Second base was arguably the deepest position in 2016. Typically a source of stolen bases and empty batting average, the keystone turned into a powerhouse for both fantasy and real teams. Here’s the weird part: the players who produced all this unexpected value were veterans.
Jose Altuve turned on the power switch, as did Brian Dozier, Robinson Cano, Daniel Murphy, Jean Segura, Ian Kinsler, and others. With the exception of Segura and maybe Murphy, these are all players who were already considered the cream of the crop at second base. They exceeded all expectations last season.
The best case scenario for Trea Turner showed up in Washington for half a season. The Rockies finally let DJ LeMahieu bat in a prominent spot. Jason Kipnis had what would have been a top three season in years past. He was 10th best this time. The list goes on.
To be honest, I’ve delayed writing this article because there’s no obvious road map to targeting second base breakouts. Unlike catcher and first base, we simply saw a surge of good players getting better at second base. Murphy, Segura, and Turner are the guys who weren’t supposed to be in the top 10. They represent three different profiles.
Here we have a cohort of aggressive hitters with superior contact skills but little in way of power or speed. Oh wait, no we don’t. Unless we’re calling Dustin Pedroia a breakout candidate (and maybe he is), nobody mimics Murphy’s approach. If we relax the need for a high contact rate, a few players jump to fore.
Devon Travis and Neil Walker are the most similar to Murphy. Travis is relatively unestablished, often injured, and (surprise!) currently recovering from a serious injury. He’ll be worth a late-round stash if he isn’t overdrafted. Travis is entering his age 26 season. It seems at least possible that he may trim his strikeout rate while scraping together 20 home runs.
Walker is much more of a known quantity, and his plate discipline greatly exceeds that of Murphy. Walker kicked off 2016 with a .307/.337/.625 line and nine home runs in April. The double whammy of regression and injuries slowed him down for the remainder of the year. He has the potential for a 30 home run season.
One relatively unknown player with Murphy-like qualities is T.J. Rivera. The 28-year-old career minor leaguer used an aggressive approach to combat a high whiff rate. The end result was a 2.7 percent walk rate, 15 percent strikeout rate, and 12.1 percent swinging strike rate. Rivera offers very little by way of speed or power, but he did hit a career best 14 home runs last season. The Mets will do what they can to ensure he starts the season on the bench. Treat him as a very deep sleeper.
Now let’s look for players with physical talent and disappointing results. I’ve been telling people to ignore Segura for years, and he finally made me eat my hat in 2016. Who will take up the mantle in 2017? We could talk about Javier Baez here, but why bother. Nobody is sleeping on him.
Once upon a time (aka pre-2016), Kolten Wong’s 10 home runs and 15 stolen bases were in high demand. Now that looks like fantasy replacement level production at the position. Wong will have to compete with Jedd Gyorko (30 home runs in 438 plate appearances) for playing time. Wong seemingly has the raw tools for an outburst. He showed career best plate discipline coupled with a low strikeout rate. He may want to sell out for more power – his hard hit rate leaves much to be desired.
Watching Jonathan Schoop play, it’s easy to see a fluky 40 home run season in his future. Schoop has more in common with Dozier and Segura. The Orioles second baseman is a pull hitter who punishes fly balls. Unlike Dozier, Schoop pulls too many balls into the ground. If he can tinker his fly ball rate above his ground ball rate, a massive breakout may follow.
When I first met Carson Cistulli, he took me aside and explained to me why Jace Peterson was the best prospect in baseball. Peterson is coming off a quietly successful season which included a high walk rate and low strikeout rate. His skill set belong at the top of a lineup. With everybody suddenly learning how to hit for power, I can’t entirely discount a 15 home run season for Peterson. He’s a better play in OBP leagues.
Since Yoan Moncada won’t be second base eligible (and may not even reach the majors) in 2017, the prospect crowd lacks for high ceiling stars like Turner. The player with the most game-breaking talent is Raul Mondesi. The 21-year-old missed a chunk of 2016 for using cough syrup. Apparently, it’s a performance enhancer. Scouts think Mondesi may one day hit for decent power. For now, his attributes are heavily invested in the speed category. A strikeout rate above 30 percent killed his average and OBP. Without reaching base more often, he won’t reach his 50 stolen base upside. In dynasty formats, expect his stolen base rate to decline as his other skills improve.
The Padres acquired Carlos Asuaje as part of the Craig Kimbrel haul. While his performance in the PCL was impressive, let’s also remember it’s a hitter friendly league. Asuaje isn’t super young – he’s entering his age 25 season. He popped only nine home runs and stole 10 bases in 597 Triple-A plate appearances. He added 25 more appearances in the majors without a homer or steal. He may not do enough for fantasy owners.
The Athletics said “screw it” and threw Joey Wendle directly into the fire, batting him leadoff against right-handed pitching. Wendle, 26, was a poor man’s Wong at Triple-A. He hit 12 home runs and stole 14 bases in 526 plate appearances. Wendle maintained a solid contact rate in the majors, but he won’t reach base enough to stay atop the lineup.
Dilson Herrera may eventually be the best fantasy asset in this group. The Reds plan to find playing time for him next season – probably at Brandon Phillips‘ expense. Herrera does a little bit of everything with upwards of 20 home run power, 10 stolen base speed, and solid on base skills. He could fit atop the lineup with either Billy Hamilton or Jose Peraza. The Reds love to run which should maximize Herrera’s fantasy value.
With their combination of power and astronomical strikeout rates, Padres middle infielders Ryan Schimpf and Adam Rosales don’t fit in any of the above categories. Schimpf is a patient, powerful, extreme fly ball hitter. He’s Altuve-sized and 2017 is his age 29 season. Don’t be surprised if the Padres try to give Cory Spangenberg and/or Asuaje a longer look at second.
Rosales, 34 in 2017, traded whiffs for power last season. He bopped 13 home runs in 248 plate appearances, but his career 23.5 percent strikeout rate increased to a Galloian 35.5 percent. The power could be a complete fluke. If it holds up, his utility will make an interesting guy to track. Unfortunately, the Padres are surprisingly deep.