2014 Draft Prep: Second base profiles
What might owners expect from an historically inconsistent Aaron Hill in 2014? Is Jedd Gyorko really about to bust out? Al Melchior spotlights six second basemen that he could go either way on.
If you are drafting somewhere between the third and seventh spots, addressing your need for a second baseman is pretty easy. Pick Robinson Cano, if available.
If you miss the boat on Cano -- and most of us will -- finding your second baseman will not be a simple task. The position does not even have a clear-cut elite beyond Cano. Among the remaining second basemen, only Dustin Pedroia is a sure-fire early-round option in both Rotisserie and Head-to-Head leagues. Matt Carpenter and Ian Kinsler are not far behind Pedroia in Head-to-Head value, but both are flawed as Roto options (because of home run power and RBI, respectively). Stolen bases make Jason Kipnis and Jose Altuve rivals to Pedroia in Roto value, but Kipnis' strikeouts and Altuve's lack of walks render them as less valuable in Head-to-Head
With each format possessing a top tier of just four players, most owners will have to settle for a lesser player to fill their keystone spot. The production thins out quickly at the position, and several of the second-tier alternatives, including Daniel Murphy and Aaron Hill, have plenty of risk to go along with their upside. As much as with any other position, it makes sense to wait on your second base pick, as middle-to-late-rounders like Jurickson Profar, Anthony Rendon and Kolten Wong offer great potential as bargains.
As players who are difficult to project due to the significant risk and reward they pose, both Murphy and Hill are profiled here. So are Profar and Wong, as both are slated to get their first taste of being a regular second baseman. Is Jedd Gyorko poised to challenge the ranks of the elite in his sophomore season, and is Kinsler no longer a top second baseman? Both questions beg for some analysis, so Gyorko and Kinsler round out our sample.
Daniel Murphy, Mets
2014 5x5 projections: .285/.321/.408, 12 HR, 74 RBI, 84 Runs, 19
SB in 645 at-bats
2014 overall value (projected): 12.7 Standings Gain Points (5x5), 5th among second basemen; 443 Fantasy Points, 7th among second basemen
Going into last season, Murphy went from being outside the top 10 second basemen to finishing among the top five in both Roto and Head-to-Head. Setting a career high in plate appearances helped, but even on a per-game basis, Murphy produced like he never had before. Part of Murphy's improvement was tied to an uptick in power, which led to a career-high 13 home runs and his highest home run-to-flyball ratio since 2009.
Given that Murphy was 28 last season, and that a power outage spanning 2011 and 2012 was preceded by a season-ending MCL tear, it's believable that he could have experienced a legitimate and sustainable power spike. Less clear is whether Murphy can build on his first 20-plus steal and 90-plus run seasons. Both of those achievements were likely aided by Murphy hitting higher in the batting order more frequently, but since he had never stolen more than 10 bases or scored more than 62 runs before, it's probably not realistic to expect a repeat. I have Murphy projected for mild downturns in those categories, but he should come close or equal to his 2013 slash line (.286/.319/.415) and home run and RBI output.
Aaron Hill, Diamondbacks
2014 5x5 projections: .277/.333/.466, 22 HR, 79 RBI, 88 Runs, 6
SB in 560 at-bats
2014 overall value (projected): 12.6 Standings Gain Points (5x5), 6th among second basemen; 443 Fantasy Points, 8th among second basemen
Because Hill missed more than two months of the season and played the last three months with a left hand that was not fully healed from being broken, owners could be tempted to toss out last season's stats and look for a repeat of 2012. Since Hill was the second-most valuable second baseman in Fantasy that year, we'd be talking about a return to elite status, should he pick up where he left off.
Apparently, owners aren't looking to Hill to reach 2012's heights, as he is currently ninth in average draft position. In fact, that was arguably Hill's best season, and owners are likely -- and rightfully -- scared off by a long-standing pattern of extreme inconsistency. Still, owners in early drafts have been selling him a little short, especially in Roto leagues. Hill's batting average and doubles rate have been all over the map, but he's been largely reliable as a home run threat. Even with last season's injury, he was close to a 20-homer pace, and he hit more than 25 homers in three of the previous four seasons. As a middle-of-the-order presence for the Diamondbacks, Hill should easily be in the neighborhood of 80 RBI and runs.
Despite success in the batting average and stolen base categories in the past, owners shouldn't count on big contributions there. Given his tendency to pop out, Hill's projected .277 batting average could be very optimistic. After going just 1 for 5 in stolen base attempts a year ago, there is no reason to expect Hill to return to double-digit territory.
Jedd Gyorko, Padres
2014 5x5 projections: .261/.322/.467, 29 HR, 83 RBI, 78 Runs, 3
SB in 570 at-bats
2014 overall value (projected): 12.2 Standings Gain Points (5x5), 8th among second basemen; 418 Fantasy Points, 12th among second basemen
Gyorko's minor league stat sheet didn't leave us with much doubt that he could hit for power. If he did need to silence critics who thought his homer totals were fueled by parks in the California and Pacific Coast Leagues, Gyorko quieted them with 23 home runs in 125 games with the Padres. Assuming he won't miss more than a month with a disabled list stint, like he did a year ago, Gyorko could approach the 30-homer threshold, simply by virtue of additional playing time.
Gyorko didn't always hit for average outside of hitter-friendly minor-league circuits, and last season's .249 mark created a cloud of suspicion that hangs over his past .300-plus seasons. Especially concerning was the role played by a 25 percent strikeout-per-at-bat ratio. Gyorko wasn't a bad contact hitter in the minors, so he could possibly take a step forward and hit .270 or higher. Owners can expect some all-around improvement, but given last season's difficulties with making contact, to draft him as anything more than a .260 hitter is too risky.
Ian Kinsler, Tigers
2014 5x5 projections: .264/.335/.417, 18 HR, 68 RBI, 93 Runs, 14
SB in 645 at-bats
2014 overall value (projected): 12.2 Standings Gain Points (5x5), 9th among second basemen; 481 Fantasy Points, 4th among second basemen
Prior to last season, a combination of power and speed made Kinsler an elite among second basemen, even when he didn't hit for average. Then in 2013, Kinsler missed time with an intercostal strain, but the four-week absence wasn't solely responsible for his slide down the positional rankings. For the second straight year, Kinsler's stolen base efficiency declined, and he converted only 15 of 26 attempts. He also saw his home run-to-flyball ratio dip for the second straight year, slipping from 12 to 7 to 5 percent.
Kinsler's move from Texas to Detroit isn't likely to do much to improve either his stolen base or home run production. He gets a ballpark that is less hospitable to home run power, and while we have yet to learn how aggressive Tigers manager Brad Ausmus will be with the running game, it's unlikely that he will send runners as frequently as Rangers skipper Ron Washington did. Therefore, I have projected Kinsler for a third straight sub-20 home run season and a stolen base total (14) that would be his lowest since his rookie season.
Despite the predicted decline, Kinsler is still an elite option in Head-to-Head leagues. The one skill of his that hasn't declined is his ability to make contact, so a low strikeout rate will help him to retain much of his value in points formats.
Jurickson Profar, Rangers
2014 5x5 projections: .255/.332/.387, 14 HR, 59 RBI, 71 Runs, 11
SB in 545 at-bats
2014 overall value (projected): 9.3 Standings Gain Points (5x5), 18th among second basemen; 364 Fantasy Points, 16th among second basemen
Profar established himself as a top prospect by displaying a combination of speed, strong contact and on-base skills and good power for a shortstop. He even maintained this profile while being the youngest player in the Texas League in 2012. Perhaps expectations for Profar were tempered last year, since he didn't have a regular role with the Rangers, but with a claim to the everyday second base job, owners could look for Profar to break out in a big way.
While that's a possibility, Profar's projection for this season puts some stock in his 2013 numbers, as well as in the gradual pattern of improvement experienced by many top prospects upon their acclimation to the majors. Not every great prospect bursts onto the Fantasy scene by the age of 21 the way that Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera did. Profar is almost certain to make some notable gains after a mediocre showing last year, and his speed in particular should make a stronger impact in 2014. He should improve on a .162 batting average on ground balls, and he could do so to the point where he greatly exceeds his projected .255 overall batting average. To do that, Profar would need to maintain last season's 23 percent line drive rate, so modest expectations for his batting average are probably more appropriate. He could also exceed his projected 11 steals, but last season's total of two make Profar a less-than-secure play for stolen bases.
If Profar delivers on his considerable promise this season, he will provide an enormous return on a mid-round pick, but his inexperience and pedestrian rookie numbers make him too risky to draft among the top dozen second basemen.
Kolten Wong, Cardinals
2014 5x5 projections: .271/.334/.400, 9 HR, 42 RBI, 70 Runs, 16
SB in 460 at-bats
2014 overall value (projected): 9.0 Standings Gain Points (5x5), 20th among second basemen; 326 Fantasy Points, 24th among second basemen
Wong doesn't project to hit for much power, though he will be a cut above the Emilio Bonifacio/DJ LeMahieu class in terms of home run clout. What Wong should be able to do is keep strikeouts to a minimum, hit for a decent average and provide double-digit steals.
In Head-to-Head leagues, Wong's value could take a hit with Mark Ellis slated to take some of his playing time away, though over the long haul, doubles, triples and a low strikeout rate should give him value in that format. In Roto leagues, Wong is a viable late-round fallback option (at least for the MI slot) as his speed and baserunning skills could help him to deliver on the upside of 20-plus steals and a .290ish batting average buoyed by infield hits. That's a best-case scenario that Wong is unlikely to fulfill as a rookie, but given the options that are still available in the late rounds, he may be one of the more appealing endgame alternatives.
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