Tagged: Second Basemen

FLB Updated 2B Rankings ’08

1. Chase Utley, PHI
Utley has been the hottest hitter in baseball in 2008, hands down. He looks like a runaway MVP candidate and his fantasy owners have to be patting themselves on the backs for stealing him in the mid-late 1st round. 2B is easily the shallowest position in the game which makes Utley that much more valuable. He does it all; hits for some major power, hits for a high average, knocks in runs, steals bases, etc.. Considering how hard it is to find a productive 2B, one could actually make the case that Utley is the most valuable player in fantasy and should’ve gone #1 overall in most drafts. Barring injuries or any unforeseen circumstances, I really don’t think he’s going to slow down very much between now and the post season. I’m sure those of you who own Utley could MacGyver a king’s ransom in players if you wanted to trade him but it would be awfully hard to say goodbye to the best player in the game (at the moment) who just happens to play at the weakest position in fantasy. 
AP: .328/34/111/10
2. Brandon Phillips, CIN
Phillips has quickly become one of my favorite players in fantasy. He’s a five category contributer and was amazingly one of the only 30/30 players in the game last year. Needless to say, 30/30 players are extremely hard to come by. Due to his limited track record, there were concerns as to whether he would be able to maintain the torrid pace that he set last season. So far, he’s well on his way. If Utley wasn’t playing so unbelievably well right now, the case could be made that Phillips is actually more valuable. As good as Utley is, he probably won’t approach 30/30 this year or any other. Phillips very well could. He won’t hit for as high of an average and probably won’t drive in as many runs, but is top-notch when it comes to everything else. You really can’t go wrong with Phillips, especially while hitting in a bandbox like the Great American Ballpark. 
AP: .285/28/93/29
3. BJ Upton, TB
This is the last season that BJ Upton will have 2B eligibility so enjoy it while it lasts. When it comes to fantasy, Upton is much more in the mold of Brandon Phillips than he is Chase Utley. He has speed, can hit for decent average and has a fair amount of pop in his bat. Some scouts fear his batting average will ultimately drop due to his free-swinging ways. However, is K/BB ratio is looking a lot better this season and he may actually be becoming a more disciplined hitter. Early in the season the powers numbers haven’t been where you’d like to see them but he should start picking it up on that end as well. 
AP: .288/24/88/25
4. Ian Kinsler, TEX
The case can be made for either Roberts or Uggla in this spot but I’m obviously going with Kinsler here. He has a nice power/speed combo as is still developing and hasn’t reached his peak in production yet. Last season he was a 20/20 guy (which is pretty much the next best thing if you can’t land a 30/30 guy like Phillips) and has the potential to be even better. Within the next couple years he very well plateau at 30/30 and stay there for years. On top of that, he’s been hitting near the top of the Rangers’ order this season and is scoring a ton of runs. He also drives in his fair share of RBIs and has the ability to hit around .300 as well. The risk here is young players tend to get hot and cold so it’s likely that he will see a few slumps here and there but nothing major, barring injuries of course. He’s seems to be running a lot more this season and could end up with upwards of 30 SBs if he’s keeps running at the rate he’s set for himself. 
AP: .293/22/75/32
5. Brian Roberts, BAL
The reason Roberts falls to #5 is not any real fault of his own. Now that Kinsler is coming into his own, he should be seen as the more valuable of the two because of the power potential. Roberts swiped 50 bags last year (
which is nothing to scoff at) but he generally steals 25-35 per season, making last year’s total somewhat of an aberration. However, he’s really turned on the jets this season and already has double digit steals as I write this right now. At this rate, he could realistically approach 50 stolen bases again but he’ll have to get a few breaks here and there. For example, he recently hurt his foot and was removed from the game. If something like that were to linger, it would surely cut down on his SB numbers. My projections on him are optimistic but just keep in mind how easily that can change. 
AP: .278/15/59/40
6. Dan Uggla, FLA
Dan Uggla is like the late great Rodney Dangerfield in at least one regard…he just can’t seem to get any respect. In his few seasons in the league, he’s proven that he can hit for some serious power. You’d think the prospect of a 25-30 HR 2B would have fantasy owners foaming at the mouth. As I write this, Uggla just blasted two more over the fence to bring his current HR total to 11 HRs. We’re about a month into the season and Uggla’s already in double digits. He’s only 2 HRs behind the #1 2B, Chase Utley for crying out loud. So how is it that he falls all the way to #6? To be perfectly honest, I’m not really sure why he’s not ranked higher in more people’s eyes. It probably has something to do with last year’s low batting and the fact that he’s good for about 2 stolen bases per year…or at least it does for me. Unless we’re talking about 30-40 HRs (which I don’t think we are in this case, though he’s been on a HR rampage, 40 may be out of reach), most owners would rather get speed out of their middle infield positions. If you’ve got Uggla manning 2B, you’ll have to find speed elsewhere to balance it out. It all comes down to whether Uggla takes that next step. Adding 10 more HRs to his annual total and hitting closer to .300 would go a long way in earning him more respect in the eyes of the fantasy world. Hell, if he hits around .280 and puts 40 HRs over the fence this year, he’ll easily be the #3 2B next year and could be ranked as high as #2 on some lists (especially if Phillips doesn’t match last year’s numbers). 
AP: .274/33/98
7. Howie Kendrick, LAA
When Kendrick isn’t hurt, he’s actually one of the better 2Bs in the game today. Batting average is his strongest suite but he is starting to develop double-digit power as well. It would be nice if he’d steal more bases (and that may come in time) but as of now he’s more of a run scorer than anything. I see him as a very similar player to Robinson Cano. He may not hit as many HRs but will steal a few more bases and will hit for a higher average. The only question is playing time. Kendrick manages to hurt himself every year and is already on the DL as I write this entry. 
AP: .324/9/51/10
8. Robinson Cano, NYY
Cano has been a terrible mess to start the season, hitting under .200 for a good part of hit. As I write this today, he’s barely above .200 (.207) but is start to hit the ball better. Unless he hits a few hot streaks, he likely won’t see a .300 average this year. With that said, I still think he can rebound enough to put him in the top ten in terms of production. A lot of owners don’t like him because he doesn’t steal bases but he will get his fair share of RBIs hitting in such a lethal lineup (even it is slotted towards the bottom). This projection is a bit conservative but should be pretty close barring unforeseen circumstances. 
AP: .274/16/65/4 
9. Rickie Weeks, MIL
If it wasn’t for batting average, Weeks would be a full-fledged fantasy star at 2B. He’s scored 31 times and is on par to hit 20 HRs and steal 20 bases. That’s pretty much what scouts have been expecting from him for years now. So how bad is the batting average? It’s downright awful, .187. To be fair, his batting average really suffered last year due to a wrist injury that plagued him all year. That could’ve carried over into this season but he claims that’s not the case. Hopefully, for his sake he’ll start making a little more contact here and there or else Brewers’ management may be tempted to send him down to the minors so he can regain his eye for the ball. Considering how productive he’s been elsewhere, I don’t see that happening anytime soon but if he’s still hovering around .200 by the all-star break, something may have to be done. 
AP: .226/18/64/21
10. Dustin Pedroia, BOS
Admittedly, I’m not the biggest Dustin Pedroia fan outside of Red Sox nation so I may not have him ranked as high as others. Nonetheless, he still made the top 10 and is basically the anti-Rickie Weeks. As opposed to Weeks, he hits for a high average but doesn’t do much else. He’s not a power guy, doesn’t drive in runs but does score a lot and is starting to steal more bases. Last year he stole 7 total but is already at 4 after a month and a half into the season. If he keeps running at this pace he should finish the season with double-digit steals. RBIs might be on the upswing as well. He topped out at 50 in his rookie season last year but is at 21 already. He’ll get plenty of chances hitting in the stacked BoSox lineup so I expect him to finish the season quite nicely in that regard. 
AP: .293/7/72/12
11. Placido Polanco, DET
AP: .292/8/57/10
12. Kelly Johnson, ATL
AP: .276/14/75/11
13. Kazuo Matsui, HOU
AP: .277/4/51/26
14. Aaron Hill, TOR
AP: .269/12/71/9
15. Mark DeRosa, CHC
AP: .272/14/70
16. Jose Lopez, SEA
AP: .296/12/65/7
17. Jeff Kent, LAD
AP: .268/16/75
17. Orlando Hudson, ARZ
AP: .280/9/61/9
19. Mark Ellis, OAK
AP: .250/10/62
20. Luis Castillo, NYM
AP: .256/2/44/23
21. Freddy Sanchez, PIT
AP: .267/6/57
22. Tadahito Iguchi, SD
AP: .273/5/51/16
23. Eugenio Velez, SF
AP: .228/2/41/28
24. Felipe Lopez, WAS
AP: .269/7/43/16
25. Akinori Iwamura, TB
AP: .270/8/49/8
26. Asdrubal Cabrera, CLE
AP: .239/8/47/7
27. Brendan Harris, MIN
AP: .254/7/32/6
28. Ronnie Belliard, WAS
AP: .224/8/37
29. Omar Quintanilla, COL
AP: .276/4/30
30. Augie Ojeda, ARZ
AP: .302/3/28
Just Missed
-Mark Grudzielanek, KC
-Juan Uribe, CWS
-Adam Kennedy, STL
-Mike Fontenot, CHC

Bat-Man Returns!

Face it, the Dodgers need Jeff Kent for his bat. He’s in his 40’s and clearly doesn’t have the range or glove skills he used to; he’s not a great clubhouse presence, he’s not mentoring young players, he’s not particularly that easy to get along but with all that being said, he’s a future Hall of Famer and can still wield a mean bat for a 40 year old who plays at a traditionally weak position (2B). If healthy, Kent is good for at least 20-25 HRs, a .280-.300 batting average and 75-100 RBIs per season, which is BETTER than excellent production from a 2B. That’s a legitimate big bat you can stick in the middle of the lineup. He has become a luxury that Dodger fans have quickly grown accustomed to. Throughout recent memory the Dodgers have had light-hitting middle infielders with flashy gloves like Alex Cora, Caesar Izturis, Alfredo Griffin, Steve Sax and even current shortstop, Rafael Furcal. Kent has hit more HRs in a single season than all of those guys combined but at this point in his career his bat is pretty much all he brings to the table. The team would be much better off playing him at 1B because of his deteriorating fielding ability but that’s impossible due to the breakout season that up and coming star 1B, James Loney, enjoyed last season. In order to get the most out of the lineup as a whole, Kent must remain at 2B…and that’s the ONLY option, regardless of his 14 errors last season.
Kent raised eyebrows late last season after publicly criticizing the team’s young players after imploding against the Rockies. The Dodgers were comfortably in 1st place at one point in the season and remained near the top for the majority of the season until the Sept. collapse that left them on the outside looking in. Many in the media blamed the veterans for losing steam down the stretch but Kent begged to differ. After officially falling out of contention after losing 4 straight games to the Rockies, Kent gave an interview to a reporter and said,

“I don’t know what it is, especially when you have a lot of young players. It’s hard to influence a big group. We’ve got some good kids on the team. Don’t get me wrong, please don’t misinterpret my impressions. [But] it’s hard to translate experience. I don’t know why they don’t get it.”

When asked what it is that the young players don’t get, Kent replied,

“A lot of things. Professionalism. How to manufacture a run. How to keep your emotions in it. There’s just a lot of things that go on with playing 162 games. But I think experience can help more than inexperience. And it’s hard to give a young kid experience.”

On face value, what he said wasn’t all that bad. It could be looked at as a way to try to motivate the young players to pick it up and get it going. The problem was his criticism was misguided. Other than Kent himself, the young players had outperformed the veterans all season long. Older players like Nomar Garciaparra, Luis Gonzalez, Juan Pierre and Brett Tomko underachieved all season long and burned out down the stretch, when the team needed them most. Media reports indicated that the vets previously listed all took issue with management after they were replaced in the everyday lineup by their younger counterparts, which could’ve negatively effected their confidence and may have been a contributing factor to their late season collapse. But when it comes down to it, Kent completely missed the boat…the young players were really the only players the team could consistently rely on after all of the seasoned veterans disappeared. I’m not sure what Kent is talking about when he mentions “professionalism” but if he really did have a problem with the way the younger players were acting behind the scenes then he should have dealt with it internally. He definitely shouldn’t have brought it up when chatting with reporters after a game because it wasn’t “professional”. Talk about being emotional…It sounds like he was wound up after a game at best or nothing more than a bitter hypocrite at worst.

Then came talk of retirement. An ultimatum was basically laid on the Dodgers by the Kent camp demanding change or else! He wasn’t going to rush into a decision until he was presented with evidence that management was serious about filling holes this winter. After fellow future Hall of Famer, manager Joe Torre was signed to a 3 year contract, Kent piped up from behind the confines of his 4,000 acre Texas dude-ranch applauding the move. His enthusiasm for Torre led most people to believe he would be back for yet another season in Dodger blue. As much as Kent liked the idea of signing Torre and even though it appeared as if a new manager was at the top of Jeff’s offseason wishlist, no announcement was forthcoming. It became clear that he was holding out for new players. The team had an obvious need for a power bat in the middle of the lineup to provide protection and when GM Ned Colletti began negotiations with former Braves slugger, free agent Andruw Jones, the Kent camp surely took notice. As it turns out, he announced his intentions of returning for another year on the same day that Andruw’s 2 year, $36 million contract was officially signed.

History does repeat itself and Kent has had problems at virtually every stop he’s made. Of course, he’s famous for fighting with current federal punching bag and HR king, Barry Bonds during his tumultuous days in San Francisco and it’s always been floated around that he’s not an easy guy to get along with but the Dodgers had to know that when they took him on. They didn’t bring him in to mentor the kids, act as a coach/player or to be a positive influence in the clubhouse. He was brought in to provide some pop to a lineup that was sorely lacking at the time and that’s the simple truth of the matter. Anybody’s who’s kept up with his career knows that he has a bad temper and a volatile personality. Those that work around him describe him as a solitary guy who’s stubborn and stuck in his ways…or an old school traditionalist who enjoys personal time to put it nicely. Point is, Jeff Kent is Jeff Kent and that’s all we can expect. He didn’t magically turn into Jose Lima over the winter, he is who he is and that’s a slugger that the Dodgers can count on for serious and consistent production. What was said in the past was actually quite tame compared to some of his blowups on other teams and shouldn’t be taken too seriously by Dodger fans. If he was able to overlook whatever differences he may have had with the team and come back to play for another year, the fans should be willing to overlook whatever differences they may have had with him and cheer him on.


Life After Kent

I’m not a big fan of the way Jeff Kent is handling this offseason. As unlikely as it seems, he may very well retire (especially after last year’s late-season blowup) and leave the Dodgers scrambling for a replacement months or even weeks before the season starts. If that’s the case, the Dodgers will have missed out on much, if not all of the free agent market and will be left with in-house prospects. That’s not always a bad thing but would limit their options. Of course, if he comes back, none of that will matter and we’ll have Kent for another year or two but the Dodgers do have a wealth of young middle-infield prospects. None of them project to be the kind of player that Kent is, not many middle-infielders do. It’s very rare to find a 2B with the kind of offensive abilities that Kent has. He can hit for power and average and can knock in runs like a 1B or 3B. That’s what makes him a future Hall of Famer. Getting that kind of power from a generally weak position has given the Dodgers a real advantage in their lineup; rather than having a slap hitting 2B at the bottom of the order, they have had a big bat in the middle. Once he’s gone that advantage will be gone and we’ll be left with much weaker options, just like most other teams.
The best free agents available at 2B this offseason are two Japanese league crossovers, Kazuo Matsui and Tadahito Iguchi. They both have their strengths and can certainly help a team but they have their weaknesses as well and cannot compare to the kind of production Kent puts up. Matsui played a part in the Rockies’ World Series run and is a different type of player altogether. He’s much faster, steals bases and is a table setter. Iguchi’s is more in the mold of Kent’s but produces half as much offensively. Neither is a great option and both are in their mid-30’s so there’s not much room for improvement; what you see is what you get. They’d both likely require a multiple year contract which would tie up the team’s payroll, making neither an ideal choice.

There are trade options as well. Many trade options reportedly. Players ranging from Brian Roberts to Howie Kendrick to Jose Lopez to Freddy Sanchez to Rickie Weeks have all been rumored to be available at one point or another…that is, for the right price. Each player listed would likely cost a king’s ransom in young talent, something the Dodgers are unwilling to do (and for good reason). There are less expensive alternatives out there, more or less stop-gap options who could get by for a season until a better option emerges. Names like Jose Castillo (who was recently non-tendered by the Pirates), Todd Walker, Marcus Giles and Mark Loretta come to mind. They’re all free agents and would likely agree to a much smaller and shorter contract. They may not be very flashy names but are good enough to be serviceable for a season or two.

I mentioned earlier that there are in-house options and they may actually be our best (and safest) bet to replace Kent. Guys like Chin-Lung Hu, Tony Abreu, Preston Mattingly, Blake DeWitt, Josh Bell and Ivan DeJesus are all promising young players and any one of them could step up and take the job at some point down the road. Hu and Abreu look like the most ready of that group right now but that could literally change overnight. Hu is more highly rated and actually won the MVP award for the Futures Game during last season’s All Star break. He was also named as Dodgers’ minor leaguer of the year last season as well so as you can see, he’s highly touted. He’s not so much of an offensive prospect but rather a defensive prospect but has enough skills with the bat to get by. The potential is there to develop offensively but it will take time. His natural position is SS but is perfectly capable of playing the other side. Tony Abreu is a much more polished hitter and could be ahead of Hu on the depth chart after getting a look last year on the big league team. In limited time last year Abreu hit .271 with 2 HRs and 17 RBIs in only 166 at-bats. Scouts believe that double-digit power is there but he will have to become more disciplined at the plate. His OBP wasn’t up to par (.309) but could be misleading due to the small sample size. He was a little better in the minors but was still on the low side. He needs to learn how to be more patient and take a walk. That would do wonders for his value. Blake DeWitt was a once highly touted 3B prospect but has fallen short of expectations at the plate and was moved over to 2B with the thought that he’d have a better chance to advance at a weaker offensive position. He’s still very young and has plenty of time to turn it around but as of now he’s more of a long shot than Hu or Abreu. Preston Mattingly is yet another talented young 2B in the system and is the son of former Yankee great (and new Dodgers’ hitting coach) Don Mattingly. Much was expected from Mattingly but he failed to deliver last year after hitting a miserable .210 with the Class A Great Lake Loons. Again, he is young and still has plenty of time to turn it around. Ivan DeJesus and Josh Bell are both very promising prospects (DeJesus may be the best of the whole bunch) but they are both still young, 19 and 20 years old respectively and are still several years away from the majors. Bell is more of a 3B prospect but could be shifted to 2B if fellow 3B prospect Andy LaRoche ever catches on.

To sum it up, the Dodgers can’t expect to replace Jeff Kent’s production. It’s just not going to happen…at least not at first. Eventually Kent will retire (even if it’s not this season) and will leave a rather large hole in the lineup to fill. When that time comes there will be many different possibilities and directions to go. We can only hope that next year’s free agent market is stronger but in the short-term and long-term an in-house prospect could make a lot of sense for a young team like the Dodgers. There are plenty to chose from, now it’s just a question of who will step up to take the job when that time comes…