In the coming weeks, the fantasy team here at Baseball Prospectus will be rolling out our positional rankings. Each team member assigned to cover a position will create an initial top 15 (more for outfielders and starting pitchers) on his own. He will then send that list to the rest of the team for discussion, at which point we will debate the rankings, both in terms of each player’s specific placement and the merits on which he was included in the top 15. This back-and-forth debate will yield the final list, which will be presented by the original author with notes on the pertinent players. We encourage you to bring your opinions into the fray using the comment section below.
Today, we continue the rankings with a look at our top 15 second basemen.
Second base may be the most top-heavy position this year, with three players likely to be selected in the first two rounds of most drafts, and plenty of room for debate beyond them. Established veterans are well represented in the top 10 of our rankings, but a few youngsters snuck in, as well, highlighting the fluidity of the rankings.
Given the relative dearth of across-the-board contributors at the keystone, most gamers will be forced to decide which gambles and statistical deficiencies they are willing to accept. For example, many of the top power hitters carry batting-average risk, and some of the highest-upside second basemen are coming off of injuries or down years. The players that offer a little bit of everything offer just that—modest performance in every department, but no category in which they project to make a significant impact.
Here is the list…
1. Robinson Cano, NYY
2. Dustin Pedroia, BOS
3. Ian Kinsler, TEX
4. Aaron Hill, ARI
5. Jason Kipnis, CLE
6. Ben Zobrist, TBR
7. Brandon Phillips, CIN
8. Rickie Weeks, MIL
9. Jose Altuve, HOU
10. Chase Utley, PHI
11. Dan Uggla, ATL
12. Neil Walker, PIT
13. Jurickson Profar, TEX
14. Danny Espinosa, WAS
15. Howard Kendrick, LAA
- Cano was an easy pick to top the list, and there is a strong chance he'll be the only player at this position selected in the first round. He doesn't steal many bases, but that's where his shortcomings begin and end. He has hit 25 or more homers in each of the last four years, and has bested100 runs scored in each of those seasons as well. He's a monster contributor in RBI, having averaged over 100 per season since 2009. He's a career .308 hitter that has failed to hit over .300 just two times in his eight-year major-league career. Adding to Cano's value is that he rarely misses games: Since 2007, he has played in 960 of 972 possible contests.
- Pedroia is a five-category contributor. He won't hit for as much power as Cano, but he should reach the upper teens in homers. He's an efficient base stealer that should benefit from playing for new skipper John Farrell. The Blue Jays finished sixth in the American League in stolen base attempts in 2011 and fifth last year under Farrell.
- Kinsler is a consistent force in counting stats and stolen bases, but his home-run output and batting average have been volatile year-to-year. He has twice eclipsed 30 homers in a single season, hitting 31 in 2009 and 32 in 2011. The homers came in part because he had his highest fly-ball percentage of his career in those years, hitting more than 36 percent of his balls in play in the air. The power came at a cost though, as he had his two lowest BABIP and batting average efforts in 2009 and 2011, too.
- Arizona has been kind to Hill. As a member of the Diamondbacks, he has a .304 batting average, 28 homers, and 19 stolen bases in 810 plate appearances. His power outage in 2011 looks like an outlier, and Hill should uncork 20-plus bombs this season, while helping in runs, RBI, and batting average, and chipping in a dozen or so stolen bases.
- Kipnis's ranking on this list was up for the most debate. His second half collapse prompted some of the BP fantasy staff to suggest he should rank lower. As Paul Sporer pointed out, Kipnis's slugging percentage was below .400 from June through the end of the season. While that is a concern, Kipnis isn't the weakling he appeared to be in the second half of the season. He is unlikely to surpass 30 stolen bases again this year, but he's been a very efficient thief in his career and should notch at least 20. He rarely popped out last year (4.1 percent pop-up rate), and had a strong line-drive rate, two factors that portend an improvement in his batting average.
- Zobrist has a case to rank ahead of Kipnis. He should match or exceed Kipnis in counting stats and is a safer bet to approach 20 homers. However, as a 31-year-old most of last season, Zobrist's stolen-base success rate continued to go the wrong way. Since posting a sterling 88.9 percent steal-conversion mark in 2010, Zobrist has logged a solid 76 percent clip in 2011 and an unacceptably low 60.1 percent effort last season. Manager Joe Maddon loves to send his base runners, but he won't keep sending Zobrist if it is going to result in outs.
- Phillips is rock-solid option at the keystone position. He's hit exactly 18 homers in each of the last three seasons, and he cleaned up his base-stealing efficiency last year, which should keep him in the teens in stolen bases in 2013. He is in danger of a drop in batting average due to a newfound propensity for free-swinging.
- The first two months of last year were dreadful for Weeks. His batting average was below the Mendoza Line in the first half (.199), but he rebounded nicely after the All-Star break. He should hit 20 or more homers this year, as he has each of the last three years. One pleasant surprise in Weeks's 2012 stat line was his 16-for-19 effort on steal attempts. He may not steal 16 bases again this year, but a dozen is well within reach.
- I wrote about Altuve in depth just a few weeks ago. He makes a ton of contact, which is good for his batting average, and adds a dash of power, plus the ability to steal over 30 bases.
- Utley is a shell of his former self, but that doesn’t make him useless. He continues to make contact at a high rate and steal bases at a mind-bogglingly efficient clip. His power is diminished, but he still has enough thump for 20 homers if he garners a full season worth of work. The problem is, he probably won't play in 150 games, since the last time he reached that total was 2009.
- Uggla's 2012 season was ugly. As bad as that first sentence might sound, his performance last year was worse. With the exception of 2006 and 2010, Uggla has annually been a drag in batting average, but made up for it by smacking 30-plus dingers. He failed to reach even 20 homers last season, the first time that he has fallen short of that benchmark in his career, and he posted his worst batting average (.220), as well. He's a strong bet to bounce back at least somewhat in the power department and hit more than 20 homers, but he remains a liability in batting average due to his struggles with making consistent contact, a flaw that isn’t likely to ever be fixed.
- Walker is a jack of all trades, but a master of none. He missed substantial time down the stretch last year with a herniated disk in his back, but he completed physical rehab and is working out normally now.
- There isn't a clear path to playing time for Profar, but he should force the Rangers’ hand at some point this season. This is a reasonable point to gamble on Profar's upside and hope he becomes a regular in the Rangers lineup sooner rather than later.
- Espinosa struggled playing with what was discovered after the season to be a torn rotator cuff. He opted to rehab the injury instead of undergoing surgery, and if the ailment doesn't hamper his play, he's a 20/20 threat with a sub-.250 batting average. Anthony Rendon—a polished prospect who is blocked by Ryan Zimmerman at third base—played second base in college and appeared there in spring training last year. If Rendon proves capable of handling the keystone, he could press Espinosa for playing time down the stretch. There are still enough questions about Espinosa’s real-life value to make him a risky player to count on during the second half.
- Kendrick is a career .292 hitter, and batting average is his top contribution to fantasy teams. He has stolen exactly 14 bases in each of the past three seasons, and has reached double digits in homers in three of the past four seasons (he barely missed that threshold last year, hitting only eight homers). He's projected by our depth charts to get 25 percent of the team's playing time in the two-hole of Mike Scioscia’s lineup, and if he were to somehow exceed that volume of appearances in the top third of the lineup, his counting stats would stand to benefit.