season; a 22.5 percent line-drive rate is also encouraging. Twenty or so more games should put Gyorko on the happy side of 70 runs and 70 RBI, and, if you give him 20 home runs, only one second baseman can say he reached those marks in 2013—you guessed it, that Cano guy. He’s far from perfect and, unless you’re Cano, who at the keystone isn’t? Buy now before the Gyorko Store sells out. (Yes, I absolutely positively had to go there.) —Alex Kantecki

Aaron Hill, Diamondbacks
After finishing as one of fantasy’s best players in 2012, Hill had a disappointing campaign last year. He was limited to just 362 PA thanks to a hand injury, and hit for a solid .291/.356/.462 but with only 11 homers and one steal. He’s a player worth targeting for 2014, though, as his rates remained strong and it often takes power hitters a good to fully recover from hand and wrist injuries. The lack of stolen bases last year is more concerning, as Hill’s 35 steals between 2011 and 2012 significantly added to his value, so owners will have to hope he still runs enough to swipe 10 bags. Hill is a fringe top-10 option at the position for 2014, but I think he’ll outperform sexier names like Jurickson Profar and Anthony Rendon. So long as BABIP doesn’t sink him as it did in 2010 and 2011, Hill is a good bet for a respectable average, 20-plus homers and strong R and RBI totals from a second baseman. —Ben Carsley

Omar Infante, Royals
He’s as boring as dry toast, and the consensus among most fantasy players is that Infante is a borderline middle infielder in mixed leagues. However, Infante was the eighth-best second baseman in standard, 5x5 mixed leagues last year, and this doesn’t even take into account the fact that Infante missed over a month with an ankle sprain. He’s not someone to target in a mixer, but as a third middle infielder at the back end of your draft he’ll move the chains and provide boring productivity at an underwhelming position. In AL-only formats, Infante is worth his weight in gold. Infante earned $4 less than the (admittedly disappointing) Ian Kinsler and will cost significantly less than Kinsler and other higher-profile hitters. Infante’s current average slot in NFBC ADP is 274, putting him behind more than a few second basemen who won’t produce as much value as Infante will. —Mike Gianella

Anthony Rendon, Nationals
It's a bit of broken-record syndrome to say this again, but health is the key for Anthony Rendon. The hit tool has never been much of a question at all; when healthy, he absolutely mashed his way through college and the minor leagues. There is, however, the issue of the three major ankle surgeries on his resume before his 23rd birthday. The most recent one brought his development to a screeching halt just two games into his professional career in 2012 and marked the third consecutive season in which he missed significant time on account of injury. He managed to stay healthy in 2013 though, logging a perfectly average (100 wRC+) rookie campaign over about 400 plate appearances in Washington. It was a tale of two halves, as he put up a sparkling 127 wRC+ over his first 43 games before slumping to a 78 mark after the All-Star Game. But for the sake of deal-seeking fantasy players that second-half slump may turn out to be a most fortuitous blessing in disguise. The first half performance is what's possible for a healthy Rendon, and he's currently being drafted as the 17th second baseman off the board. Once you're down to that part in the draft Rendon's upside has the potential to provide a gargantuan return on investment. He's one of my favorite upside plays as a breakout candidate this season and a very worthwhile gamble at his current price. —Wilson Karaman

Chase Utley, Phillies
The reasons—or honestly, reason, singular—against Utley is obvious. His health is a disaster, and it has yielded four straight seasons with playing time counts ranging from 362 to 531 plate appearances. The discount for this risk is built in as he has gone in the eighth and 10th rounds on average the last two years (using NFBC 15-team ADP data). Even with the injuries, he is still averaging 14 homers and 12 stolen bases with a .270 average, which paces out to a 22/18 clip in 162 games. That kind of upside, if he were to extract one full season of health from his knees, is why he still draws attention.

Hell, he was ninth among second baseman last year in a shortened effort and yet he is the 12th one off the board in early NFBC action. I like Utley even more this year, as the depth at second base continues to expand. Should he go down, it won’t be difficult to adequately replace him in a mixed league and even an NL-only league should have some viable names who won’t actively hurt you with their presence in your lineup. —Paul Sporer

Neil Walker, Pirates
Two things that do not go together: a .274 BABIP and a 23 percent line-drive rate. Two things that do go together: a career-high walk rate and a career-low strike out rate. All of the things just mentioned were true of Neil Walker's 2013 season, which from the surface looked like a disappointment compared to previous years. Of course some of that disappointment was that he only stole a single base, after heisting 16 in the past two seasons. And Walker, with his mid-level consistency, is even more attractive in leagues of 16 teams or more (and NL-only formats). It's perfectly realistic to expect a .275+ average, 15 homers, five steals, and 150 R/RBI (if he can avoid the disabled list, which he's been unable to do the last two seasons). That doesn't sound like someone who should be drafted outside the top-15 second basemen in NFBC leagues. —Bret Sayre

Neil Walker, Pirates
The argument for Neil Walker is more about value than it is the overall statistics. There are definitely better offensive players out there, but Walker tends to be a forgotten man in the second base discussion. Still, even in a down 2013, Walker produced positive value in runs and homers and was only slightly harmful in batting average. It’s fair to expect that average to return towards his career .273 mark (which would produce a positive value), as he suffered from a .274 BABIP compared to his career .312. He struck out less in 2013 than he had prior while maintaining his modest power and his steady walk rate (about nine percent). If Walker can return to his normal 2010-2012 production levels—and there’s no reason he shouldn’t—he should be a valuable under-the-radar second baseman who won’t hurt you anywhere (except in stolen bases) and can make modest contributions everywhere else. —Craig Goldstein

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