2020 Fantasy Baseball Primer: Second Base
As the 2020 draft season enters full force, analysts will extol the sheer volume of heavy hitters available at good going rates. They’re probably not talking about second base.
MLB teams are harvesting their top talent at shortstop, and it shows. The growing gap between the middle-infield spots is larger than ever, particularly atop the rankings. That said, there’s still value across all tiers to uncover at second base. Let’s try to make the process easier with a handy-dandy position primer. Note that the players are listed by my personal rankings while using 15 games as an eligibility requirement. The category grades are based on 2020 expectations rather than 2019 results.
It wasn’t quite a banner year at the keystone position. During a substantial power boom, just seven players with 2B eligibility reached 30 homers. At least 10 hitters hit that mark at every other spot besides catcher. The top option in just about every 2019 cheat sheet, Jose Ramirez spent the entire first half in hibernation. Mainstay starters in previous years, Robinson Cano, Daniel Murphy, Brian Dozier, and Scooter Gennett, also all took a terrible tumble.
Last year’s leaderboard thus contains two unexpected names at the top. Both available late in drafts, Ketel Marte and DJ LeMahieu led the way in FantasyPros’ VBR. Ozzie Albies and Gleyber Torres joined them to form a young foundation that could top the rankings for years.
2020 At a Glance
Second base might be 2020’s shallowest infield spot in terms of both star power and mid-tier depth. Despite his rough start, Ramirez would easily remain the top option if not for losing his eligibility. The position also lost two breakout performers in Adalberto Mondesi and Yoan Moncada.
By default, Jose Altuve reclaims the top spot over a group of burgeoning young stars bunched together in the late-third, early-fourth round range. Without an abundant reservoir of mid-pack options, those who haven’t found their second baseman in Tier 1 or 2 may have to either reach for an upside play or simply wait for a boring placeholder.
A: A no-doubt stud capable of winning you a category
B: A solid, consistent contributor
C: Won’t lose you the category, but won’t win it, either
D: You can do better here
F: You’re getting NOTHING
(*Grades listed are relative to position and take positional depth into consideration.)
|Jose Altuve||HOU||A||A-||B||B+||B-||Steals are fading, but the career .315 hitter rediscovered his power last season.|
|Ozzie Albies||ATL||B+||A||B||B+||B||He’s young, durable, and a reliable five-category contributor with an enviable lineup slot.|
|Gleyber Torres||NYY||B||B+||A||A||C||There’s a bit of a Yankees Tax for Torres’ elite power. At least the Orioles are still in the AL East.|
|Ketel Marte||ARI||A-||B+||B||B+||B-||Last year was the ceiling, but hitting .290 with 25 HRs and 10 SBs would hardly be an ugly drop off.|
|Jonathan Villar||MIA||C+||B+||B-||C+||A||Villar has improved his BA, BB%, K%, and Contact% in each of the last two seasons.|
Not only is there no clear top second baseman, but none are going in the top 25 based on early ADP. Torres is the first one off the board in NFBC leagues at pick No. 28, a steep price to pay for a career .275 hitter with 11 steals in two seasons. While Altuve is no longer wreaking havoc on the basepaths, he could at least still swipe 10-15 bags with a typically elite average and restored pop. And don’t sleep on Albies, who already has still two seasons of five-category goodness under his belt at age 23. He’ll tally plenty of runs and RBIs if continuing to bat second between Ronald Acuna Jr. and Freddie Freeman. He might be the safest pick from this tier, and plenty of time remains to find an extra gear toward full-fledged superstardom.
Villar, on the other hand, is still perceived as volatile despite registering consecutive sterling fantasy campaigns. He’s harnessed his plate approach while swiping 75 bags in the past two seasons. Whit Merrifield (62) and Dee Gordon (52) are the only other 2B-eligible players to exceed 30. The rare speedster should maintain a green light in his transition from one horrid team (Orioles) to another (Marlins). Marte likely peaked in 2019. However, substantial leaps in his barrel (9.3%) and hard-hit (40.0%) rates should quell concerns of the 26-year-old falling off the map in 2020. His price factors in enough regression to jump back on board.
|Whit Merrifield||KC||A-||A-||C+||C+||A-||Averaging .298 BA, 15 HR, 33 SB, and 91 R over the last three seasons, it’s safe to say Merrifield is for real.|
|Keston Hiura||MIL||B-||B||A-||B+||B||The price is getting out of hand given plate-discipline concerns, but the ceiling is undeniable.|
|DJ LeMahieu||NYY||A||A-||B||B+||C||Underlying metrics all validate the breakout. Speed is trending south, but power is ticking upward.|
Plenty of gamers will place any of this trio into the top tier. It’s understandable, and for what it’s worth, there isn’t too wide a gap in my rankings. Merrifield has silenced the skeptics by hitting over .300 in over 700 plate appearances in each of the last two seasons. He might be in the running for the position’s top spot if not for converting just 20 of 30 steal opportunities a year after swiping 45 bags. The 31-year-old remains a sturdy but unexciting investment around the pick-50 range. Hiura, on the other hand, has lofty power and speed upside. He’ll also have to make significant progress on last year’s poor contact (65.8%) and strikeout (30.7%) rates to even stay in the same vicinity of a .303 batting average.
The batted-ball data suggests LeMahieu earned every bit of his 2019 outburst away from Coors Field. His .322 expected batting average, while five points below his actual mark, ranked second behind Cody Bellinger among all hitters with at least 450 plate appearances. A .379 expected wOBA placed a few ticks higher than the elite .375 reality. Although the 31-year-old might not deliver a full encore, Steamer’s projected .285 batting average and 19 home runs feel too modest.
|Max Muncy||LAD||C||A-||A||A-||C-||He’s hit 35 HRs in back-to-back seasons with the highest wRC+ (146) of any 2B-eligible player.|
|Jeff McNeil||NYM||A||A-||B-||B||C+||McNeil is more than an empty average after tallying 23 HRs and 5 SBs in 133 games.|
|Mike Moustakas||CIN||C||B+||A||A-||C-||A reliable power threat, Moustakas has upped his walk and barrel rates in each of the last two years.|
|Eduardo Escobar||ARI||B-||B||B||B+||C||The underlying numbers don’t support the major leap, so Escobar is more likely to hit 25 HR than 35 if the baseballs return to normal.|
All of these players are also eligible at third base and available beyond the early rounds. (Muncy also has first base eligibility, and McNeil is eligible in the outfield). The flexibility helps them all stand out at their current going rates. Those needing power can turn to Muncy or Moustakas, each of whom socked 35 long balls last year. Moustakas, however, is significantly cheaper despite taking his prolific pop to Great American Ball Park. McNeil rode the power boom to a .384 wOBA, but a career .321 average is still his primary selling point. Although dropping to his .290 xBA or the .289 mark projected by Steamer wouldn’t be a death sentence, it’d eliminate any profit potential.
Escobar had never exceeded 23 homers before he deposited 35 dingers with the rabbit ball in 2019. Everyone’s natural suspicion of the 31-year-old’s ascension will only feel validated by a lacking .327 xwOBA. This makes him an obvious player to avoid … before accounting for a No. 114 ADP that already assumes significant regression. He can take a step back closer to his 2018 form while still providing a reasonable return on his current cost.
|Danny Santana||TEX||C+||B-||B||B-||B||Don’t pay for the out-of-nowhere breakout.|
|Cavan Biggio||TOR||D||B-||B||C+||B||Biggio offers 20/20 potential with a high walk rate, but a low batting average.|
|Tommy Edman||STL||B||C+||C+||C||B+||Although power came from nowhere in 2019, Edman could be a nice source of AVG and SB if ADP doesn’t grow out of hand.|
|Garrett Hampson||COL||B-||B-||C+||C||B+||Hampson showed his league-winning ceiling in September (.318, 5 HR, 9 SB), but his basement-level floor through August.|
|Gavin Lux||LAD||B-||C||B-||C||B-||Triple-A numbers would be impossible to replicate in MLB The Show. Still likely to bat 8th with a loose grip on the job.|
|Ryan McMahon||COL||C+||C+||B||B-||C||McMahon is a below-average hitter nevertheless slated for regular reps for the Rockies.|
Feeling lucky? This risk-reward group features a handful of shiny new toys of the boom-or-bust variety. Based on his 135 consensus ADP, which jumps his ECR by 20 spots, Biggio might be getting too much hype in standard leagues due to an elite batting eye that didn’t translate to much contact as a rookie. Feel free to roll the dice on a 20/20 campaign, but don’t pay for much more than a .240 average. He’s gold, however, in OBP formats. The late-blooming Edman would resemble a not-so-poor man’s Merrifield if he replicated last year’s debut. A blander, but more realistic goal could be a slightly better version of teammate Kolten Wong. The duo could potentially top a depleted St. Louis lineup. While Lux absolutely obliterated the minors (.347/.421/.607) last year, he’ll get stowed at the bottom of a loaded Dodgers batting order. He’ll also need to perform out of the gate to fend off Chris Taylor and Enrique Hernandez at second base.
One of 2019’s biggest sleeper duds, Hampson would be an afterthought if not for giving gamers a final push with a blazing September. It seems some drafters have fallen in love with him all over again despite entering the final month with a .218/.274/.322 slash line. His teammate, McMahon, is a safer bet for playing time, especially if the Rockies move Nolan Arenado. He also discovered some pop down the stretch, slugging .500 with 17 of his 24 homers after the All-Star break. However, he’s a low-ceiling play whose value is tied entirely to Coors Field.
|Brandon Lowe||TB||C-||B-||B+||B-||C+||Power is pretty, but beware the grotesque contact and strikeout rates.|
|Kevin Newman||PIT||B+||C+||C||C+||B||Buy for cheap average and speed, not last year’s power outlier.|
|Kolten Wong||STL||B-||C+||C||C||B||A boringly productive veteran who may finally get a chance to consistently bat atop the lineup.|
|Rougned Odor||TEX||D||B-||A-||B||B-||Could this be the year Texas finally gives up?|
|Luis Arraez||MIN||A||C+||D||C||C||Arraez could win a batting title, but he won’t offer much else.|
Perhaps this tier is too low for Lowe, who delivered 17 homers and five steals in just 82 games last year. If health hadn’t halted his breakout, the sixth-lowest contact rate (64.8%) of any hitter with at least 300 plate appearances would have done the deed instead. He could become a batting average liability a la Biggio or Odor, who continued to test the Rangers’ patience by batting .209. While he recorded double-digit steals for the fourth consecutive season, he was also thrown out on nine of 20 attempts. Nick Solak, who only played five games at second last season, gives them an escape route if they’re tired of Odor’s mediocre play.
Wong jumped his career batting average by 20 points to bat .280, so expect some regression despite still receiving a handful of steals. The deeper the league, the more intriguing he comes as a high-floor middle infielder. Newman offers the same profile with better bat-to-ball skills. Even if he doesn’t hit .308 again, the 26-year-old won’t drop much on the strength of an 87% contact rate. He had never poked more than five homers in a professional season, so don’t buy the bouncy-ball-fueled dozen dingers in 130 games with the Pirates last year.
|Cesar Hernandez||CLE||B||C+||C||C||B-||For better or worse, a steady hand who won’t help or hurt much anywhere.|
|Starlin Castro||WAS||B||C+||C+||B-||C-||Castro batted .302/.334/.558 in the second half and has a legitimate chance to bat cleanup for Washington.|
|Tommy La Stella||LAA||B+||C||C||C||F||Shocking breakout was backed by elite contact rates before getting hurt.|
|Dee Gordon||SEA||C+||C-||F||D||A-||The speed is no longer elite enough to justify the one-category contributor.|
|Michael Chavis||BOS||C-||C||B||C+||D||Chavis easily has the most power upside of this grouping, but he might not even open 2020 in the starting lineup.|
|Jonathan Schoop||DET||C||C||B||C||D||Regular playing time in Detroit will make him a boring .260, 25-homer play.|
|Niko Goodrum||DET||D||C+||C+||B-||B-||Hard hits and walks are trending upward; he can at least go 15/15 with a full season of health.|
|Robinson Cano||NYM||B-||C||B-||C+||F||Underlying metrics didn’t crater as much as the actual stats.|
|Jurickson Profar||SD||D||C||B-||C||C+||Little changed from a 2018 breakout to 2019 bust beyond the BABIP.|
|Hanser Alberto||BAL||A-||C+||C-||C||C-||A strong source of BA is essentially available for free. Could lead off with Villar gone.|
Nobody should be counting on any of these players in a 12-team mixed league. That said, this isn’t an entirely grim grouping. Health provided, Cano has the ability to bounce back along the lines of a .280, 20-HR campaign. Goodrum will tally some homers and steals and can be slotted just about anywhere. His new teammate, Schoop, should get plenty of reps to hit a cheap 25 or so homers. Castro will have to compete with Asdrubal Cabrera, Howie Kendrick, and Carter Kieboom for playing time, but at least one of those Washington infielders is going to significantly exceed his draft cost in a potentially potent lineup spot. Nick Madrigal, Luis Urias, Isan Diaz, Mauricio Dubon, and Brendan Rodgers could leapfrog some of these safer depth pieces as upside stashes. Wilmer Flores narrowly made the cut after signing with the Giants, and Gennett or Dozier could also join this tier as an end-of-draft dart throw if finding a team willing to bank on a rebound.