From the 21st of January to the 20th of February, the writers at TDG will be taking you through our rankings position-by-position. As I mentioned in the primer, this year we’re doing things a little differently. Instead of having my personal rankings up on this site, like last year, these rankings for 2014 are of the consensus variety and being brought to you by all of the TDG staff. Everyone put a lot of work into this project, so we hope you enjoy the end result. And if you are looking for my personal dynasty league rankings, you can find them this off-season at Baseball Prospectus.
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Second base, as a whole, is not as weak as it once was. And similar to first base, the pipeline of new talent often comes in the form of shift down the defensive spectrum. This year, four of the top 12 second basemen were playing other positions during the majority of 2012–and that’s not even including multi-eligibility guys like Ben Zobrist and Martin Prado. On top of that, there’s a strong core of players in the teens who, while not terribly sexy names with huge upside, can provide good production at a reasonable cost. And while the upper tier is still light compared to other positions across the diamond, there is some new blood who can make the jump if the developmental curve allows–including two former top prospects who have lost their eligibility (but not their upside).
Now the 20 best second baseman in dynasty leagues, starting with one of the most consistent fantasy stars of the decade:
1) Robinson Cano, Seattle Mariners (Age: 31, Previous Rank: 1)
We have to acknowledge the moving to Seattle is going to negatively impact Cano’s numbers in some respect. The thing is, he was so much better than every other second baseman in basically every category but steals, that he still sits atop the position. The honest truth is that Seattle’s 2014 lineup can’t be that much worse than the 2013 Yankees lineup, can it? Y’know, I withdraw the question. Cano’s home run numbers are going to take a hit with his transition to the Pacific Northwest, but he’s still in his prime, and he’s now freed from the shackles of a clean-shaven face. If you watched even two minutes of playoff baseball, you were made well aware of what the power of the beard can mean.
2) Jason Kipnis, Cleveland Indians (Age: 26, Previous Rank: 4)
Kipnis continues to improve in multiple facets of his game. 2012 saw a dip in average (and BABIP) that was accentuated by a dip in strikeout rate (usually a good thing). With a return to normal levels in his strikeout rate, but a noticeable spike in BABIP, 2013 was a career year for the Indians’ second sacker. He made his bonafides in the stolen base department following up his 31 steal breakout with 30 more in 2013. The twenty home run mark is probably out of reach, but his stolen base output means he doesn’t have to as impactful in the power categories, where he’s still plenty useful as is.
3) Dustin Pedroia, Boston Red Sox (Age: 30, Previous Rank: 2)
Everyone loves a Laser Show. Pedroia saw a bit of a power dip (lowest ISO since 2006), but he walked nearly as much as he struck out, and contributed in every worthwhile category. He failed to crack double digit home runs for the first time since 2007, but 17 stolen bases helped abate some of that lack of punch. Add in the favorable hitting environment, the explosive lineup and he looks to be in line for another big season. A dwindling HR/FB and a drop in his FB% are things to keep an eye on going forward, but he did play the season with a torn ligament in his thumb, so perhaps we can expect better health to fight some of that power regression.
4) Jurickson Profar, Texas Rangers (Age: 20, Previous Rank: 5, SS)
There is nothing pretty about Profar’s major league time thus far, and yet this is an extremely aggressive ranking. The overwhelming factor is his pedigree as a prospect combined with his tender age (21 for the upcoming season). Making adjustments is a strength for Profar, and he’ll have to use it in the upcoming season. With Ian Kinsler shipped off to Detroit, he won’t have to deal with learning new positions on the fly and can focus on being one of the youngest players in the major leagues. This ranking is looking towards the future more than it is expecting fireworks in 2014, though given Profar’s confidence and poise, that can’t be ruled out either.
5) Ian Kinsler, Detroit Tigers (Age: 31, Previous Rank: 3)
2013 was a weird one for Kinsler. He saw his batting average tick up towards 2010 levels after a couple years in the .250s, and he drove in his customary 70+ RBI, though he did it in 21 fewer games. A stress fracture to his rib cage cut his season short, reducing some of his counting stats, but the key cause for concern isn’t injury. Kinsler was always able to supplement his value with a healthy dose of stolen bases, but 2013 saw him go 15/26 in the category and traded to a Detroit team that runs significantly less than Texas did. That may change under Brad Ausmus, we have to assume there will be a decline there.
6) Matt Carpenter, St Louis Cardinals (Age 28, Previous Rank: NR)
The concern for Carpenter is that what we received in 2013 was a career year. Of course that shouldn’t concern too many because even 85% of that production is a healthy season. Carpenter won’t add anything on the basepaths but hitting atop one of the deepest lineups in baseball will continue to provide plenty of opportunities to both score and drive in runs. Still, those are contextual statistics and can’t be counted on in the long-term. While his skills are very real, they’re not necessary fantasy friendly (lack of power and speed), and he’s unlikely to retain eligibility at the keystone over the long haul.
7) Ben Zobrist, Tampa Bay Rays (Age 32, Previous Rank: 6, SS)
Zobrist’s 21 games at second allowed him to retain second base eligibility once again, though if you own him, you’re probably playing him at shortstop. While his multi-position eligibility pushes him up some draft boards, it’s his talent that lands him in the top ten. He saw a bit of a power outage in 2013, seeing an eight homer decline and 69 point drop in slugging percentage. Even so, he’s a solid bet for low double digit home runs and stolen bases, with the upside for more. There’s not a ton flashy about Zobrist, but he’s a set it and forget it option in a lineup. In dynasty leagues, that’s plenty valuable.
8) Anthony Rendon, Washington Nationals (Age: 23, Previous Rank: 11, 3B)
With plenty of false starts to his prospect career, including multiple injuries, Rendon came through in his debut major league season. It wasn’t anything magical, but he produced league average offense and at a position as weak as second base, that’s not nothing. The good signs include an 8% walk rate as a rookie, and plenty of contact. The power was a bit on the low side, but the great thing about being 23 years old is that we can say things like “the power will come”. So it was said, so it is written.
9) Aaron Hill, Arizona Diamondbacks (Age: 31, Previous Rank: 5)
Hill continued his desert resurgence in 2013, when he was healthy. Health was a big problem though, as he only tallied 87 games played and 362 plate appearances thanks to a broken hand early in the season. He managed double digit dingers despite the missed time and his strikeout and walk rates were in line with his career averages. At 31, it’s fair to anticipate a few more years of this type of production, but given the lack of speed he provides, when the power starts eroding, look to move him quickly.
10) Brandon Phillips, Cincinnati Reds (Age: 32, Previous Rank: 6)
A model of consistency the last four seasons, Phillips once again hit exactly 18 home runs in 2013. He also scored at least 80 runs for the fourth consecutive season and upped his RBI by 36 from the previous year. So why the drop in rank and expectations? Phillips’ strengths are his power, and the counting stats he generates by hitting in the middle of a potent Reds lineup. That Reds lineup is losing one of the best leadoff men in baseball in Shin-Soo Choo, and Phillips, despite the same home run total saw a 33 point decline in his slugging percentage, continuing a drop in power that started in 2013. He’s also exiting his prime, and while there are probably a few good years left, us dynasty leaguers are always looking towards the future. Better to move on a year early than a year late.
11) Chase Utley, Philadelphia Phillies (Age: 35, Previous Rank: 9)
2013 was the first season since 2009 that Utley played in more than 115 games. Even though his end of season stat line looks very similar to that 115 game season (2010), he actually had a slight downturn in production. He finished with comparable counting numbers but it took him 16 more games to get there. His triple slash line is holding steady near the .280/.350/.425 mark and will do so for the foreseeable future, but I wouldn’t expect much more than a 70/15/70/10 line moving forward. That type of production from the second base position is quite valuable but you might only have a few more years before Utley hangs up his spikes.
12) Jedd Gyorko, San Diego Padres (Age: 25, Previous Rank: 15)
In his first full season with the big league club, Gyorko provided a solid yet unspectacular stat line. Even though he started strong and faded down the stretch, he actually showed more power in the second half, although he sacrificed batting average to do it. If he can land somewhere between his first half (36/8/25/1 & .272/.330/.440) and his second half (26/15/38/0 & .226/.271/.449) he’ll provide consistent top 10 2B production. He doesn’t provide anything in terms of speed, so a key factor moving forward will be his ability to hit the long ball without killing your ratio stats.
13) Jose Altuve, Houston Astros (Age: 23, Previous Rank: 7)
Altuve slid down the rankings this season because of a lackluster encore to his All-Star 2012 season. I believe the decrease in certain counting stats is actually a mirage when you only look at the end result. The big difference in 2013 was that Altuve was batting in the #2 spot and occasionally in the #3 spot, compared to primarily being a lead-off hitter in 2012. I’d prefer the lead-off version of Altuve because 80 R with 30 SB would move him back up the rankings, whereas sacrificing R for a few more RBI doesn’t add much value because he provides very limited power.
14) Martin Prado, Arizona Diamondbacks (Age: 30, Previous Rank: 17, 3B)
By playing over 20 games at 2B in 2013, Prado is in the midst of a large swell to his value. Offensively, you can expect a consistent 75/15/75/5/.275 line from him, but that is much, much, much more valuable as a 2B than a 3B or OF. I recommend selling high on him while he has the 2B eligibility because once he goes back to only being 3B, he’ll fall back into the lower end of the top 20.
15) Daniel Murphy, New York Mets (Age: 29, Previous Rank: 23)
I could probably write 700-800 words on where Murphy’s breakout came from, but I won’t at this time. What I can tell you though, is that his K%, BB%, BABIP and ISO all stayed pretty close to his 2012 season. The one ratio that showed a large (read: positive) increase was his HR/FB ratio, jumping from 2.7% to 4.5%. He has secured himself the #2 spot in the batting order directly ahead of one David Wright.
16) Howie Kendrick, Los Angeles Angels (Age: 30, Previous Rank: 13)
Kendrick is seeing his name slide down the rankings primarily due to the influx of younger names ahead of him i.e. Profar, Rendon and Gyorko, but also because of the breakouts of Carpenter and Murphy. He has performed at a consistent level for a while now and is hitting in the middle of a potentially dangerous lineup. I don’t foresee any of that changing for the worse. It is very reasonable to forecast him at a .285/.330/.425 triple slash with around 60/10/65/10 for counting stats.
17) Neil Walker, Pittsburgh Pirates (Age: 28, Previous Rank: 10)
At this point we know what to expect from Walker. He is a solid starting 2B that can provide you 60-70 R, 10-12 HR, 60-70 RBI with limited SB and a solid .275/.330/.425 triple slash. In 2013 Walker saw a dramatic dip in his batting average, but I believe that was largely BABIP driven. His career BABIP before 2013 was .324 and in 2013 it was .274. Ranked at #17 I see Walker being a quality buy low candidate ready for a nice rebound to pre 2013 production.
18) Kolten Wong, St Louis Cardinals (Age: 23, Previous Rank: 17)
When the St. Louis Cardinals traded David Freese to the Los Angeles Angels, Kolten Wong owners everywhere rejoiced. He is slated to see full time action at 2B now that Matt Carpenter will be moving over to 3B. It would be wise to ignore his horrendous performance in last year’s small sample size. In his minor league career, Wong showed the ability to hit for average consistently, but exhibited limited power, hitting only 24 HR over 1264 plate appearances. You can expect him to contribute positively to your ratios stats and provide some good R and SB numbers, but he won’t be a large factor in the power based categories.
19) Rougned Odor, Texas Rangers (Age: 20, Previous Rank: 24)
The Texas Rangers have been aggressively pushing Odor through their minor league system. In 2013, he played 130 games across A+ and AA at the age of 19. He finished the season with a .305/.365/.474 line and showed solid power (11 HR) and plus speed (32 SB). He is listed as the highest ranking true prospect, with Wong being ahead of him due to proximity to the majors. If he can continue to excel at each level and fly through them at 1 per season, he should be slated for a cup of coffee during the 2015 season.
20) Nick Franklin, Seattle Mariners (Age: 23, Previous Rank: 21)
The fact that Franklin won’t be a starting second basemen next season is at no fault of his own. If you haven’t heard by now, the Mariners signed Robinson Cano to a mammoth contract, which effectively places Franklin into the back-up middle infielder role behind Cano and Miller. Franklin did struggle with striking out at an ungodly 27.4% clip, but showed solid patience with a BB% of 10.2%. If he can cut down the strike outs his slash line will stabilize and he can still be a solid middle infielder moving forward.
Commentary by Craig Goldstein, Andy Barnes and Bret Sayre.