Last Minute Pickups: Second Basemen
I think I need to stop playing in as many deep leagues as I do today.
I say this because when I initially got my assignment to write this installment of our Last Minute Pickup series, my first thought was: crap. I’m going to be writing about the Alberto Callaspo-s, Logan Forsythe-s and Sean Rodriguez-es of the world, extolling the virtues of a .280 OBP in 20-team AL Only leagues with two MI spots.
So I was quite pleasantly surprised when I checked the %Owns of the available keystone baggers in one of my ESPN leagues. Despite the arbitrary 33% cutoff rate I gave myself, there was no real shortage of players both young and old to highlight for this piece.
So if you are in a keeper league and need 2B or MI help for next season, you’re in luck: We’re working with a pretty deep crew here. These are my three favorite players for you to target.
Anthony Rendon, Washington Nationals
If you’re a bit tired of hearing about Rendon at this point, it’s certainly understandable. A long line of injuries and an underwhelming bottom line at the MLB level have led to some “prospect fatigue” with the man one considered the favorite to go first overall in the 2011 draft. After beginning the season back in Double-A and destroying that league, Rendon has had a chance at significant MLB playing time this year, and has put up a .263/.325/.395 in 380 PA. Not terrible by any means, but not quite fantasy worthy either, as evidenced by the fact that he’s owned in just 15.6% of leagues.Why should fantasy owners be eager to pick up Rendon if they’re shallow at 2B next season? There are a few reasons. For one, Rendon’s BB% of 7.9% in the majors is far lower than during any stretch of his MiLB career. This is a man who’s minor league track record and scouting profile both suggest will reach base with frequency once he’s established, and I’d expect an OBP closer to the .350-.360 range as early as next year. Secondly, Rendon has demonstrated the ability to perform well in the majors for significant stretches, as evidenced by his .330 average in May and solid marks in July and August. And finally, Rendon also figures to carry dual 2B/3B eligibility next season, even if an eventual full-time move to the hot corner seems likely.
Now that Rendon is a “post-prospect” and he’s lost some of that New Star Smell, you might be able to pick him up for cheap. He’s a safe bet to be gone in any deep keeper league, but he’s worth consideration in any others. He may not turn into a full fledged fantasy star, but a player who can hit .280, score 80-plus runs with 80-plus RBI and hit 15-20 homers is plenty valuable.
Rickie Weeks, Milwaukee Brewers
As a longtime Weeks owner in one of my deep keepers, my personal experience with the second baseman is that his productivity is directly tied to the probability of my success in a given season. If I’m in contention, as I was this year, Weeks will no doubt fail to produce, get injured and leave me with a gaping hole at 2B. If I have no shot at competing, Weeks will inevitably perform as a four-category stud and Top 50 fantasy player. This lamentation is useful not only in that it subtly suggests that I’m having a good fantasy year, but also because it deftly points out that Weeks is an unreliable asset.
But you’re looking for bargains here, dammit, and as frustrating as Weeks can be when he’s bad or hurt, his upside is equally as tantalizing. To whit: In 2010 and 2011, Weeks averaged a .269/.360/.466 line with 24 homers, 10 steals and 94 runs. Even last season, when a .285 BABIP led to a .230 average for Weeks, his 21 homers and 16 steals made him a valuable, if flawed, fantasy asset. The climbing strikeout rate and falling ISO are bad signs, to be sure, and with a torn hamstring in the rearview mirror and playing most of 2014 at the age of 31, Weeks’ 20-steal seasons may be behind him.
However, another season of a .260 average with 20-plus homers, 10-plus steals and plenty of runs and RBI (for an MI) is far from out of Week’s reach. And despite the solid play of Scooter Gennett in his absence, I don’t think Weeks is in danger of losing many at-bats. Weeks is definitely a risky proposition, but if you need an MI with some upside for 2014, there are certainly worse gambles to take.
Kolten Wong, St. Louis Cardinals
I’ve gone back and forth on Wong plenty since the Cardinals drafted him in 2011. I maintain that he’s not a star in the making, and that his upside was exaggerated by some of his biggest supporters and Cardinals fans. But to be fair to Wong, he was always billed more as a safe pick than a huge upside play, and that’s exactly what he’s turned out to be. Wong hit well in Double-A in 2012 and well in Triple-A in 2013 and is now seeing MLB time. This is pretty much the blueprint every team has in mind when it takes an advanced college hitter early in the draft.
Pay no attention to Wong’s MLB line this season, as the sample size here is too small to work with and his playing time has been erratic. Wong is going to hit and hit for a good average in the majors: no one doubts this. Whether his yearly marks sit closer to .280 or .300 will likely fluctuate with BABIP, but you get it: he’s good. Wong’s also not allergic to taking a walk, which is important because a good OBP near the top of the Cardinals’ potent lineup means Wong will have a chance at scoring a lot of runs next year. He’s not terribly fast or powerful, but he does have the pop to hit 10-or-so homers, as well as the base running acumen to swipe 15-or-so bags.
Those numbers might not put Wong in the same category as a Robinson Cano or a Dustin Pedroia, but … well, actually that looks quite a bit like a poor man’s Pedroia. I do have to put the disclaimer here that Wong may not start the season as the Cardinals’ second baseman, but I believe he’ll end up their before too long, with Matt Carpenter moving to third base and former World Series hero David Freese reduced to a part-timer. Wong is one of my favorite 2B sleepers headed into 2014, and he should be one of yours, too.
Also Considered: D.J. LeMahieu, Ryan Raburn, Jurickson Profar, Nick Franklin
Just Say No: Darwin Barney, Brian Roberts, Dustin Ackley, Gordon Beckham