Second base… I remember back in the good old days when drafting the position was cut and dry: if you had the right first round pick, you took Alfonso Soriano. If not, you waited. For a long time. Nowadays, it’s arguably the easiest infield position to fill, aside from first base. The other nice thing about second base these days is the variety of skill sets you have to choose from. You want power? Grab a guy like Dan Uggla or Chase Utley. Lacking speed? Set your sights on Brian Roberts or Chone Figgins. Did you grab too many batting average drains? Robbie Cano or Dustin Pedroia should help pull those numbers up. In fact, it’s almost the perfect position to help fill in the gaps on your team. Notice I said almost.
2010 was a crazy year for second base. We saw the rise of Robinson Cano, Rickie ‘The Jerk’ Weeks, Dan Uggla, Kelly Johnson, and Martin Prado. At the same time however, many of the 2009 big names had off years. Owners that spent a high draft pick on Chase Utley, Dustin Pedroia, Ian Kinsler, and Brian Roberts were sorely disappointed. Due to this strange shift of power, there really is no sure thing among the top echelon of second basemen. The questions, “Can he keep it up?” and “Will he return to form?” could apply to any of the top 10 at the position. It is for this reason that my “2 Up” focus more on the guy you’d grab as insurance for your paper mache stud.
Welcome back to the Cafe’s annual “2 Up, 2 Down” series, where Cafe members highlight two players per position expected to outperform projected draft slot, as well as two players that should not be drafted at their typical rank.
Neil Walker, Pirates
Could it be that some guys are just late bloomers (Chase Utley, anyone)? Now, I’m not saying Walker’s going to come out and put up a 28 home run season, but there is reason to believe that this former first rounder has finally turned the corner and could possibly work his way into the top 10 second basemen discussion by the end of 2011.
In 426 AB with the big club last season, Walker popped 12 home runs and drove in 66 while batting at a near 300 clip. Granted, he was bit fortunate with a 33% hit rate, but at the same time his HR/FB rate was only 8%, which is a bit low considering the power gains he’s made over the past few seasons. If those numbers revert to where they should, you could be looking at 20-25 HR coupled with a .275-.280 average.
The X-factor for Walker, however, seems to be his spot in the young Pirate lineup. If he can keep his spot in the three hole after speedsters Andrew McCutchen and Jose Tabata and before potential masher Pedro Alvarez, he should see plenty of RBI opportunities coupled with pitches to hit. The results could be some very nice R/RBI totals, perhaps as high as 75/80.
Currently, his MDP sits at 247, so if you grabbed Chase Utley early and would like insurance in the possible form of Utley-lite, it might not be a bad idea to grab Neil Walker in the waning moments of your draft.
Jed Lowrie, Red Sox
OK, maybe I’m cheating a bit here, as if Jed does get a full time chance, it would be at shortstop. But after having logged more games at second base last season than anywhere else, I feel he belongs on this list for now.
Regardless, the important thing is what he did when he got to Fenway Park in 2010. Finally healthy after two years of wrist woes and a spring training of mononucleosis, he cranked nine home runs in only 171 major league at bats, all the while suffering from a hit rate 30-40 points lower than his career number. Couple that with his ever improving eye at the plate (85% contact rate, 15% walk rate), and you have a guy with an eerily Pedroia-esque skill set that should give an aging Marco Scutaro a run for his money. If he does happen to secure the job, he could be one of the biggest surprises of the season. Not bad for a guy undrafted in standard 20-round/12-team drafts right now.
Dan Uggla, Braves
Yes, he’ll give you 30 home runs. Yes, he’ll also drive in and score close to 100 runs. Yes, he’ll look awkward turning double plays. No, he will not repeat his .287 average.
Looking only at his first half, you’ll notice they were pretty typical Uggla numbers: he swatted 16 home runs to go along with a .271 average. While this is perfectly fine, it was also accomplished with a 32% hit rate. For what it’s worth, his xBA during this time was a more familiar .257.
However, the first half is not why his MDP is currently 33. It was that sweet, sweet second half where he raked to the tune of a .303 average to go with 17 more bombs. However, the one thing that sticks out like a sore thumb during that time is the 23% line drive rate, which ultimately buoyed his hit rate to a ridiculous 35%.
As far as his floor goes, Dan Uggla is one of the safer bets among the second base crop this season. However, you would be foolish to spend a third round pick on what will most likely Adam Dunn numbers minus around 10 home runs. Incidentally, Mr Dunn is going almost a full round later.
Rickie Weeks, Brewers
I’m sorry. I know this one’s insanely obvious. I just think it would be ridiculous to not include Rickie Weeks on this list, particularly after all he’s done to his fantasy owners from 2005-2009. I’m sure there are plenty of stories of people that finally decided to cut ties with him in 2010 only to see him finally live up to his expectations. He is truly a jerk.
If you’re tempted to go back to him in 2011, I have some grave news: he’s only going to hurt you again. There are just too many risks involved with him to justify a repeat performance.
The most obvious issue here is his health, or lack thereof. Despite the fact that he spent zero days on the DL last season, he’s still averaged almost 50 DL days a year for the past five seasons. Banking on back to back healthy years is a risky gamble, particularly at his MDP of 49.
As if the health wasn’t a big enough red flag, it’s important to note his 33% hit rate that inflated his average to a ‘meh’ .269. With a contact rate trending downward, things could normalize to the tune of .240, just like the good old days. Add that to the fact that he really doesn’t steal that many bases anymore (11 last season), and you could be looking at Juan Uribe with your fifth round pick. I’ll give you a moment to let that sink in.
I'm a transplanted New Yorker currently teaching high school math up in little old Rhode Island. I enjoy P90X, watching Yovani Gallardo pitch, and Super Bowl 42.
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