The elite guys in this category are not as plentiful spots like first and third base. Many of the middle tier second basemen provide virtually the same offensive output. If you’re unable to land one of the few elite guys at this position, waiting until later in the draft and going for a sleeper may be the best route.
- Chase Utley PHI- Utley has been the best second baseman in Major League Baseball since his first full season in 2005 when he had 105 RBIs. Last year he had career highs in walks and stolen bases while still hitting 31 homers.
- Robinson Cano NYY- Cano doesn’t get much attention with the presence of A-Rod, Tex, and Jeter in the same lineup, which is part of the reason he is so under-rated. After a down 2008, Cano bounced back to his usual form while scoring 103 times and hitting a career high 25 home runs. Yankee stadium boosts his power production and fantasy owners can take advantage of that.
- Ian Kinsler TEX- Kinsler did not play as well as most expected in 2009 but still had career highs in HR, RBIs, and stolen bases. The emergence of Julio Borbon in the leadoff spot will give Kinsler the chance to drive in even more runs. Kinsler is hindered because he has yet to put together a completely healthy season.
- In the running: Aaron Hill TOR, Brian Roberts BAL, Gordon Beckham CHW (Beckham will qualify for second base shortly after Opening Day)
- Orlando Hudson MIN- Many forget that Hudson was an All-Star for the Dodgers last season before injuries derailed his second half. Signing with the Twins enhanced his fantasy value as he will be hitting in front of Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and Jason Kubel.
- Rickie Weeks MIL- Rickie carried the Brewers in the month of April last season. Before he got hurt, Weeks was on pace to absolutely shatter his career highs in home runs and RBIs.
- Martin Prado ATL- With Kelly Johnson now in Arizona, Martin Prado will get the full-time duty at second base in Atlanta. Prado has always been able to get onbase but last year he added gap power to his game.
- Freddy Sanchez SF- Many people still remember Sanchez for his NL batting title in 2006. He still hits for a fine average but has regressed in all aspects of run production every year since 2006.
- Alberto Callaspo KC- Callaspo is in a rough situation. His fantasy numbers were great last year but his dreadful defense has his starting spot in jeopardy. Callaspo could still be a good pick if he beats out Chris Getz during spring training, but, as of right now, that’s a big ‘if’.
- Skip Schumaker STL- The addition of Felipe Lopez will help the team win games but will also hurt the fantasy values of Skip Schumaker, David Freese, and Julio Lugo (if he had any to begin). Lopez will play all over but his best position is second base where he will get the starts against tough lefties. Schumaker is still a solid player, but the platoon situation is something to consider before your fantasy draft.
Rosters are starting to take shape as we inch closer to spring training. The trade market has been relatively quiet this off-season and the free agent market is dwindling. Some teams are rather comfortable with their rosters as they currently stand but many spots are still in question. Let’s take a look at the most important position battles for each American League team this spring:
Orioles- LF: The Orioles have put together a stellar offense that also has great depth on the bench. Besides left field, the lineup is set. Felix Pie is only 25 and finally realized some of his potential last season after a rough start to his career in Chicago. He provides great defense in left field and a left-handed bat for the bottom of the order. Nolan Reimold is two years older and made his debut last year. As a rookie, Reimold put up 15 homers and 45 RBIs in only 104 contests. They could form a platoon but Pie may be the early favorite to start more games.
Red Sox- IF: The Red Sox are completely set as far as hitters besides maybe another bench player. The bench is currently made of Jason Varitek, Jed Lowrie, Bill Hall, and Jeremy Hermida. One player who could still find his way onto the team is former starting third baseman, Mike Lowell. The Sox nearly traded Lowell to the Rangers earlier this off-season but his injuries kept the deal from being finalized. Adrian Beltre was signed to play third base. First base is already set with Kevin Youkilis. It seems like the only way for Boston to handle this is to trade Lowell for whatever they can get after he proves his health during spring training.
White Sox- BENCH: After shaking up the lineup earlier this winter, the batting order seems to be set. The White Sox have a veteran bench including Ramon Castro, Omar Vizquel, and Mark Kotsay. Whoever else is on the bench will have a tough time finding at bats. Jayson Nix has a shot at making the team as the primary right handed pinch hitter. Jayson, like his brother Laynce of the Cincinnati Reds, doesn’t hit for a high average but does provide raw power. Brent Lillibridge would give the team more versatility but has disappointed in all phases at the plate during his two years in the pros. Others who will get a look this spring include catcher Tyler Flowers, infielders Jason Botts and Freddie Bynum, and outfielders Brady Clark and Alejandro De Aza.
Indians- C: The Indians have many spots that are not set heading into camp. First base, second base, and left field could potentially have competitions this spring. However, the most important battle this spring in Cleveland’s camp could be that for the job of starting catcher. Lou Marson was brought in when the Indians traded Cliff Lee to Philadelphia. Carlos Santana is another candidate. Santana is one of the game’s top prospects and his switch-hitting skills profile similar to those of former Cleveland catcher, Victor Martinez. Lou Marson has already played at the top level but Santana has a higher ceiling. Mike Redmond was signed to mentor both prospects and help a young pitching staff.
Tigers- LF: The Tigers seem to be set with rookie Austin Jackson in center field. The left field competition will include front runners Clete Thomas and Ryan Raburn along with rookie Wilkin Ramirez. Raburn, who can play all over the field, has had the most success including a strong showing in 2009. The Tigers have also been linked to Johnny Damon this off-season. He would be a nice upgrade at the top of their order because none of the in-house options are ideal for the two spot in the lineup.
Royals- 2B/SS: The Royals have two huge battles this spring and both need to be mentioned here. Alberto Callaspo was a great find last year and spent most of the year around the top of the lineup. He is a very well-rounded hitter with good pop and a good eye. His defense was very poor, however, and that prompted the Royals to acquire Chris Getz in the Mark Teahen trade. Getz is a good defender with more speed than Callaspo. Early in the off-season it didn’t seem to be a log-jam as Callaspo could slide into the DH spot but the Rick Ankiel acquisition moves Jose Guillen to DH. The Royals will have to decide between defense and offense when it comes to their second baseman. The shortstop battle will be just as competitive this year. Yuniesky Betancourt was brought in via trade last summer. That deal left many questioning the front office because Betancourt has been declining in every facet of the game and is under contract through 2011. Mike Aviles was possibly the team MVP in 2008 before injuries derailed his 2009 campaign. The loser of the shortstop competition could very well be traded this spring.
Angels- C: The Angels’ starting catcher will probably be Mike Napoli but expect Jeff Mathis to give him a run for his money. Napoli has more power but his numbers did not go up with the increase in playing time he had last year. Napoli also struggled in the post-season. Mathis is a career .200 hitter but still gets plenty of playing time under Mike Scioscia. Mathis’ great post-season may give him a boost in confidence heading into spring training.
Twins- 3B: The Twins entered the off-season with holes at second, short, and third. Orlando Hudson will play second and J.J. Hardy was traded for to play short. Nick Punto is the favorite to play third given his great defense and the presence of many other prominent bats to pick up his slack at the plate. If Ron Gardenhire needs another bat, however, Brendan Harris could get some playing time. Others who will get a chance to audition at third base this spring are Matt Tolbert, Luke Hughes, and Danny Valencia.
Yankees- BENCH: Like many other AL teams, the Yankees’ defense is set. New York’s All-Star lineup is amazing, as usual, but every team needs depth. Juan Miranda is a first baseman that has been blocked by Mark Teixeira after solid play throughout the minors. He will fight for a bench spot with the big league team as a left-handed pinch hitter. Marcus Thames will also compete for a pinch hitting role but he is right-handed. Rule 5 Draftee Jamie Hoffman has a slim chance at making the team as a reserve outfielder and may need an injury to either a starter or to Brett Gardner in order to make the roster. Mike Rivera will compete with Francisco Cervelli for the chance to backup Jorge Posada.
Athletics- LF/RF: Coco Crisp is the only outfielder that is a lock for a starting position in Oakland’s outfield. Rajai Davis and Ryan Sweeney are the early favorites to start in left field and right field, respectively. Davis finally got consistent playing time and was able to produce runs in many clutch plate appearances last season. Sweeney is best known for plus defense but since arriving in Oakland he also has a .349 OBP. Sweeney still lacks power and speed. Travis Buck enters spring training with a chip on his shoulder after the club brought in Gabe Gross, Michael Taylor, and re-signed Jack Cust. Michael Taylor is one of the top prospect in baseball and many think he is ready for a full-time role in Oakland.
Mariners- C: Most of Seattle’s lineup will be different from opening day 2009 (catcher, first base, shortstop, third base, and left field). Catcher is the leading question mark entering 2010. Adam Moore is the catcher of the future but the Mariners see now as their best chance to take the division from the Angels. Will they let Moore grow in the midst of a pennant chase? Josh Bard is a veteran that was invited to camp with a chance to make the roster. Bard had two fairly good seasons in 2006 and 2007 but struggled at the plate last year in 90 games. Moore and Bard will battle Eliezer Alfonzo and Rob Johnson for playing time this year but the Mariners should not expect too much offense from this spot in 2010.
Rays- C: In 2008 Dioner Navarro was an All-Star catcher for the American League Champions. In 2009 Dioner Navarro lost playing time and saw his OBP drop from .349 to .261 while the Rays missed the playoffs. Navarro is still young but the Rays project to again be one of best teams in baseball and need production from the entire lineup to keep pace with Boston and New York. Kelly Shoppach was brought in to compete with Navarro. He is another young catcher who experienced a drop-off in production last year. The Rays hope the competition between the two will spark better play in 2010.
Rangers- 1B: The Rangers will again have a good offense with players like Ian Kinsler, Michael Young, Vladimir Guerrero, Josh Hamilton, and so on. One spot that isn’t so great is first base. Chris Davis played well as a rookie in 2008 but his ability to get onbase completely fell off the chart last year. The Rangers have their eyes set on the playoffs and tried to acquire Mike Lowell as insurance for first base. Lowell’s nagging injuries didn’t allow the deal to be completed. Justin Smoak is a switch-hitting prospect but is still very young. The Rangers may still look to free agency for a hitter like Russell Branyan, Carlos Delgado, or, longtime Ranger, Hank Blalock.
Blue Jays- LF: The Blue Jays are in rebuilding mode and are looking to stopgaps to fill in all over the field. Utility-man Jose Bautista may end up being the stopgap in left field. He has the ability to hit for power but will not have a high average. Bautista is the favorite but Jeremey Reed is another option along with speedster Joey Gathright. The Jays had a potential five tool left fielder in Michael Taylor but traded him for corner infield prospect, Brett Wallace. Free agents Johnny Damon and Willy Taveras could be brought in to play left and provide top-of-the-order experience as well.
While I’ve been waiting for the free agents to start signing with their new teams, I have looked back at a couple that have already happened. A confusing rumor mixed with a related trade have left me questioning the motives of the Kansas City Royals.
The Royals have been craving a defensive minded backstop after Olivo, Buck, and Pena each displayed some struggles behind the plate this year, though the group hit the ball with some authority. With their constricted payroll one would expect another stopgap at catcher until they can spend some money. But this is where I get confused. The Royals aren’t that far from competing in the AL Central. No I don’t think they’re the next Tampa Bay Rays, that’s why I said competing, not contending. It’d be nice if the Royals fans had a competitive team to watch all summer.
But back to the trade rumor. While searching for that catcher, there’s been word that they are interested in A.J. Ellis of the L.A. Dodgers. If you haven’t heard of him, I’m not surprised. He is a 28 year old career minor league catcher with one hit in the bigs. Not only are the Royals interested in him, but the trade talks start with Alberto Callaspo. Callaspo is young, cheap, and productive. Callaspo combines speed with a little bit of pop that had him hitting in the 3-spot a couple times this year. He is a switch-hitter and should only get better in the field. The Dodgers would be sure to accept this offer instantly as Orlando Hudson is on the way out as a free agent, again making Callaspo ever-more valuable to L.A. There couldn’t be much to this rumor, could there?
Maybe there is. Just after this rumor came about, the Royals pulled off a different trade. Mark Teahen to the White Sox for Chris Getz and Josh Fields. This was more of a cost saving move while they hope that Alex Gordon really steps it up at third. Fields is comparable to Gordon in the fact that he is third base prospect who hasn’t lived up to the hype. Fields can play all the corners though, and is less-expensive. Getz is the interesting part. Last year he began the season as the White Sox starting second baseman and he doesn’t really project anywhere else besides second. He bats lefty and is a purely contact hitter. Why would the Royals bring him in?
Currently the Royals have a couple other options at second even beyond Callaspo. Willie Bloomquist will be in the second year of his deal and is a great utility man. Also, the Royals have Mike Aviles who is recovering from surgery. After acquiring Yuniesky Betancourt from the Mariners near the trade deadline to play short, Aviles will be coming to spring training looking to compete. Either way you look at, the Royals don’t have a need for Getz unless the Royals are planning on moving someone, with the rumors pointing to Callaspo.
I’m hopeful, and confident, that the Royals would not only seek an old minor league catcher in return for the valuable Callaspo, but why do the trade talks start with Ellis. If the starting point of a deal for Callaspo is an inexperienced catcher, I’m sure many more teams will get involved. I look forward to seeing where these talks go.