Traditionally looked upon as one of the weakest positions in fantasy baseball, second base has the potential to yield some exceptionally versatile players in 2011. With a plethora of players capable of providing 20 home runs, 20 stolen bases or both, second base is a fantasy-irrelevant position no longer.
All rankings are based on a standard 5×5 category, 10-team rotisserie league scoring system.
1. Robinson Cano, New York Yankees
Cano stands apart from other second baseman for two reasons: his power and his durability. Cano has played in at least 159 games in each of the past four seasons and has provided a slugging percentage above .500 three times in his career. Expect another .315-25-100 line in 2011, and don’t hesitate to take Cano early in round two.
2. Chase Utley, Philadelphia Phillies
If Utley were guaranteed to stay healthy, he’d be ahead of Cano on this list and a strong candidate as a top-five overall pick. He’s missed at least 30 games in two of the past four seasons though, and has already needed treatment on his knee in spring training. His ceiling is as a true five-category producer capable of hitting .290-30-100 with 20 stolen bases, but I’m not confident he’ll receive enough at-bats to approach those numbers.
3. Dustin Pedroia, Boston Red Sox
Pedroia was on his way to posting his first 20-homer, 20-stolen base season when he suffered a serious foot injury in June, limiting him to 75 games in 2010. With his health intact and an improved lineup around him, Pedroia should return to hit .300-15-80 with 20 thefts and 120 runs next season, and is a legitimate top-50 pick.
4. Ian Kinsler, Texas Rangers
Kinsler has the most upside of anyone on this list but is even less likely to avoid a stint on the disabled list than Utley is. If he plays in 140 games, Kinsler is capable of hitting .280-25-100 with 30 stolen bases, but he’s broken that plateau just once in his career. Feel free to draft Kinsler from the fifth round on, but be sure to insure yourself with a reliable backup.
5. Dan Uggla, Atlanta Braves
Uggla appeared to become a more complete player in 2010, as he managed to raise his average up to a career-high .287 while still hitting for monster power. However, Uggla’s .330 BABIP (batting average on balls in play) suggests that he’s due for regression, and he’s being slightly overdrafted now that he’s in a bigger market. Expect a .260-30-100 line and draft accordingly, but not before the fifth round.
6. Brandon Phillips, Cincinnati Reds
Phillips is an excellent fantasy second baseman but is slightly overrated, as he’s perennially drafted as though he’s going to repeat his monster 2007 campaign, when he hit .288-30-94 with 32 stolen bases. Phillips’ power has fallen for three consecutive seasons. Expect him to produce more along the lines of Pedroia, but with a much lower average and fewer runs scored.
7. Rickie Weeks, Milwaukee Brewers
After tantalizing fantasy owners for years, Weeks finally stayed healthy produced last season, hitting .269-29-83 with 112 runs scored. Weeks is capable of producing that type of power again, but he’s unlikely to hit near .270, and he doesn’t run as much as he used to either. It’s easy to fall in love with Weeks’ potential, but there are too many variables in place for him to be considered an elite fantasy option in 2011.
8. Kelly Johnson, Arizona Diamondbacks
After a lackluster 2009 campaign, Johnson revived his career with the D-Backs in 2010 and put up surprisingly strong fantasy numbers. It’s more than a little concerning that Johnson hit over 50 points higher at home than on the road, but there are few second basemen left with 20-homer power, and Johnson’s a good bet to swipe 10-plus bases and hit above .280 as well.
9. Martin Prado, Atlanta Braves
Many were skeptical when the Braves handed Prado the keys to their starting second base job last season, but Prado made the most out of his opportunity, hitting .307-15-66 and playing his way onto the All-Star team. Prado’s average might fall some, but he should still hit above .290 and can reach 15 home runs again in 2011. That Prado is also eligible at third base helps his value.
10. Aaron Hill, Toronto Blue Jays
If you’re a believer in BABIP as a predictor of success, then Hill should be your preseason favorite to win AL Comeback Player of the Year honors. Hill had the worst luck of any player in the majors last year, as his BABIP of .196 was 100 points below the league average. He may not repeat his 2009 numbers, but you can bet on at least a .270 average, 25 homers and 80 RBIs.
11. Gordon Beckham, Chicago White Sox
This is certainly an optimistic ranking for Beckham, but there is reason to expect him to rebound from his disappointing 2010 season. Beckham suffered from an unusually high ground-ball rate in 2010, but made an adjustment and hit .354 and .309 in July and August, respectively.Beckham can post a .280-17-75 line next season, and you can be comfortable taking a gamble on him from the 10th round on.
12. Chone Figgins, Seattle Mariners
Figgins is essentially a one-trick fantasy pony at this point but is useful, thanks to his 40-stolen base potential. There’s nothing in Figgins’ stats that suggests he’s due for a big rebound, but the M’s are planning on moving him back to third base where he’s most comfortable, and he should increase his run totals in an improved Mariners lineup. Still, Figgins fits better as a middle infield option than a starting second baseman.
13. Ben Zobrist, Tampa Bay Rays
Similar to Hill, Zobrist had a breakout season in 2009, only to follow up with a complete dud in 2010. Zobrist hit just .238-10-75 last season but still produced some value thanks to his multi-position versatility and his 24 stolen bases. Zobrist is a candidate for a moderate rebound, but don’t expect more than 15 homers or 20 steals next season.
14. Brian Roberts, Baltimore Orioles
Roberts was an elite fantasy second baseman from 2005-2009, but he played in just 59 games last year thanks to a nagging back injury. He’s capable of putting up a .280-10-60 line with 30 stolen bases if healthy, but Roberts has already missed time this spring with a sore neck and is an unlikely candidate to reach 600 plate appearances.
15. Howie Kendrick, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Once considered a top prospect, Kendrick has turned himself into a solid major leaguer but has yet to exhibit anything close to the star potential he had in the minors. Fantasy owners have been gambling on a Kendrick breakout for years, but what you see is what you get. Expect a line of .280-10-70 with 15 stolen bases and don’t draft Kendrick as a starter.
16. Mike Aviles, Kansas City Royals
Aviles is often forgotten thanks to the team he plays for but could prove to be worthy of a starting middle infield spot if he stays healthy. Aviles faces some competition for playing time from Chris Getz and Wilson Betemit, but he can hit .300-10-50 with 20 stolen bases if given 600 plate appearances. Aviles may add shortstop or third base eligibility later in the season as well.
17. Neil Walker, Pittsburgh Pirates
Another former top prospect, Walker had a very solid season in 2010, hitting .296-12-66 and establishing himself as one of the lone bright spots on a dismal Pirates squad. Walker’s average is unsustainable, but he’s capable of putting up a .280-15-75 line with 5 stolen bases in 2011. Walker is a fringe middle infield option in standard 10-team leagues.
18. Juan Uribe, Los Angeles Dodgers
Uribe was one of several Giants veterans to have surprisingly good seasons in 2010, and the portly middle infielder hit .248-24-85 while spending time at second, third and shortstop. Uribe’s value is entirely tied up in his versatility and power, and while he shouldn’t be drafted as a starter at any position, he’s an excellent bench option.
19. Danny Espinosa, Washington Nationals
A fairly unheralded prospect, Espinosa quietly put up a 20-homer, 20-stolen base campaign in the minors last year before getting the call to the majors in September. He’s not guaranteed the Nationals’ second base job, but if he wins it, he’s capable of putting up a respectable .260-15-60 line with 15 stolen bases, which would make him a passable middle infielder.
20. Tsuyoshi Nishioka, Minnesota Twins
Nishioka is somewhat of an unknown commodity as he heads to the majors from Japan, but all reports indicate that he has the ability to hit for a decent average and should be able to nab double-digit steals as well. Don’t expect Nishioka to be one of the key cogs on your fantasy team, but he should score runs in a good Twins lineup and is worth a late-round flier in deeper leagues.
Three Prospects To Watch For 2011
1. Dustin Ackley, Seattle Mariners
The second overall pick in the 2009 draft, Ackley didn’t hit quite as expected in 2010 but still managed to reach Triple-A by year's end. Ackley will likely start the season in the minors but could provide Derek Jeter-like numbers from second base by July.
2. Jason Kipnis, Cleveland Indians
Kipnis may not reach the majors until the second half of the season, but he has the upside of a starting fantasy second baseman. He’s not extraordinarily powerful or fast but projects to have the ability to hit .300 with double-digit homers and steals. He’s an excellent player to target in keeper leagues.
3. Brett Lawrie, Toronto Blue Jays
Lawrie has 20-homer, 20-steal potential and brings the type of bat that could allow him to someday profile as a top-five fantasy second baseman. Unfortunately for fantasy owners, Lawrie’s defensive shortcomings and the presence of Aaron Hill mean that he may be destined for a corner outfield spot instead.