This far out from the start of the season, most of the average draft position data we have available is largely speculative, and understandably so. Still, I find value in analyzing the returns from this uncertain period, as it helps us develop some early trends going into our own draft/auction preparation. Second base is my usual beat here at RotoGraphs, so the other day I found myself examining the NFBC ADP for the position.
There’s other surprises in that data to save for another day, but today I’d like to discuss Jose Peraza’s position as the 12th 2B drafted. Peraza is currently going ahead of Dustin Pedroia, Ben Zobrist, Jonathan Schoop, Devon Travis, Jedd Gyorko, Starlin Castro, Logan Forsythe and Neil Walker. I’m sure we all have our own arguments about which of those eight names should slot in above Peraza, but I’m also fairly confident most of us prefer at least one or two of them to Peraza. Right?
Let’s begin by discussing the positives with Peraza — who is entering his age-23 season — as a fantasy commodity. He possesses excellent speed that allows his hit tool to play up a notch, as he is able to routinely leg out infield hits. Eight of his 78 hits in the majors last year didn’t leave the infield, so with a full season’s worth of playing time, he should easily be able to regularly record 20+ infield hits. In short, his average likely has a high floor, and he’s clearly a serious stolen-base threat.
Now I’ll start pouring on the cold water. Peraza doesn’t hit for power, with just 11 home runs in 2,343 minor-league plate appearances. Accepting that he’s a near-zero in that category, you’re going to need him to compensate with a ton of steals. Thankfully, he’s entirely capable of doing just that, but there’s some concerns here as well.
First off, Peraza does not draw walks. Last year, he picked up seven free passes in the majors, good for a 2.7% walk rate. He consistently walked in the 3.5% range in 2014 and 2015 as he climbed up from High-A to Triple-A, so this is likely not a fluke. If his batting average drops to the .282 that Steamer projects, he’ll struggle to post an on-base percentage much higher than .310, limiting his stolen-base upside.
Furthermore, for someone as fast as he is, Peraza got thrown out way more than I would have expected last year. While he did successfully swipe 31 bases between Triple-A and the majors, he was also gunned down 17 times. It can take a while for speedsters to adjust to the quality of pickoff moves and catchers’ arms at the game’s top levels, so while I’m not that concerned with his ability to significantly improve his success rate going forward, I’m also not convinced that will happen in 2017.
Now let’s get to the issue that is Cincinnati’s roster construction, or in other words, The Brandon Phillips Problem. Despite the team’s best efforts to trade him, the 35-year-old exercised his no-trade rights three times in the last year-plus, blocking deals that would have dealt him to Atlanta, Washington and Arizona. It’s pretty clear that Phillips intends on playing out his contract in Cincy.
It’s hard to say what the Reds will do with Phillips, but they’ll pay him $14 million this season to do something. This is a weird situation because Phillips has essentially only played second base, with 20 innings of shortstop being his only experience at any other position. Is he capable of being a serviceable backup left fielder? Is there even any value in adding “serviceable backup left fielder” to Brandon Phillips’ resume?
You see, The Brandon Phillips Problem goes deeper than you might think. His inability to play anywhere but Peraza’s primary position seemingly forces Peraza into the super-utility role, simply because there’s basically no reason to have a $14 million bench bat who only plays second base.
But wait, there’s more! Even if Peraza gets past The Brandon Phillips Problem, we get to The Dilson Herrera Problem. Like Peraza, Herrera is a second baseman entering his age-23 season with little left to prove at the minor-league level. While Peraza is the higher-upside prospect, Herrera is a more polished defender with a more well-rounded offensive profile. If he plays well in Triple-A to start the season, now we’re looking at three guys trying to get playing time at the same position.
I’ve seen some speculation that the Reds could trade Zack Cozart to open up a spot for Peraza, which is kind of ridiculous. Cozart is a defensive whiz at short, a position that I don’t think Peraza could handle on a regular basis. I also don’t like asking a 23-year-old to move to a more difficult position in the field, while also adjusting to his first full major-league season at the plate.
Of course, the silver lining in all this for fantasy owners is that the Reds will probably suck this year. By midseason, they likely won’t care about benching old, expensive Phillips, or trading Cozart and letting Peraza try his hand at short. Or hell, they might do both, and by July we might be looking at an everyday middle infield combo of Peraza and Herrera.
My goodness, isn’t this a lot of ifs for a guy who’s being drafted as a mixed-league regular? A few weeks from now, some of these questions may have clearer answers, but even if he finds his way into the everyday lineup, there are enough questions about Peraza’s projected performance to make him a hard pass for me this year. Following the old adage that it only takes one bullish owner to set a player’s draft-day value, I highly doubt I’ll own Peraza in any redraft leagues to start 2017.
While I love gambling on upside as much as anyone, it’s not like second base is a position lacking in reliably strong options.
Scott Strandberg started writing for Rotographs in 2013. He works in small business consultation, and he also writes A&E columns for The Norman Transcript newspaper. Scott lives in Seattle, WA.