Friday, December 1, 2023

2022 Fantasy Baseball Draft Prep: ADP review at second base focuses on whether newfound depth is for real

Of the top 15 players in ADP at second base, 11 of them are eligible at another position, and three of them are eligible at three positions! Second basemen in 2021 collectively hit .731, the worst mark of any non-catcher position, though that gap has also narrowed a bit; the 61-point gap between second basemen and first basemen (the best position) is slimmer than the 77-point gap that existed in 2012. 

Those two trends are related. Teams value defense at second base less than they ever have, or at the very least, they’re more willing to live with subpar defense there thanks to increases in shifting and more efficient defensive positioning in general. And that’s generally true across the positional spectrum except at catcher. It’s not that teams don’t care about defense, but it’s that the bar to be a competent defender is lower, generally.

Which is part of why we’ve got nine second basemen going inside of the top-100 in drafts right now, though you can also point to an injection of some intriguing young talents as a reason for the newfound depth. And, of course, it’s also possible that depth disappears quickly if some of the more volatile players at the position don’t pan out.

Which is to say, second base is a fascinating position to try to figure out for Fantasy, and depending on how you approach it, could make a big difference in how your team ultimately fares. Here’s my breakdown of the players being drafted inside of the top-300 overall in NFBC drafts and how I feel about their price:

Tier 1

Turner’s in a tier of his own, for obvious reasons. This might be the only time he has 2B eligibility, and that’s probably where you’ll end up playing him in most team builds – but he’s not ranked this high because of positional scarcity or anything like that. Turner would be one of the most valuable players in Fantasy even if he only had DH/U eligibility thanks to the leap he made as a hitter in 2020. Who knows how long this breakout will last, but as long as he’s a .900-plus OPS bat while still being among the best base stealers in the league, he’s a candidate for the No. 1 spot in drafts. 

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Tier 2

I can’t really get on board with Albies, who is much more of a compiler than I like to target in this range. Obviously, 30 homers, 20 steals, and 100-plus runs and RBI are fantastic numbers in any context, but the underlying numbers don’t quite back up the power increase, so I expect some regression there. I also expect some regression in his stolen bases, and while there’s nothing wrong with a 25-15 player in a good lineup, the fact that he’s unlikely to ever be much help in batting average just doesn’t make it worth paying a premium in my eyes. It’s possible I’m underselling the growth in his game – Albies is only 25 – but it seems more likely he’s a late third-rounder than a second-rounder this time next year. 

Tier 3 

Semien costs quite a lot, but he’s actually a discount relative to how he played in 2021 – and 2019, for that matter, as he’s had an OPS over .870 and 200-plus runs and RBI both times. The outlier over the past three seasons is 2020, the COVID-shortened season, and it’s fair to wonder how much to hold that against him. What if he’s really just this good? Skepticism is fair – he outperformed his underlying numbers quite a lot in power and is moving to a worse home park and lineup in Texas. But he’s been a 30-homer, 10-steal guy in two of those past three seasons, and is a justifiable buy at this price – even if I don’t necessarily pay that price very often. 

Merrifield, on the other hand, I’m quite willing to buy at this price – and he often falls a little further than this, too. He’s been an iron man, and while there did appear to be some skill slippage in 2021, it was mostly just visible in his average so far – a stat that fluctuates quite a bit from year to year. Merrifield still seems like a strong bet for average, stolen bases, and runs, and it’s pretty easy to fit him into any kind of roster build with those skills. If he falls to the fourth round, you’re stealing. 

Tier 4 

This might be the most controversial range of picks, not just at second base, but at any position. You won’t have to look hard to find someone who loves or hates every player on this list – except for maybe Polanco. Nobody seems to have particularly strong feelings about him either way. 

My favorites in this range are Altuve, Marte, and, to a lesser extent, Lowe. Lowe’s power is a huge plus at this position and he’s not a zero in steals, which is a nice plus, but he’s probably never going to help much in batting average and has had some really concerning stretches in his career. But all in all, I think he’s enough of a difference maker to overcome those concerns. Altuve should be a solid four-category contributor, even if he probably isn’t an elite batting average source anymore. However, I like Marte more; he should provide similar power and run production, but is one of the best batting average sources in the league. He’s downgraded in drafts due to injury concerns and skepticism about his power, but he’s an elite batted-ball quality guy who makes a ton of contact, and he’s got the best chance to turn into a first-round caliber player at this point in the draft. He already was that in 2019 and he wasn’t far off that pace in 2021. 

The rest of this group is made up of potential landmines I’d rather avoid. Baez and Chisholm have tons of upside, but the holes in their swings are cavernous enough that there’s an incredibly low floor. Edman is inflated due to his 30 steals in 2021, but he had just 17 in 147 games between 2019 and 2020, so he’s not guaranteed to be a standout there, and the rest of his profile is exceedingly lackluster. 

India is someone I like a lot less than the consensus because I just don’t trust the pop he showed as a rookie. He has a swing tooled for maximizing his raw power thanks to how many fly balls he hits to the pull side, but he ranked in the 21st percentile in average exit velocity and 36th percentile in hard-hit rate. I worry about players with fringe power like that, though his home park helps a lot.

Tier 5

Boring but valuable options thanks to a ton of position eligibility. You’re never going to get big power production from either, but they should be solid all-around options who are nice to have around, even if they don’t necessarily stand out in the rankings at any one position. 

Tier 6

Taylor probably belongs in the previous list thanks to his multi-eligibility and potential to be a 20-homer, 15-steal guy. France is pretty similar to LeMahieu and Cronenworth, too, and Urias could be the same kind of player if his second-half breakout was for real – for what it’s worth, I buy it. 

Rodgers and Muncy are the most intriguing players here, though I suspect Muncy’s ADP is going to rise in light of Dave Roberts saying Friday that Muncy will be ready for Opening Day as he continues to recover from a torn ligament in his non-throwing elbow. There’s serious risk of re-injury and of his performance lagging because of the elbow, but when Muncy is right, he’s a top-75 player. He’s well worth the risk as long as the cost remains outside of the top-120 for me, but not everyone agrees. Rodgers is one of Scott White’s favorite breakout candidates and could be a strong four-category contributor with the help of Coors Field.

McMahon doesn’t even register for me here. He’s an empty 20 homers.

Tier 7

This is a mostly boring tier, but they also mostly won’t hurt you. Lux probably has the most theoretical upside as a recent top prospect, but he’s shown so little at the major-league level that I find it really hard to get excited about him at all. He’s been abysmal against left-handed pitching especially, so if he doesn’t turn that around quickly, his chances of being an everyday player are going to rapidly approach zero. 

Late-round MIs and stashes

It’s not hard to squint and see Toro becoming a .270 hitter with 20 homers, and that wouldn’t be a bad pick in this range. I’m just not sure there’s much upside beyond that, so I’m not sure there’s much value in spending a reserve pick on him. If you get stuck with him as a corner infielder, he seems safe enough to not hurt you.

Gimenez, Hampson, and Madrigal are your late-round steal options, but it’s not clear any of them will hit enough to be everyday players. Madrigal and Gimenez have a bit more of a mystery box feel to them thanks to age and prospect pedigree, and Madrigal could hit .300 while batting leadoff for the Cubs, so that gives him three categories where he could be a contributor – he’ll be a zero in power and RBI. The problem is, though he stole bases in the minors, Madrigal has ranked around the 75th percentile in sprint speed in the majors and is just 3 for 6 in 83 games so far. Does he even have 15-steal upside? If not, is there much difference between him and Luis Arraez (352.9 ADP)?

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