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2020 Fantasy Baseball Primer: Second Base

by Andrew Gould | @andrewgould4 | Featured Writer
Jul 7, 2020

Keston Hiura will look to once again make a major impact in a small sample size this season.

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A second chance to draft 2020 fantasy baseball teams won’t make second base look any prettier.

When published in February, the original 2B Pimer didn’t give the position a glowing review. The grades and most of the player notes remain unaltered from the first post. Some tweaks, however, could change how drafters approach the spot.

The rankings welcome a few new faces with a strong chance of snagging a full-time role during the 60-game campaign. Other players in Tier 4 and beyond could get more reps and/or hide their blemishes in a smaller sample size. I also relaxed the game eligibility to include two interesting young sluggers (Nick Solak and Ian Happ) who missed the original 15-game cut.

At the very least, this updated primer serves as a refresher course for summer drafters.

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2019 Recap

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 narrowly 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.

The shortened season could do wonders for some of those late-draft sleepers. Young rising stars now have a better chance at playing time, and the small sample size elevates the allure of some boom-or-bust choices.

Grade Legend*

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.)

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Tier 1

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. Good news: He’ll play 10 of 60 games against the Orioles.
Ketel Marte ARI A- B+ B B+ B- Last year was likely the ceiling, but don’t expect too ugly of a 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 much changes from the top grouping. There’s no clear alpha, but my favorite scenario is snagging Albies in the fourth round. Villar’s volatility is a little more worrisome in such a small sample size, especially since last year’s power will likely decay in Miami. It should be noted that all of them besides Torres play in states where positive COVID-19 cases are peaking as of early July.

Tier 2

Keston Hiura MIL B- B A- B+ B The price is getting out of hand given plate-discipline concerns, but the ceiling is undeniable if he cuts back on strikeouts.
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.

This was a three-man tier before Yankees manager Aaron Boone said DJ LeMahieu tested positive for the coronavirus. As of the announcement on July 4, he has not experienced any symptoms. He moves from the end of this tier to the top of the next one, which means he falls a few spots in the overall (but not 2B) rankings.

Hiura and Merrifield swap places in the updated rankings. Merrifield, who logged MLB’s second-most plate appearances (735) last season, loses a bit of appeal with volume meaning less than before. Hiura, on the other hand, has a better chance of once again popping a steady average over two months despite a concerning 65.7% contact rate.

Tier 3

DJ LeMahieu NYY A A- B B+ C Underlying metrics all validate the breakout. Speed is trending south, but power is ticking upward.
Max Muncy LAD C A- A A- C- Muncy has 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 unlikely to maintain last year’s 35-homer pace if the baseballs return to normal.

Aside from bumping LeMahieu down into this tier, there are no changes to report here. McNeil could be a top candidate to bat over .350 in the 2020 sprint. Then again, he had tallied just two homers and no steals at last season’s 60-game mark. Moustakas’ power often comes early in the season, but it’s impossible to say how much of that tendency accounts to weather versus timing.

Tier 4

Danny Santana TEX C+ B- B B- B Don’t overpay for the out-of-nowhere breakout.
Cavan Biggio TOR D B- B C+ B Biggio offers power and speed 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. Universal DH should solidify playing time.
Ryan McMahon COL C+ C+ B B- C McMahon is a below-average hitter nevertheless slated for regular reps in Colorado.
Gavin Lux LAD B- C B- C B- Triple-A numbers would be impossible to replicate in MLB The Show. He’s likely to bat 8th or 9th with a loose grip on the job.

I wasn’t eager to draft anyone from this tier in the spring. Now, I’m more amenable to taking the plunge.

While drafters shouldn’t ignore batting average entirely, it’s now a sound strategy to take a couple of contact laggards in hopes of catching a hot streak. Biggio, who batted .300 in September, would be a great mid-draft addition if he can his find way to hitting .250 or higher.

Even if regression still looms for Edman, he should at least get every chance to stay in the lineup. An everyday role at third base is now likely with Matt Carpenter able to serve as the designated hitter. Because of the Dodgers’ absurd depth, the same assumption can’t be made for Lux. However, unless his ADP rises, the gamble is more justified than it was months ago.

After playing 141 games despite posting an 88 wRC+, McMahon should continue to play on a regular basis. He can do so at his more natural position of first base if Daniel Murphy handles the DH role.

Tier 5

Kevin Newman PIT B+ C+ C C+ B Buy for cheap average and speed, not last year’s power outlier.
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.
Brandon Lowe TB C- B- B+ B- C+ Power is pretty, but beware the grotesque contact and strikeout rates.
Kolten Wong STL B- C+ C C B A boringly productive veteran who may finally get a chance to consistently bat atop the lineup.
Luis Arraez MIN A C+ D C C Arraez could win a batting title, but he won’t offer much else.
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.
Howie Kendrick WAS B+ C B- C D Now that Ryan Zimmerman has opted out, the Nats should reward Kendrick’s remarkable 2019 with the DH gig.
Rougned Odor TEX D B- A- B B- Could this be the year Texas finally gives up?

McMahon moving to first would vacate second base for Hampson, who displayed league-winning potential in 2020’s closing weeks. There’s also a solid chance drafters will drop him in a week, especially if Brendan Rodgers returns to snatch away the starting job. Keep in mind, the Rockies could also insert the newly signed Matt Kemp into DH duty.

Arraez seems to top the “Who could bat .400 in a 60-game season?” conversations. While reaching that milestone is a stretch, he was hitting .405 after 25 games last year. He’s a fine middle infielder selection for someone who drafted a couple of sluggers with a basement-low floor in batting average.

Drafters may luck out and get the good Odor for two months. There’s also a solid chance he bats below the Mendoza Line. Nobody can afford a brutal stretch like last season, in which he was batting .163 at the Rangers’ 60-game mark.

Kendrick flourished when given playing time last season. His .344/.395/.572 slash line and 18 home runs — the first time he reached double digits since 2013 — shocked everyone, but Statcast backed the breakout. Only Mike Trout, Cody Bellinger, and Christian Yelich recorded a higher expected wOBA than Kendrick’s .420. Since Zimmerman is sitting out this season, Kendrick is the leading candidate to receive DH work and is also eligible at both corner-infielder spots. He’s by far the position’s biggest riser.

Tier 6

Cesar Hernandez CLE B C+ C C B- For better or worse, a steady hand who won’t help or hurt much anywhere.
Nick Solak TEX B- C C+ C C He won’t be 2B eligible everywhere after playing five of 33 games there.
Tommy La Stella LAA B+ C C C F Shocking breakout was backed by elite contact rates before getting hurt.
Robinson Cano NYM B- C B- C+ F Underlying metrics didn’t crater as much as the actual stats. DH could be a fall-back option.
Ian Happ CHC C- C B C C Following a surprising demotion, Happ returned to bat 11 HRs w/ .898 OPS in 58 games.
Jonathan Schoop DET C C B C D Regular playing time in Detroit will make him a boring, but usable deep-league play.
Michael Chavis BOS C- C B C+ D Chavis may have the most power upside of this grouping, but he might not even open 2020 in the starting lineup.
Nick Madrigal CHW B+ C C- C- B An elite hit tool could yield an immediate .300+ BA with some speed.
Niko Goodrum DET D C+ C+ B- B- Hard hits and walks are trending upward; he was a 15/15 candidate in a full season.
Dee Gordon SEA C+ C- F D A- The speed is no longer elite enough to justify the one-category contributor.

While the White Sox haven’t committed to Madrigal as their starting second basemen, they can no longer give him real-game reps in the minors. They also may like their chances of making serious noise when only facing the AL and NL Central over 60 games. Madrigal, who has struck out 23 times over 163 career minor-league games, could be Arraez with more stolen bases if given the chance.

Solak and Happ join the party since they will at least hold 2B eligibility in Yahoo leagues. In standard mixed leagues, drafters are better off betting on these young mashers than taking a steady hand like Hernandez or Schoop for the bench. Those veterans, however, hold more clout in deeper formats, especially ones that won’t increase reserve spots or IL limits for 2020.

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Andrew Gould is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Andrew, check out his archive and follow him @andrewgould4.

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