by Rob Leibowitz
Last year's second base class included some of the most anticipated prospects in all of baseball headlined by the likes of Seattle's Dustin Ackley, Washington's Danny Espinosa, Cleveland's Jason Kipnis, Oakland's Jemile Weeks, and of course Toronto's Brett Lawrie, who of course ended up shifting to third base.
This year's class unfortunately is not quite as exciting with the peak members perhaps a year away from really contributing, though they may get brief late season call-ups. Still, MLB teams will certainly need second basemen over the course of the year and even if a player may not become a star, it is still possible they will receive the opportunity to claim a role as a regular, and that for those intent on winning is significant in of itself!
If not for injuries I would probably not be dismissing Reese Havens with the above verbiage so easily. Actually, if not for the injuries, he would probably already be the Mets' starting second basemen. That said, Havens will advance to Triple-A Buffalo in 2012 and was healthy enough last year to show that his tools and skills were still indeed intact. Havens is an adequate defender but is noted mostly due to his on-base abilities and mid-teens power abilities. Unless he cuts down on his strikeouts he does not project to be someone who necessarily hits for average, but his aforementioned skills should make up for it. That is of course if he can actually stay on the field. I am more confident of his skills than his health. Daniel Murphy heads into the season as the starter, but does not profile well at the position and Justin Turner, though he started often for the Mets in 2011, profiles best as a utility man. So there is a possible opening here for Havens.
Lombardozzi can hang
Havens is not the only second base option for cash-starved Mets. Jordany Valdespin was Haven's teammate at Binghamton. Valdespin has some interesting power/speed skills and generally throughout his career has made fairly consistent contact (around 84 to 85-percent of the time whenever he stays at one particular level for an extended period). Last season he hit a combined 17 home runs and had 35 steals between Double-A and Triple-A. His shortcomings are in the discipline department, both at the plate and from a maturity standpoint. He failed to draw walks 5% of the time at either of his two stops in 2011. His defense and especially his arm strength earn mixed reviews. Right now he strikes me as better for traditional 5x5 fantasy purposes than as a real baseball player. It is also possible that he could be a factor in the shortstop situation given the lack of offensive-minded players the Mets currently have there in either Ruben Tejada or Ronny Cedeno. Overall, Valdespin is a boom or bust player for me. It will really depend on the Mets and what chance they end up giving him, if any. He is certainly the type of player who could get a chance and start out hot and run away with it for awhile, though because of his selectivity issues, I suspect he will be prone to some rather pronounced streaks.
Finally, the Mets have another in-house option in Josh Satin. A non-prospect for the majority of his professional career, Satin has done nothing but hit at every single level of competition. Last year he hit above .300 at two levels while showing good gap power. The 27-year-old makes contact about four-fifths of the time and while he was more aggressive at small samples at Triple-A and in the majors, has drawn walks more than 10% in the minors. He is not a toolsy guy and is merely adequate at just about any position he plays. He will probably return to Triple-A to start the season, but if he continues to keep hitting, he could force his way into a utility role with the Mets.
Over in Baltimore, the Orioles have several second base candidates, but their opportunity for playing time will depend entirely on Brian Roberts' health. Roberts has two years remaining on his contract and a complete no-trade clause for 2012. So if he is healthy, he'll be in the lineup. That said, L.J. Hoes headlines the Orioles list in terms of potential, but is something of a tweener given his defensive shortcomings at the position and a bat that does not really lend itself to a corner outfield position. He makes good contact, draws walks, and gets on base, and has above average speed and the ability to steal 20 bases in an MLB season. He finally showed some power in 2011, but it looks like his peak will be that of gap, low teens home run per season power.
Ryan Adams played almost the entire season for Triple-A Norfolk before a late season call-up to Baltimore. He has good doubles power, but is a fairly undisciplined right-handed hitter and if he gets time as a starter it will likely be short lived. He could compete for a utility job this spring.
Finally this brings us to former top prospect Matt Antonelli. He finally stayed healthy enough to receive over 300 plate appearances and showed his trademark plate discipline while producing a .297/.393/.460 line. Like Adams, he will probably serve as a utility man or as Triple-A roster filler, but if he can stay healthy and show the skills he showed last year at the MLB level, he might actually be the Orioles' best option at second base after Roberts. My gut, however, says he spends 90% of 2012 in Triple-A and/or on the DL.
The Angels, meanwhile, recently extended the contract of Howard Kendrick several years meaning playing time chances at second base for others will be rather limited. And should he falter, playing time would likely go to either Maicer Izturis or Alberto Callaspo first. Still, it would be foolish to overlook Ryan Mount, who could start 2012 in Triple-A. The 25-year-old is possibly even more injury prone than Havens and has yet to eclipse the 400 plate appearance mark in any professional season since 2006. Still, he has some modest power and speed as well as a fairly patient approach. He could still make it as a utility man or better if the stars align correctly.
Continuing on an injury theme of former early-round picks it brings us to former Royal Jeff Bianchi. Originally a shortstop, Bianchi has spent quite a bit of time since 2006 on the sidelines including the entirety of 2010. The Cubs acquired him via waivers this offseason meaning he will be given a chance to make the club, but in order to head to the minors will need to clear waivers again. He is a good contact hitter with above average speed and modest power and could still be an asset for a fantasy team. Keep an eye on his progress, whether it be in the minors, majors, or over the waiver wire.
Rickie Weeks is firmly entrenched as the second baseman in Milwaukee, but Eric Farris is now in line to possibly be the primary beneficiary if Weeks finds himself on the disabled list yet another time. Farris has good speed and makes excellent contact, but he is of the light-hitting, aggressive-swinging ilk who posts unimpressive OBPs and may generate quite a few ground-ball outs. His speed game, however, makes him worth watching as a potential temporary fill-in option.
The Nationals already have a young second baseman in Danny Espinosa as their starter. He is a good fielder and has legitimate 20-20 potential, but is a switch-hitter who struggles to make contact and get on base. Should the Nationals tire of his lack of on-base ability and overall consistency at the plate, they may promote Steve Lombardozzi. Lombardozzi saw time late last season and is already on at least a utility player track to the majors. He is something of an opposite of Espinosa as more of a skills player than a tools player, though his defense is generally well regarded too. He has gap power at best, a bit of speed, but is a switch-hitter with above average contact-making skills. My sense is that the Nationals will stick with the higher-flying Espinosa long-term and that Lombardozzi could have a decent career as a utility man, doing a respectable job as a starter on a fill-in basis when needed. If he does get a shot, he could be a .260s to .280s hitter with single-digit per season power and teens per season stolen base talent.
The Padres will go with the aging Orlando Hudson for another year meaning there may be plenty of opportunities for rookies here. One such contender may be Vincent Belnome. He is not the most notable of physical specimens, but much like Satin what he does is hit. His fielding is adequate at best. For two straight seasons at A+ and AA he has shown good power and fantastic plate discipline. His line last season was an impressive .333/.432/.603 with 17 homers in 318 plate appearances. The soon to be 24-year-old will be making his first appearance in Triple-A this year and it should be noted that he was consistently old for the league he played in and needs to show more at the upper levels and in the majors. It is possible that he could over-matched against more talented competition especially when you consider his complete lack of pedigree.
Possible MLB Phase Draft/Auction Sections:
Ryan Adams, Steve Lombardozzi, Eric Farris (deep leagues - competing for utility role in spring training)
Possible Minor League Draft Phase Selections:
Reese Havens, L.J. Hoes, Jordany Valdespin
Possible In-Season FAAB Pick-Ups:
Matt Antonelli, Josh Satin, Ryan Mount, Jeff Bianchi, Eric Farris, Vincent Belnome
If there are any second basemen who were not included in this piece who you would like me to discuss, feel free to comment below or post to the Mastersball.com forums.