Below are my early look at the 2012 second base rankings, along with profiles of each player. I have included players based on Yahoo's rules, which are either 10 games at the position, or 5 starts, but have made mention of those who may not qualify in your league depending on your rules.
NOTE: I updated them to include Michael Cuddyer, after being noted that he had played in 17 games at 2B this year.
1. Robinson Cano (NYY)
Cano scored 100 runs for the 3rd straight season, had 28 homers and a career high 118 RBI in 2011. The only stat that he doesn't provide elite level production is stolen bases, and even then he still had a career high of 8. He did see a decrease in his walk rate (5.6%), and an increase in strikeout rate (14.1%), but I don't think that this will necessarily have an impact on his stats in 2012. His HR/FB rate was higher than previous seasons, but that could be attributable to the fact that he had a decrease in FB% (36% in 2010, 31% in 2011). I think that realistically, you can lock in 20 HR, 90 runs, 90 RBI, and a .300 batting average, and those numbers are probably the floor of his potential for 2012.
2. Ian Kinsler (TEX)
Kinsler rebounded in a big way in 2011, hitting 32 home runs and stealing 30 bases while scoring 121 runs and driving in 77 more. The only thing that kept him from being my top ranked 2B was the fact that he remains a bit of a batting average risk. Realistically though, if you think he could rebound from his .255 batting average, and get back to the .280 area he was in during 2010, he would probably be at the top of the list. While he was healthy all season, just remember that this was the first season of his career where he topped 150 games played.
3. Dustin Pedroia (BOS)
Pedroia hit .307/.373/.463 with 21 HR, 26 SB, and 102 runs scored, and 91 RBI. While I believe he can repeat these numbers again in 2012, I believe that these represent the likely ceiling of his performance with regard to home runs though, which is what keeps him behind Kinsler for me. Interestingly, he set a career high in home runs while also having his fly ball rate drop, and his ground ball rate rise (up to 47%). If that ground ball rate keeps up, I could see him being a potential risk for batting average if he keeps that ground ball rate up in 2012, but I would say it is probably a pretty low risk.
4. Dan Uggla (ATL)
Uggla set a career high in homeruns despite having an atrocious batting average during the first half of the season. While he will probably regress some from his amazing second half (.296/.379/.569, 21 HR, 48 RBI), he probably won't be nearly as bad at his worst point as he was during the first half (.187/.257/.365, 15 HR, 34 RBI). I also think we could see both his RBI and runs scored improve in 2012 as his batting average normalizes from the .233 it was in 2011.
5. Chase Utley (PHI)
Utley missed significant time in 2011 for the second season in a row, playing in only 103 games last season and 115 in 2010. I initially had ranked Utley higher than Uggla, but I didn't like what I saw out of some of Utley's splits. Utley seemed to really wear down as the season progressed last year, with drops in batting average, on base percentage, and slugging percentage in the second half of the season. He really struggled in September, and while that isn't necessarily telling of what he'll do in 2012, it does concern me enough that I'd rather take the slightly safer power numbers from Uggla.
6. Brandon Phillips (CIN)
Phillips always seems to be a bit ignored to me. He doesn't really show any one stat that makes him truly elite at the position, but he provides solid production in all 5 categories. Last year, he hit .300 with 18 HR, 92 runs scored, 82 RBI, and 14 stolen bases. The key for me seems to be whether or not they decide to have him hit leadoff again this season (39 games last year), or if he ends up in the second spot (55 games). I took a quick look at his steals attempted compared to (Times Reached Base - HR - 3B), just to see a general idea of how often he was trying:
Batting 1st: 8 SB attempts/65 opportunities = 12%
Batting 2nd: 6 SB attempts/80 opportunities = 7.5%
Batting 4th: 9 attempts/71 opportunities = 12.6%
The thing that stands out to me is that if he spends a lot of time in the 2 hole, he appears less likely to steal, which I imagine has something to do with the Reds' #3 hitter, Joey Votto. I still think he'll be good for a high batting average, 15 homers/15 stolen bases, and around 85-90 runs and RBI.
7. Rickie Weeks (MIL)
Weeks missed nearly 50 games again in 2011, and missed all of August and most of September with an ugly ankle sprain. Not surprisingly, he didn't attempt another stolen base after that injury. Hopefully he will be back to 100% with an offseason of rest, and back to his running ways. But, his stolen base totals and attempts have been trending downward for the past few seasons. Even excluding the fact that he missed major portions of 2009 and 2011, the numbers don't bode well for a return to the 20+ steal days:
2007 - 25 SB/27 attempts (119 games)
2008 - 19 SB/24 attempts (129 games)
2009 - 2 SB/4 attempts (37 games)
2010 - 11 SB/15 attempts (160 games)
2011 - 9 SB/11 attempts (118 games)
He's probably the player thus far with the highest upside, as he could return to his 2010 form and provide 25+ HR, 100+ runs scored, 80+ RBI, and 10+ SB. But there is still risk with him for injury, and that's why he ends up further down than his production would probably warrant.
8. Ben Zobrist (TAM)
9. Howie Kendrick (LAA)
Kendrick set a career high with 18 home runs in 2011, and while I think he could repeat that number, I believe that somewhere around 15 are bit more likely. He also scored a career high 86 runs, despite playing just 140 games. He is going to provide a solid batting average (.280+), and double digit stolen bases as well. The only thing I see that is really concerning to me is that his strikeout rate spiked up to 20% from 14% in 2010. I don't think it will have a huge impact, but it is something to monitor.
10. Michael Cuddyer (FA) - [17 starts at 2B this season]
I somehow missed Cuddyer in my initial searches, but there's a lot to like about a player who provided 20 home runs, 11 stolen bases with a .284 batting average. It remains to be seen where Cuddyer will land in free agency, but I don't see any real reason he couldn't repeat those numbers regardless of where he lands. There's even a possibility we could see more homeruns, as he does have a 30 home run season in his career as well.
11. Michael Young (TEX) - [14 starts at 2B this season]
Young posted a career high batting average in 2011, hitting .338, but had his lowest homerun total (11) since 2007. He's likely to provide a batting average of at least .280 with with at least 80 runs and 80 RBI, along with some nice positional flexibility. He saw a rather substantial change in his LD% and FB% (26% for each in 2011), which could account for the drop in home runs. Based on that, I think that he could rebound up to 15 homers in 2012.
12. Dustin Ackley (SEA)
Ackley showed more power than was anticipated in his debut season, hitting 6 home runs in 90 games. His previous season high had been 9, which was in the first portion of last season while playing for Tacoma in the PCL. His related rates (FB%, HR/FB%) don't indicate that this home run total was a fluke, and I'm inclined to believe that he may be capable of a 20 homerun season. It seems a bit unlikely, but somewhere between 10 and 15 definitely seems plausible. Add to it that he'll probably steal double-digit bases and hit somewhere around around .275/.280, and you've got a player who's likely to give you solid production across all 5 categories.
13. Aaron Hill (FA)
You know, it was not that long ago that Hill was considered a top 5 second baseman. His HR/FB% rate dropped like a rock though in 2011, and led to just 8 homers across both teams. A part of the game he did add all of a sudden though is the stolen base, as he stole 21 bases last year, up from his career high of 6. I think that if you were to expect 30 total from the homerun and stolen base categories combined, you'd be pretty accurate. It remains to be seen where he will end up, but he hit extremely well while in Arizona (.315/.386/.492), and I imagine they're hoping to have him back as well. He does remain a bit of a batting average risk, but there's a lot of upside here to be had.
14. Jason Kipnis (CLE)
Kipnis showed a lot more power in his brief stint in the Majors than was expected based on his minor league numbers, hitting 7 homers in just 36 games. While he probably won't be able to duplicate that over a full season, I could very well see him hitting 20+ home runs along with 15+ stolen bases and a .280 batting average. I think there's the potential for even better though, and I'll be very interested to see how he does in a full season.
15. Jemile Weeks (OAK)
Weeks was a fairly big surprise when he got to the Majors, as the Athletics just allowed him to run wild on the basepaths. Prior to 2011, the most stolen bases he has in any full season was 16. He went 10/14 in AAA before being called up, and then went 22/33 in 97 games in the Majors. While I don't think he's going to hit .300 again necessarily, he could hit .280, score 80+ runs, and potentially steal 30 bases. He's not likely to provide you with any power or RBIs really though, which is a pretty big downside for him.
16. Danny Espinosa (WAS)
Espinosa hit 21 homeruns and stole 17 bases last year, but his batting average drove his owners crazy (.236). The scary part is that it doesn't appear that there is a lot of growth potential for his batting average to get better, as his BABIP was in line with his minor league numbers. He seems to me like a player you can take a chance on if you've done well in your draft to get batting average early. His upside to me seems like a 25 homer, 20+ steal season, with somewhere around a .250 batting average.
17. Kelly Johnson (FA)
Johnson had similar production in terms of power and speed (21 HR, 16 SB), but his batting average dropped like a rock (.222) due to a regression in BABIP (.277 vs. .339 in 2010). Johnson is a free agent, so it will be a bit interesting to see where he lands. That said, he will most likely provide around 20 HR, 15 SB, but with somewhere around a .250 batting average. There is upside here though, as he showed in 2010. I just wouldn't expect it to happen.
18. Allen Craig (STL) - [8 starts at 2B this season]
I mention Craig only because he qualifies in Yahoo leagues, and it seems that there is at least a decent chance he could play his way into a full-time job in 2012. It remains to be seen whether or not he will be used long-term at 2B, or remain in the outfield as would seem most likely. As we get closer to Spring Training and the Cardinals hire a manager, it will be a bit more clear whether or not he will get full-time playing time. If he does, I could see 20+ homers and a batting average around .300 for a full season.
19. Ryan Roberts (ARI)
Roberts was a full-time player for the first time really in 2011, and his bat really forced this issue as the season progressed. He hit 19 homers, stole 18 bases, scored 86 runs and drove in 65 while playing both 2B and 3B primarily. The only number I see that could potentially regress is his homerun total, as he posted a 12% HR/FB rate in 2011, compared to 8 and 6 in his previous two seasons. If I thought his batting average would improve from the .249 he hit last year, he'd probably be around the top 10. He probably will not make it this far in most drafts simply due to his position eligibility.
20. Neil Walker (PIT)
Walker seems like he is almost a replacement level fantasy second baseman. He provides some pop (12 homers last year), but not a ton. He steals a few bases (9 last year), but not a ton there etiher. He did score 76 runs and drive in 83 last year, but I'm not sure I see a lot of growth potential past those numbers. He hit .273 last year, which was down from 2010, but it falls within the range I would expect to see out of him at this point. The thing to me that causes me to rank him this low is that while he is solid in all categories, I'm not sure I see very much in the way of upside. I don't see him getting to 20 homeruns, or 20 stolen bases. I don't see him getting to 100 runs scored or 100 RBI. What he did last year seems to me like the best case scenario for his production level, and could be down from there even.
21. Brian Roberts (BAL)
If I am down this far and still don't have a 2B, I'm wanting some upside. And if you can get him this late, Brian Roberts may have the most upside of anyone. But I would not bank on him giving you anything, and hope for the best. He's capable of 30+ steals and some power when healthy, but he has not been for the past 2 years.
Specific Category Players
The players mentioned below did not make my top 20, but could provide value in specific categories and in deeper leagues:
Darwin Barney, Ryan Raburn, Scott Sizemore, Gordon Beckham, Daniel Murphy, Omar Infante, Eduardo Nunez (9 starts, 16 games), Chris Getz, Jamey Carroll, Sean Rodriguez