The Texas Rangers still may have the best second baseman in the American League West but the competition is closing on Ian Kinsler.
Kinsler had a sub-par season in 2012 by his standards and the consistent play of Howie Kendrick has allowed him to close the gap.
The West did add an All-Star at second base this year with the addition of Houston’s Jose Altuve. The other West teams aren’t as fortunate as Dustin Ackley struggled to hit for average in Seattle and the job in Oakland is wide open after Jemile Weeks held the spot last year.
Here’s a breakdown of second base in the West with the rankings.
1. Texas – Ian Kinsler is as healthy this spring as he’s been since 2009. That was also the last full season that Kinsler didn’t have problems with his right ankle. The ankle bothered him enough last year that he considered having surgery on it at the All-Star break. Fortunately for him, it got better in the second half of the season and he’s had no problems with it this spring. The ankle may have been one of the reasons Kinsler stole nine less bases in 2012 (21) than he did in 2011 and hit 13 less homers. He also matched a career high with 18 errors. Still, Kinsler gives the Rangers a leadoff hitter who can hit for power and is capable of a 30-30 season, something he’s already done twice. Kinsler may also have something to prove this season. The Rangers toyed with the idea of moving him to first base, which is something he wasn’t ready to do. With the trade of Michael Young, he’s also now the longest-tenured Ranger in the clubhouse.
Team production in 2012: .259 average, 18 home runs, 68 RBI, .738 OPS Expected production in 2013: .275 average, 25 home runs, 80 RBI, .800 OPS
2. Los Angeles – The Angels know exactly what to expect out of Howie Kendrick, and that’s turned out to be a very good thing. Kendrick, who is entering his fourth full season as a starter, has become one of the most consistent players in the game. He’s hit between .279 and .287 in each of the last three seasons, had at least 60 RBIs in the last four, stolen 14 bases in each of the last three years and has been a solid second baseman (a ranger factor of at least 4.50 each of the last three years). While he doesn’t hit for power, not expected to in a potent Los Angeles lineup. The Angels need Kendrick, who was an All-Star in 2011, to have a Kendrick-like season and score runs. The Angels may bat Kendrick second in the lineup, which would put him behind Mike Trout and in front of the duo of Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton. That should give him plenty of opportunity to see good pitches.
Team production in 2012: .288 average, 9 home runs, 71 RBI, .728 OPS Expected production in 2013: .285 average, 10 home runs, 75 RBI, .740 OPS
3. Houston – Jose Altuve is bordering on becoming a cult hero in Houston and not just because of his diminutive size (listed at 5-5). Altuve was the lone bona fide standout for a dismal Houston team last season. In his first full season in the majors, he batted .290, scored 80 runs and stole 33 bases. He doesn’t hit for power, with just nine homers in nearly 800 at-bats over two seasons, but he did have 34 doubles last season. The Astros could lose more than 100 games again this season, but it won’t have anything to do with Altuve’s play.
Team production in 2012: .285 average, nine home runs, 42 RBI, .738 OPS Expected production in 2013: .280 average, 10 homers, 50 RBI, .725 OPS
4. Seattle – It’s hard to look at Dustin Ackley’s 2012 season in a negative light despite the fact that his numbers weren’t as good as he’d liked for them to be. After all, you have to consider that he was playing for a woeful Seattle offense, which doesn’t make his .226 batting average look at bad. In fact, it was better than the Mariners got out of their primary first baseman and primary shortstop. In his first full season with the Mariners, Ackley was second on the team in games played and led them in at-bats. But Ackley had just seven more extra-base hits in 2012 than he had in 2011 despite having nearly twice as many at-bats. Now that Ackley is used to the grind of playing every day, his production should increase. The Mariners have also changed the configuration at Safeco Field, making it more hitter friendly. That should have increase Ackley’s production as well. One area he doesn’t need much improvement is in the field, where he committed just seven errors at second base.
Team production in 2012: .229 average, 13 home runs, 52 RBI, .633 OPS Expected production in 2013: .260 average, 15 home runs, 75 RBI, .700 OPS
5. Oakland – The Athletics will have someone at second base on Opening Day. They aren’t just sure who it will be yet. The top candidates are Jemile Weeks, the primary starter last season, and Scott Sizemore. Weeks had a disappointing 2012, hitting just .221 with two homers and 20 RBI and was left off the postseason roster. That production opened the door for Sizemore, who missed all of last season with a torn ACL. Both Weeks and Sizemore have been slowed this spring by injuries, which have hampered either’s ability to claim the spot outright.
Team production in 2012: .228 average, 5 home runs, 34 RBI, .620 OPS Expected production in 2013: .245 average, 10 home runs, 50 RBI, .650 OPS