OpinionJanuary 24, 2009


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2 Up, 2 Down – Second Base Edition

By Gareth Porter

Next up in the 2 Up, 2 Down series is second base. Finding a second baseman that provides above average production has become increasingly difficult with each passing season. Many studs start their careers there but end up moving to the outfield or other positions. BJ Upton last year and Alfonso Soriano before him are two prime examples. With the class of the position, Chase Utley, possibly out until June and no stud prospects coming to the rescue, the shallowness of the talent pool becomes magnified. However, there are still enough options out there to avoid having a steady stream of Kaz Matsui, Mark Ellis, and other zero upside options just to pick up the insignificant numbers they provide.

Up:

Alexei Ramirez – White Sox

Although you must be prepared to use a fifth or sixth round pick to land Ramirez, it is entirely possible that he could become a bargain. He has the proven pedigree, leading Pinar Del Rio with 20 home runs while supporting that with a .335 batting average in 2007 for Cuba’s Serie Nacional league. At 6’3 185, he shares a similar build as both of the aforementioned former second base studs along with bringing all five tools that savvy fantasy owners drool over.

After Juan Uribe went down in mid May, he emerged as the stud from spring training after languishing for the first six weeks of the season. Ramirez did not score many runs for someone with his speed but considering that nearly 75% of his at-bats were attained at the bottom of the order, a spike in runs should be expected because with Orlando Cabrera gone, he is expected to hit near or at the top of the order in 2009. If he becomes responsible for setting the table, a player with his speed should see a spike in stolen bases and regardless of his undeveloped instincts on the basepaths.

Obvious perils arise with his complete lack of walks staring nervous fantasy owners in the face but it’s hard not to believe in a player with all the tools who already produced without the benefits of hitting before quality hitters or coming up through the minors leagues. He’s certainly a gamble on draft day but I am comfortable projecting at least a 20/20 season, a huge spike in runs for 2009 with the potential for much more.

Jose Lopez – Mariners

Lopez is hardly considered an attractive option at second base in most circles because his team is one of the worst managed in baseball but his overall line is very respectable for a second baseman. He provided fantasy owners with solid production in all categories except stolen bases and emerged as a nice power option in the second half last season.

After an atrocious 2007 season where his OBP was just .284, he managed to get it above embarrassing levels in the first half of 2008 while batting nearly .300 and remains in great position to drive in plenty of runs batting behind Ichiro. In the second half, Lopez seemingly turned a corner, hitting 12 home runs in 265 at-bats while producing the same amount of walks and strikeouts in twenty five fewer games. Second half numbers cannot be used as the new benchmark but they can entertain the hopes that his 2008 improvement against an exceptionally low 2007 BABIP (.269) could warrant paying this 24 year old more attention on draft day.

Lopez should be available after fifteenth in most fantasy drafts, making him an excellent bargain with minimal risk. Although expecting him to improve upon his 2008 numbers is not realistic, drafting him and receiving more of the same for 2009 would be an excellent bargain and prevent owners from digging into the garbage bin every other week at second base.

Down:

Robinson Cano – Yankees

Drafting Cano has never been a wise move for those chasing immediate rewards. He has always been a notoriously slow first half starter, demonstrated by his career second half OPS being 150 points higher than the first half. It was well worth the wait in 2006 while he was competing for a batting title, and again in 2007, when he hit twice as home runs after the all star break despite forty less at-bats.

In 2008, the poor first half trend continued and many owners held onto him and waited for the expected breakout. However, his usual late season surge never came. His OBP would normally push .400 but this time around it was a pedestrian .333. While still impressive for a player who only drew a walk in four percent of his plate appearances, it was hardly appropriate value for a player often drafted in the sixth and even fifth rounds.

This season, Cano will likely be chosen between the seventh and ninth rounds in most fantasy drafts. Many will draft him again and suffer through his mediocre first half production in hopes of another second half breakout, but smart owners will pass on filling their position scarcity and elect for sleepers like Joey Votto or Chris Davis. A return to prominence is always possible but unfortunately for Cano, the signing of Mark Teixeira dashed any hopes of him escaping the bottom of the Yankees order for 2009 and beyond.

Howie Kendrick – Angels

A former top prospect, Kendrick once seemed destined for a role as a second base savior for fantasy owners. While the claims of 20-25 HR power have proven unfounded, everyone agreed that Kendrick could certainly compete for batting titles while providing 15/15 numbers. He has been a high average hitter but has shown nothing in power department, mustering just three home runs in 340 at-bats in 2008.

Extrapolating Kendrick’s numbers has become a trend because he has had two full seasons as the Angels’ undisputed starter at second base as injuries have limited his time on the field. His 2007 injuries were anomalous but concerning for any hitter, as he broke two separate bones in his left hand. Two more trips to the disabled list ensued for Kendrick in 2008, with both instances caused by straining a hamstring.

Although he is obviously still young, another injury-plagued season could cause impatient fantasy owners to start souring on Kendrick. He is being taken around the eleventh and twelfth rounds in fantasy drafts alongside risky, high-upside options like David Price and Lasting Milledge. Regardless of position, drafting an injury prone player who has only flashed one tool is not worth passing over a rookie of the year favorite or 20/20 candidate.

 
Gareth Porter is one of a growing number of fantasy experts who write for the Cafe. You can catch up with Gareth in the Cafe's forums where he posts under the name of Grounded Polo.
 
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