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Saturday, February 19, 2011

Fantastic Thoughts: "Bill Hall is Jose Oquendo with power." (Fantasy Baseball Second Base Preview)

Although the depth at second has improved dramatically in the last few years, it is still a relatively sparse fantasy position.  Shortstop is shallower.  Catcher is by a slim margin.  And third base is close to neck-and-neck.  The sparsity of the infield "skills" positions leads fantasy owners to overpay for the guys at or near the top of the pile.  We'll routinely treat Hanley Ramirez as fantasy royalty, even though he has only one season of 30+ HR, only one season of 100+ RBI, and only two seasons batting above .301.

I, personally, rarely pay premiums at scarce positions.  So, in the middle infield I generally look for "sleepers" and value well as flexibility.

Especially in deeper leagues, when you take a moderate risk by making Aaron Hill or Neil Walker your primary second-baseman, with similar players at SS and/or 3B, you want to back them up with some low-risk options off the bench, preferably guys who play several positions.  Here's a quick look at some interesting "eligibility" guys for this coming season

Bill Hall - Houston Astros - 2B, 3B, SS, OF

Depending on what your league regulations are, Hall may have as many as four position eligibilities.  He actually played seven different positions for the Red Sox last season, including one appearance at pitcher.  More importantly, he currently looks like an everyday player for his new team.  While he's not going to do your team average any good, he should be good for 20+ homers and double-digit steals over a full season and shouldn't cost much more than $1 bid or a late round flyer.

Sean Rodriguez - Tampa Bay Rays - 2B, 3B, SS, OF

Again, you league's eligibility requirements will determine what he gets (5+ games at all the positions listed above), but he'll definitely qualify at 2B and OF.  Rodriguez is only 25-years-old, slated for pretty much full-time at-bats in a loaded lineup, and had a AAA slugging percentage of .620 in 750 plate appearances.  He's got premium power, decent speed (13 SB in '10), and shouldn't decimate your average (.298 at AAA).  Unlike Hall, he won't come free, especially in deep leagues, but might be worth chasing nonetheless.

Jed Lowrie - Boston Red Sox - 1B, 2B, SS

It wasn't that long ago that the Red Sox considered Lowrie their top prospect, ahead of guys like Jacoby Ellsbury, Clay Buchholz, and even Jon Lester.  In 2010, he finally showed a flicker of that promise at the major-league level.  From July 26 to the end of the season he got relatively regular playing time and hit .294 with a 936 OPS.  He closed off the year by hitting a pair of homers against the Yankees, pushing them into second place (and the Wild Card) behind the Rays.  It was a small victory, but one that surely didn't go unnoticed in Red Sox nation.  There's no clear place for Lowrie in Boston, but Marco Scutaro may be on a short leash and, of course, Kevin Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia don't haven't the greatest track records for staying healthy (nor does Lowrie).  He's worth stashing in deep leagues and worth following in shallower ones.  I expect him to be a starter by August.  

Now, on to the rankings...

1. Robinson Cano, NYY
2. Chase Utley, PHI
3. Rickie Weeks, MIL
4. Ian Kinsler, TEX
5. Dan Uggla, ATL
6. Brandon Phillips, CIN
7. Dustin Pedroia, BOS

It's actually a pretty crowded field at the top of the second-base rankings.  Following an MVP-caliber 2010 season, which coincided with injury-plagued campaigns from Utley and Pedroia, Cano is the clear #1 option at the position, but don't fret if you miss out.  Utley had a excellent stretch run at the end of last year and should be primed to bounce back in 2011, at a slightly reduced price.  There's also little reason to believe Pedroia and Kinsler aren't capable of returning to form, but be aware, in terms of 5X5 fantasy production, Brandon Phillips is very nearly their equal and comes without the injury risk, having played 140+ games in each of the last five seasons.

8. Kelly Johnson, ARZ
9. Ben Zobrist, TBR
10. Aaron Hill, TOR
11. Martin Prado, ATL
12. Neil Walker, PIT

This group can be summarized by the phrase "one good year."  For Johnson, Prado, and Walker it was 2010.  For Zobrist and Hill, 2009.  All of the players from this group have surprisingly power potential, especially for the middle-infield, but otherwise their strengths vary.  Zobrist and Johnson can get you stolen bases.  Prado hits for a high average.  Walker is young enough that there may still be room for development.  Unfortunately, there's not a lot of safety here and it will probably be at least another year before we can confidently say which of them was a fluke.

13. Brian Roberts, BAL
14. Chone Figgins, SEA

Speedsters a renowned for their expeditious declines.  Roberts and Figgins, both 33-years-old, are coming off disappointing seasons which could signal that descent has begun.  On the other hand, in limited opportunity following his return from the D.L., Roberts still showed good speed (10 for 12 in SB attempts), though absent his usual power (.405 SLG).  Figgins managed to pile up the steals (42), even though his season was in nearly every other capacity the worst of his career.  Advantage goes to Roberts primarily because he'll be hitting atop a revitalized lineup, whereas Figgins plays in the offensive wasteland of Seattle.  Both are heavy in the risk department, but they should come much cheaper than they have in the past and therefore might be worth the gamble.

15. Gordon Beckham, CWS
16. Howie Kendrick, LAA
17. Mike Aviles, KCR
18. Sean Rodriguez, TBR
19. Eric Young Jr., COL
20. Danny Espinosa, WAS
21. Ryan Raburn, DET

The next class of potential breakout second-baseman is led by two highly-touted prospects who, as yet, haven't put it all together at the major-league level.  Beckham got off to a horrid start in 2010, but had two strong months in July and August (.332 AVG, 941 OPS) before his season was cut short by injury.  Rodriguez and Young won't get as much attention, because they don't offer a divers toolset, but Young has premium speed and Rodriguez premium power, so you could do worse in deep leagues.  The diamond in the rough here is Mike Aviles, who could be this year's version of Martin Prado.  In most leagues he'll be eligible at three infield positions (2B, 3B, SS) and has the ability to hit over .300 with 10-15 HR and 20+ steals, if he can hold down an everyday job.  Wilson Betemit and Mike Moustakas are waiting in the wings, so Aviles needs to get off to a hot start.

22. Orlando Hudson, SDP
23. Freddy Sanchez, SFG
24. Omar Infante, FLA
25. Juan Uribe, LAD
26. Ty Wigginton, COL
27. Bill Hall, HOU
28. Mark Ellis, OAK
29. Carlos Guillen, DET

In most league you won't want anything to do with these guys, but in deep leagues, one has to plow the depths of the middle-infield ranks.  Infante had a "breakout" season in 2010 which prompted his selection to the All-Star game, but his excellent average (.321) didn't bring much along with it (65 R, 8 HR, 47 RBI, 7 SB) and I have serious doubts there is any upside at age 29.  Wigginton, who has legit power, could benefit from his move to Colorado, except that there is no clear place for him to play.  If a Colorado infielder suffers an injury, he could jump up the list.

30. Dustin Ackley, SEA
31. Daniel Murphy, NYM
32. Luis Valbuena, CLE
33. Alexi Casilla, MIN
34. Jeff Baker, CHC

This is the deep sleeper contingent.  Seattle seems prepared to hand a full-time gig to their top prospect following his dynamite Arizona Fall League performance, but his full season totals from AA and AAA were less than thrilling (775 OPS).  I'm not convinced he's ready, but if you can get him on the cheap there is obviously tons of upside.  The Mets Daniel Murphy experiment is probably destined for failure.  It is the Mets after all.  But if Murphy does prove himself able to handle the position switch, he has the offensive talent to be a top 15 fantasy second-baseman.

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