2014 Position Preview: Second base

Updated: February 20, 2014, 4:18 PM ET
By Brian Gramling | Special to ESPN.com

Second base is a position you can get production from in all five categories, and from a number of sources. Twenty-three of ESPN.com's top 25 fantasy second basemen in the 2014 rankings, as of the launch of our Draft Kit, had at least 300 plate appearances in 2013, with the lone exceptions being Alexander Guerrero and Kolten Wong. These 23 players' average stat line for last season was 514 at-bats, .279 BA, 13 HRs, 64 RBIs, 68 runs and nine steals. There weren't too many players who greatly exceeded this baseline in the quantitative stats, with just two players hitting more than 18 homers (Robinson Cano and Jedd Gyorko), three players with more than 18 steals (Jose Altuve, Jason Kipnis, Daniel Murphy), five players with more than 80 RBIs (Cano, Brandon Phillips, Dustin Pedroia, Kipnis and Martin Prado) and six players with more than 80 runs (Matt Carpenter, Murphy, Pedroia, Kipnis, Ian Kinsler and Cano).

This is also a relatively young position, with 35-year-old Chase Utley and 38-year-old Marco Scutaro being the only players among the ESPN.com top 25 second basemen who are older than 32. Considering so many of these players are in their prime, it should come as no surprise that the top second basemen were also quite durable in 2013; the top 15 players heading into 2014 averaged a hefty 551 at-bats. For these reasons, second base has enough depth and consistency for fantasy owners to not have to reach for one of the four top-tier second basemen (Cano, Kipnis, Pedroia and Kinsler) too early in their drafts, as plenty of multicategory production still exists with players such as Prado, Aaron Hill and Murphy, who all can be had in the middle rounds of a standard mixed-league draft.

Cream of the Crop

[+] EnlargeCano
AP Photo/Ted S. WarrenRobinson Cano finished 13th overall on the ESPN Player Rater in 2013 while hitting in a Yankees lineup that finished 26th in the majors in OPS.

Robinson Cano is clearly the best fantasy second baseman by a long shot, even in his new digs in Seattle. In addition to Tristan H. Cockcroft's accurate explanation of why Cano's fantasy value remains the same, which goes into great detail about how the shrunken dimensions of Safeco Field don't play too much differently from Yankee Stadium, there are other reasons to consider as well. While the Seattle Mariners do not have the same high-powered batting order that the New York Yankees usually boast, last year's pinstripe lineup was the worst Cano has ever been a part of in his career, yet he still posted a personal-best .383 OBP and drove in 107 runs. And if you think Cano's unbelievable five-year run is mostly a product of the first five years of the new Yankee Stadium's existence, consider that his home slash line since 2009 (.312/.368/.537) is nearly identical to what he has done on the road in that span (.316/.370/.524). The only difference is home runs, and while that number is likely to drop slightly in 2014, Cano still will likely be among the top three home run hitters at his position this year and is a first-round pick in any format.

After Cano, the other two elite second-sackers are also American Leaguers, Jason Kipnis and Dustin Pedroia. Kipnis is coming off a fine 2013 campaign in which he increased his OPS 104 points, with 17 more extra-base hits, in fewer at-bats than he had the previous year. The only concern I have with Kipnis is that nearly 22 percent of his plate appearances ended in strikeouts last season, and he's unlikely to match the .345 BABIP he had in 2014. But his .366 OBP and second straight 30-steal campaign last season make me a lot less concerned about his value; he's a solid pick in the first three rounds of your draft.

Pedroia saw his homer total dip to single digits for the first time since 2007, but must of that was due to the fact that he played the entire regular season with a torn ligament in his thumb. Even with the ailment, he finished fifth among second basemen on the Player Rater, and has posted impressive numbers in all five categories over the past three campaigns. His average season during that span: .300 batting average, 15 homers, 80 RBIs, 91 runs and 21 steals. With his thumb now surgically repaired, he should produce close to the above stat line in 2014, which is precisely why he should be taken in the early rounds on draft day.

The Next Best Things

The second tier of second basemen includes five players who likely will be scooped up in Rounds 3-5 in a standard-league snake draft. Ian Kinsler's fantasy value dropped with his move from the Texas Rangers to the Prince Fielder-less Detroit Tigers, but he is still a top-five player at his position because of the counting numbers he posts each year (he's averaged 21 homers, 74 RBIs, 104 runs and 22 steals per season since 2011). However, Kinsler's career numbers at Comerica Park are pretty terrible (.200/.298/.329 in 162 plate appearances), and although he has stolen at least 15 bases each of the past seven seasons, he is joining a team that had both the fewest steals (35) and fewest SB attempts (55) in the majors last season. That said, Kinsler will be hitting in front of AL MVP Miguel Cabrera, and that alone should make up for the Comerica Park and anti-steals factors.

Brandon Phillips could actually be a bit undervalued for the first time in a long while. It seemed he was a bit unlucky last season; he was one of only four major leaguers among the 140 batting-title qualifiers who posted a batting average higher than .260, but a BABIP below .285. This no doubt contributed to him posting career-low numbers in both batting average and steals (five) last season. Although Phillips is entering his 13th major league season, he is still just 32 years old, and his durability (140-plus games for eight straight seasons) and consistency keep him among the top 10 at his position. Including his career-high 103 RBIs last year, Phillips is now averaging 20 homers, 84 RBIs and 89 runs per season since 2007.

Ben Zobrist played five different positions last year (second base, shortstop and all three outfield spots), and that versatility is always an added bonus, especially in leagues with daily transactions. Zobrist hit third in the lineup for a majority of his at-bats in 2013, but he posted subpar numbers (.239/.318/.349) in this all-important role. Zobrist was much more comfortable in the 2-hole (.332/.416/.477), which helped him reach 10-plus homers, 70-plus RBIs, 75-plus runs and 10-plus steals for the fifth straight season, logging more than 150 games each year.

In my opinion, the best fantasy second baseman in the National League is Matt Carpenter, whose 126 runs were 34 more than any other player at his position in 2013. Not only did Carpenter smack a major league-best 144 line drives, which played a part in him posting a league-high 55 doubles, but he produced a .398 OBP out of the leadoff position. His numbers at home were silly good (.360/.432/.540), as he tallied 36 multihit games at Busch Stadium. Carpenter's runners in scoring position rates were even more jaw-dropping (.388/.458/.543). The only thing Carpenter doesn't bring to the table is steals, but those can be found elsewhere, while his run production is not matched by many big leaguers.

The horrendous Houston Astros lineup Jose Altuve hit in didn't do him any favors last year, as he was constantly left stranded while his team set the American League record for most batter strikeouts in a season. Altuve is a speed demon who attempted 11 more steals than anybody else at his position last season as his team tried to generate runs from his legs. While his other numbers don't really jump off the page, remember that he's only 23 years old, and the Astros picked up a couple decent bats this offseason, outfielders Dexter Fowler and Jesus Guzman, to drive in Altuve.

Where's The Ceiling?

There are three second basemen who are potential breakout candidates this year, but they are probably too big of names by now to be considered sleepers. With Kinsler traded away to Detroit, Jurickson Profar will get his chance to be the everyday second baseman for the Rangers. While some fantasy owners are already souring on the ubertalented prospect after a disappointing rookie campaign (.644 OPS overall, .188 BA batting right-handed, two steals), remember that he's not even 21 years old yet. The switch-hitting Profar tore up the Dominican winter league (.439 OBP, six steals in 88 at-bats), and as he becomes more selective at the plate, he will blossom into a fine major league hitter. When Profar was in a pitchers' count last season, he slashed an anemic .189/.209/.273, but when he was in a hitters' count, those numbers skyrocketed to .362/.500/.511.

[+] Enlarge Anthony Rendon
Greg Fiume/Getty ImagesAnthony Rendon has just 79 minor league games under his belt.

Anthony Rendon suffered a major power outage in the second half of his rookie season, slugging a paltry .340 after the All-Star break (.460 SLG before the midsummer classic). However, the 23-year-old is the favorite to beat out Danny Espinosa for the starting second base job for the Washington Nationals, and should reap the benefits from a loaded Nats lineup. Considering he started 2012 in rookie ball and finished 2013 in the nation's capital, posting a .939 OPS in the minors, Rendon will certainly benefit from a full season of staying put on just one team.

Alexander Guerrero is the real wild card of the second base crop this season. The 27-year-old Cuban defector possesses 20-homer power and appears to be the front-runner for the starting job with the Los Angeles Dodgers. However, there reportedly have been concerns about Guerrero's glove, and light-hitting, slick-fielding Miguel Rojas may have a legitimate shot to win the job in spring training. It's hard to believe L.A. would pay a guy $28 million over four years to ride the pine, and for a position lacking in power, Guerrero could wind up being a mid- to late-round steal given his run-producing potential.

Where's The Basement?

There aren't many starting second basemen with age concerns, but 35-year-old Chase Utley should concern fantasy owners more from a health standpoint than a hitting decline brought about by his age. In fact, Utley is coming off his best season since 2009, as he batted .284 with 18 HRs, 69 RBIs and 73 runs. But he still missed 31 games last season because of a strained oblique, running the total to 216 games absent over the past four seasons. With all the question marks surrounding aging teammates such as Ryan Howard, Carlos Ruiz and Jimmy Rollins, the Philadelphia Phillies' lineup is not what it used to be. In fact, it tied with the lowly Astros for the fourth-fewest runs in the majors in 2013.

Marco Scutaro is now 38 years old, and last season he posted his worst post-All-Star break numbers (.262 BA, .648 OPS) since 2005. Granted, much of that drop-off in production had to do with tendon damage in his finger that stemmed from him getting hit by a pitch in June. Since the San Francisco Giants have no other viable options to play second base, Scutaro will continue to get regular at-bats and hit for a high average thanks to his eagle eye (MLB-low 154 swings at pitches outside the strike zone last year). But he won't do much else, as evidenced by his paltry two homers in 547 plate appearances last year and the second-lowest rate of well-hit balls (.124) among all qualified second basemen.

Steady As He Goes

The second base position actually has a slew of durable and consistent producers, but there are three players who should be considered the most reliable of the bunch and can set the baseline for a starting second baseman in standard mixed fantasy leagues.

Aaron Hill continues to flourish as a National Leaguer, slashing an impressive .300/.362/.500 in 276 games in a D-backs uniform, numbers much greater than what he did for nearly seven seasons in Toronto (.265/.318/.413). A fractured left hand cost Hill two months of action last season and was a big reason for his power drop-off, but the injury did not require surgery and he should once again flourish in a stacked Arizona lineup that added slugger Mark Trumbo this offseason.

No matter where he plays, both in terms of team and position (he logged 30-plus games at 2B, 3B and OF last year), Hill's teammate Martin Prado simply knows how to hit. He actually has more RBIs (368) than strikeouts (361) in his career, and his average season since 2010 is 594 at-bats, .288 BA, 13 HRs, 69 RBIs, 79 runs and seven steals. Although Prado started slow in his first year with the Arizona Diamondbacks, posting a .668 OPS before the All-Star break, he exploded in the second half of the year with an .864 OPS. In addition to this being a great sign heading into 2014, also consider that Prado is coming off a career-high 82 RBIs despite tallying a subpar .256 BA with runners in scoring position, his lowest mark since 2007.

[+] EnlargeMurphy
Anthony Gruppuso/USA TODAY Sports Daniel Murphy quietly finished fourth among second basemen on the ESPN Player Rater in 2013.

According to the ESPN.com Player Rater, Daniel Murphy was the fourth most valuable fantasy second baseman in 2013, finishing ahead of such names as Dustin Pedroia, Jose Altuve and Ian Kinsler. Murphy posted career-high numbers in all of his cumulative categories, and after going 1-for-3 on stolen base attempts in his first 57 games last season, he finished 22-for-22 in steal attempts over his final 104 games. With the New York Mets' lineup beefing up with Curtis Granderson and Chris Young this offseason, Murphy should continue to see plenty of good pitches to hit from the 2-hole in the batting order, where he batted .302 with a .779 OPS last year.

Thanks, but no thanks: The Do Not Draft list

While all three of the players in this section will likely see their names penciled in on their respective Opening Day lineups, these are two-baggers who should not be starting in standard fantasy baseball leagues. Dan Uggla has always been a batting-average killer (.213 BA in three seasons with the Atlanta Braves), and his strikeout rate was a comical 1 K per 2.6 at-bats last year as he missed on 36 percent of his swings, which was the second-highest rate among all qualified major leaguers (behind only Chris Carter). Uggla is no longer providing much in the run-producing categories either, posting career lows in runs (60) and RBIs (55) despite having 537 plate appearances last year. Once Tyler Pastornicky fully recovers from a torn ACL he suffered last August, which could be in early May, the 24-year-old likely will bump Uggla to a reserve role for the Braves.

Ryan Flaherty is similar to Uggla in that he's a power hitter (16 homers in 399 career at-bats) with a painfully low batting average (.221 BA in career), and his starting job also won't last long. The Baltimore Orioles likely will give stud prospect Jonathan Schoop a shot at earning the 2B role permanently sometime this spring. The O's also have Jemile Weeks and Alexi Casilla, who are both better glove men than Flaherty. Don't waste your time chasing home runs here.

Darwin Barney's 2013 offensive numbers were absolutely dreadful, as he placed in the bottom three among 140 qualified hitters in BA (.208), OBP (.266) and SLG (.303). While some low-average hitters can help you in other areas, Barney is useless no matter what categories your fantasy league uses. He was 4-for-6 in steals last season, batted .183 (20-for-109) with runners in scoring position and posted a nauseating .192/.237/.279 slash line on the road last season. And while every other qualified second baseman batted at least .244 in a "hitters' count" last year, Barney hit .208 when ahead in the count. Even owners in the deepest NL-only leagues should avoid the purple dinosaur namesake at all costs.

Points Versus Roto

In points-based fantasy leagues, you're trying to get more well-rounded hitters who rack up total bases and/or have a stronger on-base percentage than most. Omar Infante and Brian Dozier both fit this bill as stat-sheet stuffers in all the counting categories. Infante has 86 extra-base hits over the past two seasons, and he finished the 2013 campaign strong with a .333/.353/.457 slash in his final 42 games after returning from a monthlong DL absence due to a sprained ankle. Dozier also racked up plenty of total bases last year, with 33 doubles, four triples and 18 homers (16 HRs after June 1), while swiping 14 bases. He mostly led off last season, but Dozier seems a better fit lower in the order based on his weak .310 OBP when batting first, and impressive .841 OPS with runners in scoring position. I also expect Dozier's batting average to climb significantly this year after a seemingly unlucky .278 BABIP last season.

Jedd Gyorko is the only significant second baseman who is a better roto play because of his tremendous power. Gyorko had the top home run rate of any second baseman in the majors (5.2 percent when he played second base), and he smacked 15 of his 23 taters after Aug. 1. But I'd still advise caution here, as Gyorko has zero speed and wound up batting .249 with a .301 OBP in 2013. He was especially horrible with runners in scoring position (.184 BA in 136 at-bats), and when Gyorko fell behind in the count last year, he was almost an automatic out, slashing a pathetic .149/.156/.224 in 239 plate appearances in this scenario, which is far below the league averages (.218/.225/.327).

Bottom Line

The second base position has eight players who are worthy of a pick in the first seven rounds of your draft, but there is also plenty of depth here, as a dozen other second basemen have the track record to be worthy starters in standard leagues. The position is also very young, with the vast majority of top players at this position still in their prime ages. This includes some serious untapped potential, such as 21-year-old Jurickson Profar, 23-year-old Anthony Rendon and power-hitting Cuban defector Alexander Guerrero.

Brian Gramling is a fantasy baseball, football and college basketball analyst for ESPN Fantasy Games.

Comments

Use a Facebook account to add a comment, subject to Facebook's Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your Facebook name, photo & other personal information you make public on Facebook will appear with your comment, and may be used on ESPN's media platforms. Learn more.