4 Days until Opening Day means today we will look at position “4” the Second Baseman.
- Jose Altuve – Houston Astros
A right knee injury derailed what was an extraordinary five-season run as one of baseball’s best, most well-rounded players, and to that point, Altuve’s .329/.392/.464 triple-slash rates, nine home runs and 14 stolen bases before he landed on the disabled list in late July were well within range of his 2014-17 per-game output. He never seemed quite himself thereafter, slashing .276/.366/.409 in 33 regular-season games and succumbed to mid-October surgery to repair a patella avulsion fracture in the knee. The difficult finish to his 2018, however, served as a reminder that he’s probably not quite the 24-homer hitter he was in either 2016 or 2017, nor is he much more than a 30-steal performer at this stage. Still, Altuve is the best Second Baseman in Baseball.
2. Robinson Cano – New York Mets
An 80-game suspension for PEDs in 2018 ended Cano’s extraordinary run of hefty-workload seasons, as he played at least 92 percent of his team’s games at second base each year from 2007 to 2017 and perhaps has lowered his perceived value in fantasy entering 2019. He did bat .317/.363/.497 after returning last season, with six home runs and 27 RBIs (paces of 23 and 104 per 162 team games), so the only real obstacle in his path was truly the missed time. Now back in New York, this time in Queens with the Mets, Cano should hit in the heart of the order in a comparable ballpark for power to Seattle’s during his time there. This new change of scenery should spark life back into Cano.
3. Whit Merrifield – Kansas City Royals
After Merrifield lead the American League in stolen bases (34) in 2017, Merrifield raised the bar again in 2018, pacing the majors in steals (45) while adding 16 points to his batting average and 22 to his OPS. That’s not bad for a player who didn’t even register as a top-20 prospect in his own organization entering 2016 by the majority of rankings sources. It’s his excellent contact and line-drive abilities that caused him to succeed in spite of scouts overlooking him. In the past two seasons, Merrifield has a 83.4 percent contact rate, which ranks in the game’s upper quarter, as well as a 27.2 percent line-drive rate, which is 16th-best amongst 230 hitters with at least 750 plate appearances. Last season, his 8.6 percent walk rate was his best in any single professional season since he was in Class A+ ball in 2012.
4. Chris Taylor – Los Angeles Dodgers
Taylor has continued his conversion from a line-drive hitter to one who tries to drive the ball over the fence. He raised his average launch angle yet again in 2018 to the point it is now nearly double where it was in 2016. His average exit velocity has remained the same, but even an average-distance increase and more plate appearances didn’t allow him to replicate his 2017 homer total. A decline of five percentage points in his strikeout rate was a contributing factor to his 34-point drop in batting average from 2017, but the larger factor was his output against southpaws. Taylor hit .297 against lefties in 2017 as he broke out, but he hit just .232 last season in 214 plate appearances, seeing his BABIP against them drop nearly 120 points.
5. Scooter Gennett – Cincinnati Reds
Gennett followed up a surprising power surge in 2017 with another 23 long balls in his second season with the Reds, pairing another slight reduction in ground ball rate with an increase in hard contact to top the 20-homer mark despite significant regression in his HR/FB (13.8 percent in 2018, 20.8 percent in 2017). The counting stats were very good again, as he topped 80 runs and 90 RBIs for the second season in a row, and a slight improvement in strikeout rate helped push his average above .300 for the first time in a full MLB season. Gennett should open the season with a prominent place in the Reds’ batting order, though it’s possible he could eventually lose out on at-bats against left-handed pitching.
6. Gleyber Torres – New York Yankees
Shot into a starting second-base gig in the majors after batting .347 with a .510 slugging percentage in only 14 April Triple-A games and coming off missed most of 2017 due to Tommy John surgery — Torres flashed remarkably as a rookie in 2018. He became only the 21st rookie in history with at least 20 home runs, .200 isolated power and a 110 OPS+, with the primary blemish on his record his forgettable .229/.290/.349 rates during the Yankees final 25 regular-season games.
7. Ozzie Albies – Atlanta Braves
Along with Torres, Ozzie Albies had a breakout rookie campaign where he hit .261 with 24 Home Runs. Although it seemed like some pitchers figured him out in the second half of the season, Albies has so much potential and is likely to fix this problem heading into the season.
8. Joey Wendle – Tampa Bay Rays
Wendle’s 4.3 WAR was most among the rookie class, more than Ronald Acuna Jr.’s, more than Juan Soto’s, more than Shohei Ohtani’s, more than Miguel Andujar’s. So how did he do it? Simple: Wendle maintained the same contact-oriented approach he has had his entire professional career, posting an 80.3 percent rate, he continued to flash above-average speed (16-of-20 on stolen base attempts), he chipped in 33 doubles and he posted quality defense at both second and third base. There was no one specific skill that jumped off the page, but the combination of these represents a high-floor player with a lot of handy versatility for our purposes. As Wendle is likely to post decent batting average and on-base numbers that’ll fuel a good number of steals, he’s expected to thrive and really break out onto the scene in 2019
9. Ben Zobrist – Chicago Cubs
Zobrist no longer steals bases or hits for much power, but he continues to get on base and play defense wherever Joe Maddon wants to use him. Zobrist rebounded from a down 2017 to set a career high in batting average and push his on-base percentage up 60 points. He maintains high walk and low strikeout rates but is also mostly a one-category player these days with barely average run production. At age 38 and in the final year of his deal, this could be it for the versatile Zobrist, who still finds a way to provide solid defense and offense.
10. Dee Gordon – Seattle Mariners
A multitude of nagging injuries took a lot away from Gordon in 2018, including a nine-game stint on the disabled list for a broken right big toe, as well as hip, ankle and shoulder issues that cost him time here and there and probably negatively influenced his statistics. He stole only 30 bases, the lowest total in any professional season since his 2008 rookie season, and he was only 5-for-9 on stolen base attempts in 44 games from Aug. 1 forward. Gordon’s raw speed didn’t suffer significantly, but he simply couldn’t find any sort of long-term period to recapture his past momentum, and his struggles looked worse because so much of his game depends upon his speed (including his ability to leg out base hits).
Just Missed: DJ LeMahieu – New York Yankees (Will be used more as a Utility than as a starter), Jonathan Schoop – Minnesota Twins, Rougned Odor – Texas Rangers, Starlin Castro – Miami Marlins, Brian Dozier – Washington Nationals, Ian Kinsler – San Diego Padres