March 6, 2009

Rosenberg: 2nd base can’t play 2nd fiddle

The number two, and its many written and numerical variations, often carries with it a negative connotation.

The number two, and its many written and numerical variations, often carries with it a negative connotation.

For example, if something isn't top-of-the-line quality, it's second rate. Beer doesn't come in two-packs (sorry, Dos Equis doesn't count). And the cinematic abominations that were "Caddyshack II" and "Blues Brothers 2000" were, well, No. 2 in more ways than one.

Of course, there are exceptions — Van Halen II, "Spider-Man 2" and "Deuce" by Kiss spring to mind — and the same goes for fantasy baseball.

Second base, without question, is the the thinnest of all positions when it comes to depth and star power, which only underscores the importance of being able to get a good one while they're available.

We continue our preseason preview series with a closer look at the options second base has to offer.

Second Bests

Off-season hip surgery could reduce the Phillies' Chase Utley to a spectator to start the season, but fantasy owners should avoid becoming spectators themselves on draft day where Philadelphia's five-tool All-Star is concerned. With three-year averages of 29 homers, 104 RBIs, 116 runs, 13 steals and a .309 batting average, Utley is by far the class of the position and a bona fide first-round pick. Undoubtedly, some will be wary, but the fantasy lottery could be won if Utley is healthy and ready to go come Opening Day, as he promises to be.

Like Utley, there will be injury concerns when it comes to the Rangers' Ian Kinsler, who was working on an MVP-caliber campaign a season ago (18 HRs, 71 RBIs, 102 runs, 26 SBs, .318 in 518 at-bats) until sports hernia surgery shut him down in mid-August. Now healthy, Kinsler is a prime candidate to join the 30-30 club and to contend for a batting title. Two more factors that add to Kinsler's appeal: 1) He plays in a Little League park, and 2) He'll soon be celebrating his 27th birthday, the prime age at which baseballs become the size of beach balls to most hitters.

If you pass up or miss out on Utley or Kinsler, reigning AL MVP Dustin Pedroia of the Red Sox is another top-flight option who could last as late as the third round in some drafts. Coming off a season in which he batted .326 with 17 HRs, 83 RBIs, 118 runs and 20 steals while striking out just 52 times in 653 plate appearances, Pedroia has the tools to knock in 100 runs, score 130 more and even push past the 20-homer mark.

Level Two

The Orioles' Brian Roberts (nine HRs, 57 RBIs, 107 runs, 40 SBs, .296) is the speediest of the bunch and a lock to score 100 runs, swipe 40 bags and bat in the neighborhood of .300, while the Reds' Brandon Phillips (21 HRs, 78 RBIs, 80 runs, 23 SBs, .262) and Alexei Ramirez of the White Sox (21 HRs, 77 RBIs, 65 runs, 13 SBs, .287) offer speed along with a bit more power. The Yankees' Robinson Cano (14 HRs, 72 RBIs, 70 runs, .271) and Marlins' Dan Uggla (32 HRs, 92 RBIs, 97 runs, .260) won't run but can hit a ton. Cano could be a 25-100-100-.320 provider if he can find a way to free his bat from the caves of ice that encase it every year until June.

Breakout Candidate

The Braves' Kelly Johnson (12 HRs, 69 RBIs, 86 runs, 11 SBs, .287) stumbled through the better part of the 2008 season before catching fire in September, in which he batted .398 with three homers, nine of his 39 total doubles, 19 RBIs and 19 runs. A poor man's Utley, a healthy Johnson has the ability to deliver numbers in the 20-HR, 80-RBI, 100-run, 20-steal range with a solid average. Getting that level of production from a mid- to late-round pick at a weak position would be a coup. Did we mention he's 27, too?

Best Of The Rest

Mark DeRosa (21 HRs, 87 RBIs, 103 runs, .285); Placido Polanco (eight HRs, 58 RBIs, 90 runs, .307); Jose Lopez (17 HRs, 89 RBIs, 80 runs, .297); Mike Aviles (10 HRs, 51 RBIs, 68 runs, .325); Rickie Weeks (14 HRs, 46 RBIs, 89 runs, 19 SBs, .234); Akinori Iwamura (six HRs, 48 RBIs, 91 runs, .274); Freddy Sanchez (nine HRs, 52 RBIs, 75 runs, .271); Orlando Hudson (eight HRs, 41 RBIs, 54 runs, .305); Mark Ellis (13 HRs, 48 RBIs, 65 runs, .265); Aaron Hill (17 HRs, 78 RBIs, 87 runs, .291 in '07); Howie Kendrick (three HRs, 37 RBIs, 43 runs, 11 SBs, .306).

Stu Rosenberg's fantasy sports column runs Fridays. He can be reached at or 578-2300.

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