Fantasy Baseball: The Prospector

by on January 26, 2011 @ 11:24:00 PDT


Impact Prospects for 2011: The Second Basemen | Rob Leibowitz

Last week we continued our look at the minor leaguers who will have an impact on the 2011 season with a breakdown of first basemen. This week we move on over to second base.

At some point this season the New York Mets' second base job will be handed over to someone else. It is an open competition this spring, but even if Luis Castillo wins it, he is unlikely to keep it with the Mets not expected to be contenders. The two most prominent options are Rule 5 pick Brad Emaus, who must be make the roster or be offered back to his original team, and oft-injured, former first-round pick Reese Havens, who will likely start the year in Double-A, but who could advance quickly through the system if he plays well.

No awards for defense are going to be handed out to any of these three players anytime soon, but both Emaus and Havens do at least bring some offensive promise to the table. Emaus was an 11th-round pick in 2007 by the Toronto Blue Jays and will be 24 to start the 2011 season. He combines low to mid-teens per season potential home run power with excellent plate discipline and the ability to make consistent contact. In 2010 he played at Double-A and Triple-A posting a combined .290-.397-.476 line while drawing more walks than strikeouts and hitting a combined 15 home runs in 445 at-bats. He has played some third base and could at the very least make the team as a utility infielder.

Seattle Mariners 2B Dustin Ackley
Ackley ready for Seattle blue?

Havens was the Mets' second first-round pick in the 2008 draft after Ike Davis. Due to injuries, however, his best at-bat total to date in a single season has been 360 in 2009. Though he received just over 100 at-bats this season, he did play at two levels and he did impress with his bat with a combined .312-.386-.592 line. Throughout most of his minor league career he has walked more than 12 percent of the time, but his strikeout rates have varied from the low 20s to the low 30s and he will have to prove he can make enough contact to avoid being labeled a platoon player. Generally, Havens' upside is higher than Mabeus' given upper teens to low 20s home run power and good patience. Time will tell.

Danny Espinosa is just shy of losing his rookie status, but he does indeed retain it and is slated to be the Washington Nationals' Opening Day second basemen, despite being good enough defensively to perhaps be an everyday shortstop too. Espinosa has good tools and 20-20 potential, but the right-handed hitter has some shortcomings. He is aggressive at the plate, walking eight percent or less of the time at three different stops in 2010 while striking out more than 20 percent of the time to take advantage of his power. I would keep your expectations for 2011 quite modest as a player who might hit into the teens in home runs and attain double-digits steals, but at the same time, he may struggle to hit into the .250-.260 range

The trade of Brett Lawrie, who will also appear in the piece, vaulted Eric Farris to the top of the Milwaukee Brewers' minor league second base depth chart. Farris has a reputation as a good defender and is MLB-ready from that standpoint. The 24-year-old is a very good contact hitter, but one who lacks selectivity at the plate as he walked under four percent of the time in Triple-A this season. An injury cut his season short, but he did steal 17 bases and has enough speed to be considered a 25- to 30-stolen base threat per season. He is by no means a power hitter and profiles as a low to mid-single digits per season home run hitter. While I believe we will see Farris this season and that he may provide some cheap speed, the presence of Rickie Weeks in Milwaukee will limit Farris to a utility role.

Ryan Adams will turn 24 just after the start of the season and is a former second-round pick of the Baltimore Orioles. He played all of last year in Double-A, posting a .298-.365-.464 line and will start 2011 in Triple-A with the potential to be recalled to the Majors - especially if Brian Roberts has a setback from his back injury. Adams has moderate power in his bat, hitting 15 home runs last season, but has only average plate discipline, walking around eight percent of the time while striking out just over 20 percent which may lead to some concern about his ability to handle righties over the long-term. Like Farris, I expect him to be up this season, perhaps even multiple times, but a lot will have to happen for him to get consistent playing time given the number of veteran additions the Orioles have made this offseason.

Brett Lawrie, acquired by the Blue Jays in the Shaun Marcum deal, was perhaps the Brewers most highly regarding hitting prospect. I say hitting prospect because his position remains in question. He is currently listed as a second basemen but profiles better as an outfielder. At just 20 years of age he batted .285 and showed a quick bat and developing power (36 doubles) along with eight home runs. He has some work to do with respect to his plate discipline, but considering how well he handled Double-A at such a young age, an eight percent walk rate and 21 percent strikeout rate is far from bad given his talents and potentially 20-plus HR power season. The one thing you can take with a grain of salt is his stolen base game - 49 stolen bases over the past two seasons. He has slightly above-average speed, but had just a 70 percent success rate at Double-A and will need to improve on that mark if he is to get the green light at the MLB level. The Jays will likely advance him to Triple-A this season, and he could potentially either push Aaron Hill over to third base later this season or push his way into the outfield mix. At this point it is a bit hard to tell whether he will make it as a regular, be simply an average regular, or be an All-Star. There are some good offensive tools to be found here, but whether he has the skills to realize them is the question.

The Cleveland Indians have had some difficulty lately with finding a solution at second base. Luis Valbuena looked like he was the real deal but has yet to translate his MLB skills to the majors. While Valbuena and Jason Donald get another chance, Jason Kipnis may end up the second base solution by mid-season. A 2008 second-round pick, Kipinis played at two levels last year batting a combined .307-.386-.492 while hitting 16 home runs. He is a converted outfielder but is athletic enough to end up an average defender at second. He is rather average in terms of plate discipline, too, walking around or just under 10 percent of the time while striking out about a fifth of the time. His value will be in his bat speed and his ability to hit for power, which is likely in the high-teens per season area, if not the low 20s per season at his peak.

Jemile Weeks has very attractive fantasy impact assets as a player with above-average plate discipline and speed skills. He just cannot for the life of him stay healthy. Despite his abbreviated 2010 season he is still expected to begin 2011 in Triple-A and could eventually push Mark Ellis aside. His contact-making/patient skills combined with his speed make him a potential No. 1 or No. 2 hitter, but it should also be noted that he does have some pop in his bat and is capable of perhaps five to 10 home run per season. The question marks that surround Weeks are "Can he stay healthy?" and "What impact have the injuries had on his long-term speed game?"

Dustin Ackley was the No. 2 overall pick in the 2009 amateur draft and got off to a slow start in his first full season of professional ball. The Seattle Mariners aggressively promoted him straight to Double-A, but he quickly showed the plate discipline skills he was reputed to have in college, walking more often than he struck out, and then hitting well for the rest of the season, especially in the Arizona Fall League where he walked 28 percent of the time while making contact 84 percent of the time, hitting four home runs, and stealing five bases in 94 plate appearances. Ackley is not a second baseman by trade and at best will be an average one and may end up playing in the outfield, though they will have to cover for his weak throwing arm. But that is not why we're interested in him. Ackley is a legitimate .300-plus threat with mid- to high teens per season power potential. He has the raw speed to be a 20-plus stolen base threat, too, but will need to continue to prove he can be a high-efficiency base stealer to get the green light. Including the Arizona Fall League he attempted 15 steals but was successful in 12 of them. The acquisition of Brendan Ryan and the signing of Adam Kennedy to a minor league contact are clear stop-gap moves. Ackley could be up as soon as mid- to late May if all goes well for him both offensively and defensively.

The Minnesota Twins' Tsuyoshi Nishioka is included here because technically he is a rookie. The 26-year old 2B/SS lead the Japanese Pacific League in hitting last year, batting .346 while hitting 11 home runs and stealing 22 bases. He has a good history in Japan of making contact and draws his share of walks. The .364, however, appears to be over his head given little overall change in the other aspects of his game, so a regression in that area is to be expected. His low to mid-teens power numbers may also not translate very well and he could be more of a mid to high-single-digits home-run-hitter in the states. For a rookie season, I would put my projection somewhere around the .280 average, eight HR and 25 steal range, which would be far from bad.

To Review:

Possible MLB phase draft/Auction selections:

Danny Espinosa, Brad Emaus (if he makes the club), Tsuyoshi Nishioka

Possible minor league draft phase selections:

Dustin Ackley, Reese Havens, Jason Kipnis, Brett Lawrie, Jemile Weeks

Possible in-season FAAB pick-ups

Ryan Adams, Eric Farris

As always, if there are any second basemen who were not included in this piece who you like me to discuss, feel free to comment below or to post to the forums.

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