Previous articles in this series:
We, at Baseball Prospectus, have been talking about second basemen for a while now (three days and change to be exact, depending on when you are reading this) and the party continues to rage on. Yet before we rage, we shall calibrate—since rankings aren’t useful without knowing what you’re reading. The list you are about to read here presupposes a 16-team standard (read: 5×5 roto) dynasty format, in which there are no contracts/salaries, players can be kept forever, and owners have minor-league farm systems in which to hoard prospects. So feel free to adjust this as necessary for your individual league, whether it’s moving non-elite prospects without 2016 ETAs down if you don’t have separate farm teams or moving lower-risk, lower-reward players up in deeper mixed or -only formats.
The keystone is at a bit of a crossroads right now. There’s some firepower rising towards the top and the hint of a changing of the guard; however, most of it is not quite there yet. The glut of major-leaguers who could be top-five options at the position if things shake right is long, and the prospect depth is better than we’ve seen in recent years. Add in the fact that there are a number of 2B-eligible players who will be ranked at shortstop in two weeks (because that’s the weaker position in fantasy leagues) and you get a stronger overall group, even if parts of the list feel like you could just throw them all in a hat and get an appropriate result.
So without any further ado, we’ll get to the biggest name on this list, who also happens to come in the smallest package:
Technically, Altuve did have some regression from his 2014 Fantasy MVP campaign. Of course, while accomplishing said regression, he cemented himself atop this list. He is quite possibly the safest bet in all of baseball to hit .300 and steal 30 bases, and even without mid-teens power (which is a little much to expect), he’s still a bona fide first-rounder who is only 25 years old.
We’ve talked plenty in these pages about how stolen bases are down across the league, making the heavy-hitting theft kings even more valuable. Yet even that can’t nudge Gordon ahead of Rendon, even with the latter coming off such a down season. Despite the dollar earnings of Gordon, and they’ve been hefty, I don’t trust him to maintain the type of batting average that he would need to maintain those earnings. He’s ranked here as though he’s a .280-.290 hitter, as that’s where I think his natural talent is. Of course, he’s also a not a particularly efficient base stealer, getting caught 20 times last season for a 74 percent success rate. As he ages, this will cause his steal totals to decline faster. On the other hand, the injury-prone Rendon showed what he could do in 2014, yet I still believe there’s more upside in his bat. He has the natural talent to both hit over .300 and pop 25-plus homers—and despite his unlikelihood to be eligible at this position next year, third base is nearly as bleak as second is.
If you’re a Cano owner in a dynasty league, it’s tough sledding right now—especially if you are looking to unload him for youth. However, hold your ground on his value. The former Yankee has taken time to adjust to Seattle, and some of his first half numbers over his two seasons have reflected that, but he also hit .331 with 15 homers after the All-Star break last year with much-improved plate-discipline stats.
Putting a prospect in the top-five at any position is an awfully strong statement, and doing it with a prospect that hasn’t played above Low-A is even stronger. However, there is elite ceiling here with his five-category game—enough to invoke memories of another former Red Sox middle-infield prospect who was a chronic top-five pick for nearly a half-decade. And while Hanley Ramirez may invoke other reactions in Boston these days, the point remains the same.
This tier is very tightly packed, with the young upstart in Texas just barely edging out the two elder statesmen of the AL Central. Amazingly, Odor is still just 21 years old as I type this (though he’ll turn 22 next week), yet he’s all but cemented his position as the Rangers’ second baseman for the next half-decade. After his demotion, he came back and hit .292 with 15 homers and five steals in just 336 at-bats. The power won’t quite last at that level, but a long career of .280-plus averages and mid-teens power awaits him. We’re starting to see the end of Dozier as a 20-steal threat, but if you’re using that as an argument against him, you are not looking closely enough at his home runs or his runs scored. Even with his plate-discipline stats going in the wrong direction, there’s enough to like here to tick him above the final name here. Kipnis without the speed is like a sundae without the whipped cream. Sure, it still tastes good, but you just don’t feel like you’ve gotten your money’s worth.
The difficulty for Baez to get consistent playing time in 2016 nearly knocked him out of the top-10, but the small steps he took at Triple-A last year in cutting down his strikeout rate (24.3 percent versus 30.0 percent) gives some additional hope that he’s making the turn. Even if a jump in contact costs him some of that prodigious power, he still has the upside to be a top-three option at the position as soon as 2017.
10) Kolten Wong, St Louis Cardinals
11) Jurickson Profar, Texas Rangers
14) Daniel Murphy, Washington Nationals
15) Dustin Pedroia, Boston Red Sox
The batting average hasn’t quite been the yet for Wong to shoot into the Odor/Dozier/Kipnis tier, though he does have the natural barrel ability to get it there in time. If he can he a .280-plus hitter, the double digit steals and homers can take him far. If you know me at all, you know that I’m surely not giving up on Profar at this point. Even with the two lost seasons, he’s still only 22. The shoulder injury remains a major concern until we see him on the field and playing, but it’s not a death knell either. Kinsler is super predictable and also getting pretty old. Pedroia is younger, but comes with more risk, as even when he does stay on the field, he’s generally playing through some sort of injury these days. However, he did show a tick up in power in 2015 that we haven’t seen in four years—which could be a harbinger of a bounce back. Walker should see a tick up in power in Citi Field and Murphy should see a tick up in steals playing for Dusty Baker. That said, both remain steady, but shrinking options as they approach their decline phase.
18) Ben Zobrist, Chicago Cubs
19) Howie Kendrick, Free Agent
Playing half his game in U.S. Cellular could have a nice boost to Lawrie’s power numbers and though he’s worn out his welcome with three teams so far, there are still 26 more to go once he’s done that on the South Side. Schoop has the great power park and a nice power swing for a middle infielder. Twenty homers seems reachable for him, but just avert your eyes at his K:BB ratio. The super super-utility player has found a new home with the Cubs, and that lineup around him should raise his counting stat game enough to offset some of the skill decline and age concerns. Kendrick still remains unsigned and is the same high-floor, meh-upside option he’s been for a few seasons now. Amazingly, he’s hit between .285 and .295 in each of the last five seasons. That’s impressive consistency. Finally, Peraza should get playing time once the former fantasy stud playing ahead of him is moved—and has 40-steal potential once that happens.
This is the part of the list where I just look around and feel the boos permeate my skin. First of all, both of these players are coming off significant injuries in 2015—Panik may or may not be recovered from his back injury and Travis may or may not be ready for this season after his second shoulder surgery. Even without the injuries, both have real questions about their upside. I don’t believe Panik becomes anything more than a single-digit homer guy, which essentially makes him a batting average only play. Extrapolating Travis’ stats from 2015 is enough of a stretch to make you need shoulder surgery just reading it. Neither the batting average nor power is sustainable at that level, nor he will realistically settle in as a .270 hitter with 10-12 homers and a smattering of steals. Respectable, but not a-game changer.
24) D.J. LeMahieu, Colorado Rockies
27) Dilson Herrera, New York Mets
28) Forrest Wall, Colorado Rockies
30) Brandon Phillips, Cincinnati Reds
Both Forsythe and LeMahieu our performed expectations in 2015 by a good bit and this ranking factors in that it may not have been a fluke—though it’s also a factor of the depth I wrote about in the primer. Drury, Hanson, and Herrera are all in similar positions in their current organizations. They find themselves behind incumbents who are likely to keep their jobs during a majority of 2016, but are in prime position to be contributors in 2017. None of the three have an upside as high as Wall, who lingers behind them, but they’re knocking on the door and have top-12 upside if it comes together. Spangenberg will get overlooked in leagues this winter, but he’s pretty locked in as a starter in San Diego and can steal bases while hitting for some average. Phillips had a dead cat bounce in 2015, but betting on him to leave the pavement in 2016 is not a good use of your optimism.
32) Arismendy Alcantara, Chicago Cubs
33) Wilmer Difo, Washington Nationals
34) Willie Calhoun, Los Angeles Dodgers
36) Josh Harrison, Pittsburgh Pirates
37) Robert Refsnyder, New York Yankees
39) Danny Espinosa, Washington Nationals
They may be buried in their own organizations and not on the forefront of fantasy radars, but don’t forget Alcantara and Peterson—who are both capable of stealing enough bases to matter even if they can’t contribute much else. Calhoun is a name that keeps moving higher and higher on draft lists and he’d likely slot into the tier above if I could say there was a good shot at him sticking on the grass. That said, the dude can hit. Hernandez and Espinosa will get some playing time for their respective contending teams, at least at first, but there are prospects directly behind them that could overtake them if they struggle out of the gate.
41) Nick Franklin, Tampa Bay Rays
42) Tony Kemp, Houston Astros
43) Micah Johnson, Los Angeles Dodgers
44) Aaron Hill, Arizona Diamondbacks
45) Travis Demeritte, Texas Rangers
46) Andy Ibanez, Texas Rangers
47) Brandon Lowe, Tampa Bay Rays
49) Brock Holt, Boston Red Sox
Remember when Franklin and Hill were valuable dynasty league commodities? It wasn’t that long ago. Both players are likely playing for their right to remain on this list in 2017. Johnson isn’t very good at baseball (at least compared to his peers, not me—he’s light years better than me), but the specter of speed rules all. Both Rangers’ prospects on here are interesting, Demeritte for his upside and Ibanez for his floor. Then there’s Giavotella, who kept teetering off the edge of this list and snuck back in to claim a spot at the last moment. Four homers and two steals over nearly a full season just isn’t going to cut it in mixed leagues.