Drafting at second base used to be easy. Robinson Cano was the most valuable player at the position, and that was that. Cano would be gone within the first few picks, and if you weren't lucky enough to get him, you didn't need to be in a big hurry to fill the spot. Players like Ian Kinsler and Dustin Pedroia were nice enough consolation prizes, but you were probably better off focusing your attention and resources on another position.
After a couple of seasons with lesser production, Cano has not only fallen off from the peak of the position, but it's now questionable whether he is part of the second base elite. Owners have been favoring Jose Altuve and Dee Gordon, and in points leagues, Brian Dozier has been an early-round option, though none offers the combination of power and batting average that Cano did in his Yankees days.
While the view at the top has changed, your strategy doesn't need to. There is nothing wrong with securing Altuve or Gordon early on, but if that doesn't work out, you could wait a long time before addressing your second base vacancy. If you think you can wait because the position is bad, you'd be mistaken.
From top to bottom, this year's cohort of second basemen is pretty intriguing with no shortage of enigmatic players. Many owners are anticipating some regression for Gordon, but how much of his 2015 value can he retain? How seriously can we take Dozier's poor second half or Cano's strong finish? How much stock can we put in Rougned Odor's breakout?
Even as we get to the later rounds, there are plenty of players with promise. Brandon Phillips may have more left in the tank than we thought a year ago. Starlin Castro appeared to have woken up late last season. Devon Travis was terrific as a rookie when he was healthy. Daniel Murphy showed us power we didn't know he had. Jonathan Schoop slammed 15 home runs in just over half a season. Given the bevy of late-rounders with upside, there is no need to feel the sting of missing out on a more popular alternative.
Players like Castro and Travis, as well as Anthony Rendon and Kolten Wong, are currently in Fantasy limbo, leaving owners unsure if they will meet their considerable upside or settle in at a lesser level. If these second basemen have breakout seasons, the position will have a very different complexion than it does now. It would create a greater sense of urgency to fill the position earlier on Draft Day.
In the case of Rendon, simply getting back to his 2014 level of production would be enough for him to rejoin the position's elite, but a year ago, that season looked like a possible precursor to even better things. Wong set out to improve his batting average last year, but he had a similar season to 2014, providing moderate power and speed with a mediocre average. Castro has been erratic, but is entering his peak on an upswing. Travis was a revelation last April, but can he sustain that high level of production? And will he even be at full strength after having had shoulder surgery?
The potential for breakouts extends even deeper into the second base pool. We knew from Schoop's rookie season that he had some power, but in an injury-shortened 2015, he showed even more while tacking 70 points onto his batting average. Now we have to see if he can do that over a full season. It seems like Brett Lawrie has been around a long time, but at 26, he could still break out. Now that he's moving from O.co Coliseum to U.S. Cellular Field, he could improve on last season's career highs in home runs (16) and RBI (60). Cory Spangenberg overcame a slow start to hit .288 from May 22 on, and his doubles power could translate into more homers if he pulls the ball more often.
While Travis and Castro both have the potential to ascend to the upper echelons of the second base rankings, both also appear to be among the more likely candidates to lose their starting roles. The main concern for Travis is his ability to bounce back from surgery, but there is also the possibility that his impressive 62-game sample from 2015 is misleading. It also doesn't help Travis' case that the Blue Jays' opening day second baseman, Ryan Goins, made notable strides at the plate late last season while having already established himself as a top defender. Just maybe there won't be a starting job waiting for Travis when he is ready to come off the DL.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi may be more patient with Starlin Castro than Joe Maddon was last season, but we have already seen that the former Cub is capable of playing his way out of a job. It's not as if Girardi doesn't have options. Rob Refsnyder doesn't have much left to prove in Triple-A, and either he or Dustin Ackley could supplant Castro if he hits like he did for the bulk of last season.
There is little doubt that Travis and Castro have tremendous upside, but both come with at least as much risk as potential reward.
Trea Turner won't be competing for the second base job in Washington, as that will be sewn up by Daniel Murphy, but with a strong spring, he could wrest the shortstop job from Danny Espinosa. He will begin the season eligible only at second base, so his role could have an impact on this position.
No other rookie second basemen are currently in line to seize an everyday job, though Alen Hanson could be a starter for the Pirates temporarily. He could fill in at second, moving Josh Harrison over to third base while Jung Ho Kang completes his recovery from leg injuries. As mentioned above, Refsnyder has a chance to seize playing time, and if the Reds finally part ways with Brandon Phillips, Jose Peraza would be his likely successor. Given ample playing time, Peraza could emerge as a threat to steal at least 30 bases.
The Big Picture
Second base doesn't have the wealth of young talent that shortstop has, but the position could still become more talent-laden as the season progresses. Even if only some of the breakout candidates make good on their potential this season, second base could quickly lose its reputation for being a weak position. There are enough players on the rise to offset the potential declines of Cano, Kinsler and Ben Zobrist, all of whom are in their mid-30s.
Particularly once the Big Three of Altuve, Gordon and Dozier are off the board, there is less urgency to pursue a second baseman. If you feel the need to fill the position by the middle rounds, you'd be best served to prioritize the breakout candidates, like Rendon and Wong. There are far too many attractive fallback options to settle for the likes of Pedroia or Neil Walker.