Last off-season, Alfonso Soriano, Marcus Giles, and Jeff Kent topped the list of desirable fantasy second basemen. But what a difference a year makes, as up-and-comers such as Chone Figgins, Chase Utley, and Jorge Cantu have rewritten the rankings thanks to their prowess at the plate and on the basepaths. At 2B, it’s a whole new ballgame this season.
The Cream of the Crop
Chone Figgins (Ana)
Figgins qualifies at a number of positions … and may even qualify as a gastroenterologist this season if he got enough time on the ol’ endoscope during the winter. Please refer to the Third Base Forecast for prognostication on Figgy!
Chase Utley (Phi)
Utley beat out incumbent Placido Polanco (does his name not sound like an obscure medical condition? “I’m very sorry, but you have a Placido Polanco and there’s nothing we can do…”), swept aside manager Charlie Manuel’s indecision, and eventually led the team to trade Polanco to become the Phills’ everyday 2B.
Utley also became fantasy’s top op at his position in most leagues, churning out a tremendous .291/28/105, 93 run, 39 double, six triple, 16 SB season. Although the hitter-friendly dimensions of Citizens Bank Ballpark are changing and won’t be quite so friendly, with above-average power and speed to burn, Utley should still be good for .290/28/105, with 15 SB and 90+ runs scored.
Very quietly, Philadelphia has assembled quite a cast of mashers: 1B Ryan Howard (22 HR in just 88 games), 2B Chase Utley (28 HR in 147 games), SS Jimmy Rollins (12 HR, 41 SB), LF Pat Burrell (32 HR), and RF Bobby Abreu (24 HR, 31 SB). This could be quite a lineup, and if the rotation can hold up, Philly has a real shot this year. A third-rounder in most mixed leagues, the blossoming Utley is a first-rounder in NL-only formats.
Jorge Cantu (TB)
Also reviewed as a third baseman!
Brian Roberts (Bal)
A dislocated elbow and torn tendon ended Roberts’ season on September 20th (roughly 20 games early) and necessitated surgery. Although the O 2B is still gunning to be game-ready by opening day, the fact of the matter is, B-Rob probably won’t approach 100% until perhaps early summer. Taking a quick peek at his split-season stats, it’s almost like looking at two different ball players. Prior to the break, Roberts was crushing the ball at the “Ruthian” pace of .345/15/49, with 18 SB and a SLG % of .591. After the break he wasn’t quite so impressive: .274/3/24, with nine SB and a SLG % of .419.
Physically he’s entering his prime at age 28, but I’d be hard-pressed to believe that he’s really as good as his first-half numbers would suggest. He’s probably much closer to the athlete we saw following the All-Star break. Without the benefit of a Yankees, Cardinals, or Red Sox type of lineup, I’m thinking .285/15/50, with 30 thieved bags and 105 runs. Still, draft Roberts with caution as he remains an injury risk, and savvy owners will draft a player who offers flexibility at the position … just in case.
Alfonso Soriano (Was)
With Soriano ranking as last season’s top second baseman, why the sudden fall from grace for such an offensively talented athlete? Firstly, there’s no question that “Big Al” benefitted from hitting within the friendly confines of Arlington’s Ameriquest Field, and Washington’s RFK Stadium is a flyball graveyard. Shots which would carry out of his former smaller and warmer park will turn into deep pop outs at his new home field. Secondly, the Nationals have moved Soriano to the outfield, and given his shoddy glovework, that’s not such a bad idea. Never known for his defense, Soriano committed 21 errors and notched a fielding percentage of .972 last season, and in his two seasons in a Ranger uni, he booted 44 balls. Needless to say, moving to the outfield significantly reduces his value in keeper leagues. And lastly, while numbers can be twisted to suit anyone’s needs, Soriano’s stats are incontrovertible: .315/.656/.355 (AVG/SLG/OBP) at Arlington, and .224/.265/.374 away from home.
So, where does this leave us? Trade rumors, particularly for starting pitching, were plentiful, but Soriano wound up sticking. Operating under the assumption that Soriano will remain a National, as few GMs would be inclined to trade equal value for a second bagger who has displayed poor glovework and abysmal numbers away from Texas, you can bet your boots that Soriano’s batting average takes a hit. Also, if the guy is that miserable in Washington, his dissatisfaction will likely manifest itself on the field. Tentatively, look for .275/25/85, with 33 SB.
Marcus Giles (Atl)
The Braves’ players always work together, operating as smoothly as a Swiss watch. And after Hot-Lanta banked a stupefying 14th consecutive NL East title last season, you’ve gotta’ figure the Brave front office has it down to a science by now! When diminutive Marcus Giles took the field back in ‘01, team observers figured that the little bro of OF Brian Giles (who was a Pirate back then), all 5′8″/180 lbs of him, would be a platoon player at best. But Giles wanted to be more than that; five seasons later, the Brave second baseman has proven to be the catalyst that sparks the offense.
With SS Rafael Furcal now a Dodger, Giles will land in the leadoff spot. Eh, not so great for a fantasy owner, as Giles’ ribbie opps will be limited. The upside? Marcus Giles possesses above-average speed and will now have the opportunity to use it, and with an eye towards getting on base instead of driving in runs, look for an improved batting average, more doubles, and more runs scored.
Indeed, look for a season of .295/12/50, with 110 runs and 22 “bags snagged.”
Placido Polanco (Det)
As mentioned above, Polanco lost his job in Philadelphia to young Chase Utley. This does not, however, mean that Polanco can’t contribute to a fantasy team. After being exiled to Motown in exchange for RP Uggie Urbina and 2B Ramon Martinez, all Polanco did was notch a .331 batting average, second only to Cub 1B Derreck Lee, with nine HR, 56 ribbies, 84 runs and four SB. “PP” will be Detroit’s starting second bagger, and with more talent on the roster than many realize in Magglio Ordonez, Chris Shelton, Craig Monroe, Carlos Guillen, and Dmitri Young, Polanco will have ample scoring and RBI opps. Look for something resembling .295/15/65, with 8-10 SB.
Ronnie Belliard (Cle)
Finishing second in the AL Central to the World Series winning Chicago White Sox last season, the Cleveland Indians are rapidly climbing the ranks of the American League. Fueling this ascension? A talented group of young position players, with 30-year-old 2B Ronnie Belliard serving as the “old man” of the group. A .284/17/78 hitter last year, Belliard offers owners consistency (posting a .774 OPS each of the past two seasons), a sharp eye, and above-average power. After ringing up an awfully impressive 48 doubles in ‘04, Belliard hit 36 last season, but saw his home run total rise from 12 to 17. In addition, the eight-year vet concluded ‘05 with 54 extra base hits, notched career highs in homers and RBI, and followed up 2004’s career-best 169 hits with a second-best 152.
Although he hit sixth for most of last season, the chatter is that Belliard will hit lower in the order this year. While that could cost him some RBI, frankly, batting anywhere in a stacked lineup that includes OF Grady Sizemore, DH Travis Hafner, SS Jhonny Peralta, and C Victor Martinez should mean loads of RBI chances and fastballs aplenty!
A top op at the position due to the strength of those surrounding him, look for a .289/15/70 campaign.
Mark Ellis (Oak)
After missing all of ‘04 to a dislocated shoulder, the A’s Mark Ellis was an out of nowhere fantasy stud last season, and in 122 games he recorded a line of .316/13/52. A bona fide 2B starter, Ellis hit .244 in April, .283 in May … and then really got his groove on! The ball must’ve looked like a beach ball and moved at approximately the same speed, because the dude was scorchin’ June through August, hitting at a .313 clip. Accordingly, Ellis’ SLG and OBP percentages sky-rocketed over the same span, slugging .435, .492, and .530, and posting OBPs of .373, .362, and .394. His production reached a stunning crescendo in September, when Oakland’s 2B recorded a dizzying .368/.446/.604, and an OPS of 1.050.
While I find it difficult to believe that Ellis is the second coming of Robby Alomar, I also don’t believe his season was an anomaly. The A’s have a proven formula for finding solid hitters, and Ellis falls right into line. If 3B Eric Chavez can stay healthy, RF/1B Nick Swisher continues to develop, and OF Milton Bradley hits like he did last season (.290/13/38 in just 75 games), pitchers will be unable to dance around the talented 2B and he should be able to cross home plate 95 or so times.
Although a great deal needs to come together, .290/15/65, with a fistful of swiped bags and 110 runs scored, should be about right.
Mark Loretta (Bos)
Now part of the BoSox’ brutish lineup, Loretta need not worry about driving in runs. Hitting out of the two-hole behind the unfortunately-named Coco Crisp and in front of the potent three-four punch of Big Papi (David Ortiz) and ManRam (Manny Ramirez), all the second baseman needs to do is remain healthy (he claims his thumb is “100%”) and work the count. Loretta’s proven that he can hit for average, as evidenced by his .335 2004 season, and spacious Fenway Park will afford him lots of room to hit the ball where the outfielders ain’t. Capable of hitting to all fields and still retaining some speed, Mark Loretta could be a sneaky-good late mid-round grab in mixed league formats.
Supported by Beantown’s still murderous lineup, “M-Lo” will be the least of the opposing pitchers’ worries and should thrive as the #2 hitter. Look for a bounce-back .295/12/70, 110 run, five SB season.
Players on the Rise
Tadahito Iguchi (ChA)
Not all Japanese baseball imports have done as well as the White Sox’ second baseman. Swatting from the top of the lineup, Iggy hit .278/15/71, with 15 SB and 74 runs scored. A model of consistency, the speedy Sock hit .280/5/33 before the break and .276/10/38 after it. Iggy’s power numbers did change, however, improving over the season’s second half; his OBP rose to .346 from .339, and more dramatically his slugging percentage rose to .474 from .409.
Team manager Ozzie Guillen dropped his 2B to sixth in the lineup this spring, which is a curious move given the success Iguchi enjoyed at the top of the order last season. Ostensibly, Guillen is looking to afford Iggy the opportunity to flash his power and speed, but the results may not be quite what the manager had envisioned. Keep an eye on this situation.
Assuming Iguchi sticks in the six-spot, look for .285/19/88 with 18 SB.
Robinson Cano (NYA)
Cano was called up to the bigs from Triple-A Columbus after Tony Womack proved himself utterly incapable of playing second base for the Yankees. The rookie started off slowly, and saw his average soar to .315 over June and July. Opposing pitchers got a decent read on Cano over the summer, but Derek Jeter took the youngster under his wing and escorted him to a surprising .297/14/62 rookie campaign. Remarkably poised for a young player forced into a starting role, a series of big hits led to high expectations. It got to a point where even his teammates started to look for Cano to launch the late-inning, game-winning homer. Although his glovework leaves much to be desired, manager Joe Torre likes Cano’s bat and “cool.” With Johnny Damon now a Yankee, Cano will likely hit in the bottom third of the order. Look for a solid sophomore season of .285/20/90.
Ryan Freel (Cin)
The Reds’ starting second sacker last season, Freel’s body took a beating and he missed almost 40 games with assorted nicks and knocks. But Cin’ city loves Freel’s speed, and owners should too; coupled with his gap power, Freel’s speed should escort him to an increased number of doubles and triples. Last year he hit .271/4/21 with 36 SB. This season, assuming he can keep himself on the field and off the trainer’s table, he projects to be a .275/5/40, 35-40 SB kinda player. I wouldn’t overpay for him, nor would I expend anything other than a late-round, mixed league pick on him. Although I like Ryan Freel as a player on the way up, his ceiling is limited and the odds of his staying healthy for 160 games are slim. He’ll need to prove his worth again this season.
Rickie Weeks (Mil)
Much like Ron Belliard, Weeks is on a young team that’s smack dab in the middle of a rebuilding project. But unlike Belliard, Weeks is a cornerstone of the project.
Weeks’ rapid rise through the minors allowed the team to deal Junior Spivey, and in some 360 plate appearances last season, he hit .239/13/42, with 13 doubles, two triples, and 15 SB. For a player not quite 24, Rickie Weeks is a patient hitter, and he should thrive batting from the two-spot. With solid bats in 3B Corey Koskie, 1B Prince Fielder, and OFs Carlos Lee and Geoff Jenkins behind him, Weeks should also cross the plate 85 or so times.
A potential 30/30 talent (but not this year), Weeks’ batting average should improve and his power should blossom. Look for a .275/23/75, 25 SB season.
Chris Burke (Hou)
The Astros’ ‘01 first-round pick was to be the heir apparent to greybeard second baseman Craig Biggio, but Burke did nothing to distinguish himself at the position and was subsequently moved to left field. Biggio, who has no plans to retire any time soon (much like his good friend and fellow ‘Stro Jeff Bagwell, Biggs would very much like to play into the next century if sports science can find a way), was moved back to second from the outfield, and both players acquitted themselves reasonably well. Thus, the Houston braintrust is looking for a way to exact the most value from Burke, and that could come via a trade while his stock remains high. Burke hit the historic 18th-inning NLDS-winning homer, and posted a .275/.335/.446 line over the season’s second half. Listed under the heading of “Deep Sleeper” last season, Burke got off to an inauspicious start, suffered through injury, and hit like, well, a second baseman, with all the power of a fruit fly. He handled the move to the outfield with grace, played solid defense, and improved offensively. But with Biggio entrenched as the starting 2B and the outfield crowded (Preston Wilson, Jason Lane, and Willie Taveras look to be the starting trio), Burke could be the odd man out. In order to avoid such a measure, the Astro’s been playing some shortstop and could end up a reserve OF.
Keeping fingers crossed that he’ll get his opportunity on this club or another, Burke should make for a fine flex or utility fantasy player assuming he starts 145 or more games. After again shakin’ my trusty “Fantasy Magic-8,” look for .285/15/55, with 15 SB.
Antonio Perez (Oak)
The Dodgers grew tired of Perez’s unwillingness to learn another position, and subesequently packaged him with Milton Bradley and sent him to Oakland. Now, since this is the fourth time he’s been traded since the Reds inked him outta the Dominican Republic in ‘98, and seeing as how A’s GM Billy Beane saw something in him, I’ve got to believe there’s talent there. He hit .297/3/23 with 11 SB in 98 games last season and looks to be the A’s utility-man. Assuming he sees time at third and second, and “time” constitutes at least 225 AB, .285/10/35 with 15 SB is in the cards. Speaking of which – if Perez should again be dealt, but this time to a team prepared to play him regularly, he might just be a prime sleeper!
Howie Kenrick (Ana)
The Angels drafted Kendrick in ‘02, and he’s been smackin’ the white off the ball ever since! He’s hit .368, .367, and .367 over each of the past three seasons, and that speaks to both his ability and consistency. With only Adam Kennedy barring the door to the bigs, look for Kendrick to smack his way onto the Anaheim roster by mid-season at the latest. The game’s preeminent second base prospect, owners in deep leagues might wish to gamble a late, late-round pick on him and not wait for Howie to make his big league debut.
With little to go on, look for .320/12/35 this season, and expect Kendrick to be a fantasy mainstay once he makes his splash.
Craig Biggio (Hou)
It took some investigating, but Biggio’s a rock-solid candidate for this slot. While some would find it difficult to argue with a .264/26/69, 94 run, 40 double, 11 SB season … I will. I am not saying that Biggs won’t contribute to a fantasy squad, but I am saying that he’s clearly in decline, and much of his apparent productivity was accomplished by virtue of smoke and mirrors. Entering his 19th Major League season and closing in on 3,000 hits (2,795) and 300 home runs (260), the career Astro will be eager to get his ABs.
But about that sleight-of-hand number game: consider that he hit .291 in Houston as compared to .235 away, 19 of his 26 round-trippers were hit at Minute Maid, and 49 of his 69 RBIs were hit at home as well. Those figures aren’t quite as impressive now, are they? In addition, Biggio has developed a nasty habit of slumping over the second half over the past couple seasons. Last season, he posted a line of .288/.497/.391 (AVG/SLG/OBP) before the star-studded gala, and .237/.434/.294 after it. Enough numbers.
While Biggs’ value should continue to take a “Nestea Plunge” and he therefore rates the “In Decline” ranking … an owner will likely get something approximating .263/18/65, with ten bags snagged.
A native of Brooklyn, Jamey Feuer now roots for the Yankees from his new home in Northern New Jersey.
Questions or comments for Jamey? Post them in the Cafe Forums!
Want to write for the Cafe? Check out the Cafe's Pencil & Paper section!