(Photo by Juan DeLeon/Icon Sportswire)
In a beautiful valentine to all baseball fans, pitchers and catcher begin reporting today while Pitcher List’s 2018 positional rankings series rolls on. Today, we’ll tackle second base. The keystone appears to boast quite a bit of depth for 2018.
Tier 1: The Two Joses (and Maybe an Anthony)
1. Jose Altuve (Houston Astros) – Fun fact: I once called Altuve, “Jeff Keppinger with wheels.” A few years later, he’s the reigning AL MVP and the consensus #2 fantasy pick behind only Mike Trout. Over the last four seasons, Altuve has hit .334. Nobody else is within 20 points of that mark. Over that same span, only Billy Hamilton and Dee Gordon have stolen more bases, and only six players have scored more runs. If that weren’t enough, Altuve has developed more power than anyone expected, hitting 24 home runs in each of the last two seasons. Oh, he’s also never been on the disabled list. Simply put, he’s amazing and I am very, very dumb for having said that thing.
2. Jose Ramirez (Cleveland Indians) – Ramirez followed up his breakout 2016 with an even better performance last year, hitting well above .300 again while nearly tripling his home run total and increasing his run production. Some regression in the power department may be on the horizon, but he’s still a five-category monster at age 25. Ramirez is also eligible at third base, as if he needed a further boost to his fantasy value.
3. Anthony Rizzo (Chicago Cubs) – We covered Rizzo yesterday in the Top 25 First Basemen for Fantasy Baseball in 2018. Thanks to some dramatic shifts employed by the Cubs last year, Rizzo qualifies at second base in Yahoo leagues, which is just silly.
Tier 2: 2B 2 Furious
4. Brian Dozier (Minnesota Twins) – Coming into last year, most fantasy owners anticipated a dropoff for Dozier after his 42-homer campaign in 2016. He did regress…all the way down to 34, while contributing his usual elite run production, chipping in 16 stolen bases, and pushing his batting average above .270 for the first time. Since 2014, Dozier leads all second basemen in homers and runs, while ranking second in RBI and fourth in steals. That he falls outside the top tier at the position is a testament to the players above him, no more and no less. He’s a fantastic player in his own right.
5. Dee Gordon (Seattle Mariners) – Gordon is expected to patrol center field for Seattle, which means 2018 will be almost certainly his last season eligible at second base. You don’t really need me to tell you what Gordon is at this point. He’s going to hit for a high average, steal a ton of bases, and score lots of runs while giving you absolutely nothing in the other two standard categories. Three cats of elite production still puts you in the top five when two of them are becoming more and more difficult to find across the game, though.
6. Daniel Murphy (Washington Nationals) – Murphy will be coming off micro-fracture surgery and may miss some time in April, which is enough to knock him out of the top five at the position. If the recovery of Justin Turner (another over-30 former Met who had the same surgery last winter) is any indication, Murphy shouldn’t miss a beat, but the risk is something that has be considered. One certainly can’t argue with his production over the last two seasons – a .334 average (second in MLB behind Altuve), 48 homers, and 379 R+RBI.
7. Robinson Cano (Seattle Mariners) – Cano’s home run totals have fluctuated in recent years, but he remains a durable four-category contributor and one of the best second basemen in the business even at 35 years old. Consider that last year’s .280 average was his worst since 2008 (when he hit .271), which is also the last season in which he didn’t manage at least 75 runs or 75 RBI. There are flashier, younger, and more talented options at the position nowadays, but there’s nobody who can match Cano’s track record.
8. Jonathan Schoop (Baltimore Orioles) – Schoop did his best prime-Cano impersonation last season, hitting .293 with 32 home runs and excellent run production. True, he strikes out more often than Cano ever has, but the end result in standard leagues was remarkably similar. The 26-year-old has improved his plate discipline every season in the majors and makes enough high-quality contact to compensate for his high pop-up rate.
Tier 3: I Got Five on It
9. Whit Merrifield (Kansas City Royals) – In his second MLB season, Merrifield took a huge step forward. He managed to hit 19 home runs (prior career high in minors: eight) while cutting nearly eight percentage points from his strikeout rate, and finished fourth in MLB with 34 stolen bases. It’s doubtful that most people would argue with the idea of his power regressing at least a little, but the main draw here is the clearly legitimate speed. Merrifield should be good for a .280 average and figures to lead off for the Royals in 2018, which ought to keep his runs total respectable. His 69 ADP is too rich and this ranking feels just a tad optimistic, but there’s enough here to believe he’ll be a mixed-league asset.
10. DJ LeMahieu (Colorado Rockies) – LeMahieu has hit .300 or better in three straight seasons, and averaged 95 runs per year over that time. As the Rockies’ 2-hole hitter, he occupies an enviable position between Charlie Blackmon and Nolan Arenado. That’s helped keep him from being a complete zero in RBI – he’s averaged 64 in those three years. The decline in stolen bases is unfortunate, though – after swiping 23 bags in 26 attempts in 2015, LeMahieu went 11-for-18 in 2016 and just 6-for-11 last year.
11. Chris Taylor (Los Angeles Dodgers) – Taylor, like several Mariners prospects in recent years, struggled immensely before breaking out with another team. A swing change helped Taylor put together one of 2017’s most surprising breakouts, hitting .288 with 21 homers and 17 stolen bases. A .361 BABIP might raise some eyebrows, but Taylor has the kind of profile that should allow him to run a high number there – he’s fast, he hits the ball hard, and he rarely pops up. Taylor is outfield-eligible across all platforms, and also retains shortstop eligibility in Yahoo leagues.
12. Rougned Odor (Texas Rangers) – Odor was an incredibly frustrating player to own last season. Despite posting his second straight season with at least 30 home runs and 14 stolen bases, Odor hit just .204. Only Jose Bautista was worse among qualified batters, which is incredibly entertaining. While Odor’s unrefined plate approach and high pop-up rate certainly don’t help, he shouldn’t be expected to run a .224 BABIP again. Fantasy owners would also do well to remember that Odor only just turned 24 last week. The only other players in MLB history with multiple seasons with at least 30 HR and 14 SB at age 23 or younger? Mike Trout and Alex Rodriguez.
13. Ian Happ (Chicago Cubs) – Happ had a nice rookie season, hitting .253 with 24 home runs, eight steals, and good run production. As you might have guessed by the mediocre batting average, he had some issues making contact, striking out in 31 percent of his trips to the plate. Only seven hitters with at least 400 plate appearances ran a higher SwStr% than Happ did last season. However, Happ didn’t show major contact problems in the minors, and it’s worth noting that he A) was only 22 and B) had just 26 games above Double-A before getting called up to the majors.
Tier 4: Crazy Eights
14. Yoan Moncada (Chicago White Sox) – The centerpiece of the Chris Sale trade, Moncada’s first taste of major-league action was a mixed bag. He showed off the physical tools that made him the game’s top prospect while also demonstrating that there remains work to be done on his plate approach. Like Ian Happ, Moncada was only 22 years old and rushed through the minors. There will be growing pains this year, but projections still like him for close to a 20/20 season and his long-term outlook remains tantalizing.
15. Ozzie Albies (Atlanta Braves) – At just 20 years old, Albies hit .285 with 15 home runs, 101 runs, and 29 stolen bases between Triple-A and the majors. That’s not a trick of framing or cherry-picking stats – his numbers either held steady or got better more or less across the board once he made the jump to MLB. With how often we’ve seen young players come flying out of the gate in recent years, it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see Albies make this ranking look silly.
16. Ian Kinsler (Los Angeles Angels) – Over the past two seasons, Kinsler has averaged 25 HR, 14 SB, and 104 R. There’s a strong case to be made that we’re underrating him here based on last season’s .236 batting average. That was the first time he hit below .275 since 2012, and it was largely fueled by a .244 BABIP that doesn’t pass the smell test. Other than an increased pop-up rate, his batted ball profile didn’t change much from the previous year, when he hit .288 with a .314 BABIP. He’s also moving to a better team context with the Angels.
17. Eduardo Nunez (Free Agent) – Nunez remains unsigned as of this writing, but whoever does finally bring him in will be getting a player who can play multiple positions and has hit .299 with 28 homers and 64 steals over the last two seasons. As long as he lands with a team that can give him 500 plate appearances as a super-utility guy, he should prove to be a useful fantasy asset again. Just don’t expect him to help you much in runs or RBI.
18. Marwin Gonzalez (Houston Astros) – How you feel about this ranking depends on how sustainable you think Gonzalez’s breakout last season truly was. He outperformed his expected wOBA by a whopping 69 (nice) points, trailing only…Eduardo Nunez! However, Gonzalez made significant changes to both his swing mechanics and his plate approach last year, the culmination of years of gradual growth and development. He’s probably not going to put up a .900 OPS again, but he may not fall off all that much. There’s also significant value in his positional flexibility; Gonzalez is eligible at every infield position (except third base on ESPN and CBS, as his 19 games fall one short of their minimum) and in the outfield.
19. Scooter Gennett (Cincinnati Reds) – Speaking of 2017 breakouts, how about Scooter? He initially captured fantasy owners’ attention with a four-homer game in June, but he hit well enough all season to finish with a .295 average, 27 homers, 80 runs, and 97 RBI. It would be a surprise for him to run a HR/FB% north of 20 percent again, but he’s certainly in a home park that gives him an edge. And while his performance last season came out of nowhere, a look at his contact quality and fly ball rates shows he actually began making adjustments in 2016.
20. Paul DeJong (St. Louis Cardinals) – As happens seemingly every year, a player virtually no one was talking about prior to the season became a key contributor in St. Louis. After the 2016 model for this phenomenon, Aledmys Diaz, flamed out, DeJong took over at shortstop and hit .285/.325/.532 with 25 homers in only 108 games. The power is legitimate, but DeJong’s plate approach is a fairly significant red flag. He struck out six times as often as he walked. He also is a slow runner who hits a ton of balls in the air. Suffice to say I’m not betting on a .349 BABIP again. Players can succeed with this kind of profile, of course, but their margin for error is rather thin.
21. Javier Baez (Chicago Cubs) – Baez is an example of one of those players who has found success despite lousy plate discipline, although he’s certainly not slow-footed. The slick-fielding second baseman hit .273 with 23 homers, 10 steals, and both scored and drove in 75 runs. That performance and his brand recognition have his ADP just outside the top 100 players, which makes our ranking here quite pessimistic. There are some concerning numbers when you look under the hood, though. In 2017, Baez lost all the gains he’d made in contact rate the prior year, and posted a higher SwStr% than any player in baseball who qualified for the batting title. Seriously, it wasn’t even close. He also benefited from a sharp uptick in HR/FB% despite pulling the ball less and putting it on the ground more often than in previous years.
Tier 5: New Phone Who Dis
22. Jonathan Villar (Milwaukee Brewers) – Last season couldn’t have gone much worse for Villar, or for owners who invested heavily in his services following his monster 2016 performance. Like most players the year after posting a 60-steal season, Villar saw a significant drop in both his successes (23) and attempts (31). At the plate, the 26-year-old regressed heavily, hitting just .241/.293/.372 while striking out in 30 percent of his plate appearances. Apart from perhaps Miguel Cabrera, no player was a biggest fantasy bust in 2017. Consequently, his 2018 draft cost is virtually nil. If he can hold on to a starting job on the crowded Brewers’ roster, the speed alone makes him worthy of consideration in the late rounds.
23. Starlin Castro (Miami Marlins) – Castro’s inclusion in the Giancarlo Stanton trade basically tanks his fantasy value. If the Marlins don’t move him, he’s gone from one of the best lineups and best hitters’ parks in the game to among the worst in both contexts. Yankee Stadium did wonders for Castro’s production, and without that boost he’s deservedly an afterthought in fantasy drafts.
24. Cesar Hernandez (Philadelphia Phillies) – Hernandez is among the more underrated players in real baseball (he’s barely outside the top five at second base by fWAR over the last two seasons), but his fantasy value is modest. The high average is a plus, and he scored 85 runs in just 128 games despite the Phillies’ lineup being awful in the first half of the year. But he’s also never cracked the 40 RBI mark and last season’s nine homers were a career best. You also won’t get as many stolen bases as you’d hope considering his speed; Hernandez has averaged just 17 steals in his three full MLB seasons.
25. Jose Peraza (Cincinnati Reds) – At this point, Peraza hasn’t proven he can contribute anything beyond stolen bases. He was one of the worst hitters in the game last season and spent most of the year buried at the bottom of Reds’ lineup, rendering him a complete zero in the other standard categories. With Scooter Gennett locked in at second base, Peraza will need to hold off Dilson Herrera for reps at shortstop. The inevitable arrival of Nick Senzel could also push him to the bench if the Reds slide Eugenio Suarez over from third to short to get Senzel in the lineup.
26. Josh Harrison (Pittsburgh Pirates) – Harrison has asked to be traded, which could result in him assuming a super-utility role elsewhere. If he remains in Pittsburgh, he’ll likely be the starter at second base and turn in another solid but unspectacular season. Harrison’s 16 homers last year were a career high and double his total in the prior two seasons combined. He’s likely good for a 10 HR/10 SB season with an average around .280 and middling run production, but also has never exceeded 550 plate appearances in a season. Translation: Meh.
27. Chris Owings (Arizona Diamondbacks) – Owings entered the All-Star break last season hitting .290 and on pace for a 20/20 season. Unfortunately, he slumped badly coming out of the break and then missed the rest of the year after a HBP resulted in a fractured finger. He enters 2018 without a clear path to everyday at-bats, but can play at both middle infield spots and all three outfield positions. Brandon Drury, Ketel Marte, and Yasmany Tomas don’t represent daunting obstacles, and A.J. Pollock isn’t exactly the picture of health. It may not be the most likely outcome, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Owings cobble together 500+ plate appearances either.
28. Jason Kipnis (Cleveland Indians) – Once one of Cleveland’s best players, Kipnis will now have to man multiple positions in order to play every day. He’ll play at the keystone whenever Jose Ramirez shifts to third base, but otherwise will ply his trade in the outfield, where Bradley Zimmer is unproven and Michael Brantley is injury-prone. Kipnis has been a fantasy disappointment in three of the last four seasons, so owners are probably better off employing other options.
29. Yangervis Solarte (Toronto Blue Jays) – Being traded to the Jays is a mixed bag for Solarte. Toronto plays in a friendlier park than San Diego, but Solarte also has no guarantee of playing time. We can probably bet on injuries to either Devon Travis or Troy Tulowitzki, but the Blue Jays also acquired Aledmys Diaz as a contingency plan at the middle infield spots. Solarte certainly won’t see much time at third as long as Josh Donaldson’s around.
30. Jose Reyes (New York Mets) – The Todd Frazier signing probably takes a significant chunk of at-bats away from Reyes, who quietly produced a 15 HR/24 SB season while moving around the infield last year. Now, the veteran will have to battle for scraps with Wilmer Flores behind Frazier, Asdrubal Cabrera, and Amed Rosario.