After reveling in the sheer embarrassment of riches to be had at the third base and shortstop positions, things dry up considerably for us this week. The giddiness we felt in splitting some mighty fine rotisserie hairs, comparing, contrasting, and projecting the value of such proven fantasy commodities as Scott Rolen, Adrian Beltre and Alex Rodriguez at third and Derek Jeter, Michael Young and Miguel Tejada at short gives way to consternation as we attempt to break down a much shallower pool of athletes. Make no mistake, there are certainly some gifted second baggers who are eminently capable of providing a fantasy team with a boost. But the hard truth is, the position thins out considerably and rapidly, and we’re forced to dig deep, really, really deep, in order to find appreciable value after the top five or so 2Bs.
And yet this is where things become really interesting. This is where, as my father would often say, “the rubber hits the road.” Finding that one gem of a player amidst so many worthless baubles is what makes fantasy baseball so challenging. Pitting your best intuition, your gut instinct, against another owner is just part of what makes fantasy baseball, and fantasy sports in general, so much fun!
And with that … onto the players:
At The Top Of The Game
Alfonso Soriano (Tex): Wow! As talented a player as he is, watching Soriano bat can be an exercise in frustration. While observing the middle infielder’s approach during the ‘03 playoffs (when he was still a Yankee), I couldn’t help but think, “If I know what the pitcher’s gonna throw him … why doesn’t Soriano?” Assuredly not the most discriminating of hitters, Soriano frequently displays poor plate discipline, seemingly has no plan, and will fish for pitches that are well out of the strike zone. And with a combined 408 Ks in 1,986 ABs over the past three seasons, Soriano strikes out almost once every five at bats (for you stat fiends, it actually works out to be 1 K/4.86 plate appearances). Nevertheless, due to his prodigious power and speed coupled with his youth and determination to become a dominant player, look for Soriano to improve upon last season’s very solid numbers.
Note: It’s looking more and more likely that Soriano will be permanently moved to the leadoff spot. If that should be the case, look for his home runs and RBI to dip, and his swiped bags total to climb as high as 35.
Marcus Giles (Atl): Giles is a classic example of how far old-fashioned hard work can take you. After years of being told that he was too short, not talented enough, and would amount to no more than a platoon player at best, Marcus Giles recorded a phenomenal .316/21/69 with 14 SB and a slugging percentage of .526 in ‘03. A collision with teammate Andruw Jones that resulted in a broken collarbone significantly abbreviated Giles’ ‘04 season, however, causing him to miss two months and limiting him to 102 games. And even upon his return, Giles was at less than 100% and just couldn’t seem to find his stride. Nonetheless, of his 118 hits last season, 32 were of the extra base variety. Giles is a rare breed: a second baseman who offers very good power, will hit for average, possesses excellent speed, will take a walk, and doesn’t K too often. Expecting Giles back at full strength, the Brave coaching staff expects their 2B to approach the numbers he posted in ‘03, and you should too: .315/20/70 with 15 SB are certainly within reach.
Jeff Kent (LA): While he’s not going to win anyone’s “Mr. Congeniality” award, Kent has walloped more home runs than any second baseman in history while averaging 28 homers and 102 RBI over the past three seasons. All that’s gotta count for something. There are however, valid concerns in ranking Kent at the three spot. Depending upon who you talk to, Kent should be ranked as high as second or as low as seventh at his position. In years past, Kent would have vied with Soriano for the top slot. However, Kent is now 37, and if he were any slower there would be a grave danger of his growing roots. In conjunction with his distinct lack of speed and advanced age, an off-season move to Dodger Stadium could negatively impact his numbers. But having demonstrated an ability to hit in pitchers’ parks, look for Kent to post one more solid fantasy season. Still, I’d look for the veteran’s numbers to take a modest dip and be close to .280/24/95 with 4 SB.
Second Base, Not Second Rate
Mark Loretta (SD): Forming a rock-steady double-play combination with his Padre compadre SS Khalil Greene, Loretta was San Diego’s MVP, participated in the All Star game, and had an all-around fantastic season. Loretta, who at last season’s start was undervalued and available through many leagues’ waiver wires, was remarkably productive. Swatting 208 hits (the first Padre to reach 200 hits since Papa Gwynn hung up the spikes), Loretta was constantly on the basepaths. But with an average of .335 in ‘04, he was no dink-and-dunk “seeing eye-ball hitter.” With a modest 16 HRs and an eye-opening 47 doubles, he also recorded 108 runs, 76 RBI, and with a microscopic 45 strikeouts out of a hefty 620 ABs, the San Diego second baseman was one of the toughest Ks in Baseball. Loretta’s numbers improved dramatically for the second consecutive season last year and it would be hard to imagine him improving even further. At age 33, expect his numbers to level off.
Jose Vidro (Was): A knee injury saw Vidro’s ‘04 season end in August. However, Vidro is now far away from Montreal’s archaic Astroturf and will be playing on the cushioned comfort of RFK Stadium’s natural grass. According to reports, the Washington Nationals’ second baseman is currently working out on a treadmill, taking grounders, and is expected back at full strength. Although he’s a lifetime .304 hitter, Vidro will again miss the mighty bat of OF Vladimir Guerrero, with whom he played in Montreal from 1997 to 2003. Nevertheless, power hitting LF Brad Wilkerson is primed for a career season, SS Chritian Guzman is a capable batsman, and resident nut-case/RF Jose Guillen will all provide Vidro with capable protection. Pencil Washington’s second bagger in for a season of .310/16/80. Following two serious knee injuries, don’t look for Vidro to be a base-stealing factor.
Luis Castillo (Fla): It’s difficult to evaluate the Marlins’ second Baseman because he had such a poor ‘04 (by his standards, anyway). Although he doesn’t hit for power and seemingly has an allergy to RBIs, he nonetheless retains value due to his speed. Castillo’s stats might’ve suffered last season, at least in part due to a chipped bone in his pinkie. Look for Castillo’s numbers to rebound a bit and be close to .305/4/45 with 25 SB.
Ray Durham (SF): Durham used to make his living off of great speed (he thieved 26 bags in ‘02). Having been hobbled by a litany of injuries in recent years however, Durham’s become a much more selective hitter and recorded a career low 60 strikeouts out of 532 ABs last season. Setting the table for the potent Giant lineup, the aging Durham led all National League leadoff men with 65 RBIs, and his 17 dingers ranked him third in that category. He’s a defensive liability, but that shouldn’t affect his fantasy value. Owners can anticipate at least one more productive offensive year out of Durham, who should post a line akin to .285/15/20 with 12 SB.
On The Way Up
Kaz Matsui (NYN): The New York Yankees did so well (both on and off the field) with their Matsui (OF Hideki), that the Mets management went out and acquired their own. But playing shortstop for the Mets last season proved to be very stressful for the former Japanese All Star. Being shifted to second base should benefit both Matsui and his owners, and such a move will provide Kaz with appreciable fantasy flexibility. Batting in the two-spot, Matsui must cut down on his strikeout total (97 strikeouts in 460 ABs). That being said, at age 29 and with a full season under his belt to acclimate to New York and American baseball, Matsui offers nice upside. Jot the Met-sui for an improved season of .280/10/50 with 20 SB.
Aaron Miles (Col): Having spent nine long years toiling primarily in the Astro and White Sox minor league systems, no one can say that Miles hasn’t paid his dues. But when he finally got his chance in May of last year to bat leadoff for the Rockies, he took full advantage and recorded some very good stats of .293/6/47 with 12 SB. With an OBP of .329, Miles just isn’t your typical leadoff hitter. He is however, a contact hitter who keeps the ball down, and he led all rookies with 153 hits and 75 runs. That’s good enough for me. The concern here is the number of rookies the team will be trotting out. That much youth will surely result in growing pains, both offensively and defensively. Let’s be conservative here; a line of .299/7/55 with 14 SB are certainly attainable numbers in the rare air of Coors Field.
Brian Roberts (Bal): Batting atop another of the AL East’s Murderer’s Row-type lineups, Roberts sets the table for some mighty big boppers. A gap hitter who lacks home run power, Roberts has excellent speed, led the league with 50 doubles last season, and should build upon a very good ‘04. A stat line of .279/4/60 with 32 SB and 100 runs would be a reasonable projection.
Comeback Player of the Year
Todd Walker (ChN): A somewhat streaky hitter who needs to play every day in order to find his stroke, Walker will again be a full-timer. Possessing good pop, he should be a solid fantasy contributor. Of his 102 hits last season, 38 were for multiple bases and on average, every two hits yielded an RBI. That’s pretty good production in limited time. Stretched over the course of a full season of ABs, let’s project a season of .293/18/65 for Walker.
Chris Burke (Hou): Having proven everything there was to prove at Triple A, Houston promoted the young middle infielder up to the big club. Last season Burke went 1-17 in his limited engagement. Assuming he sticks, the speedster with gap power should provide fantasy owners with a more extensive look at his capabilities. If Burke’s your best option at second base however, frankly, you’ve got trouble. With no track record to rely upon… my fantasy Magic 8-Ball shakes out a season of, .239/5/50 with 22 SB.
On the Way Down
Bret Boone (Sea): If you listen to Bret Boone, a horrible ‘04 season is squarely in his rear-view mirror and it’s full steam ahead for ‘05. Boone feels a substantially altered off-season regimen will aid him in rediscovering the form that allowed him to be one of baseball’s top all-around performers in ‘03 when he posted a line of .294/35/117 with 111 runs and a SLG% of .535. While I applaud the whole positive thinking approach, the guy is going to be 36. And, while he’s just old enough to run for President of these United States, Boone’s best days on the field are probably also in his rear-view mirror. Even with the lineup protection afforded by Ichiro, Adrian Beltre and Richie Sexson, look for Boone’s numbers to at best be very similar to last year’s, if not to continue their slide: .255/25/85 with eight swiped bags.
Note: There might be one reason to consider taking Boone: if you belong to the school of thought that looks for improved performance in contract years, Boone fits the bill, being eligible for free agency in ‘06.
Tony Womack (NYA): Womack enjoyed a career year last season which coincided nicely with the St. Louis Cardinals’ 105-win campaign. Although he could surprise yet again batting ninth in the positively stacked Yankee lineup, smart money says no. A season of .277/3/30 with 20 SB will make Womack a solid but unremarkable second bagger.
Next up: First Basemen!
A native of Brooklyn, Jamey Feuer now roots for the Yankees from his home in Northern New Jersey.
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