2019 Second Base Primer (Fantasy Baseball)
Rarely perceived as a source of strength, second base offers a bevy of mid-range options in 2019 drafts.
When partaking in a super-early October mock draft for Pitcher List, I found myself playing chicken with the deceptively deep position. A quartet of players, who share a tier in the following primer, all remained available in the 13th round. I would have been perfectly content with any of them even a round or two earlier, but I was feeling daring. Like Cosmo Kramer testing the limits of an emptying gas tank, I got an adrenaline rush from seeing how long I could wait.
Don’t feel inclined to dive early in the second-base market. Those who do can at least find some superb middle infielders in the middle rounds.
Note: This primer uses 15 games as an eligibility requirement. A handful of relevant players missed the cut with at least 10 games played at second: Matt Carpenter (11 GP), Adalberto Mondesi (12), Max Muncy (13), Jurickson Profar (10), Chris Taylor (12), Willy Adames (10).
Elite: Jose Ramirez, Jose Altuve, Javier Baez
Depending on your league’s eligibility rules, there’s a new Jose atop the hierarchy. Ramirez, who played 16 games away from the hot corner, takes the spot from Altuve. Despite Ramirez’s second-half gap, a 39/34 campaign with a 146 wRC+ and more walks (106) than strikeouts (80) makes him the No. 3 pick in five-by-five roto leagues. Last year’s No. 2 choice, Altuve is now routinely available at the first-second round turn. Give him a look there. The 2017 AL MVP only hit .313 in a year where he made his first career trip to the DL. Bet on a bounce-back with better health.
Last year, this primer identified Baez as a bust. Whoops. Possessing the second-worst swinging-strike rate (18.2%) of all qualified hitters, he didn’t fix the contact woes that caused concern. He’ll have a difficult time sustaining a .290 batting average with a 68.5% contact rate, so it’s a risky top-20 choice.
High-End Starters: Whit Merrifield, Ozzie Albies, Daniel Murphy, Gleyber Torres, Scooter Gennett, Travis Shaw, Dee Gordon
After leading the MLB with 45 steals, Merrifield has a legitimate gripe for headlining this tier rather than rounding out the Elite. He’s closer to Baez than Albies, but it’s hard to call a third-round pick a superstar. A 14.7% popup rate is also a troubling habit for a quick contact hitter.
Murphy may belong in the Undervalued Gems group, but his stock has to rise eventually. After a sullen return from offseason knee surgery, he batted .317/.355/.493 from July 1 onward. The career .299 hitter, who recorded the position’s second-highest wRC+ (145) in 2016 and 2017, is going to the Rockies. You know, the team that plays in Coors Field. He’s a top-75 player saddled with a 95 consensus ADP, so attack the market error.
Milwaukee’s bizarre experiment of playing Shaw at second gives fantasy managers a dual-eligible slugger. The regular third baseman suffered a depreciated batting average despite gains in walks (13.3%), strikeouts (18.4%), and hard hits (39.8%). Upping last year’s .241 mark to his career .255 norm would go a long way if paired with another 30-plus long balls. He’s one of just 13 players to touch them all at least 30 times in both 2017 and 2018.
Most of the tier’s other names come with risk. As a breakout rookie on the Yankees, there’s too steep a tax on Torres, whose 25.2% strikeout and 34.4% outside-swing rates point to looming batting-average downside. Setting the world on fire with 20 first-half home runs, Albies then cratered (.226/.282/.342, four HRs) after the All-Star break. While Gennett repeated 2017’s breakout with a .362 wOBA, Statcast’s .309 xwOBA represents the biggest gap of any hitter with 350 plate appearances. Gordon can run, but he’s not great at the hitting thing. Walking only nine times in 588 plate appearances is almost impressive in its awfulness. It’s best to sit these guys out, especially since there are plenty of strong alternatives waiting.
Undervalued Gems: Robinson Cano, Rougned Odor, Jonathan Villar, Brian Dozier
This is a great spot to snag an affordable starter or high-end middle infielder. As of this writing, all four have a consensus ADP outside of the top 100. Yet Villar (102) should change that soon. As drafters digest his stellar finish and the scarcity of stolen bases, his NFBC ADP has climbed to 81 in 2019. He has displayed a basement batting-average floor in the past, and that risk remains apparent with his .260 average clouded by a .224 xBA. (Speedsters can typically outperform their expected rates.) Even when taking last year’s bad with the good, he finished with MLB’s fourth-most steals (35) and 14 homers. The atrocious Orioles will give him every chance to keep starting and running. This line has already been uttered ad nauseam, but he’s Mondesi for drafters who want to wait four or five rounds.
Far from washed up, Cano batted .303/.374/.471 with 10 homers in half of a season. Along with past success, Statcast’s .315 xBA and 51.7% hard-hit rate back up those skills entering his age-36 season. He’s awfully similar to Gennett at a cheaper cost, so use the competition’s ageism to snag a brand name at a discount.
Prefer more power and speed? Although Odor settled for 18 long balls after consecutive 30-homer campaigns, he again mustered double-digit steals while improving his walk rate (8.0%). He enjoyed a hard-hit spike despite the power decline, so a 25-15 line is reasonable in his age-26 campaign. The same could be said for the older Dozier, who played poorly through a knee injury all season. At a 138 ADP, bet on a rebound from someone who offered 21 homers and 12 homers at his worst.
Boring Values: Cesar Hernandez, DJ LeMahieu, Jed Lowrie
These guys almost got jammed into the Undervalued Gems tier, but this trio comes with less upside and cheaper price tags. In a 12-team mixed league, they’re solid middle infielders.
Philadelphia’s refurbished lineup could actually hurt Hernandez. After scoring 176 runs over the last two years as a leadoff hitter, he’s now projected to bat eighth by Rosters Resource. He could maintain prominent placement if the newly acquired Andrew McCutchen or J.T. Realmuto bats fifth behind Rhys Hoskins, but those odds diminish if the Phillies sign Manny Machado or Bryce Harper. A rise in fly balls led to a career-high 15 home runs at the cost of more strikeouts and a diminished batting average. In real life and fantasy, he’s better suited as a slap hitter who bats .290 with a high OBP, 10 homers, and 15-20 steals.
If you have to leave Coors Field, joining the Yankees is a great consolation prize. While he won’t contend for any more batting titles, a career 87.2% contact rate suggests LeMahieu can still hit for a steady average. Personal bests in pulled hits and fly balls supported his career-high 15 home runs, and his spray chart shows some additional batted balls that would have cleared his new home’s low fences. He’s a decent value pick if everyone else completely dismisses him away from Colorado.
Lowrie, on the other hand, is unlikely to sustain last year’s career-high 23 homers. His slugging and fly-ball rates essentially mirrored 2017, when he deposited just 14 long balls. He’s a better real-life player but solid compiler and points-league contributor if given prime real estate in the Mets’ lineup.
Young/Upside Picks: Yoan Moncada, Joey Wendle, Jonathan Schoop, Ketel Marte, Lourdes Gurriel
Moncada is only 23, but it’s hard to keep investing in a batting-average liability who has logged a 33.6% strikeout and 70.0% contact rate. At least the price (148 ADP) isn’t out of hand, so it’s reasonable to swing for the fences in hopes of an elite talent blossoming a la Baez last season. Just don’t expect him to hit above .240.
Wendle, meanwhile, brought a strong batting average to the table in last year’s out-of-nowhere arrival. While a .353 BABIP and .260 xBA cast doubt over his .300 mark, his second-half spike (.321) came with an elevated walk rate (8.0%) and severely diminished strikeout clip (11.0%). If sustaining those late gains, he can at least go .280 with double-digit steals, which ultimately would make the late bloomer a useful deep-league contributor.
Marte, on the other hand, batted .260 with skills (85.9% contact, 13.6% strikeout%, 36.0% hard-hit) supporting a .285 hitter. That’s precisely what he hit–along with 13 of his 14 homers–from June 1 onward, so the 25-year-old would offer an immense return on investment by leveraging his speed into double-digit steals.
Schoop and Gurriel conversely bring interesting pop (but poor plate approaches) to the table. While Schoop will never return to 2017 glory (.293, 32 HRs, 105 RBI), matching 2016’s results (.267, 25 HR, 82 RBI) would do the trick. Even that’s a tall order given last year’s atrocious .264 xwOBA. If seeking middle-infield power, it makes sense to wait a few rounds for Toronto’s younger model.
Depth Pieces: Marwin Gonzalez, Asdrubal Cabrera, Adam Frazier, Starlin Castro, Jeff McNeil, Niko Goodrum, Zack Cozart, Jason Kipnis, Ian Kinsler, Hernan Perez, Ben Zobrist, Eduardo Nunez, Josh Harrison, Neil Walker
According to Ron Shandler’s Baseball Forecaster, Cabrera has delivered $13-$17 in value over each of the past four seasons. Yet he’ll only cost a buck or two in a standard mixed-league auction. He found a perfect landing spot in the Rangers, who have a third-base vacancy and one of baseball’s best parks for hitters. The steady 33-year-old, who is eligible at second, third, and shortstop, should hit somewhere from .260-.280 with around 20 home runs. He’s a great cheap depth piece to round out a draft.
No bidding war will break out for Frazier, who hit a pedestrian .277 with 10 home runs, 52 runs, and one steal. Some readers might not have finished the sentence without falling asleep. Wake up. He closed the season strong, batting .306/.357/.533 with 20 doubles and seven homers after the All-Star break. Although always able to make contact, he made those batted balls count by catapulting his hard-hit % from 21.4 to 45.3. Frazier’s late success earned him a leadoff role in September, and likely a starting job in the same coveted lineup slot to commence 2019. A sneaky candidate to hit .280 with 15 homers, five-10 steals, and plenty of runs scored, the 27-year-old is well worth a look near the pick-300 range.
Following 2018’s breakout in both the minors (.342/.411/.617) and majors (.329/.381/.471), McNeil had all the makings of an increasingly popular sleeper who’d eventually outgrow the label. Before everyone got an opportunity to inflate his draft price, the Mets acquired Cano and Lowrie. While this could leave McNeil out of a starting role, the Mets are trying his hand in the outfield in hopes of giving him more plate appearances. An injury to just about anyone besides Wilson Ramos could also open up a starting role. If not, he should still get some chances as a super-utility player who rarely strikes out. Playing-time concerns keep his price contained as a lottery ticket rather than a small-sample induced overpay.
Rookies: Garrett Hampson, Luis Urias, Keston Hiura, Brandon Lowe
Hampson could emerge as a league-winner if given playing time. A career .315/.389/.457 minor league hitter would make a massive batting-average asset in Coors Field. He also swiped 38 of 43 bases last year and boasted the ninth-best Statcast speed score during his brief major league audition. While Roster Resource lists him as Colorado’s starting second baseman, the Rockies could put Daniel Murphy there if they want to move Ian Desmond back to first. There’s enough upside to take that chance around and above his 209 consensus ADP.
Urias has a clearer path to playing time at shortstop for San Diego, but a 10-10 season with a solid average would represent a positive outcome. Save him for deeper re-draft or dynasty leagues. The same goes for Lowe, who brandished a 10.8% walk rate and 113 wRC+ in 128 major league at-bats (narrowly maintaining rookie eligibility) despite batting .233. Although currently blocked, the 24-year-old is an intriguing dart throw in a Best Ball or draft-and-hold.
Hiura, a bat-first prospect with immense upside, likely needs another full season in the minors to work on his defense. If given the call sooner than expected, he could make an immediate impact.