Look, it’s 2015; you’re not a junior high school boy. Well, I, and most of our readers, probably aren’t anyways. For those male junior high Fantasy Assembly readers, thanks for reading! Also, just bear with me for a bit, I’m going somewhere with this; you don’t need to race your friends to be the first one to get to second base. First isn’t always best, ya know. I mean, sure in games, races, most things in life really, first is kind of the best. Hmm, I swear I had a point here. Oh, right! While being first is generally good and, ultimately, where you want to finish in your fantasy league, this may not apply to positional preseason projections for fantasy baseball. What I mean is, if you are the first to draft a second baseman, it doesn’t necessarily mean you will get the best one. Odds are high, sure, but with current depth at the position, you can certainly wait to get respectable numbers from your second sacker. Yes, I realize that sounds like some sort of NFL conspiracy theory around Michael Strahan’s record setting “sack” of Brett Favre in 2001…“There had to have been a second sacker on the grassy knoll” …but it is just a simple nickname that I sometimes attach to those who play second base. Speaking of those who play second base, lets say we get back to them?
Before I go too much further, let me clarify that I am not going to address strategies for drafting your second sackers since the rest of my esteemed colleagues here at Fantasy Assembly have more or less covered that area quite well. I mean let’s face it, by this point you know who to love and hate, who to draft and not draft, what we learned from 2014 and of course, to stay far, far away from Dustin Pedroia. You see, covered. And for the most part they are with me on my opening point that you don’t have to be one of the first ones to grab a second baseman. In fact, if you look at last season, the top three second basemen on ESPN’s player rater were Jose Altuve, Dee Gordon and Anthony Rendon. In one of my 12 team leagues, the earliest one of those to come off the board was Altuve – in the 8th round.
While this is not necessarily always the standard and can happen at any position, it is a good jumping off point. Looking at the 2014 Player Rater and the 12-team league I mentioned above, I notice that of the top ten second basemen at season’s end, only two were drafted in the top ten at that position. I’d be bold enough to call that an interesting tidbit. There are plenty of solid enough choices at second base and if you combine that with last year’s “surprise” top ten at the position, why not take a gamble in the middle rounds? Maybe place your Betts (if you didn’t see that coming, you probably don’t know me that well) on an up and comer.
So, eight of the top ten second baseman of 2014 were drafted outside the top ten at the position. Now let’s not get too get carried away with that information. This is not necessarily a regular occurrence, as there will always be injuries or a “changing of the guard” as it were, at certain positions that will, almost out of nowhere, muck up the rankings. It happens. What are the odds of it happening again this year? Well, usually I would say not better than average, but with the packed tiers at second base, the overall rankings could show a lot of deviation from the preseason ranks and draft positions. What I mean to say is, eight through seventeen could be very close statistically. If Player A finishes eighth while Player B finishes 15th that may seem like more of a difference than it actually is, statistically speaking. These packed tiers are what make me feel pretty safe gambling on Mookie Betts.
A fair share of scouts, pundits, prognosticators, or what have you are placing heavy “Betts” on Mookie being a superstar atop the Red Sox lineup and for somewhat good reason. In Mookie’s short stint with the Sox in 2014, he flashed us a glimpse of his potential fantasy goodness. In 213 plate appearances, Betts hit five home runs, scored 34 runs, knocked in 18 runs and stole seven bases, all while hitting .291. Of course it is a small sample size, but theoretically, if you were to translate those numbers out over a 600 plate appearance season? Well, hot dog, you are in business! Of course, the first issue here, if you want to call it an issue, is that those numbers probably won’t necessarily project over a full season. The second issue is that pesky number of plate appearances.
You see, no one seems to really know how many plate appearances Betts will get in 2015. I mean, you could say that about pretty much every player, but with Betts the number is really all over the place. I have seen projections anywhere from the high 300s all the way up to 600. Judging by where Betts is being drafted (ADP of 128 over at Fantasy Pros) it seems like a lot of people are leaning a bit closer to the latter. Alright, hold on, let’s back up here. Take away the times he comes to the plate for now and look at the non-counting stats for Betts. Over at FanGraphs, Steamer projects a slash of .284/.353/.422. Betts is the projected leadoff hitter for the Red Sox in 2015 – when he plays. In theory, you should be pretty excited about Betts getting on base 35% of the time in front of the likes of Pedroia, Ortiz, Hanley, Sandoval and Napoli. Betts posted an extremely high OBP in the minors thanks in part to a highly decent walk rate. Right now the projected walk rate is around 9% and with his speed he should maintain a highish BABIP, making that .353 OBP projection seem quite reasonable. Getting on base at the top of what should be a darned decent lineup has all sorts of value. Of course most of said value will be directly tied to the number of times Mookie gets to the plate in 2015.
As mentioned, the number of PAs Betts will get in 2015 is up for some debate. Right now, the Red Sox have a pretty crowded outfield. Hanley Ramirez will move to left field, and then there’s Shane Victorino, Rusney Castillo, Jackie Bradley and Allen Craig. If you’re not quick with arithmetic, including Betts that is six outfielders on the current Red Sox roster, all of which are decent enough to each warrant their fair share of playing time. Betts is better suited at second, but the Red Sox have that pretty much covered at the moment. So, without a trade of some sort, I am thinking, as of right now, you get 400-450 plate appearances tops, for Betts. Let’s use the 450 plate appearances, and some basic math to project some counting stats. In that case you are looking at 10-11 home runs, 60-70 runs, around 50 RBIs and 18-20 steals. Honestly those are pretty decent at second base, especially if you are in a rotisserie or non-H2H points league. Okay, I know what you may be thinking, “that’s all well and good, but how is it worth taking him in the top ten for second basemen?” That is a very fair question and I will address it, forthwith, posthaste.
On the surface, those numbers with that amount of plate appearances probably don’t look to make Betts a top ten second baseman, but the first thing to know is, those numbers very well could put him right around the top 10. In 2014 Neil Walker was number ten on the player rater at second base with a .271 average, 23 homers, 74 runs, 76 RBIs and two steals. Based on that Betts would not be top ten, especially considering that Betts’ higher average would be over fewer at bats. But what if we look at #11, Chase Utley? Well, Utley had an 11-74-78 line with a .270 average and 10 steals. Okay so, Betts probably is outside the top ten or twelve second basemen if he doesn’t get 500+ plate appearances.
Now, I am just pulling out a middling number of plate appearances based on various projections, and that appears to be the biggest factor regarding his 2015 value. Betts’ ceiling is high, but as you can see from above, so is his floor. In fact, of most of the prospects expected to get significant playing time in 2015, he is generally considered to be one with a higher floor or, if you would, lower bust potential. Of course, if you are not in a dynasty or keeper league, you are probably still wondering how any of this justifies drafting him as early as he is going, in 2015. Right here is where you may be forgetting about the deep tiers.
Betts, in my opinion, is in the third tier of second basemen, which has some good depth. So, based on current ADPs from Fantasy Pros, if you grab Betts in the 11th round, you still have Neil Walker, Ben Zobrist, Daniel Murphy, Howie Kendrick, Asdrubal Cabrera, Martin Prado, Chase Utley and Brandon Phillips available. Let’s go ahead and cross Walker, Zobrist and Murphy off the list, assuming you are not going to pick another second baseman that close to picking Betts. I guess I shouldn’t immediately dismiss that, since Betts could slide to one of your OF spots, but that’s just not where he is most valuable so we’ll veer away from that plan, for the moment. I’d be perfectly fine taking Kendrick, Cabrera or Prado and plug them in when Betts sits. The combination could be right around top ten at the position. Prado and Cabrera are currently going in the 18th round, a point in the draft where, in most leagues, you are shoring up your bench and adding depth anyways. Worst case scenario, you get something like a Martin Prado projection of 11-67-63, with a .274 average, over a full season. Or, ya know, the Mookie Betts 450 PA projection, I came up with earlier, without the steals.
I am not saying don’t shoot for a Rendon, Cano or Altuve, because I believe they will all end up in the top ten at second and are fairly safe. What I am saying is, even as the 10th or 11th second baseman coming off the board, Betts is a good, um, well, “bets” to gamble on. Heck, even if you snag one of the top-tier guys, I still wouldn’t hate grabbing Betts in the 1oth round and, if they both perform well, sliding Betts to OF or maybe making a trade to patch up a hole somewhere else on your roster. Like I said, I am not against grabbing a second baseman early, per se, but if I have to reach more than I’ d like, well, it’ll be no dice for this fantasy owner. I am simply okay waiting on Betts, with his floor being at such great heights right now. Plus there should still be a fair share of serviceable safety valves left for me if Mookie does go belly up in 2015. Basically, what I’m saying is Betts is a risk worth taking in 2015.