Second base is another of the more difficult positions to predict future value at, as the cream of the prospect crop typically comes later on in the form of failed shortstops moving off the position. But there’s certainly a niche of bat-first types with weak arms that have begun to populate the early ranks with, dare I say, increasing frequency in more recent years, with a couple prep keystoners even landing in the top round of some recent drafts (Forrest Wall in 2014 and Jesmuel Valentin two years prior). Bret covered the best of the bunch today in his Dynasty Top 50 for the position, while the best of the rest are belong, along with some of the shining lights for your radar heading into the draft-eligible amateur season. In case you missed the first couple incarnations of this series you can find my deep-league look at catchers here and first basemen here.
Back-Up Types, But In (Or Close Enough To) Their Primes!
Alexi Amarista, Colorado Rockies – Why, hello there, guy in Rockies purple. Amarista isn’t particularly exciting offensively, with little power to speak of a batting average that bounced up into respectable range for the first time last year only on the back of a small-sample uptick in line drive and pull-side contact rates. But he’ll have a couple highly coveted assets going for him: he’s got usable speed that translates decently on stolen-base attempts, he’ll be hitting in Coors, and as the Rockies’ penciled-in utility guy he’ll potentially gain a whole bunch of different eligibilities by the time head-to-head playoffs roll around.
Chase Utley, Stephen Drew, Kelly Johnson, Gordon Beckham, and Johnny Giavotella, Free Agents All – These guys all see their shot at 2017 value defined by where they end up inking backup or minor-league deals, of course. Johnson may have the highest ostensible “upside” in this motley crew, as he again scraped his way to double-digit dingers last year (the eighth time he’s done so in an 11-year career) despite part-time duty. Utley managed to post an above-average offensive campaign last year, somehow, though fantasy managers who didn’t reap the rewards early couldn’t tell you about any of that. His veteran clubhouse awesomeness makes him the best bet for job security, while Beckham continues to be a grave black mark on my dynasty league-playing soul after I made him the centerpiece return in a trade of Jon Lester way back in 2010. In addition to being the worst second-base defender in the majors by FRAA, Giavotella also ran the third-lowest TAv of anyone who logged 300 plate appearances at the position, which makes the nearly 900 plate appearances afforded him in the last two years by Anaheim some kind of somethin’.
Travis Demeritte, Atlanta Braves – Demeritte may very well be the most exciting name in this column, which…I’ll give you a moment to catch your breath. His approach is not good, and coupled with inconsistent swing mechanics it’s a long bet that he ever sniffs .250 in the majors. That power-and-speed combo though, that’s what matters to those of us in deep enough leagues. He hit 28 homers and stole 17 bases at two High-A stops last year, with a pile of doubles and triples to boot. While acknowledging the standard disclaimer that High Desert dramatically aided the homerun output, we can still note evenhandedly that Demeritte has impressive raw pop for a middle-infielder, and he showed important flashes of mistake-mashing prowess. The value’s not going to be great on account of pretty certain batting average deficiencies, but as an MI option in deep enough leagues he’s a guy to speculate on.
T.J. Rivera, New York Mets – I’ve had my eye on Rivera for a while, largely because his is a really good story to root for in real life, but also because all he’s ever done as a baseball player is hit successfully. He’s a career .324 hitter across more than 2,600 plate appearances, and that includes a .353 mark last year at Triple A before his call-up in the second half. What’d he do then, you ask? Well, naturally he hit .333/.345/.476 in his first 113 big-league plate appearances. There isn’t a ton to get excited about here, as he’s 28 and a fringy defender buried behind Neil Walker and (likely) Wilmer Flores on the Mets’ depth chart. But as an unheralded dude to jump all over in NL-only and deep standard leagues if and when an opportunity for some playing time presents itself, he’s a good guy to remember.
Max Schrock, Oakland Athletics – Schrock started hitting as a Nationals prospect in Low A to start the year, and he kept right on hitting through four team changes, the last of which saw him at Double A with the A’s. He’s an undersized second baseman with a strong hit tool, decent speed that plays well on the bases, and even some sneaky pop – all the ingredients to rate as a prospect better for fantasy leagues than the real world. A peak season of .280-plus with double-digit homers and 15-20 steals is in play as a ceiling outcome, and he’s in a solid organization to wrangle an extended look in the not-too-distant future if the hitting continues again next spring.
Kevin Kramer, Pittsburgh Pirates – Kramer is a really good hitter, with very little in the way of interesting fantasy skills beyond that. There’s limited power (maybe 30-grade if he maxes out) and little stolen-base speed (he stole three bags in 12 attempts last year at High A). He’s worth monitoring from the standpoint that his hit tool maybe just be good enough to carry him to a big-league career, but for now he looks more the part of a T.J. Rivera type, lead time included.
Andy Ibanez, Texas Rangers – The Cuban import has his share of backers in the scouting community, but he also has his detractors, and the profile is fairly limited for our purposes in fantasy. The bat-to-ball skills will flash as those of an average hitter, and between strength and an occasional willingness to swing for the downs, it’s possible he develops double-digit homerun power at maturity, too. But he’s a slow runner who figures to offer almost nothing in the stolen base category, and the hit tool is really going to have to play up into above-average range for him to generate much value beyond an Omar Infante-type plug-in player for deep leagues.
Tyler Krieger, Cleveland Indians – Krieger was Clemson’s starting shortstop until a gnarly shoulder injury derailed his sophomore season. Cleveland drafted him in the fourth round discount bin in 2015, then sat him down for the rest of the season. In his first taste of pro ball last year, he hit .299/.377/.417 with 21 stolen bases (albeit with a terrible success rate) between the Midwest and Carolina leagues. His hit and run tools can both play at solid-average, though his thinner frame may have trouble generating big-league pop. There’s a chance for some intrigue here if the average holds up at Double A and he can find some consistency in the running game next year.
Omar Estevez, Los Angeles Dodgers – Estevez got a brief moment on the floor in our Dodgers Top Ten discussions, after Nathan Graham wrote a solid if unspectacular report on him late in the season. He similarly falls short of “target prospect” standing in moderate-depth dynasty leagues at this point, as he is still a month shy of his 19th birthday, but after showing dramatic improvement after a bumpy stateside debut, he boasts an average-across-the-board skill set that should have him on deeper dynasty radars now. He should get a crack at full-season ball this year, and a successful campaign can boost him considerably on the organization’s ladder.
Micah Johnson, Atlanta Braves – The Braves traded a PTBNL for him earlier this month after the Dodgers designated the 26-year-old for assignment, and he’ll join his third organization when he suits up for Atlanta this spring. His carrying fantasy tool of speed looked a little less of an asset last year, as he was nabbed 11 times in 37 stolen base attempts at Triple A, and he still hasn’t shown he can handle big-league pitching. He’ll be a deep league speculation for steals if he finds a window of playing time, but hope’s running out for any kind of sustained utility in most leagues.
Class of 2016!
Nick Solak, New York Yankees – Last year’s second-round pick out of Louisville, Solak flirted with left field at Louisville but was deployed exclusively at second base last summer in the NYPL after signing. He boasts strong barrel skills, with a standstill load and launch that keeps him short and quick into the zone. It’s not a swing that will bear much power, but coupled with above-average speed and some feel to use it on the bases, he has the potential to develop into a useful fantasy piece down the line.
Cavan Biggio, Toronto Blue Jays – Based on my looks at The Son of Craig over a couple summers on the Cape, I’m not sold he’s actually a second baseman. And that’s an important bit of eligibility for him to retain, because without it there’s really not much reason to keep him on a dynasty league radar. The Jays’ fifth-rounder is a smart player who plays up above his tools, and in spite of a whole bunch of pre-pitch histrionics his barrel delivery is compact and accurate. There’s no power, though, and the stolen bases he generates are born out of intelligence moreso than a quick first step.
Jake Noll, Washington Nationals – A seventh-rounder of the Nationals, all he’s done everywhere is hit, with a .361/.417/.493 career line in college and a .326 mark in the Cape League sprinkled in. There’s some intriguing pop here too, as his above-average bat speed can get up into pitches. He’s an above-average runner, too, capable of chipping in some steals along the way. His defense doesn’t get great reviews at second, and it’s entirely possible he has to move off the infield dirt. It’s also entirely possible that, as an unheralded seventh-rounder, he never quite develops the hit tool enough to play on a big-league field.
Ryne Birk, Houston Astros – Birk was a nice little get for the Astros in the 13th round, a polished bat out of Texas A&M with a solid all-around game. He put up and .840 OPS in age-appropriate leagues after signing, with moderate power and speed numbers, and more walks than strikeouts. He’ll need to prove it farther up the ladder, but there’s a non-zero chance he will.
Manny Jefferson, Arizona Diamondbacks – Jefferson was another 13th-rounder, and I liked some of what I saw in that same series I linked to in the Birk blurb above. Specifically, I liked the leverage and pull-side pop from the former shortstop. His is a fairly lanky frame, though there’s room for some physical projection in the upper half, especially now that he’s moved off the six-spot as a professional. The swing and approach are both designed to damage the baseball if he connects with it – something he didn’t do a whole lot of in the Northwest League after signing.
Jonathan Murders, St. Louis Cardinals – I don’t really have much to say about this kid, who goes by “J.D.,” aside from the obvious. The Cardinals gave him $200,000 of savings in the 31st round, which was the third-highest signing bonus given to any true second baseman in the class, and perhaps more importantly the clearest sign yet that the club intends to be more open in embracing its Devil Magic ways going forward.
Class of 2017 and Beyond!
Tetsuto Yamada, Tokyo Yakult Swallows – Yamada continues to induce drool down the chin with his exploits in the NPB. Since I highlighted him in this space last year, all he did was go out and drop another absurd season (.304/.425/.607 with 38 homers and 30 steals in 590 plate appearances) at age 23. He still has four more years until free agency in Japan, however, and while he could theoretically get posted earlier, there’s very little in the way of incentive for his club to do so. Still, the theoretical here demands that we keep his name on our collective brain.
Jose Miguel Fernandez, (Los Angeles Dodgers) – I’m only putting Fernandez here because as of this writing he has still not formally signed, and those of you with earlier prospect drafts and player pool restrictions may very well end up having to wait on considering him until next year depending on when he eventually puts ink to paper. That would be too bad, as Fernandez is 28 already, with over 2,500 plate appearances in the Serie Nacional under his belt. He was a career .313 hitter there, with more than double the number of walks to strikeouts for his career. There isn’t a lot of pop in his swing, and its unclear what the baserunning will look like after such a long layoff from competitive play (he defected back in December of 2015), but there’s probably enough hit tool here for “win-now” players to take a flier on when they’re able.
Keston Hiura, UC Irvine – Hiura is the top prospect in the draft class for fantasy second-sackers, though it’s unclear if he’ll be able to remain on the dirt or not. An elbow injury has limited his throwing arm, but all this kid has done since showing up at Irvine is hit: he’s at .343/.414/.529 through two full seasons. The swing isn’t geared to launch balls at present, and he hasn’t shown himself to be much of a stolen base threat despite average speed. But he makes a ton of consistently solid contact to all fields, and the baseline hitting ability to contribute down the line is already apparent.
Ernie Clement, University of Virginia – Clement won the Cape League MVP trophy last summer after finishing second in hitting. My notes on him are here, but for our purposes he’s another quality bat-to-ball man, perhaps even moreso than Hiura. He makes a ton of contact with a patient-aggressive approach that limits his walks, so the on-base profile is largely hit tool-driven. There’s very little power to speak of, and he has struggled to develop a base-stealing technique in spite of above-average to plus speed. He’s a wait-and-see for now, as he’ll need some secondary skill development this spring to jump into the range of being interesting for fantasy purposes.
Deacon Liput, University of Florida – A draft-eligible sophomore, Liput put together an impressive freshman campaign last year on a loaded Gator team, tallying a .363 on-base percentage and stealing 13 bases without getting caught. He shows the defensive ingredients to try his hand at shortstop, and may end up profiling there, but he currently resides east of the bag. There’s a traditional table-setter skill set here, and he’ll be a guy to watch this spring.
Adam Hall, A.B. Lucas Secondary School (London, Ontario) – With the caveat that investing in high school second basemen is not an especially wise use of roster capital, I’m going to cheat a little and highlight one more potential shortstop here. Hall is being billed as the one of the more exciting Canadian middle-infield prospects to come along a while, with an enticing blend of physical projection, some speed, and an advanced bat. It remains to be seen if he’ll be drafted as a shortstop or immediately installed at second, but he’s a potential first-round talent one way or the other.
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