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In 2016, 23 hitters earned $25 or more in AL-only leagues, according to my 2016 valuations. Eight of those hitters were second basemen, and there were more $25+ earners at second than there were at any other position.

Table 1: 2016 10 Best Hitters by Position, AL-only

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Pos

$

Sal

+/-

CBS

LABR

Tout

C

$102

92

10

99

88

90

1B

$216

233

-17

222

231

246

2B

$259

203

56

203

203

204

SS

$224

181

43

178

182

184

3B

$208

168

40

163

179

178

OF

$281

215

66

201

219

225

The top 10 second basemen in 2016 earned $259. In the AL, only outfielders were better. Not only are the best second basemen in the AL elite, but the position is as deep as it has ever been.

One reason second basemen earned so much is because the top hitters provided a broad base of contributions across all categories. Jose Altuve was the best fantasy hitter not only at second base but in the AL, earning $43 and narrowly edging out Mookie Betts by forty-seven cents. Because most of Altuve’s value is wrapped up in steals and batting average, he is a fantasy rarity: an elite player who is also a slight bargain. Altuve’s average salary was $37 last year. He and Betts were the only AL hitters who cost $30 or more and turned a profit.

With so many frontline options, there is little if any need to chase Altuve past his bid price. Brian Dozier’s ridiculous home run streak pushed him above $30 in earnings for the first time in his career. While his power wasn’t nearly as prodigious as Dozier’s, Ian Kinsler reached his highest home run total since his 2011 campaign in Texas. Kinsler should continue to be a reliable asset, but 15-20 home runs is a more realistic expectation from the 35-year-old.Even though he finished behind all three of these players in fantasy earnings, Robinson Cano is the guy I have ranked second behind Altuve at the position. Jason Kipnis traded batting average for home runs and RBI. He only gained one-dollar in fantasy earnings from 2015 to 2016, but as long as he remains at the top of a strong Cleveland lineup, Kipnis should maintain mid-$20s fantasy value regardless of his categorical breakdown

At the tender age of 22, Rougned Odor broke out in the power department, swatting 71 extra-base hits, including 33 home runs. There is still room for improvement, although it is likely that the free-swinging Odor is at or near his ceiling in batting average. Odor’s emergence has eliminated talk of moving him off the position or trading him to make room for Jurickson Profar. The power is legitimate, and another 25-30 home run season from Odor is a realistic expectation. He also stole 14 bases, more than doubling his 2015 output, but Odor’s stolen base percentage dropped in the second half. If the Rangers put the brakes on, double-digit steals could be a one-time thing for Odor. I’m still pushing Odor into the $20s, but won’t assume further improvement simply because of his age.

Dustin Pedroia is an example of a consistent real life hitter whose fantasy value fluctuates based on health, stolen base output, and batting average. Pedroia parlayed his best batting average since 2008 into a $27 season. I’m reluctant to pay more than $20 for a hitter who earned a combined $31 in 2014-2015 and hasn’t stolen more than seven bases since 2013. Even if Pedroia’s TAv stays the same, you are better off pursuing any of the hitters listed above. The other caveat with Pedroia is that he must play 150-160 games to have a realistic shot of earning more than $20.

Jonathan Schoop defied the cynics and put up a season that showed his 2015 wasn’t a fluke. In the current fantasy context, Schoop suffers due to his lack of stolen bases and a less than stellar batting average. Schoop is still young enough to see some slight improvement, but despite hitting 25 home runs, scoring 82 runs, and driving in 82 runs, Schoop still could not push into the $20s in fantasy earnings. Schoop is a solid hitter, and should be able to provide another 20-25 home runs for his fantasy owners in 2017, but with no stolen base potential and a batted ball profile that doesn’t speak to any growth in AVG he shouldn’t be pushed too far beyond what he earned in 2016.

Starlin Castro is never going to be the superstar who some envisioned him as when he made his debut at the age of 20 for the Chicago Cubs, but for our purposes in fantasy he should be able to earn in the teens for years to come. The moderate stolen base potential Castro showed earlier in his career is gone, but he made up for this with a career high 21 home runs. Fifteen of these blasts came at Yankee Stadium. Castro’s home/road splits were dramatic. He hit .310/.333/.507 at home compared to a pedestrian .230/.267/.357 on the road. But if Castro gets to play half his games at the Stadium, mono league fantasy managers will live with whatever Castro does on the road.

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Below are some options who will primarily be drafted or purchased in AL-only leagues. Note that this article is not meant to be an all-inclusive review of every second baseman in the American League.

Brett Lawrie – White Sox ($9)
At the beginning of his career, Lawrie was extremely overhyped in fantasy, with average salaries of $29 and $25 in AL-only in 2012 and 2013 (he earned $17 and $11). Now, Lawrie has swung to the other end of the spectrum, and is being discounted far too heavily in early drafts. This isn’t to suggest that Lawrie will ever be that $25-30 earner that some were expecting him to be. Lawrie has never earned more than $17 in a single season, and has lost his fantasy managers money nearly every year. However, Lawrie has displayed legitimate power the last two seasons and injuries in 2016 were the only thing that prevented him from having a similar season to 2015. Health is always a question, but if Lawrie’s salary slips into the high single digits in mono formats there is almost nothing but upside. Expecting a 20 home run season may seem ambitious (and in fact Lawrie has never hit more than 16), but a spike in Lawrie’s line-drive and fly-ball rates last year speak to a hitter who could pull it off as he enters his prime.

Raul Mondesi – Royals ($3)
Mondesi is penciled in as the Royals’ Opening Day starter at second base, but his major-league numbers to date suggest that more time at Triple-A is a good idea. Mondesi was overmatched in 2016, hitting .185 with 48 strikeouts in 149 plate appearances and only three extra-base hits that weren’t triples. Mondesi was ranked 36th on Baseball Prospectus’ midseason Top 50 Dynasty rankings, so the long-term potential is most certainly there. But he is 20 years old. While he did show some slight power growth in Triple-A, it is likely that Mondesi would struggle again in the majors and be a conduit for empty steals and nothing more.

Whit Merrifield – Royals ($10)
Before the Royals promoted Mondesi, Merrifield was manning the keystone for the Royals. His batting line looks like a yawner on the surface, but Merrifield more than held his own in batting average and stole eight bases in about half a season of regular at-bats. Merrifield did enough in his first shot with the Royals that he could get another opportunity to play in 2017. His potential in steals is what gives him most of his value. If Mondesi flounders in spring training, Merrifield could get another opportunity.

Jed Lowrie – Athletics ($5)
For the second season in a row, Lowrie missed a significant portion of the season due to injury. At least Lowrie hit some home runs in 2015. Last year, his power disappeared almost entirely, making Lowrie a virtual non-entity even when AL-only teams had him in their lineups. Lowrie is likely to produce $8-12 in value if he can stay healthy, but he hasn’t had 15 or more home runs or hit higher than .265 since 2013. He profiles as a third middle infielder in AL-only and nothing more.

Joey Wendle – Athletics ($3)
Chad Pinder – Athletics ($0)

Wendle was one of the second basemen the A’s called on when Lowrie couldn’t answer the bell. Wendle put up solid albeit unspectacular numbers at Triple-A and did the same for the Athletics except for the home runs. Wendle’s best chance at an opportunity is another Lowrie injury, but even if he does play, the lack of a plus tool anywhere in his game hampers Wendle and makes him an AL-only, emergency fill-in type of asset. The power is never going to come and Wendle’s best bet is to survive as a .280 hitter by using the gaps to his advantage. This isn’t a formula for success in today’s version of the game where so many teams rely on the big blast. Pinder is the A’s other contingency option for Lowrie. He tanked at Triple-A last year, but he’s slightly better than Wendle as a long-term option per our dynasty rankings, although both players are more suited for utility/backup roles long term. Chadwick Hudson Pinder is a damn awesome name.

Christian Colon – Royals ($1)
You may have noticed that there is a good deal of overlap on teams in the AL-only option featured at the bottom of this article. While any of the Royals and Athletics profiled here could get regular at bats at second base, they all cannot, so if you’re looking for one-dollar endgame sleepers you must pick your spot. At 27, Colon isn’t a prospect and has done nothing from a fantasy perspective to make him interesting even in AL-only. His value will come if he beats out Merrifield and Mondesi as the Opening Day second baseman, holds down the job, and gets 500 or more plate appearances. Colon’s defense profiles positively, so this could happen, but even then, you are probably looking at something around six to eight dollars of earnings. I’m not even sure I want Colon for a buck on auction day.

I was going to write about one or two more players, but then I noticed how thin second base is at the bottom in the AL. In my early (non-published) bid limits, I have a total of 14 second baseman with bid limits of $2 or more. If SS/2B are added to the mix, this expands the pool of eligible players to 16 with a bid limit of two dollars or more. This lack of depth often occurs when there is a player switching from another position who isn’t eligible at his new position. This year, the only culprit is Danny Espinosa, who understandably is not going to supplant defensive stalwart Andrelton Simmons at shortstop in Anaheim. Yoan Moncada could eventually find his way to Chicago, but he is third base-eligible based on major-league games played in 2016. Then there is Jurickson Profar, who you would expect to have second base eligibility but does not.

In keeper leagues, it is worth considering keeping a second baseman at a dollar or two over his inflated price. During the auction in both redraft and keeper leagues watch what your opponents are doing carefully at second base, particularly in leagues that do not permit you to purchase minor leaguers on auction day. If two or more teams in your league put a second baseman at their middle infield slots this will have a ripple effect, not only at second base but on how you allocate money toward your entire roster. Some fantasy managers will panic in this scenario and overspend for a lesser second baseman, but you are better off pushing money to other positions on the diamond and going with a one-dollar second baseman if necessary. None of this might happen, of course, but it is better to be aware and be prepared than it is to hope for the best and experience the worst.