Fantasy Baseball Primer: Ranking the 2Bs
Traditionally among the two or three thinnest positions in fantasy baseball, 2B gets a huge boost this year due to a pair of factors. First, two excellent hitters are eligible for 2B despite the fact that they will not be playing that position this season, in Colorado’s Michael Cuddyer and Texas’ Michael Young. Secondly, the position has gotten an injection of talent with a trio of young stars in Seattle’s Dustin Ackley, Cleveland’s Jason Kipnis and Oakland’s Jemile Weeks.
Last season, none of those five were an option and 2B was weaker than any position aside from catcher. Therefore, I targeted clear-cut top 2B Robinson Cano in the first round, drafting him in three separate leagues (and winning two, justifying the selection). In 2012, Cano is still a great grab in the first round, but with Cuddyer and Young likely available into the sixth and seventh round is it worth reaching for Kinsler and Pedroia in the later first to early second round? With Ackley, Kipnis and Jemile Weeks all representing high upsides well after the eleventh round is it worth reaching for injury-prone talents Rickie Weeks and Howard Kendrick in the seventh?
These are the types of decisions which shape fantasy baseball teams. Drafting Pedroia or Kinsler could mean passing up on fantasy studs like Prince Fielder and Jose Reyes, not to mention aces Clayton Kershaw, Justin Verlander and Roy Halladay. Drafting Kendrick or Rickie Weeks could mean a missed opportunity to nab rising star pitchers Ian Kennedy or Madison Bumgarner, not to mention slam-dunk closers Mariano Rivera and Jonathan Papelbon.
I often state that it is important to target players for early, middle and late round options in fantasy drafts at each position. In the mid-to-late first round, the sublime talents of Robinson Cano are certainly worthwhile. In the sixth or seventh round, Michael Cuddyer should approach 30 home runs and 100 RBIs in the hitter’s haven of Coors Field, with an average higher than Dan Uggla, likely gone in the fourth round. Slated as a 14th-to-17th round pick, it is certainly conceivable that Jason Kipnis puts up a line of .275-15-75 with 15 SBs, comparable to what you would get with Ben Zobrist in the fifth round or Howard Kendrick in the seventh.
On to the rankings:
1. Robinson Cano, New York Yankees (Yahoo 8, ESPN 7)
Second base is one of three positions, along with SS and 3B, where there is absolutely no contest for the #1 spot. Over the past three years, Cano has averaged a line of .314-27-104, and at age 29 he can still get better. He plays in a hitter’s park in the Bronx, and is moving up to the third spot in the Yankees’ potent order. Both in real life and in fantasy he is a far better player than nearest contenders Ian Kinsler and Dustin Pedroia, and he is not only a reasonable pick at #4 overall after Cabrera, Pujols and Tulowitzki are off the board, but he is also a solid bet to win the 2012 AL MVP.
2. Ian Kinsler, Texas Rangers (Yahoo 20, ESPN 19)
2011: .255-32-77 (30 SB)
Sandwiched around an injury-prone 2010, Kinsler put together 30-30 seasons in both 2009 and 2011. He plays in a hitter’s park in one of the best line-ups in baseball. Hitting in front of the devestating threesome of Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz and Mike Napoli he will see plenty of fastballs to feast on. Kinsler has batted .300 before (2008), and if he can get his average near to that point, he will be nearly as valuable as Cano due to his speed on the basepaths.
3. Dustin Pedroia, Boston Red Sox (Yahoo 17, ESPN 15)
2011: .307-21-91 (26 SB)
Boston’s fan-favorite diminutive 2B is a five-category contributor in fantasy, rare anyway but scarcer still at his position. Pedroia’s ability to shorten up with two strikes and still hit the ball hard to all fields makes him a constant threat to hit .300. His smarts on the basepaths make him a perennial 20+ SB guy despite not having spectacular speed, and he has become an expert at lifting the ball over the Green Monster at Fenway, leading to 20+ HR seasons despite lacking great power. Pedroia’s ability to maximize his abilities to fit his surroundings are praiseworthy indeed, putting him neck-and-neck with Kinsler as the second-best 2B in baseball behind the sublime Cano.
4. Brandon Phillips, Cincinnati Reds (Yahoo 55, ESPN 54)
2011: .300-18-82 (14 SB)
One of the most entertaining personalities in Major League Baseball, Phillips is also the best defensive 2B currently in the game. Unfortunately, neither of those admirable traits will help you in fantasy. What will is that he is in his prime at 31, is an annual 20 HR/20 SB threat, and last year reached .300 for the first time. Combine all of those facts and Phillips is surely worthy of a selection in the fifth round where he is consistently slated by the experts.
5. Michael Cuddyer, Colorado Rockies (Yahoo 70, ESPN 95)
2011: .284-20-70 (11 SB)
Okay, this is cheating. Cuddyer will not play 2B for the Rockies, we all know that. Yet, due to the fact that he saw some action there for the Twins last year, he is eligible for the position. Factor in the fact that he achieved his admirable stats playing last year in the hitter’s graveyard of Minnesota and is now moving to the batter’s haven of Colorado. Is a .280-30-100 season possible? Without a doubt. Cuddyer’s stats in the final season of the Metrodome (2009) were comparable: .276-32-94. As an OF or 1B (where he will be playing most of the time), Cuddyer would be worthy of his ranking. At 2B, his value is far greater. If he is still available after the fifth round, do not miss out on this low-risk, high-reward player.
6. Michael Young, Texas Rangers (Yahoo 61, ESPN 98)
Okay, we’re cheating again. Young will not play any 2B, although he is eligible there. He is also eligible at 1B and 3B, making him an extremely valuable player to have on your fantasy team. A lifetime .304 hitter with 2,061 career hits, Young is simply a hit machine. Although his power dipped a bit last year, in the previous two seasons his HR totals were 22 and 21. His versatility and consistency make him an invaluable fantasy contributor, which is why I ranked him slightly ahead of Uggla and Zobrist.
7. Dan Uggla, Atlanta Braves (Yahoo 48, ESPN 42)
Quite simply, Uggla is the best power source among all major league 2Bs. His batting average of .233 last year, however, was… well, Ugg-ly. The 32 year old from Kentucky tends to swing from his heels going for the big fly, leading to low averages and high strike-out rates. His power numbers still make him a worthy fantasy asset, but in the fourth round where he is slated to go, it might be wiser to wait a round for the all-around ability of a Brandon Phillips, or wait a few rounds for Michael Cuddyer and Michael Young. Think of it this way — ESPN ranks Uggla 42nd and Young 98th. Yet Young led Uggla in three of five categories (.338 to .233, 6 SBs to 1 SB, 106 RBIs to 82), while they tied in runs scored (88 apiece). Although Uggla crunched Young in HRS (36 to 11), that is not equal to the more obscene discrepancy in batting average. Overall it can be argued that the two players have similar value to a fantasy team, but when you factor in Young’s multi-positional eligiblity (3B and 1B) and the fact that Young can be drafted two-to-four rounds later, it seems that Uggla in the fourth could be a reach.
8. Ben Zobrist, Tampa Bay Rays (Yahoo 52, ESPN 51)
2011: .269-20-91 (19 SB)
Last season, Zobrist helped fantasy teams in four offensive categories, while not hurting you too much in batting average. He also is eligible for OF, making him even more valuable. He is useful to fantasy teams the same way he is useful to Rays’ manager Joe Maddon — as a Swiss Army knife, solid at everything but not dominant in anything. Zobrist is certainly worthy of being drafted in the fifth round where he is slated to go.
9. Chase Utley, Philadelphia Phillies (Yahoo 71, ESPN 77)
2011: .259-11-44 (14 SB); (limited to 398 ABs by injuries)
The biggest question at 2B might be where to draft Chase Utley? From 2005 to 2009, he was the clear-cut best 2B in baseball, averaging close to 30 HRs and 100 RBIs, adding a .290+ average and 20+ SB potential. Knee injuries have drained him over the past two seasons, and there are several questions as to how much and how well he can play in 2012. My advice? If Utley falls into the seventh or eighth round, take a flyer on him – if healthy, he may not be able to ascend to previous statistical heights, but .300-20-85 is within reach. Just make sure you use a later pick to get some insurance at 2B; on the other side of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, Neil Walker is a good bet for .285-15-80 who should be available after the 13th round.
10. Rickie Weeks, Milwaukee Brewers (Yahoo 84, ESPN 85)
2011: .269-20-49 (453 ABs)
Perhaps the most athletically gifted 2B in the game aside from Cano, injuries have plagued Weeks for his entire career. He has only totalled over 500 ABs once, in 2010, when he responded with 29 HRs and 112 runs scored. With Prince Fielder leaving the Brew Crew, Weeks will be more relied upon to produce this year in the middle of the Milwaukee line-up. Only 29 years of age, Weeks could conceivably near 30 HRs and 90 RBIs if healthy. If only he could conceivably stay healthy. Draft him after the top 2B options are gone, and then offer a sacrifice to whatever your voodoo deity is that Weeks spends 2012 on the field and off the disabled list.
11. Dustin Ackley, Seattle Mariners (Yahoo 136, ESPN 171)
2011: .273-6-36 (273 ABs after call-up)
I absolutely love this kid’s swing. If I had to bet on any 2012 rookie to one day win a batting title, it would be Ackley. His smooth, quick left-handed stroke is reminiscent of a young Tony Gwynn or Wade Boggs. Although not blazingly fast or incredible powerful, Ackley’s upside is tremendous — he could one day hit .330 with 20+ HR and 20+ SB. There are no guarantees that such a breakthrough will occur this year, but expect improvements all across the board as he gets over 600 ABs. Unfortunately, the Mariners are moving him to the OF, so this will be Ackley’s final season eligible at 2B, but he is certainly worthy of a pick prior to where the experts have him slated to go.
12. Jemile Weeks, Oakland Athletics (Yahoo 154, ESPN 202)
2011: .303-2-36 (22 SB in 406 ABs after call-up)
Looking for a late-round source of average and SBs at an historically thin position? Look no further. Weeks is a solid bet to lead all 2Bs in SBs, and keep his average in the .300 range. He will be part of a electrifyingly fast top of the line-up in Oakland with Coco Crisp, and unlike in previous seasons the A’s are expected to run like hell on the basepaths in 2012. Although he was caught stealing 11 times in 2011, Barry Larkin has worked with him in the off-season to become a better fielder and basestealer. Jemile lacks the power of older brother Rickie, but looks to be a late round steal in most fantasy formats.
13. Howard Kendrick, Los Angeles Angels (Yahoo 72, ESPN 118)
2011: .285-18-63 (14 SB)
Once seen as a future batting-crown winner, Kendrick has settled in as a guy who does a little bit of everything. Also eligible at 1B and OF, Kendrick is a bit of an injury risk, having served several sentences on the DL due to a variety of injuries. If healthy, he is a poor man’s Brandon Phillips. However, he is ranked significantly higher than he deserves. According to Yahoo, he is worth drafting an amazing 93 picks ahead of Neil Walker, who is a good bet to put up virtually identical numbers. Therefore, I put Kendrick in fantasy limbo — not good enough to target early, and ranked too high to sit on late. Either get yourself a top 2B option, or wait for a sleeper later.
14. Neil Walker, Pittsburgh Pirates (Yahoo 165, ESPN 167)
2011: .273-12-83 (9 SB)
Walker is a very good late value pick. Why? Well, ESPN and Fox would rather show Brett Favre readjusting his crotch than a Pittsburgh Pirates game. On the highlight shows, LeBron James’ preference in socks is given precedence over Bucs’ highlights. Ergo, Walker can be had extremely late in your fantasy draft, despite the fact that he is still improving and his two-year averages are nearly identical to Howard Kendrick. If you take a chance on an Utley or Rickie Weeks early, you can take Walker as insurance for your high-upside but injury-prone 2B late. In deeper leagues, Walker is also a solid starting option, who will contribute a bit in all five offensive fantasy categories.
15. Jason Kipnis, Cleveland Indians (Yahoo 158, ESPN 174)
2011: .272-7-19 (5 SB in 136 ABs after call-up)
Not guaranteed of Cleveland’s starting 2B gig entering training camp, expect Kipnis to win it with his 20+ HR/ 20+ SB potential. He is not as sure of a bet as Seattle mega-prospect Ackley, nor is he a slam-dunk to contribute in two categories like Oakland’s Jemile Weeks. Yet Kipnis is a high-upside bargain where he will be available, capable of contributing in all five categories if he puts it all together. That upside is why Kipnis is ranked on this list ahead of bust-candidates Danny Espinosa and Gordan Beckham.