Second base preview: Utley rates first

BY John Halpin • December 17, 2009

This week, we move on to the keystone, where I will not mention Robinson Cano (after this paragraph, anyway). Call me a spoiled Yankee fan, but Cano's hacking ways drive me nuts. I don't care if he had 75 extra-base hits this season — I don't want to write about him until I have to. I guess my World Series euphoria is gone, huh?

The Man (or two)

Ian Kinsler, Rangers — Go ahead, beat me up if you want, but I'll take Kinsler by a hair over Chase Utley again. Kinsler's worst category in 2009 was his .253 batting average, but that appears to have been dragged down by an extremely unlucky .245 batting average on balls in play (BABIP). Figuring his BA will settle in the .280-.290 range is probably about right. Overall, here's the 2009 fantasy comparison between the two: (BA-HR-RBI-R-SB)
Kinsler: .253-31-86-101-31
Utley: .282-31-93-112-23

If Kinsler's BA improves the way it should, and if he gets more RBI opportunities by moving down in the order, as has been rumored, then what's the fantasy difference between him and Utley? Oh, that's right — a little extra speed, and the fact that he's three-and-a-half years younger, which makes him more likely to improve.

Chase Utley, Phillies
— It's not that I don't love Utley. I do, and he's still a possible first-round fantasy pick. It's just that I've finished the entire gallon of Kinsler Kool-Aid already.

Bounceback

Rickie Weeks, Brewers — Speaking of Kool-Aid ... before getting hurt in mid-May, Weeks was batting a respectable .272 with nine homers, 24 RBI and 28 runs scored in just 37 games. I'm buying again on him, who I think will be just a little underrated due to the missed injury time.

Breakout

Howie Kendrick, Angels — This one is a hunch, based mainly on crossing my fingers that Kendrick will stay in the majors all year for a change. It has to happen sometime, right? If he goes through a season without injury or demotion, well, he batted .301 with 12 homers, 72 RBI, 72 runs and 15 stolen bases in 125 games between Triple-A and Anaheim in 2009.

That batting average is low for Kendrick, who made a habit of posting Tony Gwynn-like BAs as a minor leaguer. I've written this before, but I wouldn't be shocked if he hits .330. One more thing to help get you excited about Kendrick: In 54 games after returning from the minors in early July, he batted .351 with six homers, 39 RBI, 37 runs scored and five stolen bases. For those not doing the math at home, that's about a third of a season.

Overrated

Aaron Hill, Blue Jays — I like Hill. Really, I do. I just don't see him hitting 36 homers again. His homer-to-flyball rate (14.9 percent) was unusually high, and that can indicate some luck. Also, the fantastic HitTracker tells us that Hill's average HR distance was about 10 feet below the MLB average, which suggests a fair share of just-made-it shots. Hill's definitely a starting fantasy second baseman, and he might hit 20-25 homers again next season. But would I draft him ahead of Dustin Pedroia or Brian Roberts, which many people will? Not a chance.

Ian Stewart, Rockies — Some people are going to realize that Stewart qualifies at second base, see the 25 homers he hit, look at all the waiver wire columns I wrote this year salivating over him, and draft him among the top 10 second basemen.

Unfortunately, I think I'm getting off the bandwagon. I'm still a pretty firm believer in the idea that you should be happy to draft any hitter with the word ROCKIES on the front of his uniform, but Stewart's .228 batting average might not have been too much of a fluke. He struck out in 32.5 percent of his plate appearances in 2009, and only six players with more than 400 plate appearances were worse. It's really hard to hit for a respectable average when you whiff that much.

The six guys with worse percentages than Stewart — Jim Thome, Russell Branyan, Carlos Pena, Jack Cust, Chris Davis and Mark Reynolds — combined to bat .244 in 2,746 at-bats. I'm not saying you should completely avoid Stewart. Just know that his BA could be an anchor around your neck, and that you'll need to compensate for it if you draft him. Like by drafting Ty Cobb, for example.

Underrated

Martin Prado, Braves — I checked the rankings today from two sites I like, and they had Prado ranked 19th and 26th at this position. He's not a fantasy monster or anything, but that's too low. He has a .307 batting average in 779 big-league at-bats, and with all the line drives he hits, that's probably not a fluke. He hit 11 homers in 503 plate appearances last year, which seemed out of character, but he also hit 38 doubles. At age 26, it looks like he's developing some power.

Drafting Prado in the 12-15 range among second basemen seems to make sense. He's probably as good as Placido Polanco, and people always yell at me for ranking Polanco too low. Just for that, I think I'll rank Prado higher.

Sleeper

Chris Getz, Royals — This is based on Getz winning the everyday job over Alberto Callaspo, and I actually like Callaspo. But if Getz does get the gig, you might get a bargain, since your fellow owners probably see him only as a speedy slap hitter. That's only somewhat true. Getz suffered a bruised triceps, a fractured finger, a sprained ankle and an oblique strain in 2009, so it's not surprising that he didn't hit very well. Look back to 2008, when he hit 11 homers and posted a .448 slugging percentage in 111 games at Triple-A Charlotte, and to the fact his SLG improved steadily from 2006-08 (.321/.381/.448).

None of that makes Getz an Utley or Kinsler clone, but it does make him a guy with a chance to hit 8-10 homers and steal 25 more bases, with a decent BA (he was a .286 hitter in the minors). You're going to be able to get Getz pretty late if you want to.

Youngster to Watch

Scott Sizemore, Tigers — Sizemore broke his leg while playing in the Arizona Fall League in October, but for now let's take the Tigers at their word about him being ready for spring training. He's supposed to get the first crack at the everyday job, and he seems like a fantasy up-and-comer after breaking out with a .308 BA, 17 homers and 21 stolen bases between Double-A and Triple-A in 2009. Keep an eye on the Tigers' spring training boxscores, because if Sizemore steals a few bases, it'll probably mean he's healthy enough to be a late-round value pick.


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