Fantasy Fox: Top 30 second basemen for 2014 season

Robinson Cano (Mariners), Matt Carpenter (Cardinals) and Jason Kipnis (Indians) should be easy targets for Rounds 1-3 in roto fantasy drafts.   

The following countdown details my top 30 second basemen for the 2014 fantasy season, with an emphasis on 5×5 roto leagues.

The drafting strategy for this position is quite simple: Either go bold in the first few rounds with stars like Robinson Cano, Jason Kipnis, Matt Carpenter and Dustin Pedroia … or hold back and let value fall into your lap sometime after Round 10:

1 — Robinson Cano, Mariners

What To Love

1. From 2009-13, spanning five seasons with the Yankees, Cano registered 25-plus homers, 188-plus hits, a .300-plus batting average and 40-plus doubles each year.

2. And from 2009-12, Cano cracked the century mark in runs for four straight seasons.

3. For what it’s worth, Cano leads all second basemen with 20 hits and a .465 batting average during spring training (through March 24).

4. From a splits perspective, Cano tallied four months of four-plus homers, five months of double-digit runs and six months of double-digit RBI last year.

5. But none of that matters to skeptical fantasy owners, who believe Cano’s numbers will take a hit when moving from Yankee Stadium to Seattle’s Safeco Field.

Which brings us to this … in 40 career games at Safeco, spanning 163 at-bats, Cano has the following numbers: Four homers, 20 RBI, 17 runs, a .309 batting average, .350 on-base percentage and .837 OPS.

2 — Jason Kipnis, Indians

What To Love

1. Kipnis has been a marvel of consistency over the last two seasons, rolling for at least four triples, 86 runs, 150 hits, 76 RBI and 30 steals each time.

2. As Kipnis (turns 27 on April 3) gets older, it’s proper to assume his power will improve (22-24 homers) and the steals will slightly deflate in subsequent seasons (26-29). That’s still a good trade-off.

3. The eminently versatile Kipnis had similar numbers when batting in the 2nd (49 games) and 3rd slots (99 games) last year. In both cases, he posted an OBP of .360 or higher.

4. Speaking of splits … Kipnis enjoyed two months of four-plus homers, four months of double-digit RBI and five months of double-digit runs last season. His greatest coup: Collecting 11 homers, 47 RBI, 37 runs and 14 steals for just May and June. Jackpot!

3 — Matt Carpenter, Cardinals

What To Love

1. You could make a strong case for Carpenter being the top-ranked second baseman heading into Opening Day. The production from his first full year in the bigs — 55 doubles, 199 hits, 126 runs, .318 batting, .392 OBP — was simply off the charts.

2. On a secondary note, Carpenter’s 11 homers and 78 RBI were more than acceptable for a stud at his position.

3. Check out the absurdity of Carpenter’s 2013 splits: Five months of three-plus homers, five months of double-digit doubles (insane), six months of double-digit runs and six months of double-digit RBI.

4 — Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox

What To Love

1. Pedroia posted rock-solid tallies with runs (91), hits (193), doubles (42), RBI (84), steals (17), batting average (.301) and on-base percentage (.372) last year — even if he’s lagging behind the amazing production of years past.

2. From a splits perspective in 2013, Pedroia enjoyed two months of three-plus homers, five months of double-digit runs and five months of double-digit RBI. From an OBP perspective, the former AL MVP also had OBP marks of .349 or higher five times.

3. For his career splits, Pedroia has been a model of consistency, meaning there’s really never a good or bad time to trade him during a season.

What To Loathe

At age 31, it’s fair to wonder if Pedroia (nine HRs, 91 runs last year) has peaked in these vital categories? The one positive here: From a homer perspective, Pedroia has an interesting three-year pattern of flirting with 20 homers and then slumping the following two seasons. If that trend continues, he’s due for another positive-outlier year with the long ball (18-plus).

5 — Ian Kinsler, Tigers

What To Love

1. Will a change of scenery (from Texas to Detroit) benefit the 31-year-old Kinsler, who has noticeably dipped with runs, hits, doubles, homers and steals over the last two seasons? On the positive side, Kinsler’s getting better with age, in terms of RBI, batting average and on-base percentage.

2. From a splits standpoint last season (with the Rangers), Kinsler tallied four months of double-digit runs, four months of double-digit RBI, four months of three-plus steals and five months of five or more doubles.

3. With Brad Ausmus taking over as manager (replacing the retired Jim Leyland), the Tigers should be a lot more aggressive on the base paths, benefiting the fantasy clout of Kinsler and center fielder Austin Jackson (who’s having a monster spring, by the way).

4. For what it’s worth, Kinsler is enjoying a rock-solid spring in Lakeland, Fla. — three homers, eight RBI, 12 runs, four steals, .292 batting, .393 OBP and a .955 OPS.

What To Loathe

Kinsler’s career numbers at Comerica Park aren’t pretty: Spanning 36 games, he has three homers, 18 RBI, 21 runs, four steals and ugly tallies with batting average (.200) and on-base percentage (.298).

6 — Jedd Gyorko, Padres

What To Love

1. Gyorko had a strong rookie campaign, notching 23 homers, 63 RBI and 62 runs over 125 games last year.

2. From a splits standpoint, Gyorko had three superb power months last season, rolling for six homers/12 RBI in May, eight homers/17 RBI in August and seven homers/20 RBI in September. Hence, the ambitious ranking leading into 2014.

3. Gyorko actually belted more homers at cavernous PETCO Park (13) than on the road last season, somewhat demystifying the fantasy perils of the Padres’ home digs.

4. In the minors (2011-12), spanning 266 games, Gyorko tallied 55 homers, 214 RBI and 17 steals. If there’s a major league comp (down the road) … it’s Jason Kipnis.

7 — Ben Zobrist, Rays

What To Love

1. Relative to his age (32), Zobrist had a pretty good year in 2013 — collecting 36 doubles, 88 runs, 71 RBI, 11 steals, .275 batting and a .354 on-base percentage. However, the tallies are noticeably down from his late 20s production.

2. Here’s something to celebrate (we think): The last time Zobrist belted only 12 homers in a given year (2008) … he rolled for 27 the following season.

3. For his age-32 campaign last year, Zobrist posted career highs with hits (168) … and career lows with strikeouts (91).

4. In the majority of roto leagues, Zobrist should have dual-position eligibility (2B/OF) to open the season.

5. From a splits standpoint in 2013, Zobrist enjoyed four months of double-digit RBI, five months of six-plus doubles and five months of double-digit runs.

8 — Daniel Murphy, Mets

What To Love

1. In his fifth MLB season, Murphy either matched or eclipsed career highs with homers (13), RBI (78), steals (23), runs (92), hits (188) and triples (four).

2. From a splits perspective, Murphy enjoyed two months of three-plus homers, four months of six-plus doubles, four months of 30-plus hits, five months of double-digit RBI and six months of double-digit runs.

3. It would require a full season, but Murphy is still a long-shot candidate for 20 homers and 20 steals.

4. Murphy is a viable lock for 100 runs … especially if David Wright and Curtis Granderson log 140 games each.

9 — Aaron Hill, Diamondbacks

What To Love

1. Hill has logged 276 games with the Diamondbacks over the last three seasons, totaling 39 homers, 142 RBI, 165 runs and 20 steals. From a per-year standpoint, we’re talking Tier II numbers, among middle infielders.

2. The injury-plagued 2013 had one big bright spot, splits-wise: For August (25 games), Hill notched four homers, 16 RBI, 16 runs, a .372 batting average, .459 on-baser percentage and 1.054 OPS.

3. It’s no longer proper to reach for Hill on draft day. However, he makes for great value in roto and head-to-head leagues after Round 11.

4. Even at age 32, Hill still has the capacity for 20 homers, 85 runs and/or 15 steals.

10 — Brandon Phillips, Reds

What To Love

1. How’s this for consistency: Phillips has cracked 18 homers for four consecutive MLB seasons (2010-13).

2. Phillips finished amongst second basemen in RBI last year (103), trailing only Robinson Cano.

What To Loathe

1. Phillips has incurred noticeable dips with runs, hits, doubles, batting average and steals over the last three seasons.

2. From a splits standpoint, Phillips had three months of batting .240 or less last year. Of equal importance, the Georgia native didn’t tally three or more steals for any month.

10a — Jed Lowrie, Athletics

What To Love

1. Lowrie is a late addition to this countdown, upon further review, since he logged 24 games at second base last season. As a result, he has dual-position eligibility (2B/SS) for the full term.

2. In his first season with the A’s, Lowrie experienced seismic jumps in production with runs (80), doubles (45), RBI (75) and batting average (.290).

3. From a splits standpoint, Lowrie enjoyed three months of three-plus homers, four months of double-digit RBI and four superb months of 15 or more runs.

What To Loathe

As middle infielders go, Lowrie (six MLB steals in his career) has very little speed to tout.

11 — Jose Altuve, Astros

What To Love

1. Altuve took a small step back in his age-23 campaign, tallying only 64 runs, 31 doubles and .283 batting average. But with the Astros’ lineup slated for improvements, the diminutive dynamo is a viable threat for eight homers, 75 runs and 38 steals.

2. From a splits standpoint, Altuve had solid bookend performances for April (11 runs, 14 RBI, .330 batting) and September (10 RBI, 15 runs, five steals, .357 batting).

12 — Neil Walker, Pirates

What To Love

1. Walker holds modest three-year averages of 14 homers, 68 RBI and 67 runs and 29 doubles in the majors.

2. For his age-28 campaign, Walker still has the capacity for 18 homers and 80-plus RBI … although that window may be closing soon.

3. From a splits standpoint, Walker tallied double-digit runs in his final five months last year.

4. At this point in his career, Walker is a value pick with some tangible upside. As a complementary plan, fantasy owners should target a high-upside talent like Kolten Wong in latter rounds.

The Next Wave

13. Chase Utley, Phillies
14. Kelly Johnson, Yankees
15. Brian Dozier, Twins
16. Howard Kendrick, Angels
17. Dan Uggla, Braves
18. Kolten Wong, Cardinals
19. DJ LeMahieu, Rockies
20. Eric Sogard, Athletics
21. Anthony Rendon, Nationals
22. Marco Scutaro, Giants
23. Dee Gordon, Dodgers
24. Rickie Weeks, Brewers
25. Omar Infante, Royals
26. Brian Roberts, Yankees
27. Rafael Furcal, Marlins
28. Gordon Beckham, White Sox
29. Scooter Gennett, Brewers
30. Jurickson Profar, Rangers (out until June with an injury)
30b. Josh Wilson, Rangers (Profar’s three-month replacement)