Stocking Your Scout Team: Second Base
Last week I kicked off a series of columns where I’ll take a look at players who are likely to go undrafted but who should have the attention of dynasty league owners during the spring and the early stages of the season. To recap, I think it is important to keep a scout team or watch list as a way to actively evaluate unowned players and get a jump on your competition in free agency.
The two classes of players I tend to watch are low-upside prospects on the verge of major league playing time and high-upside prospects in the lower levels of the minors. The former are a little easier to spot using depth charts and spring training reports, while identifying the latter requires reliance on scouting reports. I discussed some catchers to watch last week; this week I’ll take a look at three second basemen.
Christian Colon, Kansas City Royals
It’s popular to point out Christian Colon’s status as a former fourth overall pick and note the big league stars that were picked after him – Matt Harvey, Chris Sale, Christian Yelich, and so on. Of course, the Royals didn’t select Barret Loux, or Deck McGuire, or Kolbrin Vitek, or Kellin Deglan either. There are plenty more first rounders in Colon’s draft class that stand no chance of contributing to a major league team, those are just the ones with the worst names. Point is, we’re nearly five years removed from the 2010 draft, so tying Colon to his draft position is no longer beneficial. It is true that Colon has no particularly loud tools for fantasy owners to get excited about and it has been a long road to major leagues, but Colon arrived late last season and figures to make the Opening Day roster in a utility role.
Colon’s offensive profile fits perfectly on a Royals team that focuses on contact and baserunning. He spent most of the past two seasons in Triple-A Omaha and used his above-average hit tool to compile a 2014 line of .311/.366/.433 that included eight home runs in 86 games. His 88.2 percent contact rate was fifth highest in the PCL among hitters with 300 plate appearances and his 7.5 percent strikeout rate was fourth best. Colon doesn’t possess great straight line speed but does have good instincts and stole 15 bases each of the past two seasons.
While Colon is almost certain to break camp as a major leaguer, he currently has no clear path to regular at-bats. He does have some minor league experience at the hot corner and would make a solid platoon partner with Mike Moustakas, who owns a career .265 wOBA against left-handers. Second base is currently occupied by Omar Infante, who suffered through shoulder and back injuries in 2014 while suddenly morphing from one of the best defensive second basemen in the league to one of the worst. The 33-year-old Infante is under contract through 2017, so it’s hard to see Colon usurping his job barring an injury or trade.
Colon has been a frustrating prospect relative to the expectations bestowed upon a fourth overall pick but continuing to attach those expectations to his future taints the modest but real contribution he could make for your fantasy team if the opportunity arises.
Tony Kemp, Hosuton Astros
Tony Kemp will always be compared to Jose Altuve because there just aren’t that many 5’6″ professional baseball players, nevermind at the same position in the same organization. The comparison is, of course, unfair. Altuve has accrued 8 WAR over three major league seasons while Kemp has less than 300 at-bats above A ball, despite being only one year younger.
Height-based comps are almost always lazy but there is some truth to it in this case. Kemp, like Altuve, has a line drive stroke and makes a ton of contact while possessing enough speed to steal 30 bases per year. You have to be careful not to draw too many conclusions from his .336/.433/.468 line in the Cal League because, well, it’s the Cal League and Lancaster is an especially favorable park. That said, he did walk more than he struck out there and stole 28 bases, seventh most in the league. His 19.4 percent line drive rate was third highest and 4.1 percent infield fly ball rate was ninth lowest, both of which underscore his propensity for hard contact.
He continued to perform well upon being promoted to double-A Corpus Christi, where he hit .292/.381/.425, with 13 more steals in 59 games. He posted top five contact rates on pitches both in and out of the strike zone there.
Kemp may have to move to the outfield to find playing time with the big league club. That would diminish his fantasy value but his speed alone can make an impact wherever he ends up and he’s likely to add a helpful batting average. Kemp will never achieve a real-life prospect status that matches his potential fantasy usefulness but he’s had success wherever he’s been – including winning the 2013 SEC Player of the Year – and has the makeup to get the most out of his skill set.
Wilmer Difo, Washington Nationals
Difo was signed out of the Dominican at the age of 18 and 2014 was his first complete year in a full-season league. He’s had an interesting developmental path; after spending three years in rookie ball, Difo played at four levels in 2013, ascending to high-A. The Nationals sent him back to Class A Hagertown for the entirety of 2014, reportedly because of his inability to deal with poor performance in the early stages of his career. It seems to have worked, as Difo hit .315/.360/.470 with 14 home runs and 49 stolen bases on his way to wining the MVP of the Sally League.
There is some concern that the numbers were partially a product of his age relative to the competition but Difo has real tools, the best of which is borderline double-plus speed. The raw number of steals catches the eye but it’s also worth noting that Difo is an efficient base stealer, having only been caught 9 times, for an 84.5 percent success rate. He utilizes a short stroke to make excellent contact, resulting in a low strikeout rate; his 10.7 percent rate in 2014 was 7th lowest in the league. It’s probably unrealistic to expect the homers to translate as he moves up but there is average raw power in his bat.
If I was following the Javier Baez rule strictly, I would have saved Difo for the shortstop column since he’s seen action there but consensus is that he’ll wind up at the keystone. Washington’s middle infield situation is wide open after 2016, so Difo could be in line for regular at-bats in 2017 if he keeps hitting on the farm. It will be fascinating to see where Difo goes from here. He’ll be 23 years old on Opening Day and is on the 40-man roster, so an aggressive assignment wouldn’t be a total shock.