We continue the 2019 Pitcher List positional rankings today with second basemen. While you shouldn’t have a hard time finding a decent player to fill this position on your roster, there’s a good amount of risk once you get outside the top 10 players here, making it both a deep position and a top-heavy one.
We’ve separated this year’s second base rankings into six distinct tiers, which I have named after the six most-recent Star Wars films and ranked accordingly based on personal preference. If you don’t disagree with our rankings, at the very least you’ll find something worth getting angry about when it comes to my taste in space operas.
A few notes before we jump in: These rankings are for standard category formats that use Avg., R, RBI, SB, and HR. These rankings were determined by consensus during a rankings roundtable with several Pitcher List staff members. The “*” indicates a player who is not currently second base-eligible in non-Yahoo! leagues, but likely will be soon after the season starts. The “y” indicates a position at which the player is only eligible in standard Yahoo! leagues. That said, let’s jump in.
Tier 1: Rogue One
These players are as balanced and dynamic as any hitters in the game. You know when you draft these guys that you’re setting the stage for great things to come and giving a new hope to your chances at a championship.
No. 1: Jose Ramirez (2B(y)/3B, Cleveland Indians)
The crazy thing about Jose Ramirez’s MVP-caliber 2018 campaign is that it could’ve been even better had his average not been tamped down by an exceptionally unlucky .252 BABIP. The 4.7% swinging-strike rate and 87.7% contact rate point to Ramirez being one of the most elite contact hitters in the game right now, so expect the average to rise significantly in 2019 and probably settle in the .300 range. He’s the total package and worthy of being included in the conversation for best hitter in baseball.
It’s tempting to say that Jose Altuve’s disappointing 2018 was the byproduct of injuries that plagued him all year, but there are legitimate reasons to think he may not ever get back to being the player he was in 2016 and 2017. For one thing, his hard-contact rate has almost always been well below the league average (26.9% career). And he has consistently hit nearly half his batted balls on the ground. Some generous HR/FB rates helped him eclipse 20 homers in the two seasons prior to 2018, but he simply does not have the profile of a hitter whom owners should consistently expect that kind of power production from. That said, he’s still an elite all-around talent. The batting averages he can put up are game-changing, and at 28 years old he should easily get back to the 30 stolen base plateau. Just don’t be shocked if the homers settle in the mid-teens rather than the mid-20’s going forward.
Tier 2: The Force Awakens
Some new faces. Some familiar faces. There are high expectations for the guys in this tier as they try to follow in the footsteps of their hugely successful 2018 campaigns. Will they be able to recapture the magic that made you fall in love with them? Or will they fall flat?
No. 3. Javier Baez (SS/2B/3B, Chicago Cubs)
It might seem crazy for a guy who hit 34 homers, stole 21 bases, batted .290, and both scored and drove in more than 100 runs to not be in the top tier of second basemen. But Javier Baez’s free-swinging ways mean there is a TON of risk baked in if you decide to draft him. He posted a 17.9% whiff rate, 68.5% contact rate, and 45.5% chase rate last season. Those are very scary numbers for those expecting Baez to be anything close to a batting average asset again. To this point, he’s been able to overcome his shortcomings thanks to a .337 career BABIP. And maybe luck will continue to be on his side. But because he hardly walks at all, he’s going to need those hits to continue falling. Otherwise, we could see a domino effect that results in his average, stolen base totals, and run-scoring opportunities all taking a nosedive. On top of that, Baez has always posted mediocre hard-contact rates, so repeating the 24.3% HR/FB he posted in 2018 might prove difficult. The sky’s clearly the limit for the 26-year-old; just don’t be too quick to assume 2018 is his new baseline.
Lots of people were on the fence about how legit Whit Merrifield’s 2017 breakout was heading into last year. As a result, fantasy owners who drafted him reaped plenty of value, as he went on to lead all of baseball in stolen bases with 45. It wasn’t just the stolen base total that saw a big jump last year either. Merrifield nearly doubled his walk rate, boosted his line-drive percentage from 21.8% to 29.8%, and saw a big increase in his hard-contact rate. Considering these changes, the 6.5% HR/FB he posted seems low and could portend an uptick in homers in 2019 if those improvements stick. The fact that he’s 30 years old and playing for a bad offensive team does dampen his value a bit, but 12 homers, 30 steals, and a .280 average seems like a fair projection. And he has upside for much more.
Matt Carpenter was hands down the hottest hitter in baseball from May to July of 2018. In the 331 plate appearances he accumulated during that span, he posted a .314 average with 24 homers, 27 doubles, and an otherworldly 184 wRC+. The argument over how to rank him boils down to this: How repeatable do you think 2018 is? During our rankings roundtable, Ben Palmer argued that Carpenter changed his approach last year and that as a result you can’t weigh his production pre-2018 as heavily as you might otherwise when projecting what he’ll do in 2019. I personally disagree: I’m less likely to buy into wholesale changes from a 33-year-old who hasn’t hit above .272 since 2013 and had a previous career-high of 28 homers. Regardless of who you think the real Carpenter is though, he’s a great hitter and a guy you can draft with confidence to fill your second base slot.
Tier 3: Solo
It’s hard to know exactly what to expect from these guys in 2019, but there’s no doubt they have all the ingredients they need to become fan favorites for years to come.
Adalberto Mondesi is one of the most talked about names in fantasy right now, and for good reason. He managed to swat 14 homers and amass 32 steals in just 291 plate appearances while posting a respectable .276 batting average. As a result, he’s currently being drafted as a top-50 player and in some leagues is even going inside the top 30. It’s tempting to prorate what he did in 2018 and see a guy who could hit 30 homers and steal 60 bases, but beware: Mondesi has some serious work to do when it comes to his plate approach. He posted a dreadful 18.2% whiff rate and 67% contact rate while chasing pitches outside the zone 37% of the time. That doesn’t bode well for his batting average, and because he doesn’t walk at all (he drew just 11 free passes in 2018), he’s going to live and die by BABIP. Fortunately, he’s one of the fastest players in the sport, posting the 11th-highest sprint speed last season. So that will smooth over some of his warts. And what’s more, he’s only 23 years old, so there may be some maturation on the horizon. The range of outcomes is absolutely massive, but so is the potential value. How lucky are you feeling, punk?
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. For Ozzie Albies, 2018 was a tale of two halves. He smacked 20 homers and hit .281 before the All-Star break, then proceeded to hit .226 with just four homers the rest of the way. Growing pains are natural for young players, and it will be interesting to see if Albies can adapt to the adjustments that the league made to him late last summer. Never pegged as a power hitter in the minor leagues, you’re probably best not expecting more than 20 homers again. But his hit tool and 70-grade speed should mean big steps forward in his batting average and stolen base totals. Hope for something in the .280 range with 15 homers and 25 steals.
Tier 4: The Last Jedi
Far from perfect, the second basemen in this tier do enough things right to keep the hounds at bay. Just don’t go in with high expectations, and you might be pleasantly surprised.
Gleyber Torres put together an impressive rookie campaign, accumulating 24 homers and six steals in just 123 games. He did most of that damage in the first half, riding a 21.4% HR/FB on his way to racking up 15 of those homers. He faded down the stretch though, with just a .249 average in the second half, and there are some red flags in terms of his contact ability. Still, it’s hard not to give the benefit of the doubt to someone with his pedigree who only just turned 22.
Scooter Gennett finished as the No. 23 overall hitter on ESPN’s player rater in 2018, and his .310 average ranked him sixth in baseball, sandwiched between Mike Trout and Freddie Freeman. Owners may be hesitant buy in on a guy who spent his first four seasons in the majors not doing much of anything, but this is now two consecutive years in which Gennett has displayed the skills of a legit top-shelf second baseman. You can probably temper your expectations that he’ll hit above .300 again — last year’s .310 average was aided by an otherworldly .358 BABIP. But the Cincinnati Reds lineup is looking much-improved this year, so 100 RBI seems within reach after he fell just short the past two seasons.
Max Muncy’s magical 2018 gave hope to athletes with dadbods the world over. Many are skeptical for a repeat considering he came seemingly out of nowhere last season, but the xStats back up everything he did, pegging him for 33 xHR, a .271 xAVG, and a .591 xSLG over the 481 plate appearances he compiled. He did fall off a bit in the second half of last season and got benched sporadically against lefties, so there is some risk here. But not as much as you may think.
During our rankings summit, Daniel Murphy was largely immune from the Coors Field helium that generally shoots players up rankings lists. This will be his age-34 season, and he lost a large chunk of playing time last year because of a fairly serious knee injury. He seemed mostly himself upon his return from microfracture surgery, though his hard-contact rate took a serious nosedive. His batting average floor is as high as just about anyone’s, and playing in Colorado should smooth over most other age-related warts. The question is: Are his knee issues truly in the rear-view mirror?
Travis Shaw has now lowered his strikeout rate and boosted his walk rate in three consecutive seasons and has back-to-back 30-plus homer campaigns under his belt. The .241 average last year was likely suppressed by his exceptionally unlucky .242 BABIP, though considering his fly-ball tendencies, he may be prone to lower BABIPs in general. A .270 average with 30 homers and a handful of steals seems like a realistic outcome for Shaw, and the added eligibility at first base and third base are nice boons to his value as well.
No. 13: Robinson Cano (1B(y)/2B, New York Mets)
Robinson Cano returned from his PED suspension this past season without missing a beat; in the 41 games after he returned, he hit .317 with six homers and a .370 wOBA. The 36-year-old has hardly regressed at all over the past few years, and many of the peripherals you look to that might indicate age-based decline have held steady. In fact, his hard-contact rates have been on the rise for five straight seasons now, and 2018 was one of his better seasons in terms of drawing walks, making contact, and punishing fastballs. There’s always risk of a steep drop-off with a guy as long in the tooth as Cano, but until some red flags actually start popping up, he’s got the potential to return plenty of value in relation to where he’s being drafted.
Tier 5: Revenge of the Sith
These second basemen have certainly had their moments in seasons past, though inconsistency in recent years has dragged down their value. It’s really a toss-up as to whether these guys will post a season that has you shouting, “Yes!” or one that has you screaming, “Nooooooooo!“
The season Jonathan Villar posted in 2016 is the season most people are dreaming Mondesi will put together this year. And based on his bounce-back 2018, it’s clear Villar still possesses a skill set similar to Mondesi’s. So why the huge disparity in where they’re going in drafts? Villar is still just 27 years old and plenty capable of smacking 15 homers while stealing 40-plus bases. He’ll likely be at the top of the punchless Orioles’ lineup this year, so his run and RBI totals won’t wow you. But if you want someone with Mondesi-like upside who’s going 60 picks later in drafts, Villar is your guy.
Rougned Odor has garnered a reputation for heating up as the season wears on, so 2018 was par for the course; he posted a .342 wOBA after the break after doing next to nothing over the first three months of the season. The good news is that he nearly doubled his walk rate last season and was absolutely crushing the ball (45.2% hard contact) while whiffing and making contact at a league-average rate. The bad news is that he still swings way too much at pitches outside the zone and is a poor baserunner — he was just 12-for-24 on the basepaths in 2018. It may seem like he’s been around forever, but he’s only 25 years old, so perhaps there’s still some growth left.
Was 2018 an aberration or a testament to Jonathan Schoop’s year-to-year inconsistency? His batting averages and hard-contact rates over the past five seasons have swung up and down so wildly it’s enough to make you dizzy. Maybe it’s true that Schoop was hampered by injury throughout much of this past season. Maybe it’s true he was in a bad mental state after good friend and teammate Manny Machado was traded away. There’s certainly upside for a serviceable average and close to 30 homers, but the floor here is pretty low.
If you buy the narrative that Brian Dozier played through injury all of last year, he is a great value this season, as he amassed over 40 HR+SB for four consecutive seasons prior to 2018. Even the 21 homers and 12 steals he managed last year wouldn’t have been so unpalatable if not for the fact that he batted .215. The .240 BABIP was the likely culprit, as his contact rate and quality of contact peripherals from last year don’t show any signs of impending doom. Keeps tabs on him in spring training to gauge where his health is, and draft accordingly.
No. 18: Dee Gordon (SS(y)/2B/OF, Seattle Mariners)
Given that Dee Gordon is entering his age-31 season, betting on his speed to help him overcome his other shortcomings might no longer be prudent. Gordon walked just nine times last season over 588 plate appearances, which normally wouldn’t be a huge concern for him. But his speed has taken a bit of a step back, meaning he can’t manufacture hits the way he used to. He ranked 56th last year in sprint speed, which contributed to his pedestrian .304 BABIP, the lowest total he’s posted in the category since his breakout in 2014. If Gordon isn’t walking and he’s not beating out hits the way he used to, that not only drags down his batting average but impacts his stolen base and run-scoring opportunities as well. Those stats have historically been his bread and butter, so things could start getting ugly. He’ll still likely be a solid resource for those in need of speed, but things appear to be trending in the wrong direction.
Tier 6: Attack of the Clones
This seems like an appropriate name for this tier as everyone in it is largely interchangeable and expendable. Like a Yoda light saber duel, there might be a pleasant surprise or two buried in this tier, but it’s likely not enough to drown out the rest of this group’s mediocrity.
No. 19: Yoan Moncada (2B, Chicago White Sox)
Yoan Moncada hasn’t been the game-changing superstar many envisioned he would become when he signed with the Red Sox … yet. It’s important to maintain some perspective and realize that he’s still just 23 and coming off his first full season in the majors. The 33% strikeout rate is ugly but isn’t supported by anything in his contact rate peripherals that’s particularly jarring. Considering his pedigree and current ADP, there’s no harm in snagging Moncada as a lottery ticket and hoping this is the year it all clicks.
This ranking was made under the assumption that Garrett Hampson will be the Rockies’ Opening Day second baseman. Hampson had a really appealing minor league profile, pairing 70-grade speed with enough pop to scrape 10 homers as well as great zone recognition and bat control. Any decent prospect is worth getting hyped about when they play half their games in Coors, and while he’ll likely have to address the strikeout issues he had during his cup of coffee last year, there’s potential here for across-the-board contributions.
Profar finally broke out in 2018, batting .254 with 20 homers and 10 stolen bases. While he never flashed that kind of power at any point in his career prior to this past year, the 20 homers were supported by a big jump in hard contact and a very reasonable 13.2% HR/FB. Moving to Oakland won’t do him any favors in his attempt to repeat the power outburst, but his batting average should come up a bit with some better luck on his batted balls. You’re likely looking at a guy who will hit .270 with 15 homers and 10 steals and qualifies at several infield positions, which makes him quite an asset.
No. 22: Cesar Hernandez (2B, Philadelphia Phillies)
Cesar Hernandez began elevating the ball more last season and was rewarded with a career-high 15 homers. Unfortunately, all those fly balls ate into his BABIP, resulting in the uncharacteristic .251 batting average he posted. If he can find a happy medium, he should produce double-digit homers and steals and get on base enough to challenge 100 runs in the rejuvenated Phillies lineup.
No. 23: Asdrubal Cabrera (SS/2B/3B, Texas Rangers)
Asdrubal Cabrera has been one of the more underrated middle infielders in recent years, and he now has a chance to show what he can do in Texas, which was the friendliest hitter’s park in baseball last season (yes, even better than Coors). Lower body injuries and age have robbed him of his speed, but he’s still a good bet for an average around .270 with 20-plus homers.
If you’ve neglected batting average late in the draft and you have a chance to snag Yuli Gurriel, you should pounce. Though he doesn’t do anything else all that well, he won’t hurt you anywhere either. It’s worth nothing that he hasn’t played more than 139 games in a season to this point in his career, so a full slate of at-bats in that Houston lineup could result in a very, very good overall stat line.
It’s tough to expect much from a 35-year-old who’s coming off a career year, but to Jed Lowrie’s credit, he’s still making plenty of hard contact and producing enough line drives to be a useful bat. Moving to Citi Field is a bit of a lateral move power-wise, and it’s not entirely clear where Lowrie will be picking up the majority of his at-bats yet. But you can probably expect roughly league-average production across the board with plenty of runs and/or RBI depending on where the Mets decide to slot him into their lineup.
Maybe Starlin Castro should change his first name to “Shmo-lin” because after teasing us all with potential star upside early in his career, he’s become a merely adequate second baseman in recent years. He’ll give you mid-teens homers. He’ll produce a slightly helpful batting average. He’ll sprinkle in a few steals here and there. Nothing that will wow you, but nothing that will have you pulling your hair out either.
It’s tempting to look at Willy Adames‘ 2018 line, project it out over a full year, and see a guy who will go 20/15 with a .278 average. Don’t allow yourself to be tempted though, lest you find yourself facing down a lifetime of ETERNAL DAMNATION. Sorry, that was extreme. Adames has a decent contact profile but hits a lot of balls on the ground and the quality of contact was middling last year. Considering that, the 16.9% HR/FB was likely a little inflated, and you’re probably looking more at mid-teens power and speed with a volatile average.
It wasn’t quite the follow-up many were expecting after Chris Taylor’s breakout 2017 campaign. The 29.5% strikeout rate is scary, and even though he made much more hard contact and hit more line drives, those only helped the .345 BABIP pull his average up to .254. The second base job appears to be his at the moment, and there’s power and speed here. But if the batted balls don’t keep falling for hits, he could be a big drain for you on the category.
There’s a lot that makes us think the .300 average Joey Wendle posted last year might not be an aberration. He sprayed the ball to all fields, made a good amount of hard contact, and didn’t whiff much. He won’t move the needle much in any other category, but he’s a high-floor guy you can plug into your lineup and forget about.
Ketel Marte is a bit of a sleeper this season on account of his excellent contact rates and the fact that his hard contact jumped way up to 36% this past year. The fact that he hits over half his batted balls on the ground should temper expectations for 20 homers, but an average in the .270 range with double-digit power and speed can get the job done in most formats.
Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire