Which Aaron Hill will show up this season?
By Tim McLeod and RotoRob
The 2013 RotoRob MLB Draft Kit surges forward today with the release of another cheat sheet. So while you wonder whether Anthony Bosch actually injected Alex Rodriguez with PEDs, let’s review the top 57 second basemen in Fantasy baseball.
Well, it’s now time to move on to the veritable wasteland we’ll call second base. Robinson Cano is by far the head of the class and a sure fire first rounder. Ian Kinsler and Dustin Pedroia — both coming off disappointing seasons and hoping to rebound this season — are the next two off the board in no particular order (although we like Kinsler better). Jason Kipnis enjoyed a great first full campaign but his second half numbers (650 OPS) have to be a concern as he enters his sophomore campaign.
Can Rickie Weeks find a way to get his batting average back into an acceptable range? If you’re looking for safe options, Jose Altuve should enter into the discussion with his mid-30s stolen base potential.
Second base has few players that offer upside, and there’s a huge drop off from the big three to the world of the mid-pack. Go early or go home could be the mantra for the keystone corner in 2013. For those willing to gamble, Jedd Gyorko is intriguing with his sky-high power potential and Emilio Bonifacio is also a nice choice (even though he currently doesn’t qualify at second – although it shouldn’t take long for that).
On the position battle front, watch how Scott Sizemore (note that Sizemore does not qualify at second base, but is expected to play there this year) vs. Jemille Weeks, Chris Getz vs. Johnny Giavotella and Logan Forsythe vs. Gyorko pan out as the winners’ value will rise. Danny Espinosa is going to play through a partially torn rotator cuff injury – Stephen Lombarozzi for a bench slot, anyone?
Second base is filled with more questions than answers heading into 2013.
Last year’s rankings are in parentheses.
1. Robinson Cano, New York Yankees (1): Could this really be Cano’s final season in Pinstripes? It’s a question we pondered just a couple of weeks ago and a valid one with the Yankees so desperately trying to pare down their payroll. Still, he remains a key source of power for a Bronx Bomber squad that may actually need more pop this season. Last year, Cano set a career high in runs while enjoying his best power season yet. Yes, the Yanks exercised their $15 million option on him for 2013, but this is his walk season, so that’s a story that will need to be closely monitored. The slam dunk first keystone corner dude off the board, Cano is likely going in the middle of the first round after setting a career high in wRC+. Sure, he stunk it up in the playoffs, but over the course of an entire season, no one is in Cano’s class at second base.
2. Ian Kinsler, Texas Rangers (2): There have been rumours that Kinsler could shift to either first base or the outfield this year, but those plans have been nixed, which had to spur plenty of sighs of relief out of his keeper league owners. We’ve seen him lasting until the fourth round in some mocks, not a surprise considering he’s coming off his worst season ever. Ironically, Kinsler finally stayed healthy, but his run total plummeted and his extra-base pop dipped as many of his homers turned into doubles or triples (he had career highs in both categories). His walk rate also fell off the table while he struck out more. It was a major fall after Kinsler had his best season ever in 2011. His BABIP rose last year, but was still below career norms and didn’t really help his BA much, so don’t expect him to hit much more than .260 or so. Right now, he’s the third second baseman going off the board, and yes, you can make an argument that Pedroia should rank second, but we still prefer the Rangers’ second sacker as no one at this position offers his immense speed-power potential.
3. Dustin Pedroia, Boston Red Sox (3): Pedroia’s substandard performance last year was just one of many reasons Boston completely tanked. Described as a “sex symbol” in Terry Francona’s new book, Pedroia didn’t exactly turn his Fantasy owners on last year with his worst full-season performance ever. His homer total dipped after a career-best showing in 2011, and he was much less productive. Pedroia made better contact, but his BA dropped anyhow and his stolen base total also dipped. A torn ligament in his pinkie had to be a factor, but that has now been repaired, so we’re expecting a bounce back in his numbers – especially his runs with a healthier lineup around him. You can make an argument that he should be the second keystone corner man off the board, but that declining extra-base sock worries us. Certainly a healthy Jacoby Ellsbury should help Pedroia be more productive this season.
4. Brandon Phillips, Cincinnati Reds (9): When we ranked Phillips ninth a year ago, we talked about the rumours the Reds wanted to sign him to an extension. Well, they did so, penning him to a six-year extension in mid-April, but that new deal was unable to propel him to duplicate his nice 2011 comeback season. Phillips, a social media man who thrilled one of his followers by showing up to the 14-year-old’s Little League game, has missed a couple more games in each of the past two seasons, but he remains fairly durable for the most part. His extra-base pop dipped last year, but he compensated for that by doing a much better job on the basepaths. Still, after his career performance in 2011, the decline began for Phillips in 2012. At his age, we’re not expecting that to change. There was much degradation in his batting eye last year and the consistently declining walk rate in particular worries us – not that Phillips has ever drawn many free passes. He may be one of the more eligible bachelors in Cincinnati, but we have our worries about his overall game going forward.
5. Ben Zobrist, Tampa Bay Rays (7): Zobrist, who is expected to bat leadoff for Team USA at the WBC, is clearly not as good as he was in 2009 or as bad as he was in 2010, but last year, the recovery continued. Zobrist stayed healthy, getting at least 560 at-bats for the second straight season, and he compiled a third 20-homer campaign. His BA continued to bounce back and it wouldn’t shock us if you grabbed him over Phillips especially since we expect his durability to continue this year. Zobrist’s walk rate was up and now that Kelly Johnson has signed in TB, Zobrist will be able to play more outfield, a move that should help keep him healthy. Zobrist is also listed in our Shortstop and Outfield rankings, coming shortly.
6. Aaron Hill, Arizona Diamondbacks (17): In an early July Podcast we wondered which was the real Aaron Hill. Well, after struggling for a couple of seasons, he sure did bounce back last year, enjoying a highly productive campaign although not doing as well on the basepaths. Still, Hill reached new heights in OBP, wound up ranking 10th in the NL in WAR and flashed better extra-base pop than ever. The D-Backs are exploring the possibility of a contract extension with him, but we always worry about second basemen at this age (31 in March) and the potential decline, which is usually quite rapid.
7. Jason Kipnis, Cleveland Indians (16): While perhaps his overall numbers weren’t as great as expected, in his first full season, Kipnis improved his on-base skills and wound up topping 30 swipes. Throw in the mid-teens power that should improve as he nears his power prime and this dude is a slam dunk top 10 second baseman. If he keeps improving his walk rates, Kipnis is going to get a chance to start driving more balls out of the park as well. We can see him topping out as a 20-30 man, and that’s pretty damn valuable. Cleveland has added several key pieces this winter, but perhaps the most important element this team needs to take the next step is a breakout by Kipnis. This could be the year it happens.
8. Jose Altuve, Houston Astros (28): Altuve was barely a top 30 second sacker a year ago, but after taking a very nice step forward in his first full season, he creeps into the top 10 this year. Altuve scored plenty of runs last year considering Houston was so bad and we liked the fact that he showed more patience, helping him improve his BA. The improved OBP made Altuve a much more viable top of the order hitter, spending most of the season batting leadoff or second. There’s no doubt he justified his sleeper status from a year ago, showing very strong growth in wOBA. As Houston attempts to rebuild the franchise back into a winner, Altuve will be a key component, so it will be interesting to see how he responds this year with the team shifting to the AL.
9. Rickie Weeks, Milwaukee Brewers (4): Part of a righty-leaning power lineup, Weeks had a more productive season last year in part because Norichika Aoki did a good job of getting on base in front of him. Weeks’ counting cats bounced back, although his overall work at the plate declined. Contrary to the bill of goods we were sold when he came out of college, he has always struggled to hit for average, but last year was ridiculously bad in that regard. The fact that his slugging dropped off the table didn’t help alleviate concerns. Weeks did salvage his season with a big second half, restoring our faith that he can still be a viable starting second basemen in standard sized leagues. Another first half like 2012, however, may have us singing a different tune. The Brewers desperately need Weeks to pick up his power game early with Corey Hart out of the lineup for a few months. We’ll see if he’s up to the task. A good place to start would be some better contact – Weeks whiffed in a career-worst one in four plate appearances last season. Ugh.
10. Howard Kendrick, Los Angeles Angels (8): Kendrick qualified at both second base and in the outfield last year, but this season, he’s lost the OF eligibility. He was more productive last year, but couldn’t duplicate the overall numbers from his fine 2011 campaign. Kendrick stayed moderately healthy and improved his contact rates, but his slash line diminished significantly. We have long since realized that he’ll never live up to the massive hype he elicited as a minor leaguer, and while he’s still capable of delivering solid batting averages (expect another season of .290 or so this year), the power spike he flashed in 2011 was clearly an anomaly.
11. Neil Walker, Pittsburgh Pirates (12): In an August Podcast, we talked about how Walker was quietly enjoying a really nice season. We were worried, however, that a finger injury could derail things, and sure enough, Walker’s extra-base pop disappeared in August and in limited action in September, he failed to score or drive in a single run as he dealt with back woes. Yuck. Overall, however, his slash line was better and the Pirates rewarded the first-time arbitration eligible Walker with a $3.3 million deal. His extra-base pop rebounded, but he continued to struggle on the basepaths. Walker’s BA bounced back and he enjoyed what was likely his best overall season despite the fact he missed over 30 games. The back issue is now behind him and considering he’s in his power prime, could Walker make a run at 20 homers this year? We’re definitely expecting to see more power and wouldn’t be shocked if he at least flirts with 20 bombs as he’s reportedly gotten into way better shape this winter.
12. Dan Uggla, Atlanta Braves (5): In a late-September Podcast we talked about how Uggla was finally waking up, and indeed, he hit better that month than any other all season. But he failed to come through with the tying runs aboard in the Wild Card game, an ugly end to his worst season ever. Uggla’s been in decline ever since leaving the Fish and his extra-base pop really fell off the table last year. He’s never been a high average hitter, but last year was bad even for him. Hey, you could suck that up when he was bashing 30-to-35 homers, but Uggla didn’t even reach 20 jacks last season. This perennial Fantasy starter could have wound up on a lot of benches by season’s end. And who knows? If Uggla’s decline continues, he could find himself losing more plate appearances. But don’t cry for him. Uggla goes home to this sweet $1.6 million mansion. Poor guy.
13. Chase Utley, Philadelphia Phillies (6): In a late-August Podcast we speculated how much longer Utley will remain at second base, but for now, he’ll safely qualify at the keystone corner for the foreseeable future. Expected to once again hit in the three hole for the Phillies, Utley will look to build on his slight rebound last year. More importantly, let’s see if he can make it through a full season unscathed because he hasn’t done that since 2009. Last year, Utley’s extra-base power bounced back somewhat and he was much more productive as a result. It was also nice to see his OBP bounce back to an extent. He’s reportedly fully healthy now and ready for 2013, so consider Utley a somewhat sneaky sleeper just because he has slipped so far in the rankings. That five-year stretch of dominance is long a thing of the past, but he can still be a very useful player (and wind up as a starting second baseman in standard formats) as long as he avoids the injury bug. Expect him to drive in at least 70 runs in that prime batting spot, but don’t overlook the health risks inherent with this aging middle infielder.
14. Dustin Ackley, Seattle Mariners (15): In his first full season, Ackley regressed significantly. He wasn’t as productive and shockingly his WAR was actually lower than his rookie effort despite getting 274 more at-bats to work with. WTF? Ackley had surgery after the season to repair a sore left ankle and is now reportedly ready to go, so let’s hope this was just a sophomore slump. He won’t be 25 until next month, so youth remains on his side, but Ackley hasn’t exactly inspired confidence yet. However, we’re guessing that low BABIP last year (not to mention the nagging ankle woe) helped drag down his BA, so expect a recovery in that department at the very least. He proved he was a .300 hitter in the minors, and we expect him to ultimately grow into that in Seattle.
15. Danny Espinosa, Washington Nationals (13): In our 2012 Washington National Season Preview we indicated that Espinosa was a 20-20 candidate, and while he did manage his first 20-steal season, he was unable to duplicate his 21 homers from 2011. Of course, that might have had something to do with a torn rotator cuff that he played through late last season. No wonder Espinosa struggled so badly in September and stunk it up in the playoffs. Now here’s the kicker: he’s going to play through the injury this season again, opting to rehab it instead of getting surgery. Other than that, Espinosa stayed healthy last year, although his on-base skills slipped. He slugged .420 before getting hurt and just .271 afterwards. That worries us, especially considering his walk rate dipped last year. At least if he were getting on base more often, Espinosa might increase his theft count, but of course, you can’t steal first. Clearly, this dude is a serious risk even if he’ll be capable of 20-20 if things break right. Espinosa is also listed in our Shortstop Rankings.
16. Kelly Johnson, Tampa Bay Rays (11): As expected, Johnson is not returning to the Jays. But the ironic part of his free agency odyssey is that the very morning after Tim and I spent about 15 minutes on the phone discussing potential landing spots for Johnson (and coming to the conclusion that there weren’t many possibilities remaining), he winds up signing in Tampa Bay. Of course, he didn’t exactly do himself any favours by compiling his worst season ever on the precipice of free agency. Dude! Don’t you understand the concept of a contract season? Johnson’s productivity slipped, and while his BA rebounded somewhat, it was still a massive liability. Well, he’s got a one-year deal to prove he’s worth a multi-year contract again. We know that Johnson has excelled in the past, but his recent performance made him a bargain acquisition, so small wonder the Rays were interested. However, Johnson’s extra-base power must bounce back before we will consider him a starting option in standard formats. He’ll turn 31 next month, so if he ever wants a huge deal, now is the time.
17. Daniel Murphy, New York Mets (18): Murphy outstripped our 2012 preseason ranking at third base, but no longer qualifies anywhere but second base. Arbitration eligible, he’s expected to get a whopping raise, but it’s not as if he was all that last year. Murphy did reach 40 doubles for the first time, but his extra-base pop dipped overall. And yes, it was his most productive season, but that was a product of staying healthy. While Murphy did reach double-digit steals for the first time, his overall game wasn’t as impressive as it was in 2011. We’re expecting his extra-base pop to bounce back in his age 27 season, but truthfully, he’s pretty much a hollow BA man.
18. Gordon Beckham, Chicago White Sox (19): In a June Podcast we wondered whether Beckham was finally delivering on his promise. And while he continued to hit decently in June, he saw less action and slumped in July before rebounding in August and especially September. It was somewhat of a bounceback season for Beckham, but the fact that Jeff Keppinger has been brought in – ostensibly to play third, but clearly a threat at second base as well – tells us the White Sox won’t wait forever for Beckham to live up to his billing as the eighth overall pick in 2008. We are still waiting to see him repeat or exceed his rookie effort, but despite a career high in at-bats last year, he felt short again. Beckham was more productive and his walk rate bounced back, but he was again unable to supply more than middling speed numbers. He earned $2.925 million in arbitration, so that will factor into Chicago’s decision, but there’s no way to sugarcoat how disappointing Beckham’s career has been to date. He’s only 26, so let’s not stick a fork in him just yet, but unless he quickly returns to his days of .270 with pop, the leash is getting shorter.
19. Marco Scutaro, San Francisco Giants (25): What Scutaro did after getting dealt to the Giants last year earned him some RotoRob hardware. It took him 95 games to drive in 30 runs with the Rockies, but in just 61 games in San Francisco, he produced 44 runs. All told, Scutaro stayed healthy last year, setting a career high in hits, although walking less often. The performance earned him a new three-year deal with the Giants worth $20 million, one of several free agents San Francisco re-signed. Don’t expect more of the same, but Scutaro remains a solid middle infield option for Fantasy purposes. His slugging is in decline, making him a weak option for power or speed, but you have to love the BA. Scutaro is also listed in our Shortstop Rankings.
20. Jeff Keppinger, Chicago White Sox (35): While Keppinger is barely a top 40 option at first, he remains a pretty viable Fantasy option at the keystone corner, especially in AL-only leagues. As mentioned in Beckham’s profile above, the plan calls for Keppinger to mostly play third for the Pale Hose, but could easily steal time at second if Beckham doesn’t continue his recovery. Last year, Keppinger saw more action, and probably had his best overall season at the dish. His extra-base pop bounced back, he was more productive and set a career high in BA. However, if you need speed, you’ll have to look elsewhere. A broken fibula suffered this offseason is still healing, but Keppinger should be good to go for Opening Day. Mostly a part-timer through his career, he is closing in on 750 hits and if he stays healthy this year, he’ll provide a bit of help in the runs scored department as well. Keppinger is also listed in our First Base and Third Base Rankings.
Others to Consider
21. Ryan Roberts, Tampa Bay Rays (14): Roberts is also listed in our Third Base Rankings.
22. Maicer Izturis, Toronto Blue Jays (37): Izturis Is also listed in our Shortstop and Third Base Rankings.
23. Mark Ellis, Los Angeles Dodgers (29)
24. Darwin Barney, Chicago Cubs (23)
25. Logan Forsythe, San Diego Padres (45)
26. Omar Infante, Detroit Tigers (22)
27. Cliff Pennington, Oakland Athletics (24 at SS): Pennington is also listed in our Shortstop Rankings.
28. Daniel Descalso, St. Louis Cardinals (47 at 3B): Descalso is also listed in our Shortstop and Third Base Rankings
29. Chris Getz, Kansas City Royals (36)
30. Brian Roberts, Baltimore Orioles (42)
31. Jemile Weeks, Oakland Athletics (10)
32. Johnny Giavotella, Kansas City Royals (20)
33. Stephen Lombardozzi, Washington Nationals (NR): Lombardozzi is also listed in our Outfield Rankings.
34. Alexi Casilla, Baltimore Orioles (27)
35. Jedd Gyorko, San Diego Padres (NR): We’re assuming that Gyorko will only be eligible at second base when he arrives in the majors, but it is possible he will also qualify at third base in some leagues. He is also listed in our Third Base Rankings.
36. Chris Nelson, Colorado Rockies (38): Nelson is also listed in our Third Base Rankings.
37. Sean Rodriguez, Tampa Bay Rays (24): Rodriguez is also listed in our Shortstop and Third Base Rankings.
38. Donovan Solano, Miami Marlins (NR)
39. Robert Andino, Seattle Mariners (32)
40. Kolten Wong, St. Louis Cardinals (NR)
41. DJ LeMahieu, Colorado Rockies (NR)
42. Freddy Galvis, Philadelphia Phillies (NR)
43. Tyler Greene, Houston Astros (50): Greene is also listed in our Shortstop Rankings.
44. Ronny Cedeno, St. Louis Cardinals (41 at SS): Cedeno is also listed in our Shortstop Rankings.
45. Josh Harrison, Pittsburgh Pirates (NR): Harrison is also listed in our Shortstop Rankings.
46. Freddy Sanchez, Free agent (44)
47. Ramon Santiago, Detroit Tigers (41): Santiago also qualifies at shortstop.
48. Jerry Hairston Jr., Los Angeles Dodgers (40): Hairston Jr. also qualifies at third base.
49. Adam Rosales, Oakland Athletics (NR)
50. Yuniesky Betancourt, Philadelphia Phillies (35 at SS)
51. Jonathan Schoop, Baltimore Orioles
52. Alexi Amarista, San Diego Padres (NR): Amarista also qualifies in Outfield.
53. Kensuke Tanaka, San Francisco Giants (NR)
54. Justin Turner, New York Mets (34)
55. Skip Schumaker, Los Angeles Dodgers (43): Schumaker also qualifies in Outfield.
56. Jamey Carroll, Minnesota Twins (48): Carroll is also listed in our Shortstop and Third Base Rankings.
57. Ryan Theriot, Free agent (33)
RotoRob’s Fantasy Baseball Weekly Podcast
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