Contributing Writer : Albert Lang
Second base has become a pretty solid position and there are a number of younger players (Dustin Ackley, Jemile Weeks, Jason Kipnis, etc.) that will shore up the position for years to come.
While the East Coast (Robinson Cano, Dustin Pedroia, Chase Utley and Ben Zobrist) has grabbed the second base headlines, it seems we’re forgetting one of the best fantasy options: Ian Kinsler. Last year, Kinsler went 30-30, one of four players to do so (and the only infielder). This is the second season in the past three that Kinsler has gone 30-30. When healthy, dude is simply a force.
So, is Kinsler brittle? I don’t think so. He had a tough 2010 playing in just 103 games. However, he played 155 games last year and 144 games in 2009. From 2009-2011, he has averaged 134 games, 24 HRs and 25 steals. From 2008-2011, he averaged 131 games, 22 HRs and 26 SBs. In the worst of times, he’s a 20-20 guy, with 100+ runs and at least 80 RBIs – those numbers at catcher make him a top pick. I have him scoring 110 runs this year with a .275 average, 27 HRs and 30 SBs. I think he’s a huge get in drafts and a top 15 hitter.
Another second baseman from the middle of the country that gets no love is Brandon Phillips. While the SBs have declined (from 25 three years ago to 16 in 2010 to 14 in 2011), he has maintained a solid average and 18-21 HRs. In addition, given his home ballpark and teammates, he’s a 100 run, 80+ RBI guy (with upside depending on where he slots into the line-up). I have him hitting .280 this season with 20 HRs, 15 SBs, 100 runs and 80 RBIs. He’s about as consistent and solid as it gets.
Some might think Dan Uggla is the opposite of consistency, but I disagree. Uggla has hit between 31 and 36 home runs every year since 2007. A lot was expected of him switching to Atlanta, a ballpark he had a good track record at. However he stumbled mightily out of the gates (.185/.257/.365 in the first half). Of course, he picked it up in the second, going .296/.379/.569. He’s clearly not as bad as the first half, but definitely not quite as good as he was in the second half. I think he’s going a tad cheap though. He’s the only second baseman who is a lock for 30 HRs. I think he’ll bat .270 with 34 HRs and likely add at least 90+ runs and RBIs. The batting average has downside, but you’re not getting that production many other places up the middle. I’m comfortable with him as a top 45 hitter and the 6th second baseman off the board.
There seems to be eight solid trustworthy second basemen and then a whole bunch of flawed, yet useful, players. In addition, there are some of the younger guard who can take a big step forward:
Jemile Weeks: There aren’t too many bright spots for the Athletics headed into 2012. In fact, Weeks might be the sole source of light. In just 97 games, he stole 22 bases last year and batted .303/.340/.421. Of course, he was caught stealing 11 times (and one wonders how short a leash he will have until he learns to steal). That said, the main question with Weeks is batting average. He simply puts a ton of balls in play (walk rate = 4.8%, k-rate = 14.2%, swinging strike rate = 5%), so his BABIP is super important. Last year he posted a .350 BABIP and a 23.3% line drive rate. While he posted good BABIPs in the minors (.373 at AAA in 2011, .344 at Rookie ball in 2010), it’s hard to assume he’ll just keep batting .350+ on balls in play. If that BABIP falls, so will his batting average. That said, even with an average at .285, I think he’ll steal 30-35 bases. That would be the highest total at the position last year and could lead again in 2012.
Jason Kipnis: If things break right for Kipnis, he could post incredibly similar numbers to Ben Zobrist. In limited time in the majors last season, Kipnis hit seven HRs and stole five bases. If he maintained that pace over 162 games, he’d be at 32 HRs and 23 SBs. Obviously, I don’t think he’ll continue that pace of success. However, I do see him hitting .270 with 15 HRs and 17 SBs. There is downside though. He struck out 22.7% of the time in the majors last year and had similarly high K rates in the minors. I imagine he’ll be a streaky player in 2012. If you can ride the hot streaks and avoid the cold spells, he’ll be a terrific asset.
While the above are deeper options, everyone knows them. If you are playing in really deep leagues or are simply looking to pluck a lottery ticket from the late rounds of your draft/auction, I’ve got four interesting names for you:
Omar Infante: In 2010, Infante hit .321/.359/.416 due largely to a bizarre spike in BABIP (.355 for the year, .310 for his career) that actually corresponded to a decline in his line drive rate. He came back to earth in a big way in 2011 (.276/.315/.382 and .298 BABIP) despite posting a line drive rate very close to his career norm. From 2008-2010, Infante hit .309/.353/.411 and I expect him to get back close to those rate stats in 2012. He should hit .295 with 60 runs and RBIs and steal a handful of bases. It isn’t glamorous, but it’s solid production up the middle for virtually no cost.
Jamey Carroll: After back-to-back seasons of hitting .290+ in largely utility roles, the Minnesota Twins have installed Carroll as their starting shortstop. Carroll has always paired good walk rates with good K rates (9.9% and 14.1% for his career). In recent years those rates have been much closer. He’ll bat nicely for the Twins, hitting .280 or so, and will get on base, which should get him to 70+ runs. He’ll steal in the low double digits.
Daniel Descalso: Descalso has the inside track to the starting second base job for the World Champion Cardinals in 2012. While he isn’t an overly special player (nor does he have a tremendous minor league track record), he’s a solid option at the end of fantasy drafts. Descalso is capable of batting .270 with moderate pop (five+ HRs would be nice) and similarly light speed. However, depending on where he slots into the Cardinals line-up, he could be in for a decent amount of runs. It seems his upside is limited, but Descalso could be one of the major surprises of 2012. If you squint, you could see him batting .280 with 15 HRs and 10 SBs.
Justin Turner: Turner spent some time in the Orioles system and I always thought he was a short-term replacement for Brian Roberts. Unfortunately, things never quite clicked there (despite Turner putting up decent stats in AAA) and the Mets acquired him. He has batted above .300 at AAA for the Mets the last two seasons and held his own at the Major League level last year: .260/.334/.356. He has never really struck out a ton and has shown a decent ability to take a pitch and get on base. I wouldn’t be shocked if he hit .275/.340/.400 in 2012 with 8-10 HRs and 10-12 SBs.
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