Over the past half-decade, the second-base position has lost its offensive potency. It has become a premium fantasy position, in many ways, as top-tier options seemingly have gotten an extra ADP boost in recent years due to the dearth of intriguing players at the third and fourth level.
The 2015 campaign marked a significant bounce back from major-league second basemen. Not everything is better—after all, Johnny Giavotella, Jace Peterson, Cesar Hernandez, and Carlos Sanchez (among others) netted 400-plus plate appearances apiece—but the fantasy-relevant second basemen have gotten more appealing. The league-average player at the keystone hit .261/.315/.391 with a .131 ISO, which is a tremendous step above the .250/.307/.364 slash line and .113 ISO from 2014.
Dee Gordon and Jose Altuve stood out from the crowd. They were two of the best fantasy players at any position in standard formats, largely on the strength of their top-end average/speed profile. Steals, in general, remained important at the peak of the position. Brandon Phillips must have upgraded his prosthetic legs because he stole 20-plus bags for the first time since the
Ford Administration 2009 season, as did fantasy darling D.J. LeMahieu for the second time in his seven-year professional career.
Overall, though, it was a season of new faces. The aforementioned LeMahieu and Matt Duffy suddenly became things. Logan Forsythe had the pop-up season of his career. Rougned Odor flashed brilliance as the season wore on. Matt Carpenter also continued his fantasy ascendency, though he’ll only be eligible in select leagues in 2016 because he only saw 11 contests at second base last year.
It wasn’t a season of sadness in 2015, which was a pleasant change, and the upcoming fantasy campaign projects to have more depth than owners have enjoyed in recent years.
THE LEAGUE BREAKOUT
The American League has a few obvious breakout candidates, two of whom play in Texas. Rougned Odor, who only turned 22 in February, hit .273/.313/.520 with 12 homers in the second half and erased the pain of the early-season struggles. He’s not the only elite prospect to spin his wheels as he adjusts to major-league pitching; however, it’s highly encouraging that he flipped the script and tore the cover off the ball from June through August. Even better, Odor avoided any kind of platoon split, posting a .781 OPS against both righties and lefties. He should be poised for a breakout season—though the price is admittedly steep as the eighth-overall second baseman being drafted.
Jurickson Profar has tantalized fantasy owners for ages, but he’s only 22 and impressed scouts in the Arizona Fall League. It’s tough to gauge his early-season fantasy value. The switch-hitter will almost assuredly begin the year in the minors and doesn’t really have a clear path toward big-league playing time. Still, he compiled a .267/.352/.453 slash line with a pair of homers in just 91 AFL plate appearances, showing that elite hitters don’t forget how to hit just because they missed an extended period due to injury. His double-digit potential in homers and steals should entice plenty of owners to take a chance on him at tail end of drafts.
As far as the National League is concerned, it’s tempting to peg Javier Baez as the breakout candidate, but he remains a volatile asset with huge bust potential. Perhaps Jose Peraza steals 30 bases for the Reds and is the guy who shoots up the rankings list. It’s even possible that Jedd Gyorko benefits from some #CardinalsDevilMagic and regains his fantasy luster, though it’s difficult to see from where the regular playing time comes.
It sounds sad, but maybe the breakout guy in the National League is Cory Spangenberg. He shouldn't be a liability in the batting-average category, as he hit .271 in 2015 and had a swinging-strike rate under 10 percent. The 24-year-old also could steal 15-plus bases with an everyday gig. I don’t think he’ll ever be a top-tier guy—so if that’s the goal, grab Baez and cross your fingers and toes—but Spangenberg is currently being drafted as the 28th-overall second baseman. It seems to me that he should easily out-earn that slot.
THE STRATEGY IN MIXED LEAGUES
I’m generally not one to advocate powerless hitters in the first couple rounds, but there’s a persuasive argument for targeting Jose Altuve or Dee Gordon in the first round and a half. The league stole a total of 2,505 bases last season. That’s the lowest total since the labor strike in 1994. Altuve and Gordon were one of only five players to swipe at least 35 bags in 2015. In an environment in which premium stolen-base numbers have become a commodity of sorts, standard-league owners should take note and perhaps adjust their ratings of Altuve/Gordon accordingly.
After the dynamic duo atop the list, the best strategy becomes more muddled. Very little separated the fantasy value of the no. 3 and no. 11 second basemen (Brandon Phillips and Logan Forsythe in ESPN leagues, respectively) a year ago. Understandably, not much separates that tier of second basemen in winter ADPs. I have my preferences—guys like Anthony Rendon, Rougned Odor, and Kolten Wong—but it’s a big mishmash of players with similar valuations and similar draft positions. If you miss on Altuve and Gordon, wait until rounds 8-12 and see which player falls and/or feels right. Non-technical, but usually sound advice.
If you’re a bargain hunter, safer options such as Neil Walker and Howie Kendrick will be appealing in the later rounds. Schoop and Baez will be popular late-round lottery tickets. But don’t forget about guys like Chris Owings and Cory Spangenberg. They’ll be a couple players who don’t get attention on draft day yet will carve out useful roles, especially in deeper leagues with middle-infield slots.
THE LONG-TERM OUTLOOK
Normally, we discuss the fantasy value of prospects in this space—and we will, to a certain extent—but the long-term outlook at second base is interesting because so many of the biggest faces are under 30 years of age. Dee Gordon (27), Jose Altuve (25), Brian Dozier (28), Addison Russell (21), Rougned Odor (21), Kolten Wong (24), Anthony Rendon (25), etc. all should progress or remain relatively stable for the next three or four years.
That’s not to suggest that the minor leagues lack quality fantasy second-base prospects. Yoan Moncada hit .278/.380/.438 with eight homers and 49 stolen bases. He’s the cream of the crop. Owners should also pay attention to players such as Dilson Herrera, who hit .327/.382/.511 in Triple-A last year as a 21-year-old, and Forrest Wall. First-rounder Ian Happ is also someone who is expected to rise in 2016. Of that quartet, though, only Herrera has played an inning above A-ball. They’re still a couple years out from being impactful in fantasy leagues.
I’ll also note that Alen Hanson could get some love in fantasy leagues because he can steal bases in bulk; however, it’s far from given that he’s going to be able to hit enough to stick, unless he can play shortstop well enough defensively. If the bat shows some life in the majors, his fantasy stock will increase exponentially. Just not ready to assume that’s going to happen, much less in 2016.
THE CLOSING HAIKU
It’s getting better.
That’s the lesson, anyway.
Still Too Many Odors.