Now that you’ve got your first and third basemen lined up after last week’s discussion of corner infielders, we’ll continue with the heart of the defense: the second basemen and shortstops.
The crop of second basemen this year, as usual, leaves a lot to be desired in terms of depth. This season, however, even the guys at top are problematic, with Robinson Cano exchanging RBI, runs scored, and home run potential for $240 million, Ian Kinsler leaving the hitting haven of the Texas Rangers and Jason Kipnis’ newfound ability to be overrated because there’s no one else and at least he’s young right? Newcomer Matt Carpenter is your rock at the position — as long as he doesn’t move to third base to make room for Cardinals prospect Kolten Wong — and Dustin Pedroia is a solid option in points leagues, but this is a position you should save your money on because they’re all one in the same. Take a flier on these guys and hope they become the next breakout star.
1) Aaron Hill, Arizona Diamondbacks
The former Blue Jay has been a forgotten man since his days up north mostly due to injury and a statistical anomaly in his 2011 season. He came into the league with Toronto in 2005 and amassed 28 home runs across four seasons total, maxing out with 17 in 2007. Then out of nowhere in ’09, he injected new life into his career with 36 home runs. After following that up with 26, he baffled the world hitting just 8 in 2011. He managed a repeat performance of 26 in 2012 before missing half the season in 2013. You won’t find slugging potential like this out of anyone at second this side of Dan Uggla, so enjoy.
2) Jedd Gyorko, San Diego Padres
If Gyorko was playing for a team with a ballpark with anywhere close to normal dimensions, he would be on everyone’s sleeper list. But he plays in spacious Petco Park, leaving him off of most fantasy teams. The Padres’ top prospect hit 15 of his 23 home runs after the All-Star Break, which would put him around 35 for the season, if those numbers hold up for the entire season. That said, there’s a good chance that those statistics were indicative of an extended hot streak and we might see a bit of regression to the mean, similar to teammate Chase Headley. Even with the expected regression, Gyorko still represents a bargain at a hitting-deprived position, and a worthy choice for your experiment at second base. If he hits even the same 23 he hit last year, his average will improve by virtue of him logging more at-bats in the major leagues and having the game slow down for him.
3) Anthony Rendon, Washington Nationals
Even though he’s number three on my list because I’m going in order of projected draft position, he’d be at the top of the list for predicted production and he’s number one in my heart after I drafted him last week in my main fantasy league. Unlike most of my previous picks, Rendon lacks that mammoth power that proves to be crucial in categories leagues. On the other hand, he balances that with great gap power, as his calling is sending line drives all over the field for doubles. The rookie is a bit like Dustin Pedroia in the sense that you won’t understand why exactly he’s so good without being able to hit for power or steal bases, but you’ll just live with it. And live happily.
Normally the most shallow position in all of baseball, I really like this year’s group of shortstops because it seems like you either have to be injury-prone, overrated or an underachieving, steals-only prospect to play it. This is by far the most important position to bite the bullet with your cash/high draft pick and get either Troy Tulowitzki or Hanley Ramirez because they are heads and shoulders better than the rest – feel free to add José Reyes if you’re in a points league.
Yes, Tulowitzki, Ramirez and Reyes have had as much success staying healthy as Leonardo DiCaprio has had winning an Oscar. If they do get injured, you can just look at the free agent list, pick up the guy with the most steals, and congratulations, you’re still no further behind the rest of your league-mates. Still, I signed up three sleepers, so like the talent at this position past the top 3, here goes nothing.
1) Asdrúbal Cabrera, Cleveland Indians
The man in the middle for the Indians had an incredibly rough year at the dish, hitting only .242 for the year. But if you’re like me, and take a look at the sabermetric numbers, specifically batting average on balls in play, you’ll see that Cabrera was extremely unlucky for an unusually long period of time and that the man is due for a bounceback. People will discount this, citing his 25 home runs in 2011 and the ensuing drop-off in 2012 and claim it’s just him on a downward career arc, which you’ll love to hear because Cabrera is in his prime at 28 years old. He should get you a .280 average with 15-20 home runs and at least 10 stolen bases, which is a nice find as the 15th rated shortstop on ESPN.
2) Jed Lowrie, Oakland Athletics
The journeyman middle infielder was a sleeper for me last year, as he is every year that he doesn’t get injured, and sort of made me look smart in the process. But I wasn’t totally sold on his 2013 campaign. In the previous few seasons, Lowrie averaged 30 home runs if he had played a full season’s worth of games. Therefore it was a surprise to see him only hit 15 when he actually played the first full season of his career. Though disappointing in the power department, he attempted to offset this by raising his batting average more than 50 points higher than his career norm to that point. If he can maintain his average, or keep it anywhere relatively close, resurface the power, and stay healthy for the entire season, we may have unearthed a little gem.
3) Javier Baez, Chicago Cubs
I’m so disillusioned by the depth at the shortstop position this year that I’m nominating a guy that’s not even on ESPN’s list of top 40 shortstops. One of the many prizes from the Cubs’ budding youth movement, Baez has some of the best power across the minor league landscape, making this more of “keep an eye out” than “go out and draft him” advice. He probably won’t be making an appearance for a while, considering the Cubs signed incumbent SS Starlin Castro to a long-term deal last season. But if Baez plays well enough, he could force his way onto the roster. Rumor has it Castro might be moved to the outfield so Baez can have his takeover. This we can only hope – he could be the position’s savior.
Daniel Scheiner is a sophomore majoring in music industry. His fantasy baseball picks run Mondays.