The information age has brought great prosperity to the minor leagues–prospect lists were as deep in 2007 as anytime in recent memory. As teams have learned to steer clear of overly dogmatic approaches to the draft and filter through only the most useful information, it’s as if the minors have twice as many good prospects as they’ve had in some years. However, while a pinnacle of prospect production seems to have been reached, a subset of the population is as weak as ever: second baseman.
“Second basemen are the bastard children of Major League Baseball,” Nate Silver wrote in his article on PECOTA’s take on second base prospects, but perhaps more pointedly, second basemen are the bastard children of minor league baseball. In Baseball America’s 18 years of doing prospect lists, the position has held the fewest spots; only 51 names have been listed at the position. The 2007 list had just one name–Alberto Callaspo–the lowest total since 1992, when no second baseman made BA’s top 100.
However, when second baseman are included in prospect lists, they should be watched, as Baseball America has had more success prognosticating the position than any other. Of the 51 names on lists in 18 years, just four players have not made the Major Leagues: Sergio Nunez, David Espinosa, Jake Gautreau, and Jayson Nix (well, them and Marcus Sanders–he’s currently in A-ball). Furthermore, just eleven other players have less than 1,500 Major League at-bats, meaning 68.6 percent of ranked prospects went on to have fruitful careers in the Major Leagues. While Nix, Chad Hermansen, and Jose Ortiz were all disappointing players, careers of guys like Delino DeShields and Mickey Morandini have been forecasted correctly, and the quality of prospects like Rickie Weeks and Howie Kendrick correctly identified.
What’s more, 20 of the 29 Opening Day second baseman (Craig Biggio pre-dated BA) were once ranked in the top 100 by the organization. While Silver mentioned in his article how seldom Major League second baseman are always honed as such–and he’s right, because just nine players in the last three drafts have been listed at the position–it’s surprising to note just six of the Opening Day second baseman were shortstop prospects in the minors: Kaz Matsui, B.J. Upton, Jose Castillo, Ian Kinsler, Aaron Hill, and Kelly Johnson.
Next winter, it’s likely the 2008 prospect list will have as many second base prospects as the 1992 list did–the graduation of Callaspo, Kendrick, and Dustin Pedroia leaves the pickings pretty slim. Eric Patterson might not get his due, but he doesn’t have great numbers or the tools of his older brother. Elliot Johnson is bad at nothing, but his failure to impress scouts will keep him off of BA’s prospect lists. And while Mark Reynolds refuses to stop hitting, his defense leaves something to be desired.
We could go through every second baseman in the minors and continue to find flaws, but in the end, it’s probably not logical that all of them will fulfill our expectations of nada in the career MLB at-bats column. Prospects slip through the cracks–that’s the business, and all we can do is learn from past mistakes and try to correct them. With that said, here’s a look at the nine Opening Day second basemen missed by Baseball America, and some reason why they should have been on our radar:
- Robinson Cano: He’s been ranked highly by BA over the years, but perhaps not high enough, especially with only 261 strikeouts in 1930 minor league at-bats. His bat control and 766 OPS in the South Atlantic League at age 19 probably could have commanded more notice.
- Mark DeRosa: A good college player drafted in the seventh round in 1996, DeRosa never excelled in the minor leagues. Foreseeing his 2006 power would have been impossible, but high walk rates and low strikeout rates were defining features of his minor league career.
- Mark Ellis: A bona fide star at the University of Florida, Ellis had 30 extra base hits in his last two seasons as a Gator. In 2000, as a 23-year-old in the Carolina League, Ellis had 27 doubles, 72 walks and 25 steals–factors that likely put him on Oakland’s radar for good.
- Mark Grudzielanek: After the 1994 season, Grudz deserved to be ranked, as he was coming off of an impressive season at Double-A Harrisburg: .322/.382/.477 with 32 steals, 51 extra-base hits, and only 66 strikeouts in 488 at-bats.
- Jeff Kent: Would have been a Baseball Prospectus favorite after a 1991 season in Double-A that featured 80 walks, 25 stolen base, and a .162 isolated slugging percentage. The season before, Kent was the rare player to hit decently in Dunedin, Florida.
- Placido Polanco: A true draft steal, Polanco is the ultimate example of the virtues of a good plate approach. His power, speed, and batting averages would never have commanded much notice, but 156 strikeouts in seven minor league seasons is very impressive.
- Brian Roberts: The son of the former Tar Heel baseball coach, Roberts flew through the minors. The only chance for evaluators to rank him would have been after 2000, when he hit .301/.403/.374 in 48 Carolina League games.
- Dan Uggla: Mark Reynolds might take notice, as Uggla was a star of the California and Arizona Fall leagues. In 2003 at Lancaster, Uggla hit 23 home runs and stole 24 bases, and his 2005 AFL stint led to the Marlins‘ memorable Rule 5 selection.
So in the end, we have a mixed bag of the powerful (Kent, Uggla), the controlled (DeRosa, Polanco), and perhaps even the toolsy (Cano) as players that defied the odds and made the Major Leagues. Given the holes at the position in the minor leagues, I had to go to some unusual places to find a list of future big league second baseman. Ranked in order of prospect goodness, here’s five that will make it to the show:
The best true second baseman alive and not in the Major Leagues, Weeks has the potential to join his brother as the only second basemen to crack a prospect list’s top five. That he’s been hurt most of this season has done nothing to deter Weeks’ stock for the 2008 draft–his performance last summer with Team USA locked in a place in the first round. Weeks is best known for his speed, but he produces good power thanks to fantastic bat speed. He’s a better defender than his brother and a good leadoff man. The organization that drafts him should get a quick return on their investment.
Enjoying the rare combination of being billed as underrated by both Kevin Goldstein and PECOTA, while nevertheless rating as a Baseball America Top 100 prospect. The Braves acquired the shortstop in the Adam LaRoche deal, but with Elvis Andrus a level behind and Yunel Escobar a level ahead at the same position, it makes sense to move Lillibridge across the bag. Goldstein has written that Lillibridge has “no real weaknesses in his game,” and while he does strike out a lot, Lillibridge offers a rare combination of discipline, power, and speed.
I put Gomez in my Pioneer League top five prospect list for Baseball America, and behind Bryan Morris, no other prospect received as much push from managers to take the top spot. Some in the Rockies organization like Gomez more than Troy Tulowitzki, but the latter has the better arm, and should stay at shortstop thanks to seniority. This will probably leave Gomez, who shouldn’t debut in Coors Field until about late 2009, at second. While he’s struggled out of the box this season, his bat control and surprising power are still receiving high praise.
A tier behind Weeks on the 2008 draft board, Adams is still an underdog to make it beyond the first two rounds. A defensive wizard at second base, Adams has all the tools to rise up the ladder once he hits the minor leagues. While you’d like to see fewer strikeouts, he has become a disciplined player at Virginia, and teams will find he is a perfect no. 2 hitter. Adams adds enough power and speed to keep defenses honest, and with a good junior season, he could rise to the first round next June.
Off the board with the last selection, but Turner deserves mention as he was one of the last cut from my Pioneer League Top 20. The consummate coach’s player, it was no surprise to hear managers rave about Turner’s baseball IQ, defense, and plate approach last season. A product of the Fullerton program that develops baseball players, I think Turner will be able to outsmart his competition all the way up the ladder. A good defender that never gets cheated, Turner won’t crack a top 100 list anytime soon, but he could be 2010’s Ryan Theriot.