To remind everyone: These rankings are based on position eligibility. Players who are eligible at multiple positions will be ranked in comparison with others at each relevant position. You will also note asterisks next to the names of certain players. These indicate health risks. Health concerns have been taken into consideration, as have expected talent and expected playing time to yield expected production.
Position eligibility and evaluation criteria for these rankings are explained here.
Rank Name Team Oliver Slash (2011)
1 Chase Utley* Phillies .271/.369/.468
2 Ian Kinsler* Rangers .266/.343/.439
3 Robinson Cano Yankees .296/.340/.466
4 Dustin Pedroia* Red Sox .284/.355/.441
5 Brandon Phillips Reds .257/.311/.398
6 Dan Uggla Braves .261/.349/.483
7 Gordon Beckham White Sox .280/.351/.455
8 Martin Prado* Braves .290/.341/.437
9 Chris Coghlan Marlins .282/.353/.402
10 Ben Zobrist Rays .256/.361/.418
11 Aaron Hill Blue Jays .241/.296/.409
12 Brian Roberts Orioles .274/.349/.408
13 Rickie Weeks* Brewers .263/.353/.456
14 Kelly Johnson Diamondbacks .257/.336/.430
15 Dustin Ackley Mariners .287/.378/.435
16 Neil Walker Pirates .251/.301/.422
17 Chone Figgins Mariners .263/.353/.320
18 Howie Kendrick Angels .280/.318/.414
19 Eric Young Jr. Rockies .238/.316/.313
20 Scott Sizemore Tigers .251/.324/.387
Omitted from the above list are a pair of second base-eligible, health-risk names of interest: Mark DeRosa (Oliver: .242/.320/.390) and Carlos Guillen (.253 /.330 /.387). Each might make a solid back-end middle infield option in leagues with corner/middle-infield requirements, but the health risks they pose make them undraftable as a primary second baseman in almost any format short of NL/AL-only.
Some may think I am undervaluing Martin Prado and Rickie Weeks, while overvaluing Gordon Beckham, Chris Coghlan, Aaron Hill and Ian Kinsler. Some might also question my placement of Dustin Ackley. I will try to address those names here. If you have questions or comments, as always, leave them in the comments section below and I will respond.
I do not doubt that Prado is a legitimate .290+ hitter with double-digit home run power. Unfortunately, that is where hs upside ends. He is not an elite hitter for average like Ichiro Suzuki, nor a stolen base devil like Jose Reyes.
Accordingly, his limited above-average fantasy value in one category and average fantasy value in another make him a less than useful option for owners. As a CI/MI in 2010, Prado was one of the most valuable in the game. He cost peanuts and produced candy (food metaphor!). As a starting second baseman, however, Prado's value is substantially limited. He will not steal more than a handful of bases (five in 2010, Oliver sees three in 2011) nor rack up a ton of RBIs. He'll garner some runs and a quality average, but that's not worth shelling out what he's likely to cost on draft day when you are likely to get less than 20 homers plus steals in return.
Beckham has a similar profile to Prado's, but with a higher ceiling. Put Beckham's 2010 out of your mind in evaluating his 2011 prospects. Beckham's first half struggles were well documented and while his second half surge is not particularly indicative of his true talent line, it shows that he is not the dud that many people labeled him by July.
My expectations for Beckham in 2010 were a .285 average, 18 homers, 10 steals, 80 runs and RBIs. He fell short of that mark, but my expectations remain similar for 2011. Oliver expects a .280 average, 15 homers, six steals and just about 70 runs/RBIs. My expectations are more bullish, with a prediction that Beckham will be moved back into the top portion of the batting order, where he belongs.
I've always had high fantasy expectations for Weeks, but, through some perpetual combination of injury and ineffectiveness, he has always managed to disappoint. The past season was Weeks' first big year, as he paired 2009's productiveness with 2008's durability. Weeks is 28 years old and in the middle of "his prime," but a few lingering concerns prevent me from ranking him in the top 10 or 12, ahead of Brian Roberts, Aaron Hill, or Ben Zobrist.
First, Weeks is a perpetual injury risk. This was the first year in which he played even 130 games. Players do not suddenly develop bones and tendons of steel at age 28. Second, Weeks has seen his speed score decline each of the past four seasons and it was a super mediocre 5.1 in 2010. I am not saying that Weeks will not attempt 20+ stolen bases in 2011 or that his speed will not "rebound" next year. Rather, he may run less and less as his speed/efficiency dwindles, and that less running means less injury risk and hence the Brewers may put a flashing red light on Weeks' feet. Third, Weeks still strikes out a lot. His career strikeout rate is a hair under 27 percent, and in 2010, it was 28.3 percent.
Lots of whiffs, even with Weeks' above average ability to walk, will limit his average potential, which will in turn limit his fantasy value. Still, Weeks does hit for good power (career .176 ISO, .195 ISO in 2010) and will likely eclipse the 20 mark in 2011 assuming good health. But you know what they say about assumptions. Accordingly, I place him No. 13 cautiously, with full recognition that he is a high risk/high reward player who could prove to be top five by season's end. Just know that I do not like to make high risk/reward gambles at a position that is so scarce that your backup plan is going to make you cry.
Now, noting my risk-averse approach to second base, you might ask "hey, what gives with Ian Kinsler?" The answer is simply that Kinsler, when healthy, has the second-best ceiling of any player who is second-base eligible. Even though, like Weeks, Kinsler has only once (2009) eclipsed 130 games played, he has nonetheless hit at least 18 home runs, stolen at least 23 bases, and scored at least 96 runs in three of the past four seasons.
Granted, that one year in the past four that Kinsler did not achieve those thresholds was last season. Still, a year removed from a high ankle sprain—which has been routinely noted to not only limit stolen base prowess, but also limit power by hindering a hitter's stance and swing at the plate—Kinsler should hit more home runs (nine) and steal more bases (15) than he did in his 460 plate appearances in 2010.
A look at Kinsler's 2010 splits by month reveals that he developed more power each month removed from injury as the season progressed. Here are his relevant monthly ISOs in 2010: .102 (May), .129 (June), .136 (July), .141 (September). Kinsler missed August due to injury, but the point remain. When Kinsler is playing, he is an elite second baseman, and even in limited play, his numbers will be at least as good as his second base colleagues with upside to spare if he stays healthy (see 2009).
Last, Aaron Hill and Chris Coglan. Both had major down seasons in 2010 and the latter went the first 27 games of the season without an extra base hit. However, both showed strong reasons to hope for a productive 2011. After a putrid April (.195/.241/.195), Coghlan rebounded to hit .316/.387/.507 with five homers, 43 runs and five stolen bases in May and June before injuries prematurely ended his season in July.
Oliver predicts that Coglan will hit .282 in 2011 and I am expecting double digit home runs with 20 or more stolen bases and near 100 runs. With Dan Uggla out of the picture in Florida, Coghlan will man his natural position in 2011. His work in the outfield in 2010 will give him added positional flexibility, which is also nice.
Hill, too, gave us reason to hope for better in 2011. Though his average and on-base percentage were Mario Mendoza-like last season (.205/271), Hill still hit 26 homers in less than 140 games for a .189 ISO.
Hill's shown some nice flashes of power in his last three healthy seasons and there is no reason that he cannot hit 20+ home runs again in 2011. Like his teammate Jose Bautista, Hill is an extreme pull-power right-handed (left field) hitter and the Rogers Centre (as they spell it in Canada) is well suited for such players.
Furthermore, xBABIP pegs Hill for one of the more extreme average regressions in 2011, to the tune of somewhere in the .270-.280 range. I expected a .275, 27 homer, 100 RBI season for Hill in 2010. He matched the power and the peripherals say that he is capable of matching that expectation in 2011 if given the playing time. I expect Hill to be the most undervalued second baseman in fantasy baseball next year.
Jeffrey Gross is a 23-year old law student (and Cubs fan) who currently resides in Madison, WI. In addition to writing for The Hardball Times, he currently writes baseball analysis for the Game Of Inches blog under the pseudonym David "MVP" Eckstein and has previously worked for The Daily Illini and Northern Star newspapers as a film critic and sportswriter (respectively). You can reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
or by comment at http://www.gameofinches.blogspot.com
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