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State of the Position: Second Basemen in 2020

Heath examines the keystone with a fantasy baseball slant.

Getty Images/Pete Rogers Illustrations

Yesterday was a HUGE day in fantasy baseball, as Second Base Week began here at Fake Teams AND we released our consensus second base rankings.

Okay, so there was also this grand event called The Great Fantasy Baseball Invitational that kicked off its third year of competition with league invites going out yesterday. If you were wondering where all the fun is at, it’s in League 8 with yours truly, folks. We’ve got Fake Teams representation in leagues 7 (Garrett), 8 (moi), 9 (Zack), 13 (Mark), and 15 (Joe). It’s time to take over, gents.

Anyway, TGFBI kicking off and the Super Bowl being behind us means it’s finally time for the gloves to come all the way off with regard to baseball content. I hope you’re all ready. Today’s second base, and the view from where I’m sitting ain’t pretty.

The Elite “Glob”

There are six men being drafted within a round of each other per recent NFBC data. Gleyber Torres, Jose Altuve, Ozzie Albies, Jonathan Villar, Keston Hiura, and Ketel Marte are the names. You’ll need to do some soul-searching (or you know, research) to ascertain who you trust among this group, as the prices are hefty. A few quick thoughts...

Torres has a cushy seat nestled between Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton, and he hits tons of fly balls and line drives. Truly, the man just does not hit ground balls. Which sounds amazing in Yankee Stadium, until you consider last year’s bouncy ball caveat alongside Torres’ weak exit velocity (49th percentile) and hard hit rate (33rd percentile). In his favor is that he is a big man, checking in at 6-1 and 200 pounds. For a dude who seems to have the right plane to his swing—i.e. a 10.1% barrel rate—that’s a good thing. But if the ball is less bouncy and a chunk of those homers become outs, is he gonna be worth a pick inside the top 30? He won’t steal bases, after all. Say he’s closer to 30 homers instead of that worth it to you at pick 29? My lean is “no,” and that’s despite me liking him initially. I think I might have been wrong. Right now it feels like I’m paying a Yankee tax. That’s tough when I can snag one of the next guys instead...

I’m referring to Ozzie Albies and Ketel Marte. That’s it. That’s the tweet. Okay, it’s a sentence. But it’s my keystone gospel in 2020. Get both of these guys, and feel free to slide Marte into one of your outfield slots when needed. That’s right, yours truly is fading Jose Altuve in 2020. I’ll make the case against him later this week. And no, I won’t reference any trash cans. I won’t need to reference any trash cans to make that case.

As for Villar, I’m totally down with the volume-based speed he’ll offer. He has shown steady growth with regard to his plate discipline, in the form of swinging more in the zone, making decent contact, and leveling out his chasing tendencies (about 2% better than average the last two years). He’s also a big dude (6-1, 215) who can run. Last year’s 27.9 ft/s sprint speed was in the 72nd percentile. While that’s not blazing, it is solid. It is also Villar’s typical speed, as it’s the same percentile he was at way back in 2015—at 27.8 ft/s and in the 72nd percentile. Stealing bases is a mixture of speed AND instincts. So it’s encouraging to me that Villar hasn’t lost a step. I’m all-in on his wheels in 2020. Speaking of losing a step...

The Avoid: Whit Merrifield

I feel bad with this one. I love Merrifield’s story, breaking through as an old man to the bigs. And he still does some things well, namely spray line drives all over the yard. He’s a legitimate batting average asset, as evidenced by the fact that he topped the majors in batted ball events last year and has ranked third (29.8%) and first (28.5%) in line drive rate among big leaguers over the last two seasons. For reference, if you combine 2018 and 2019, the only player with a higher cumulative line drive rate is Freddie freaking Freeman. So yeah, Merrifield’s batting average boost is for real. I’m not dogging that. What I AM a bit afraid of is the speed. At a hefty ADP of 52, we are selecting a guy on a middling team that stole only 20 bags last year? Okay, so maybe you like the 20 bags thing. But those came with 10 times being caught, for a poor success rate of 66.6%. Now you’re really scared...right? If not, consider that Merrifield was successful on over 80% of attempts in his previous two seasons. And in last year’s age-30 season, his sprint speed dipped from the 92nd percentile to the 86th percentile. Was he still fast, at 28.6 ft/s? Yep, absolutely. But does he need the extra bit of speed in order to steal bags now? Maybe. Maybe not. Now one year older at 31 years, I’m not paying a top 50 pick to see if the speed is going to continue to erode. Not for a guy with a career 4.4% barrel rate who ranked 15th percentile in exit velocity and 12th percentile in hard hit rate last year. Again...I’m not dogging him. I think he’s a quality big leaguer and I love his story. I still think he’ll still hit plenty of line drives and be a plus in batting average. But I know he won’t all of a sudden jack 30 bombs, and I’m afraid we lose the speed. The ADP is too rich for me, as I think many are simply autopicking him and thinking he’ll offer another 15/20 type of year.

The Sleeper: Cesar Hernandez

I feel guilty, like I’m stealing candy from a baby. Can somebody tell me why a dude with Hernandez’s skills isn’t being more sought after right now? An ADP of 270, and in my first NFBC 50 a week ago I snagged him at pick 298. He’s really not buzzy at all.

Hernandez is guaranteed to bat in the heart of the Cleveland order, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he claws his way up a bit from where he’s projected at sixth right now. As if youngsters never endured slumps, right? We can’t just take Oscar Mercado all the way to the bank, can we? And you guys trust Franmil Reyes for an entire season? Please. Either way, Hernandez offers an unsexy 10/10 floor, but sometimes is nice to just save par and move on. I don’t see any way you lose out by taking Hernandez this late. He won’t surprise you with anything, but at that juncture of my drafts having some certainty is nice. He’s a “sleeper” in the sense that he’ll outperform this ADP, in my humblest of opinions.

Honorable mention goes to Michael Chavis, but with an ADP of 239 he wasn’t past my self-imposed sleeper threshold of 250.

The Prospect to Watch: Nick Madrigal

Nay, the prospect to draft, more like. Madrigal should make a splash in 2020. He ended 2019 with 29 games at Triple-A, and seems like a massive threat to the playing time of one Leury Garcia. You’ll need to find an alternative if the White Sox hold him down for a few weeks to begin 2020, but once he arrives in the bigs you’ll have a contact hitter with plus speed to hold down your middle infield slot. With an ADP of 280, you’d be “passing up” guys like Tommy La Stella, Dee Gordon, and Niko Goodrum. Try not to cry, okay?

No, I didn’t discuss everyone in the state of the second base position. But that’s what the entire week is for here at the dot com. So if you have specific queries or concerns about a player, please drop those in the comments so we can practice some customer service.

Be sure to roll back around midday to catch Garrett’s favorite sleepers at the keystone!