UPDATED MARCH 12, 2013: In years past, the second base position was a tough one for fantasy owners. Its lack of depth really left people scratching their head in deeper leagues and in leagues where a middle infielder is required, there was a general consensus of, “oh well, I guess I’ll just grab someone at some point.” But things have changed recently and while the position hasn’t exactly fattened up to a point where you’re comparing it to first basemen, the heavy influx of youthful talent has definitely made fantasy owners pay closer attention in the early to middle rounds. The drop-off in talent, as in years past is significant, but rather than the cliff being after the first five or six guys in the rankings, you’re looking at solid talent 12 to 15 players in. After some heavy tweaking outside the top 20, here’s how I see the boys at the fantasy keystone this year.
Check out the rest of our 2013 Fantasy Baseball Rankings.
1. Robinson Cano, NYY
2012: .313 AVG, 33 HR, 94 RBI, 105 runs, 3 SB
Given the overall talent level at the position, any argument against Cano as the number one second baseman is just plain wrong. He hits for a .300-plus average, has fantastic power, he scores a ton of runs and always hits in a spot in the order conducive to big RBI totals. No speed? Big deal. Get your stolen bases elsewhere. Some fool in your league will run him down and cite his woeful 3-for-40 in the playoffs last year, but if he's using that as the "beginning of the end" of Cano's reign as the top guy here, he's probably just a Yankee-hater and lounging in the bottom half of your league's standings every year. Cano is, without question, first round material.
2. Dustin Pedroia, BOS
2012: .290 AVG, 15 HR, 65 RBI, 81 runs, 20 SB
Forget about Pedroia's role in the player coup that sent manager Bobby Valentine packing. It's not related to fantasy and anyone with half a brain in their head knew that Valentine, a disaster of a manager outside of the Japanese leagues, had to go. Pedroia managed to hold onto his position in Boston while the rest of the team was dealt away and even after sustaining a thumb injury, still managed to produce a solid season. With a nice blend of power, speed and average, Pedroia managed to post strong numbers in a year where nearly everyone donning a Red Sox jersey failed. He returns to his normal role in 2013 and, with a bit more clubhouse harmony, should continue to produce numbers worthy of the number two ranking.
3. Jason Kipnis, CLE
2012: .257 AVG, 14 HR, 76 RBI, 86 runs, 31 SB
While the second half collapse last season was a bit disconcerting, it's certainly not enough to downgrade Kipnis at a position where the upper-tier talent is way beyond that of the guys below. With strong contact rates, a solid walk rate and a nice blend of speed and power, Kipnis should only get better with additional experience. It's a learning curve for youngsters and like anything else, the lesson of how to pace yourself for an entire 162-game season is one that every player needs. He should have no problem bringing that average back up and is capable of putting forth multiple 20-20 seasons in the future.
4. Aaron Hill, ARI
2012: .302 AVG, 26 HR, 85 RBI, 93 runs, 14 SB
After a miserable final season and a half in Toronto, a rejuvenated Hill has done nothing but hit since arriving in Arizona. There's no question that he struggled before, but outside of a weak line drive rate and a low BABIP, there wasn't much in his batted ball data that suggested he was done, so it shouldn't have come as such a surprise to see him back on top right now. Will he return to his 2009 numbers when he blasted a career-best 36 home runs? Probably not, but his power has developed enough over time to sit in the 25-home run range consistently, especially playing half his games at hitter-friendly Chase Field. He's a great contact hitter whose line drive rate has sat above 20-percent for the last two seasons and he should continue to produce at a high level moving forwards. Throw in the fact that he contributes double-digit steals and you've got a second baseman that anyone can love.
5. Ian Kinsler, TEX
2012: .256 AVG, 19 HR, 72 RBI, 105 runs, 21 SB
After posting a fantastic season's worth of numbers in 2011, Kinsler saw his production drop fairly significantly last season. His walks were down, his strikeouts were up and he hit below .260 for the second season in a row without having the same power to compensate for it. He's still producing well enough to rank in the top five at the position, but the year to year fluctuations are making it awfully difficult to know exactly where to draft him. The landscape of the Rangers lineup is changing so he is going to be leaned on more to produce and that could have an adverse effect, as is the case with a lot of players. He needs to re-establish some consistency before getting a full vote of confidence, but given how close he came to producing a 20-20 season, the criticism should end here.
6. Jose Altuve, HOU
2012: .290 AVG, 7 HR, 37 RBI, 80 runs, 33 SB
The diminutive second-sacker from bottom-feeding Houston continues to be a hot topic of conversation this offseason and he continues to climb the rankings at a now-deep yet still offensively mediocre position. It's all about the average and the speed as Altuve doesn't offer much in the way of any power. He also happens to be outstanding against left-hander pitching, batting .359 against southpaws to a .264 average against right-handed pitching. It should be interesting to see how he fares with Houston's move as he owns just a .259 average over 15 games against American League teams. Obviously the sample size is small, but you've got to start somewhere.
7. Brandon Phillips, CIN
2012: .281 AVG, 18 HR, 77 RBI, 86 runs, 15 SB
The consistency with the way Phillips produces is uncanny. Three straight seasons of 18 homers and mid-teen steals, all with an average no lower than .275. No, it's not the level he was producing at in the three seasons prior, but it's still high-quality production as the keystone. Even his peripheral numbers are eerily similar from year to year. He is getting older and his splits are starting to tilt more towards his home park, but given the fact that he just signed an extension to stay with the Reds, the lean is hardly worth a concern. At some point, other players will pass him in the rankings, but with everything pointing to another 15-15 season, at minimum, now is not that time.
8. Ben Zobrist, TB
2012: .270 AVG, 20 HR, 74 RBI, 88 runs, 14 SB
After a depressingly slow start to the season that saw him hit just .203 over the first two months, Zobrist got back on track and produced yet another fine season, reaching the 20-home run mark for the third time in the last four years. He also managed to increase his walks, lower his strikeout rate and keep his on-base percentage moving north. The fact that he adds shortstop eligibility to his already enjoyable 2B/OF qualifications makes him an even more outstanding pick in leagues that allow daily roster moves.
9. Danny Espinosa, WAS
2012: .247 AVG, 17 HR, 56 RBI, 82 runs, 20 SB
Sitting on the cusp of a possible 20-20 season for the second year in a row, Espinosa is so close to be a top three player at the position if he could ever fix that horrendous plate discipline. His strikeouts went up, his walks went down and he was swinging at far too many pitches outside the zone. If he could just harness that impatience and re-channel it even just the slightest bit, his average and on-base percentage would climb enough to push him into the top five discussion. Throw in the fact that he now has shortstop eligibility and the lack of discipline is even more frustrating. Still, he'll be just 26 years old at the end of April so there is still time and room for growth. FANTASY UPDATE: It's not enough to bump him down the rankings just yet, but Espinosa's shoulder seems to be an increasing problem. Drafting him is going to require that you pick up an extra middle infielder to keep yourself covered.
10. Neil Walker, PIT
2012: .280, 14 HR, 69 RBI, 62 runs, 7 SB
Walker is your typical no-frills second baseman who, given the lack of depth at the position, is always likely to cost more than he is actually worth. He posts a decent average and on-base percentage, can hit you consistent double digit home runs and steal you a handful of bases. There's nothing special about him or his numbers, but he's never going to hurt you unless, of course, you haphazzardly overpay for him in your draft. There's not much more coming from him, so if you miss out on the top guys at the position, he's a great contingency plan.
11. Rickie Weeks, MIL
2012: .230 AVG, 21 HR, 63 RBI, 85 runs, 16 SB
While Weeks managed to stay healthy all season long last year, his fantasy owners still suffered a tremendous amount as he posted a slash line of just .183/.303/.306 for the first three months. He was apparently working on his plate discipline and trying to see more pitches, but while it certainly gave him a boost in his walk rate, he also ended up striking out a whole lot more. He finally went back to his usual approach at the plate and proved a number of people right who bought low on him, as he went on to hit .261 with 13 home runs with 34 RBI and 10 stolen bases after the All Star break. He remains a solid option at the keystone, but you'll obviously need to have a strong contingency plan should the injury bug take another bite out of him.
12. Howie Kendrick, LAA
2012: .287 AVG, 8 HR, 67 RBI, 57 runs, 14 SB
About the only thing you can really count on with Kendrick is that he'll hit for a nice average. There was some fleeting hope for him after his breakout campaign in 2011, but his inexplicable 66 point drop in ISO last year immediately crushed those dreams. You could certainly do worse for yourself at the keystone, but without the power to consistently hit more than 10 home runs, Kendrick just becomes run-of-the-mill. His strong contact rates and ability to put the ball in play will keep the average up and afford him some decent chances on the bases, but without being able to also draw walks, his near-20 percent strikeout rate will always suppress the OBP. You can look for him in the middle rounds after the top 10 are off the board but keep your expectations in check. At 29 years old, he's really not going to get any better.
13. Dustin Ackley, SEA
2012: .226, 12 HR, 50 RBI, 84 runs, 13 SB
After a solid debut season in 2011, there were high hopes for Ackley as a potential 15-15 player for years to come. But while he is still young and won't turn 25 until spring training, he took a few awkward steps back last season. He lowered his strikeout rate which is something you like to see in a youngster, but he also lost nearly 50 points on his batting average while his power numbers and walk rate all went south. Obviously there's time and room for growth and his BABIP likely won't hover in the .265 range again, but playing half his games at Safeco Field will continue to mute his power potential which puts him on track to be just your average middle infielder.
14. Chase Utley, PHI
2012: .256 AVG, 11 HR, 45 RBI, 48 runs, 11 SB
It's tough to watch one of the greats suffer through such a decline, but we're watching just that every time he trots out onto the field of play. For the third consecutive season, degenerative injuries have caused him to miss an enormous amount of time and when he is actually in the lineup, his offensive struggles become downright depressing. The power is withering away the speed is disappearing and his batting average continues to plummet. There's a smidgen of hope that he'll have one last resurgence before the final death rattle, but you're putting your fantasy team at risk by drafting him with that sense of hope. He was one of the best for a while there, but it's time to put this horse out to pasture.
15. Dan Uggla, ATL
2012: .220 AVG, 19 HR, 78 RBI, 86 runs, 4 SB
While most are getting ready to write off Uggla due to his significant power decline, you need to look a little deeper into his 2012 and realize that there was more to it than just a spike in strikeouts and a drop in isolated power. The season started off well as he hit eight homers in the first two months and was on-pace to hit for his usual 30-plus homers. But after getting hit in the ankle of his plant foot, Uggla struggled to regain his form, He pressed at the plate and despite the obvious lack of results, refused to spend time on the DL or out of the lineup. After that, he was hit in the head with a pitch and while he passed his concussion tests, the lingering effects hindered him at the plate. Once healthy, though, he began to hit for more power and improved his batting average and had the season gone on for just one more month, his year would never have been questioned. Look for him at a serious discount as people are shying away from him, but know when you draft him that a big rebound is headed your way.
16. Marco Scutaro, SF
2012: .306 AVG, 7 HR, 74 RBI, 87 runs, 9 SB
Scutaro had himself a phenomenal final two months of the season for the Giants that culminated with NLCS MVP honors and a World Series ring. But just because the Giants overpaid for his services here doesn’t mean you have to, so if you're looking for help at second base, there are 15 names above that you should be diligently going after before you settle on Scutaro. It's not that he's a bad player as he is still ranked here at 17, but just be wary of people reaching or over-bidding based on last year's final two months.
17. Omar Infante, DET
2012: .274 AVG, 12 HR, 53 RBI, 69 runs, 17 SB
Infante enjoyed one of the best seasons of his 11-year career when he reached double digits in home runs and stolen bases for the first time since 2004. He's a solid hitter and has actually lowered his ground ball rate while increasing his line drives steadily over the last three years. While it seems a bit unrealistic to think that he can duplicate his offensive numbers, he is still a viable option at the keystone given his strong contact rates and solid average. At age-31, you know what to expect from him, so anything beyond his career averages is just gravy.
18. Daniel Murphy, NYM
2012: .291 AVG, 6 HR, 65 RBI, 62 runs, 10 SB
The versatile Murphy was given the starting job at second by the Mets and produced exactly as you would have expected. Decent contact, low strikeouts, below-average walk rate and light power. Maybe six to eight home runs is what you should be expecting. One thing working in his favor lately is his improved batting average against left-handed pitching. If he can continue to make good contact against southpaws, then a platoon is less likely, thus giving him more opportunities. Yet another in a long line of second baseman who won't hurt you, but they won't help you much either.
19. Chris Nelson, COL
2012: .301 AVG, 9 HR, 53 RBI, 45 runs, 2 SB
While most of Nelson's 2012 was less than desirable, he came back from a DL stint due to an irregular heartbeat to crush it over the final two months of the season, batting .326 in August and .346 in September. He became one of the most added players down the stretch thanks to those numbers and his eligibility at both second and third base. But heading into this year, with Josh Rutledge actually playing second, Nelson will get the chance to compete for the third base job with Jordan Pacheco. They could end up in a platoon given Nelson's defensive shortcomings, but with his lefty/righty splits being what they are, he'll at least garner a lot of pinch -hitting work as well. FANTASY UPDATE: It would appear as if Nelson has earned the starting third base job. He still doesn't offer too much with the bat, but a starting gig is a starting gig.
20. Kelly Johnson, TB
2012: .225 AVG, 16 HR, 55 RBI, 61 runs, 14 SB
While Johnson's overall power/speed numbers should land him a job somewhere, he was still looking for a home here at press time. The problem is that he is on the decline overall and while his power numbers have slipped over the last three years, in favorable hitting parks mind you, his strikeouts have continued to rise and his batting average is sitting somewhere very flushable. If he finds work somewhere with an offer of regular playing time and a decent surrounding lineup, there's a chance that he could revert back, however, the odds definitely seemed stacked against him. With a full time job, you should probably expect similar totals in 2013. Without one, he's waiver fodder at best. FANTASY UPDATE: In addition to playing second, the Rays have deployed Johnson in the outfield and at first base. It looks like he'll see significant playing time, but where he plays will come down to where Joe Maddon puts Ben Zobrist. Should he gain added position eligibility, he could a worth a look as a plug and play option during the year.
21. Gordon Beckham, CHW
2012: .234 AVG, 16 HR, 60 RBI, 62 runs, 5 SB
Beckham's power number saw a nice increase last season, but he still hasn’t done enough to convince people that he's anything like what we saw during his outstanding rookie campaign. His contact rate looks good, but overall, it's not clean contact and it continues to drive his BABIP and batting average down. That, in turn, keeps his on-base totals at a minimum as well. Playing half his games at U.S. Cellular should continue to help him in the power department, as evidenced by his home/road splits (12 of his 16 homers came at home), but outside of a few extra taters, he's not offering too much.
22. Matt Carpenter, STL
2012: .294 AVG, 6 HR, 46 RBI, 44 runs, 1 SB
At worst, he's played his way into a platoon with Daniel Descalso this spring and considering both are left-handed hitters, one should win the job over the other soon enough. Carpenter has the better bat, Descalso the better glove, but Carpenter has made nice strides in improving his defense this spring. He should win the job outright at some point as Descalso is probably better suited for a utility role anyway.
23. Jedd Gyorko, SD
2012 (Triple-A): .325 AVG, 24 HR, 83 RBI, 62 runs, 4 SB
He may only qualify at third in some leagues, but Gyorko is currently in competition for the second base job with Logan Forsythe. He's tearing it up this spring at the plate, but his defense is still in need of some work and that could be the only thing holding him back right now. He's got three weeks to prove that he can handle the job defensively which should be no problem. However, should the club want him to hone his skills in the minors for a little while, he may have to start the first month down in Triple-A. He'll be back soon enough, though, to take over the full-time job.
24. Scott Sizemore, OAK
2012: Did not play 2011: .245 AVG, 11 HR, 56 RBI, 50 runs, 5 SB
After missing all of last season with a knee injury, Sizemore is back and challenging Jemile Weeks for the starting job. Both players are just coming off minor spring injuries so neither really has a leg up on the other. However, with plenty of options, Weeks could find himself the odd man out and Sizemore could end up with the starting job soon enough.
25. Jeff Keppinger, CHW
2012: .325 AVG, 9 HR, 40 RBI, 46 runs, 1 SB
Even with a new opportunity to play third base full time for the White Sox this season, there's not much to get excited about when it comes to Keppinger. He's had one of the lowest strikeout rates in MLB over the last few years and can provide a decent batting average, but even in a friendly hitter's park, there's not likely to be any sort of upswing in power to be had. After all, he's played in Cincinnati and Houston in previous seasons and the nine home runs he hit last year for Tampa are a career-best. While he's not someone to target as a starter, there's nothing wrong with looking for him in the final few rounds for bench depth. He'll have multi-position eligibility and his average makes him a fairly decent plug-and-play option.
26. Darwin Barney, CHC
2012: .254 AVG, 7 HR, 44 RBI, 73 runs, 6 SB
With his first full-time job, from start of the season to finish, Barney did a nice job building on his rookie season success. While his batting average took a tumble, thanks to a below-average and slightly unlucky .273 BABIP, he did manage to show decent improvement almost everywhere else. He dropped his strikeouts, increased his walks and even showed a little more power at the plate. He's never goi to dazzle you with eye-popping numbers, but with an improvement in batting average, he'll make for a solid option at the keystone if you're looking to go cheap on draft day.
27. Cliff Pennington, ARI
2012: .215 AVG, 6 HR, 38 RBI, 50 runs, 15 SBng
Pennington too somewhat of a step back last year overall but considering he lost time due to an elbow issue that seemed to have been bothering him for longer than he let on. The move to Arizona should prove positive for him, primarily because it's a better ballpark for almost any hitter, but he should also see the green light on the bases a little more. If you looking for an every day middle infielder for cheap speed, he should be worth a look in deeper formats.
28. Mark Ellis, LAD
2012: .258 AVG, 7 HR, 31 RBI, 62 runs, 5 SB
Ellis was actually enjoying a good season until he was taken out at second by Tyler Greene and suffered a sprained MCL that required surgery in late May. He returned to play in July but failed to produce at the level he was at beforehand. Now full rested and recovered, Ellis will be back at the keystone for the Dodgers and likely back in the leadoff spot. He should hit for a decent average and ring up some quality runs scored given the power behind him in the lineup, but he's not a huge base-stealer so don't expect much in that department.
29. Johnny Giavotella, KC 2012: .238 AVG, 1 HR, 15 RBI, 21 runs, 3 SB
Giavotella was penciled in as the Royals starting second baseman when Spring Training opened last year, but after a poor showing, found himself opening the year in Triple-A. He played well and earned himself a call-up when the big club needed infield help, but failed to deliver and quickly found himself back in Omaha. September came, rosters expanded...rinse and repeat. He's got nice potential if his plate discipline form the minors can translate up to the big leagues, but if he struggles again, you can bet that Ned Yost won't hesitate to platoon or even outright replace him with Chris Getz. FANTASY UPDATE: Though the glove still needs some work, Giavotella's bat has heated up a bit and he could have a slight edge over Getz right now.
30. Donovan Solano, MIA
2012: .295 AVG, 2 HR, 28 RBI, 29 runs, 7 SB
He doesn't have much power and last season's average could very well have been a product of his .364 BABIP, a mark that it likely unsustainable. But given the depelted ranks of the Marlins, it looks like Solano will not only be given the chance to play everyday at the keystone, but could have a pretty long leash as the team's other options are, believe it or not, a step below him.
Check out the rest of our 2013 Fantasy Baseball Rankings.
31. Brian Dozier, MIN
32. Maicer Izturis, TOR
33. Logan Forsythe, SD
34. Chris Getz, KC
35. Jemile Weeks, OAK
36. Daniel Descalso, STL
37. Jordany Valdespin, NYM
38. Brian Roberts, BAL
39. Steve Lombardozzi, WAS
40. Tyler Greene, HOU
41., Ryan Roberts, TB
42. Jamey Carroll, MIN
43. Alexei Casilla, BAL
44. Skip Schumaker, LAD
45. Jerry Hairston, Jr., LAD
46. D.J. LeMahieu, COL
47. Alexi Amarista, SD
48. Sean Rodriguez, TB
49. Freddy Galvis, PHI
50. Ramon Santiago, DET
49. Kolten Wong, STL
50. Ramon Santiago, DET
Check out the rest of our 2013 Fantasy Baseball Rankings.
Howard Bender has been covering fantasy sports for over a decade on a variety of web sites. For questions, thoughts or comments you can find him on Twitter at @rotobuzzguy or you can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.