In the coming weeks, you will be reading positional previews on a variety of sites. Many of these will speak about positions in terms of tiers, and you can bet that a few fantasy writers will be emphasizing the importance of grabbing one of the top 8 to 10 second basemen and perceiving a big drop-off at the position. Tiers can be useful, but sometimes they can lure you into making a mistake. You might be advised to jump for a second baseman, but I think that those second basemen in the early rounds are a little risky.
After Jose Altuve, the top players all have concerns. James Krueger pointed out the potential dangers in Dee Gordon the other day, and Scott Rowland looked at the value of Robinson Cano compared to his current ADP. I like the idea of a Cano bounceback, but the ballpark, the talk of nagging injuries, the creeping age; it all suggest that we should be cautious. Anthony Rendon has health concerns. Jason Kipnis has not put it together for a full year. Brian Dozier has proved me wrong twice now, but I still don’t like paying the freight for someone with that batting average. Can we justify passing up players like Justin Upton or Adrian Gonzalez for these guys?
If you look past this first group, second base is not as scarce as you think. I see lots of useful players that I’d be happy to slot into my lineup. This secondary tier contains about 15 players that I kind of like, and that I value similarly. The issue is how to you decide which one to take?
The way I do this is to note where you are looking weak during the draft. By the time it comes to drafting your second baseman you should have the core of your team in place. It’s time to start thinking about complimentary parts. If you need a second baseman and have Devon Travis and Brandon Phillips ranked similarly. Who are you going to take? Let your team guide you as you break the tie. Are you short on RBIs and can use a middle of the order bat, then Phillips is the choice.
Let’s have a look at players I like to make an impact on each category, hopefully at a low-cost to you.
Runs – Starlin Castro was considered an outstanding prospect and was called up to the majors when he was very young, but he hasn’t lived up to his promise. This is especially true in fantasy where he has rarely given you value on draft day. But last year, it got to the point where he was unusable. I remember my shock when I found that I had used a high pick on the 943rd ranked player — who had just lost his starting job at shortstop.
But in the last six weeks or so of the season, Castro suddenly tore it up and worked his way back into the lineup, at a new position. Talent that is laying dormant is still talent and it was a relief to see that there was something there. The Yankees liked what they saw, and while the Yankees have other options at second base in-house (Rob Refsnyder and Dustin Ackley) I suspect Castro will play regularly. Manager Joe Girardi loves using players’ flexibility and Castro’s ability so shift to shortstop is the type of versatility that should keep his bat in the lineup (both real and fantasy)
It is unclear where Castro will hit in the batting order; when the season starts I suspect it will be in the bottom third. However, he can move to the top if he performs at the level we saw late last season. He may even get there sooner than you think since Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury are not durable. Chase Headley worked his way into 205 plate appearances in the 2 hole; those at bats can be Castro’s this year. Once he gets there you could see a big bump in runs.
Home Runs – Jonathan Schoop’s floor is probably a trip to the minors. His plate discipline will make you gag. We often talk about unsustainable numbers to express distrust in exceptionally good numbers; but doesn’t a 9/79 BB/K ratio look unsustainable to you? Keep in mind plate discipline tends to improve as players age, and Schoop is only 24.
Schoop’s .329 BABIP for 2015 is probably unsustainable as well, and his .209 batting average in 2014 casts a pall over last year’s .279 mark. But his hard hit percentage last year of 34.5% is safely above average (ranking between Buster Posey and Jose Abreu), so maybe he can keep things around .250.
I’ve acknowledged the risk, but let’s get to the good part. We are not drafting Schoop for average; we are drafting him for power. In addition to hitting the ball hard, he hits it far. His 2015 average flyball distance of 305.84 and average home run distance of 407 is up there among the elite power bats in baseball. His average FB% the past two years is just over 37%, and his HR/FB% over that time sits at 15%. This is the profile we want to see in a power hitter: hit the ball hard, deep, and in the air often. While second base is deeper than expected, it is not deep in power bats. With health, (and bear in mind last year’s injury was occurred on a take out slide) he has the potential to lead the position in home runs.
RBIs – Neil Walker’s home run total dropped from 23 in 2015 to 16 last year but his average and counting stats held steady. It seems like fantasy owners are holding the power drop-off against him in a big way as Walker is the 18th second baseman in NFBC drafts. Fact is, Walker has finished in the top 5 for RBIs the past two seasons. He will be batting in the middle of the Mets line up and will receive ample opportunities to drive in Curtis Granderson and David Wright. I don’t see any reason to expect anything less than the usual 70-80 RBIs, and that makes him a good value at this draft spot.
Batting Average – Joe Panik is exactly the type of player I would avoid back in the day, but I have come around on him. I used to think limited home runs and steals are not for me. Next thing you know you have an middle infielder who chips in a little everywhere and gives you a big plus in batting average. Everything about Panik’s high average seems legit. He doesn’t strike out much, he hits more line drives than most, and last year he even started hitting fewer pop ups. We have 650 at bats over .300 during the past two seasons, so take him late, set it, and forget it.
Stolen Bases – I considered players like Jose Peraza, Cesar Hernandez, and Micah Johnson here; they may pan out for steals, but will they play enough? I don’t have playing time concerns with DJ LeMahieu though. There may be a bit of a premium to pay here, but he could be worth the price.
I expect LeMahieu to be one of the more divisive players at the position. There will be a camp that will suggest that last year is a career year and they will have their reasons. His BABIP lifted his average above .300 — a magic number indeed. Players like Corey Dickerson struggled with health and that allowed LeMahieu to move up in the lineup and get more plate appearances. Will he have similar opportunities this year? He improved his walk rate and was hitting the ball the opposite way more, so he may keep some of the batting average gains. And most important for my purposes, he made big improvements as a base stealer, getting caught only 3 times last year in 26 attempts. So I wouldn’t expect him to fall far back to his 2014 total where he went 10 for 20 in steal attempts. If this is an improved approach the team will let him run so I’m thinking 20 steals is likely.
You may like different options than me; say Dustin Pedroia for average, or Daniel Murphy for runs. If you want a deeper option, I like Yangervis Solarte for RBIs. The point is, don’t panic if you miss out on the name brands. There are plenty of choices that can give your team a push where you need it.
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