After looking at the first basemen of the NL Central, who have collectively fallen off since the glory days of Pujols/Votto/Berkman/Lee, we’re now going to look at a position that, honestly, we can never remember being the division’s strong point. Historically this has been such a weak position within the division that Cubs fans, unaccustomed to seeing good non-Biggios playing the keystone, thought Mike Fontenot was worthy of the nickname “Little Babe Rute”*. Since 2000, NL Central second basemen have posted just ten of the 100 best seasons by second basemen, and seven of those were from Brandon Phillips (5) and Rickie Weeks (2). The position as a whole is not much better in 2014, but luckily for us, that may be changing shortly.
*Yes, this was semi-tongue-in-cheek, but I know many who non-ironically called him this.
Best in Show – Pirates (Neil Walker)
One of the following players is Neil Walker, the other is Brandon Phillips. Can you guess which line belongs to which NL Central second baseman?
Player A 2011-2013: .282/.328/.428, 54 HR, 103 OPS+, 10.3 rWAR
Player B 2011-2013: .268/.338/.417, 42 HR, 111 OPS+, 9.0 rWAR
Given the inclusion of the park-adjusted OPS here, it’s probably not too hard to guess which is which, but it’s nevertheless surprising to see just how close the two have been. Taking Phillips’ three-year decline into consideration, his age (32), and how quickly second basemen deteriorate, I just have to take Walker over Phillips. -Tommy
When thinking of a list of second basemen for the NL Central immediately you think Brandon Phillips, but with a little digging I have Neil Walker ahead of him. It was really close but although Walker will not wow you with his tools he does a lot of things well. Since 2010 when he received the full time job he has been extremely consistent. We could see another step forward in his game for the 2014 season. – Kenny
Second Place – Reds (Brandon Phillips)
He may be aging and his bat may no longer be above-average, but Brandon Phillips is still a decent second baseman. His glove is near-elite and he can still hit it out of the park, and that puts him well ahead of many second baseman in the league.
There is a reason the Reds are trying to dump his contract because the skills seem to be diminishing a bit. Even saying that, Phillips is still one of the better 2nd basemen in the game. The flashiness in his game may have won him the gold glove last year over Barney but regardless he still is a top defensive 2nd basemen. Looking forward to next season I believe Phillips will have a similar season to ’13.
Middle of the Pack – Cardinals (Kolten Wong)
How bad is the rest of the division at second? A rookie is the third best in the division. Projected to be a well-above average defensive second baseman who should contribute a handful of steals, homers, and an above-average OBP, Wong is well liked among prospectors. He’s not going to set the world on fire, but stability is all the Cardinals need out of him.
Wong is at three is ahead of the other two because of what he can be. One of the best prospects in all of baseball these past few years, there are high expectations for Wong. Most of us remember him right now as the guy who was picked off 1st to lose game 4 of the World Series, but unfortunately for us Cubs fan he will probably be terrorizing us for the next 10 years.
Gennett had a really strong showing in his MLB debut last fall, posting a 125 OPS+ in 69 games. Though he should not be expected to hit anything like that in the future, league-average or slightly below is within reach over a full season. Combined with Weeks hitting against some lefties, the two could form a solid platoon.
Awful is a nice way to describe Weeks season in 2013. 2012 was not very good either as he was just a one win player. He seems to have just lost it; it is crazy to think he was almost a six-win player in 2010 now he is costing his team wins. That brings us to Scooter Gennett who in just 69 games put up some real good numbers. He was the best prospect in the Brewers organization that ranks near the bottom in the league. We will see how Roenicke gets both of them at-bats during the season.
Darwin Barney Place – Cubs (Darwin Barney)
Career Line: .246/.293/.336, 71 OPS+. Yes his defense is beyond excellent, but I just can’t handle watching him at the plate anymore.
It is crazy how much value Barney brings on defense. Last year was quite the disaster at the plate though. Sure he doesn’t strike out a lot but he makes a lot of weak contact. It is hard not to cheer for him but with where the Cubs are at now everyone knows they need an upgrade because they just cant hide him in the lineup like a contending team can. In fact I would like to see Olt win the 3rd base job moving a Murphy/Valbuena platoon at 2nd moving Barney to a more defensive replacement player, but we will discuss that in another post.
The Future is Kinda Dim
But that’s OK, since the past decade and a half of second base play have been quite dull. There are two true prospects in the division that project to play second base, and both project to be at least average major leaguers. The first is Pirates prospect Alen Hansen, who could be an average defender with a decent average and 15 homer (average) power. (Has “average” stopped sounding like a word to you at this point, too?) I really cannot state enough how unsexy Alen Hanson is, but if he’s not traded, he could find himself at home amongst the current NL Central second baggers.
The second prospect is one of my favorites in the game, Arismendy Alcantara. One of my favorite types of players is a former shortstop playing at second – the range and the raw defensive tools make them excellent defenders, and Alcantara could be very good there. At the plate, his power and speed make him a candidate to top this list a few years down the line.