Looking for bargains in your fantasy drafts? These six second basemen could fit the bill. Our staff weighs in on a few key players at the keystone.
Javier Baez, Cubs
The highly touted prospect was selected just three spots (197th overall) behind eventual AL Cy Young award winner Dallas Keuchel, in terms of average draft position, last spring. To say that his fantasy stock merely cratered after he failed to make the Cubs’ Opening Day roster would be a colossal understatement. The fact that a majority of fantasy owners see Baez as a failed prospect with a flawed approach at the plate compared to the massive influx of young impact sluggers in the game creates an opportunity for savvy owners to invest in the upside of his intoxicating power and speed combination for next-to-nothing on draft day.
It’s easy to forget that Baez is just 23 years old and still developing as a hitter. Despite missing the first month of the season after the death of his sister and nearly two months in June and July with a fractured finger, he took a major step forward in the minor leagues last season. In addition to displaying his signature light-tower power and electrifying bat speed, he made noticeable progress with his plate discipline, hitting .324/.385/.527 (.203 ISO) with 13 home runs in 313 plate appearances at Triple-A Iowa. Those gaudy statistics don’t sound that impressive in the Pacific Coast League, an environment that has a well-documented history of inflating offensive output across the board. However, to put those numbers in context, the league-average PCL rate stats in 2014 (according to Baseball America) were .276/.344/.427 (.152 ISO). Even by PCL standards, Baez was impressive during his Triple-A stint, despite facing pitchers nearly five years older than him on average.
The 80 major-league plate appearances he racked up after being called up in September are not enough to draw any significant conclusions, but it’s worth noting that he displayed considerable improvement from his disastrous debut the previous season, hitting .289/.325/.408 (.268 TAv) with seven extra-base hits and one stolen base. The most encouraging sign was the increase in his contact rate, which soared from 59 percent in his rookie year to 68 percent last fall. Granted he’s going to strike out a ton no matter what, but with the league average hovering around .260, he won’t be as much of an anchor in that department as he would have a decade ago.
If he can continue to improve his approach at the plate and reduce the number of swings and misses, he’s going to have a shot to make his risky profile work, whereas a year ago, it was hard to envision him making enough contact to stay in the show. As a fantasy owner, it’s critical to see improvement from a young hitter, signs that they can adjust and be successful against advanced competition, before investing, and that’s exactly what Baez has done over the last year.
Very few middle infielders possess the upside to potentially eclipse the 30 home run plateau and threaten for 20 stolen bases as well. It would be one thing to invest an early round pick on Baez, assuming all of the performance risk, but he’s currently going off the board in the 18th round of early NFBC drafts (15-teams per league). —George Bissell
DJ LeMahieu, Rockies
Currently being taken as the 10th-13th second baseman and about the 160th player overall, LeMahieu was the fourth-most valuable second baseman and 30th-most valuable hitter overall in 2015. LeMahieu had a breakout season in both AVG (.301) and stolen bases (23), both of which led to a career-high 85 runs scored. The question, then, is how likely is LeMahieu to regress?
Regarding the average, he shows signs of a hitter who has improved his approach at the plate, which gives us confidence. He swung less in 2015 than ever before (particularly on breaking balls), walked more, and used more of an inside-out approach at the plate. Regarding the stolen bases, LeMahieu took a big step forward in 2015. After going a dismal 10-for-20 on stolen-base attempts in 2014, the 6-foot-4 second baseman went 23-for-26 in 2015.
Will LeMahieu be a top-30 hitter in 2016? Probably not. However, it does appear that the game has slowed down a bit for him, and I thus like his chances to beat his current ADP as the 95th hitter being taken. —Jeff Quinton
Rougned Odor, Rangers
Most fantasy owners are well aware of Odor’s improvement after being recalled from the minors on June 15th. However, it appears as though there are still plenty of owners who don’t believe that Odor can carry his stellar production into the 2016 season, as early ADP results have Odor going roughly three rounds behind Brian Dozier (the fourth second baseman off the board) at 105th overall.
How good, exactly, was Odor over the second-half of 2015? Odor’s 12 home runs were third among the position, his 37 RBI put him tied for fifth with Neil Walker and a .273 AVG placed him 12th among second basemen (min. 300 PA). Odor’s .246 isolated power mark after the All-Star break not only dwarfed runner-up Robinson Cano’s .209 total by a wide margin, it was good for 19th overall among all hitters—just ahead of Kyle Schwarber and five spots ahead of Carlos Correa, who is only six months younger than Odor. His .292/.334/.527 overall line after his recall would almost certainly place him into top-five territory for second basemen if he could post a similar line over an entire season, but Odor generally is knocked in fantasy circles for not running as much as most of the other second basemen who project in the top five at the position. How much value can he add with his wheels to compensate for a dropoff in power, should there be one for Odor in 2016? He stole nine bases between Triple-A and the majors in 2015 and added 10 between Double-A and the majors in 2014, and I feel that as he becomes more acclimated to running the bases in the majors, he could run enough to steal close to 15 bases on a consistent basis; he stole as many as 33 in 130 games in 2013 between High-A Myrtle Beach and Double-A Frisco.
If Odor can add double-digit steals in 2016 to his already-delicious power profile, he could propel himself into a top-five option at the position as soon as the upcoming season, which would certainly be worthy of selection well before his early perch outside of the top 100 overall, and pretty close to where Dozier is currently being taken. —J.J. Jansons
Anthony Rendon, Nationals
Let's do a little bit of a blind taste test before we get into any player specifics here. A hitter was selected in the first half of the second round, on average, in NFBC draft last year. That same hitter is heading into his age-26 season and is healthy. Does that sound like someone who should be taken in the late fifth round one season later? Of course, nothing in fantasy is a blind taste test and if you were one of the (un)fortunate teams to roster him last year, you were pretty unlikely to have won your league. It was a poor season even by poor season standards.
However, what we look for from underperformance is both why and whether it can happen again. Rendon suffered a sprained MCL in Spring Training and that, in combination with a strained oblique that followed, kept him from Washington until June. It's often overlooked how preseason injuries can have an effect on a player's entire season, but Rendon never was quite right and may or may not have come back too soon. Of course, Rendon is no stranger to the injury-prone label, but a return to his natural position (third base) this year should lessen the strain on his body and could see a return to his 2014 type performance.
As an amateur and prospect, Rendon has tons of potential in his bat, both from a hit and power standpoint, and he translated that into MVP votes just two seasons ago (while also stealing 17 bases). Believing that is anything in the vicinity of behind him because of one down season is a mistake and Rendon is a strong value because of it. —Bret Sayre
Jonathan Schoop, Orioles
Perhaps not as much in OBP leagues, but Schoop (who will only be 24 years old in 2016) represents significant value at the second-base position in standard formats. The former top prospect seemingly turned a corner in the second half last season, hitting .283/.307/.461 with 10 home runs, and is currently being drafted as the 19th-overall second baseman in expert leagues this offseason. That’s a bit crazy, considering he ranked 10th in homers at the position and only managed 321 plate appearances. Over a full season, it’s not difficult to imagine Schoop eclipsing the 20-homer plateau, which only two second basemen (Dozier and Cano) accomplished in 2015. His percentage of line drives rose significantly after the All-Star break, while his ground-ball rate fell, which helped his BABIP finally jump above the league’s average. If he does that again and hits north of .260, Schoop is a top-10 player at the position. The 17.5 percent swinging-strike rate is obviously a massive red flag—which is the biggest reason that he’s dropping so dramatically in drafts—but he has too much upside to be going in the 22nd round in 12-team leagues. And in dynasty leagues, Schoop is one of the more underrated targets that no one is talking about. —J.P. Breen
Neil Walker, Mets
Walker is a fixture in this annual column and I’m up in the rotation. Despite tallying four-year highs in games played and plate appearances, his production was a mildly disappointing sequel to his 23-homer, 150 R+RBI campaign in 2014. Nevertheless, Walker finished as the 14th-best second baseman according to ESPN’s player rater and delivered $14 of mixed-league return according to Mike Gianella’s valuations. A 69/16/71/4/.269 roto-slash is exactly the kind of steady production owners were investing in when they selected him 122nd in NFBC drafts on average, even if the power was a little light. It’s confusing, then, to see that the new Mets second sacker has slipped all the way to the 241st pick in early 2016 NFBC results. That places him 16th among second baseman and near the bottom of a cluster of veterans that come with injury risk (Dustin Pedroia) or questions about whether 2015 is repeatable (Logan Forsythe, Brandon Phillips).
If you’re bearish on Walker following his move to Queens, you’re probably gambling that he’s something closer to a strict platoon bat, given his struggles against left-handers and the Mets’ middle-infield depth. Walker scored and drove in fewer than 10 runs against lefties in 2015, while hitting .237 with no home runs. The 40-point difference in his batting-average split probably isn’t enough to completely wash out the benefit of those counting stats, but you’re not losing a ton even if Walker sits against southpaws. Beyond a two-percentage-point worsening of his swing and contact rates, there isn’t much in the underlying numbers that gives me pause. Citi Field plays more favorably for left-handed hitters than PNC and Walker is a safe bet for 15-plus home runs with solid contextual stats in a stout Mets lineup. That makes him, once again, a draft-day bargain. —Greg Wellemeyer
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