Word is, second base is weak in 2021 fantasy baseball. And that might be true. But even if so, it’s still pretty exciting at the top, and I still like some names in the middle and some names late. Let’s explore.
The Big Three: Ozzie Albies, D.J. LeMahieu, Whit Merrifield
LeMahieu’s re-signing with the Yankees means you’ll be paying top dollar for his four-category contributions (everything but steals) and triple eligibility (1B/2B/3B). He’s a premier batting average asset, playing in a stacked New York Yankees lineup, and in a stadium with a short right field porch—one that’s perfect for his oppo-leaning swing. LeMahieu topped the majors with a 43.4% oppo rate in 2020, and has enjoyed the greatest power output of his career during his time in New York. There may have been a debate about his worth had he gotten a park downgrade, but there isn’t one right now given that he gets to call Yankee Stadium home moving forward.
Albies is a power/speed dynamo, but there are some questions about where he will slot into a stacked Braves lineup. Well, some others may have questions, but I don’t. I see a man who is barely 24 years old and playing for a top five Atlanta offense. And I see that in 2018 and 2019 he posted a pair of 24-homer, 100-run seasons—and swiped 14 and 15 bags, respectively. A wrist injury sapped some production in 2020, but a return to form in 2021 is expected. He is a free-swinger, but his contact rates are above average and his swing rates inside the zone are ELITE. A monster season would not surprise me in the slightest, given that he is likely still on the upswing of his career. He’s more of a 20/20 threat than LeMahieu or Merrifield, given LeMahieu’s lack of speed and Merrifield’s lack of power.
Merrifield was an avoid for me last year, as a (slowly) eroding sprint speed and a 20-for-30 performance on the basepaths in 2019 concerned me ahead of the shortened season—especially given that Merrifield was 31 years old at the time. However, my fears were unfounded, and Merrifield was 12-for-15 on the basepaths in 2020, while his sprint speed held pretty steady at 28.4 ft/s (89th percentile). In hindsight, I was too hasty to pass over this premier batting average asset. Working in his favor is that he hits tons of line drives to go along with his foot speed. That, and the Royals have an improving lineup, as 2021 will see guys like Carlos Santana and Hanser Alberto make their debuts for Kansas City—as well as full seasons from outfielders like Franchy Cordero, Michael A. Taylor, and Edward Olivares. It’s quietly a lineup with some length now, and with enough punch for Merrifield to be among the league’s leaders in runs scored, batting average, and stolen bases—at the least. Lastly, while he isn’t a power guy, he does consistently lead the league in batted ball events. So from a pure accumulation standpoint, he’s going to generate some homers over the course of a full season. I mean, he hit nine in the shortened season, which isn’t slouchy given his speed and his eligibility at a weak second base position. I’m fully invested in Merrifield as a round three asset if Albies and LeMahieu are off the board.
The Nearly Elite: Cavan Biggio, Keston Hiura, Ketel Marte, Brandon Lowe
And already we have some fleas. Biggio is a passive hitter and you’ll suffer in batting average, but everything else should be solid with his tools and surrounding lineup. Hiura is a wild card with his massive swinging strike rate (20.3% in 2020) but he has upside and the hope for added eligibility at first base this year (that’s sneaky). I like Lowe, but I dislike Tampa’s preference for tinkering with their lineup. Add it all up and my favorite target in this grouping is Ketel Marte.
Marte’s 10.8% strikeout rate placed him inside the top 1% of the league in 2020, and his 40.5% hard hit rate was nearly identical to his breakout 2019 campaign (40.0%). Marte actually made more contact in 2020, but he did so outside the zone, and his swing rate inside the zone dropped. With a more normal offseason on tap—and given Marte’s physical tools—I’m willing to take a chance on a rebound if I’ve missed out on one of the top three and Biggio.
Jeff McNeil or Max Muncy?
Either makes sense, it just depends on your team needs at the moment. For my part, I love Max Muncy’s power at this weak position. He also has the benefit of 1B/2B/3B eligibility, which really opens up your draft moving forward. McNeil also offers triple eligibility (2B/3B/OF) but brings a different skill set. Like Albies, he has a lot of recognition on pitches inside the strike zone—his 84.0% zone swing rate trailed only Corey Seager (84.8%) in 2020, for instance. Also like Albies, he has a high swing rate, but he marries that with plenty of contact. In short, he’s a pure hitter, a man who can bat .300 in his sleep. Like Merrifield, he won’t produce tons of power, but the sheer amount of batted ball events is going to stack up over the course of a season.
The Avoid: Jake Cronenworth
Love the player, hate the competition for at-bats. He’s still riding an early draft season wave, as he’s hanging on as the 19th second baseman selected on average per recent NFBC data. That’s too steep a price to pay given the plethora of quality hitters in San Diego right now.
The Sleeper: Ty France
He’s expected to DH for Seattle, but he could also see time at second base if either Dylan Moore or Shed Long Jr. happen to struggle. And he could hit his way into the conversation as the third baseman of the future in Seattle, given that this is likely the last year we’ll see Kyle Seager as a Mariner. I really like France’s bat later in my drafts if I am a little short on power and need to cover my middle infield position.
The Prospect to Watch: Nick Madrigal
Fun times, Madrigal was the prospect to watch last year. Such is life, occasionally, when prospecting. Madrigal made it to Triple-A in 2019, getting in 29 games at that level before the season’s end. He began the year “blocked” by Leury Garcia in 2020, and he’s also coming off of October shoulder surgery. However, he expects to be ready for the start of Spring Training, and I’m not overly concerned with the injury—we weren’t hoping for power from Madrigal, anyway. Instead, you’ll get plenty of contact and speed with this pick. I don’t love his 180ish ADP when I can target David Fletcher 40+ picks later, but hey—the heading asked for a prospect, so now you have one to watch...even if he doesn’t make sense to me as a draft day target.