Links: No respect for second basemen
Baseball America released its list of the top 100 prospects. The BA guys do a great job and I heartily recommend their annual Prospect Handbook, which ranks the top 30 prospects for each team.
Anyway, while the list includes 45 pitchers, 20 outfielders and 12 third basemen, it includes just two second basemen -- Cory Spangenberg of the Padres (No. 78) and Kelton Wong of the Cardinals (No. 93). That tally isn't much different from the other top 100 lists we've seen: ESPN Insider Keith Law had no second basemen on his top 100 and Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus also had just Spangenberg and Wong.
Now there's an obvious reason why second basemen don't receive much respect from prospect gurus: A lot of minor league shortstops end up as second basemen in the majors. Maybe they don't have the hands or arm to remain at shortstop or simply outgrow the position; but if they can hit they can move to second base (or even third). But minor league second basemen? If they were major league-caliber players, they'd be playing shortstop in the minors.
That's the conventional wisdom anyway.
But is it true? I looked at the top 14 major league second basemen heading into 2012. You can argue with the list, but once we get past this 14 we get into guys like Omar Infante and Darwin Barney and nobody ranks prospects hoping they turn into Darwin Barney.
Dustin Pedroia: A shortstop at Arizona State, Pedroia played 132 minor league games at shortstop and 131 at second base. He was ranked No. 77 on BA's pre-2006 list but then fell out of the top 100 pre-2007, in part because it became clear he wouldn't stick at shortstop (and concerns about his ability to hit for power).
Robinson Cano: Played third, short and second his first season in the minors, second and short his second season and then settled in permanently at second by age 20. Never a top-100 prospect.
Chase Utley: A first-round pick out of UCLA, Utley played his first two professional seasons at second and then played third base in 2002 at Triple-A. Coincidentally, it was pre-2003 when he finally appeared on Baseball America's top-100 prospect list. He moved back to second base that season, but accumulated a few too many major league plate appearances to be considered a prospect pre-2004.
Ian Kinsler: Drafted in the 17th round as a shortstop out of Missouri, Kinsler did stick at short for two professional seasons and cracked the top-100 list at No. 98 pre-2005. He moved to second base that year and despite hitting 23 home runs at Triple-A fell out of the top 100.
Ben Zobrist: He did play shortstop throughout the minors but was never a top-100 prospect due to a lack of power (just 23 home runs in 1336 minor league at-bats).
Brandon Phillips: He was ranked No. 20 pre-2002 and No. 7 pre-2003 while still a shortstop. He moved to second base in his first big league stint with Cleveland in 2003 (Omar Vizquel was still around) and remained there.
Rickie Weeks: The second pick in the 2003 draft, Weeks has always been a bat-first second baseman.
Dan Uggla: Never a top-100 prospect -- in fact, the Marlins got him from the Diamondbacks in the Rule 5 draft when Arizona left him off its 40-man roster after he'd hit .297 with 21 home runs at Double-A. He played some third base earlier in the minors but had more career games at second (and only 18 at shortstop).
Danny Espinosa: The No. 66 prospect pre-2011, Espinosa was a shortstop in the minors.
Howie Kendrick: A second baseman throughout the minors, Kendrick ranked No. 12 pre-2006 after a monster .367 season between Class A and Double-A.
Dustin Ackley: He played outfield and first base in college but the Mariners turned him into a second baseman after drafting him second overall in 2009. Nobody has ever doubted his bat.
Neil Walker: One of the stranger cases, Walker four times ranked in BA's top 100 -- three times as a catcher, once as a third baseman. Had only played 21 games at second base when the Pirates decided to play him there in 2010.
Kelly Johnson: We'll call him a converted a shortstop although he spent his final season in the minors in the outfield.
Jemile Weeks: Like his brother, he's been nothing but a second baseman. Mama Weeks apparently did not bless her sons with great arms.
So here's the final tally:
- Basically second basemen: 7 (Cano, Utley, Weeks times two, Uggla, Kendrick, Ackley).
- Converted shortstops: 5 (Kinsler, Zobrist, Phillips, Espinosa, Johnson). Although Kinsler converted to second in Double-A.
- 2B/SS: 1 (Pedroia).
- Converted 3B: 1 (Walker).
This doesn't mean the prospect lists are wrong -- obviously a guy who only plays second base in the minors has less long-term positional flexibility than a shortstop. Baseball America had 11 shortstops in its top 100; maybe only seven or eight end up sticking at shortstop, but guys like Nick Franklin and Jonathan Schoop could have enough bat to play second or third. This is more to point out that many of the best second basemen in the majors were second basemen in the minors. And that somewhere out there is the next Robinson Cano or Ian Kinsler.