Commentary

2012 Position Preview: Second base

Updated: March 27, 2012, 4:48 PM ET
By Brian Gramling | Special to ESPN.com

No infield position is as thin as second base, which places only nine players among the top 160 in ESPN.com's initial rankings. That barely beats out the eight catchers among this group and falls way short of the 14 shortstops that make the top 160.

In a position lacking much power -- only three second basemen hit 22 or more homers in 2011 -- one would think there would be a good chunk of high-average hitters and/or speedsters to be had. But that really was not the case at all last season, as only six second basemen posted a .290 average or better (minimum 150 at-bats). And two of these players were useless in the power categories: Jemile Weeks' .303 average came with just two homers in 406 at-bats, and Jamey Carroll (.290 BA) failed to reach the seats even once in 452 at-bats. And although 21 second basemen stole at least 10 bases, only five reached 20 steals.

As you'll read here, there are only a handful of second basemen that will definitely help fantasy owners in any format. There are a few others that won't hurt you, and then there are a handful of players with high ceilings; these guys could be top-10 at this position, or they could be early-season drops. Remember this when drafting, because after the top six to eight players are gone, you'll be best-served to wait to fill in your open 2B slot late in the draft.

Cream of the crop

Second Base Rankings

1. Robinson Cano, NYY, 2B (7)
2. Dustin Pedroia, Bos, 2B (15)
3. Ian Kinsler, Tex, 2B (19)
4. Dan Uggla, Atl, 2B (42)
5. Ben Zobrist, TB, 2B, OF (51)
6. Brandon Phillips, Cin, 2B (54)
7. Rickie Weeks, Mil, 2B (81)
8. Howard Kendrick, LAA, 2B, OF (113)
9. Chase Utley, Phi, 2B (120)
10. Neil Walker, Pit, 2B (144)
11. Ryan Roberts, Ari, 2B, 3B (162)
12. Dustin Ackley, Sea, 2B (167)
13. Jason Kipnis, Cle, 2B (170)
14. Kelly Johnson, Tor, 2B (171)
15. Danny Espinosa, Was, 2B (186)
16. Jemile Weeks, Oak, 2B (200)
17. Aaron Hill, Ari, 2B (208)
18. Ryan Raburn, Det, 2B, OF (222)
19. Daniel Murphy, NYM, 2B, 3B, 1B (234)
20. Jose Altuve, Hou, 2B (235)
21. Gordon Beckham, CWS, 2B (239)
22. Omar Infante, Mia, 2B (241)
23. Sean Rodriguez, TB, SS, 2B, 3B (243)
24. Mike Aviles, Bos, 2B, 3B (294)
25. Brian Roberts, Bal, 2B (305)
26. Orlando Hudson, SD, 2B (354)
27. Mark Ellis, LAD, 2B (360)
28. Chris Getz, KC, 2B (390)
29. Darwin Barney, ChC, 2B (396)
30. Ruben Tejada, NYM, 2B, SS (397)
31. Maicer Izturis, LAA, 2B, 3B (400)
32. Ryan Theriot, SF, SS, 2B (424)
33. Johnny Giavotella, KC, 2B (432)
34. Alexi Casilla, Min, 2B, SS (455)
35. Matt Downs, Hou, 2B (456)
36. Jeff Keppinger, TB, 2B (461)
37. Robert Andino, Bal, 2B, SS, 3B (465)
38. Tyler Greene, StL, 2B, SS (474)
39. Jamey Carroll, Min, 2B, SS (478)
40. Justin Turner, NYM, 2B, 3B (495)
Players listed at positions at which they are eligible in ESPN standard leagues. Rankings based on 2012 projections in mixed 5x5 rotisserie leagues. Overall position ranking is indicated in parentheses.

There are three second basemen in the elite class, and when I say elite, I mean all three should be drafted in the first two rounds in standard scoring leagues. They are Robinson Cano and former Arizona State teammates Dustin Pedroia and Ian Kinsler. Not only are all three of these versatile players still in their 20s, but all three benefit greatly from the potent lineups they help comprise. Their respective teams finished first (Red Sox), second (Yankees) and third (Rangers) in runs scored last season.

Cano has logged at least 159 games in five consecutive seasons, and the numbers over the past three years average out to a .314 batting average: 27 homers, 104 RBIs and 103 runs. He has an .892 OPS in "new" Yankee Stadium, and despite being a left-handed hitter, Cano posted an .879 OPS versus left-handed pitching last in 2011. At age 29, he's still in his prime and will get plenty of run-producing opportunities as long as he remains in pinstripes.

Pedroia is the complete package of speed, average and power, and he will boost whatever stats your fantasy league chooses to compile. He bounced back from an injury-laden 2010 to post career-high numbers in homers (21), RBIs (91), steals (26) and OBP (.387) last year. His Fenway Park career stat line is .323 BA/.387 OBP/.506 SLG, and he bats second for the highest-scoring team in the majors. Can't go wrong here.

Like Pedroia, Kinsler was injured for a good part of 2010, but he exploded in 2011 for 32 homers, 121 runs and 30 steals. His September numbers were crazy good, as he hit .330 with 11 homers, 17 RBIs, 29 runs, a 1.132 OPS and eight steals in 24 games. Kinsler's fluctuating yearly batting average (.319, .253, .286 and .255) is puzzling, but a .275 BA for his career is still not too shabby.

The next best thing

This next tier comprises three players who are all good enough to remain your no-brainer starters in standard 10- or 12-team fantasy leagues. They all bring different strengths to the table, though.

Dan Uggla hits bombs and is incredibly durable and consistent from year to year. He has averaged 156 games per season in his career, which has allowed him to smack at least 27 homers in all six of his major league campaigns. Changing teams from the Marlins to the Braves only helped him pound a personal-best 36 long balls, including 18 at Turner Field, which is a below-average home run park for hitters (according to ESPN's Park Factors). But to get this awesome power, you'll have to sacrifice speed and batting average. Uggla is 6-for-16 in steal attempts for his career, and although he somehow strung together a 33-game hitting streak in 2011, he still finished the year with a dismal .233 batting average.

[+] EnlargeBen Zobrist
AP Photo/Steve NesiusBen Zobrist's multi-position versatility ups his fantasy value.

Ben Zobrist has yet to compile two great seasons in a row. After a huge 2009 campaign (.297 BA, 27 HRs), he nosedived to a .238 average and 10 homers in 151 games in 2010 before rebounding last year (.269 BA, 20 HRs). Now with three full seasons under his belt, the numbers for the 30-year-old Zobrist will probably be more predictable in the years to come. Despite his roller-coaster career, his numbers last season were amazingly similar before the All-Star Game (.269 BA, 10 HRs, 43 RBIs, .829 OPS) and after the break (.268 BA, 10 HRs, 48 RBIs, .812 OPS). Playing at Tropicana Field (fourth-worst stadium for hits) hasn't helped his numbers, as he batted just .221 in Tampa Bay, but he hit .311 on the road in 2011.

Brandon Phillips has been the model of consistency in Cincinnati, tallying at least 141 games, a .261 average, 17 homers, 59 RBIs, 65 runs and 14 steals in each of the past six seasons. Even these low marks would be pretty strong numbers for any second baseman outside the top three. Phillips is just 30, and his best spot in the order is leadoff, where in 177 plate appearances last year, he posted a staggering stat line of .350 BA/.417 OBP/.573 SLG. He also batted .335 in his final 55 starts of 2011, which should be a good sign of things to come in 2012.

Almost there

Two others will probably get picked a couple rounds before they should, mainly due to name recognition and their power potential at a position that doesn't always dig the long ball.

Chase Utley's tendinitis-ridden right knee might never get back to normal. Not only has the knee injury affected his speed -- he had six steal attempts after the All-Star break in 2011 -- but it also has sapped his power. After homering once every 18.4 at-bats in 2009, the frequency has been one homer per 30.5 at-bats in the past two seasons. Utley was atrocious against left-handed pitching last year (.187 BA, .308 SLG), which is actually cause for concern. Not concern that he'll be placed in a platoon, but that Utley likely won't be doing much in the late innings of games when a lefty specialist comes in to face him (and Ryan Howard, once he returns). There are too many red flags to take him in the first five rounds, so look more toward rounds 8-10 to take a gamble on the popular Utley.

Rickie Weeks' 2011 season (20 HRs, 49 RBIs) brings back memories of Orioles catcher Chris Hoiles in 1992 (20 HRs, 40 RBIs). But before you go blaming Weeks' lack of run production on Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder not leaving him any opportunities, note that he posted a woeful .213 batting average and .388 slugging in 102 plate appearances with runners in scoring position. He might get more green lights on the bases with Braun likely suspended and Fielder gone to Detroit, but he attempted only 11 steals in all of 2011. But on the bright side, Weeks is getting on base with more frequency, and posted a .902 OPS at Miller Park last year.

Where's the ceiling?

Neil Walker matured greatly last year, and has huge potential at 26 years old. For his career, Walker has a stat line of .323 BA/.383 OBP/.488 SLG with runners on base, and despite hitting in a weak Pirates lineup (fourth-fewest runs in majors), Walker still produced 76 runs and 83 RBIs, one more than Dan Uggla and Brandon Phillips.

Dustin Ackley has all the tools and the youth (age 24) to become a star. But he's still getting acclimated to the majors, and he'll need to pick up the pace after fizzling down the stretch last year (.164 average, 26 Ks in his final 20 games). Playing on the team with the fewest runs in the majors last year won't help his progression, but he's certainly capable of being a solid fantasy starter for years to come.

After a horrible stint in Toronto last season (.225 BA/.270 OBP/.313 SLG), Aaron Hill exploded in the desert, posting a stat line of .315 BA/.386 OBP/.492 SLG in 33 games with the Diamondbacks. It seems like Hill has been around for a dozen years, but he's only 29. He inked a two-year deal in the offseason and should have another strong season batting in the two-hole in an ever-improving Arizona lineup.

Hill's teammate, Ryan Roberts, is thought of as a third-baseman, but with 28 games at second last year, he'll qualify at the weaker position in most leagues. He also plays outfield sometimes (34 career games), so he's a handy player to have in deeper formats. Not only he is the best available player with a visible neck tattoo, but he was extremely clutch in 2011, posting an .829 OPS with runners in scoring position.

Where's the basement?

Brian Roberts is still experiencing headaches after suffering a concussion last season, and thus is questionable to be ready for Opening Day. The 34-year-old Roberts was abysmal last season in 39 games, batting .221 with a .273 on-base percentage while slugging a laughable .331. But if he's healthy, the Orioles will be forced to play Roberts (and his hefty salary) because of a lack of better options. His backup is Robert Andino, whose career stat line reads .245 BA/.302 OBP/.331 SLG, which even Roberts should be able to surpass in 2012.

Orlando Hudson continues to decline, posting career-worst numbers in average (.246 BA) and slugging (.352 SLG) last year. The move to San Diego predictably affected his production in a negative way, as Hudson, now 34, batted .235 at Petco Park last year. He's worth a look in deeper leagues and NL-only formats because of his ability to steal bases (19 of 22 in steal attempts last year) and his unwavering job security on the woeful Padres.

Freddy Sanchez suffered a torn labrum last year, marking 2011 the third straight season he has missed at least 50 games. This will undoubtedly drop him down most cheat sheets, but his shoulder is recovering well enough that he could be the Opening Day starter for San Francisco. He won't hit more than 10 homers, but a lifetime .297 average is worth spending a dollar on in the waning minutes of deep auctions.

Steady as he goes

Howard Kendrick
AP Photo/Orlin WagnerHowie Kendrick hit a career-high 18 homers in 2011.

Howard Kendrick gave himself a nice statistical bump last season, with 18 homers and 86 runs while maintaining a high average (.285). You can even make a case that he belongs in the second tier of second basemen, especially with Albert Pujols joining his lineup.

Kelly Johnson consistently belts out homers and has 47 steals over his past four seasons. He batted .209 in 114 games with Arizona last year, but that average rose to .270 in 33 games after being traded to Toronto. At age 30, he has plenty of upside as he enters his first full season playing half his games at hitter-friendly Rogers Centre.

Omar Infante had a great second half of 2011 (.314 BA/.348 OBP/.493 SLG) and will certainly increase his paltry run total (55 runs in 148 games) playing every day in a healthy (Hanley Ramirez) and improved (Jose Reyes) Marlins lineup. Infante has batted .291 on the road in his four seasons since coming to the National League, and the Marlins' new ballpark is expected to be more of a hitters park this season.

Thanks but no thanks: The Do Not Draft list

Mark Ellis is switching home ballparks from Coors Field to Dodger Stadium. Not only will this sap his already-diminishing power numbers, but Chavez Ravine ranks 23rd among all ballparks in terms of hits on our Park Factors page, while Colorado ranks first. Also worth noting: Ellis hit .230 and slugged .270 on the road last year.

Darwin Barney was horrible after the All-Star break in 2011, batting .238 with a pitiful .614 OPS. In these 68 games, he had three times as many strikeouts (36) as walks (12) and managed just 12 RBIs in 256 plate appearances.

Jose Altuve likely will be the Opening Day second baseman for Houston, but that doesn't mean a whole lot, considering the Astros will have the worst lineup in the majors this season. You'd think a guy with virtually no power would learn to be selective at the plate, but the free-swinging Altuve walked just five times in 234 big league plate appearances in 2011.

Points versus Roto

When playing in points leagues, you want to target players that rack up total bases (doubles and triples) and post a higher on-base percentage for maximum run-scoring opportunities. A couple guys to keep your eye on in this format are Danny Espinosa and Kelly Johnson.

Espinosa smacked 55 extra-base hits last year (29 doubles, five triples, 21 homers), and although his batting average was just .236, he managed an almost-respectable .323 on-base percentage. At age 25, his plate discipline will continue to improve. Kelly Johnson batted .222 last season but still managed a .304 OBP. His 75 runs were a result of racking up tons of extra bases (27 doubles, seven triples, 21 HRs). He will begin a full season at Rogers Centre, which is the majors' most favorable park for doubles, while also ranking third in triples and sixth in homers.

In terms of Roto specialists, you'll want guys with high batting averages who can steal bases. Jemile Weeks is the perfect example of this kind of player. He drew only 21 walks but batted .303 and attempted 33 steals in 97 games. Since Oakland is one of the weaker offensive teams in the league, he will continue to get the green light on the basepaths.

Bottom line

There are only three sure bets among second basemen (Cano, Pedroia, Kinsler) and three to five others in the next tier worth an early-to-midround pick in standard leagues. After that, there are about 10 players who don't deviate much from one another, and won't give you the all-around numbers players from other positions will. So shift your focus to other positions on draft day once the top six to eight second basemen are gone. Because owners won't look to fill utility spots with second basemen, you'll find there is plenty of depth among the top 20 two-baggers to find a starter who won't hurt you.

Brian Gramling is a fantasy baseball, football and college basketball analyst for ESPN Fantasy Games.