MLB Spring Training 2017: The Top 10 2nd Basemen to Watch
The second base position has quickly become one of the deepest in baseball thanks to the emergence of a handful of new young stars and the sustained success of some veteran staples.
The following is not meant to be a rundown of the current state of the position or a look back at the 2016 season, though.
Instead, it will serve as a look ahead to 10 second basemen who, for a variety of reasons, will be worth keeping an eye on this spring.
Whether it's a player returning from a significant injury, an up-and-coming youngster ready to step into a more significant role, an impending position battle or something else altogether, the following guys enter spring training with compelling storylines.
Ozzie Albies, Atlanta Braves
A future middle infield of Ozzie Albies and Dansby Swanson should give Atlanta Braves fans plenty of reason for excitement, as both players possess All-Star potential.
Albies impressed in his full-season debut in 2015, then crushed Double-A pitching to the tune of a .321/.391/.467 line over 371 plate appearances last season before earning a promotion.
He scuffled a bit following the jump, hitting .248/.307/.351 in 56 games with Triple-A Gwinnett, but that's done nothing to hurt his standing as a key part of the Braves' long-term plans.
"A teenager for all of 2016, it's hard to put a ceiling on Albies. He makes those around him better and brings intangibles to the ballpark every day," wrote MLB.com's Prospect Watch.
Age, a slow start in Triple-A and a fractured elbow suffered in early September all point to Albies heading back to the minors to start the 2017 season.
A big spring could change those plans, though.
He's no stranger to spring success, either, after posting a .371/.421/.486 with a double and a home run over 38 plate appearances in MLB camp last year.
If nothing else, incumbent Jace Peterson and utility man Sean Rodriguez won't stand in the way once Albies is deemed ready, and that will almost certainly be at some point during the upcoming season.
Willie Calhoun, Los Angeles Dodgers
There's no question Willie Calhoun can hit.
The 22-year-old has posted an .832 OPS with 48 doubles and 38 home runs in 205 games since being taken in the fourth round of the 2015 draft out of Yavapai College in Arizona.
The question is where he fits defensively, and he knows it.
"I see it a lot. I know I still have a lot of work to do and that’s something I’m still attacking this offseason," Calhoun told Bill Plunkett of the Orange County Register, regarding questions about his future defensive home.
"It’s motivating. I’ve always had to overcome something in my part of the game since I was a senior in high school. I’ve always been told I’m too small and everything. Just being able to overcome those types of things is something that I’m going to have to keep on doing."
Still, a move to third base or left field may be inevitable, and his bat would certainly play at both positions.
"He lacks middle-infield actions and has fringy speed and arm strength," explained MLB.com's Prospect Watch.
After putting in the time this offseason to improve, the Dodgers will likely start him out at second base this spring.
Who knows? A significant step forward with the glove and continued excellence with the bat could push him into the team's plans sooner than expected and fill a significant hole in the process.
Brian Dozier, Minnesota Twins
Unlike most players on this list, Brian Dozier is a known commodity.
The 29-year-old has been one of the league's most productive second basemen since stepping into an everyday job for the first time in 2013.
He was an All-Star in 2015 and is fresh off a career year in which he set an AL record for home runs by a second baseman and authored an impressive second half that included a .990 OPS and 28 home runs in 72 games.
The question here is whether his big bat will be returning to the middle of the Minnesota Twins' lineup, as he's been one of the most talked-about trade candidates this winter.
If the Twins have their way, the situation will be resolved long before the start of spring training, as Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com explained:
The Twins haven't set a drop dead "yes or no" date on whether they'll trade second baseman Brian Dozier. But there's agreement within the organization that they have to make a call one way or the other soon. The front office doesn't think it's fair to Dozier—or beneficial to the team in general—to let the current state of uncertainty drag on much longer.
The Dodgers are the team most often linked to Dozier, and pitching prospect Jose De Leon has been floated as a potential return piece, per Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports.
A resolution in the next few weeks would be ideal, but a chance to acquire one of the top pitching prospects in the game would be worth the Twins continuing to listen to offers until a trade is struck or the Dodgers have turned elsewhere to fill their second base void.
Either way, all the attention heaped on Dozier this offseason and his huge second half will make him one of the more closely watched players of the spring.
Brandon Drury, Arizona Diamondbacks
Brandon Drury has come a long way since essentially being a throw-in piece in the deal that sent Justin Upton to the Atlanta Braves prior to the 2013 season.
The former 13th-round pick posted an .862 OPS with 51 doubles at the Single-A level in his first season in the Arizona organization and continued to hit every step of the way before seeing his first extended MLB action last season.
From an offensive standpoint, his debut campaign was a huge success. He ranked among rookie leaders in a number of categories:
- H: 130, third
- 2B: 31, second
- HR: 16, ninth
- RBI: 53, sixth
- R: 59, fourth
However, he wrapped up the season as a replacement-level player (0.0 WAR) due in large part to his defensive shortcomings while bouncing around.
The 24-year-old split his time between left field (62 games), right field (32), third base (29) and second base (16), and he was clearly out of place off the infield dirt with a minus-9 DRS and minus-18.4 UZR/150 in the outfield.
Now, the decision to trade Jean Segura opens the door for Drury to settle in as the team's primary second baseman for the upcoming season.
While there is always value in versatility, the stability of playing one position consistently should benefit Drury and could lead to a breakout season in 2017.
Dilson Herrera, Cincinnati Reds
Brandon Phillips must really love it in Cincinnati.
The 35-year-old invoked his 10-and-5 rights once again this offseason, putting the kibosh on a deal that would have sent him to the Atlanta Braves, per Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports.
With that, it looks like the veteran second baseman will be back in Cincinnati for a 12th and likely final season, as he'll earn $14 million before reaching free agency next winter.
That puts him directly in the path of Dilson Herrera, the presumptive "second baseman of the future" after the Reds acquired him from the New York Mets last summer for Jay Bruce.
A similar situation persists at shortstop, where Zack Cozart is in his final year of arbitration eligibility and standing in the way of Jose Peraza.
Herrera, 22, is a .298/.362/.468 career hitter over six minor league seasons, and he slugged a career-high 15 home runs last season in Triple-A.
That offensive potential, coupled with the athleticism and instincts to be an above-average defender at the keystone, makes him a big part of the rebuilding team's long-term plans.
The Reds have nothing to gain by trotting Phillips out for another 500 plate appearances in 2017, so expect him to be dropped to a part-time role once Herrera is ready.
That could come sooner than later, especially with a strong spring.
Yoan Moncada, Chicago White Sox
Yoan Moncada was the grand prize of a winter meetings prospect jamboree for the Chicago White Sox. The team traded ace Chris Sale and right fielder Adam Eaton, kicking off a full-blown rebuild in the process.
The 21-year-old now headlines a farm system that climbed from the No. 23 spot to No. 4 in Bleacher Report's latest farm system rankings. And after getting a taste of MLB action last season, he should be ready to make an impact in 2017.
"I have the opportunity right now to represent the White Sox organization and be one of the key players in this process," Moncada told reporters. "I feel good and I hope this pays off for the team, too."
The Boston Red Sox used Moncada at third base in his debut out of necessity, but he'll return to his natural second base spot with the White Sox.
There he has a chance to emerge as a true five-tool talent with the wheels to steal 50-plus bases, a compact swing that should produce a high batting average and a developing power stroke that could yield 20-plus home runs annually.
There's still work to be done, though, as Moncada was overmatched in his brief exposure to MLB pitching with 12 strikeouts in 20 plate appearances.
While he has a sound approach and works plenty of walks, he struck out at a 25.3 percent clip in the minors last season, and making more consistent contact will be the key for him to live up to his lofty potential.
"He really has everything needed to succeed, and I know that with the proper guidance of veteran players and coaches with experience he can become an All-Star caliber player," first baseman Jose Abreu told reporters. "He is going to make a huge impact in the White Sox organization, and both the fans and the team will be thankful."
Raul A. Mondesi, Kansas City Royals
Raul A. Mondesi has checked in as the No. 1 prospect in the Kansas City Royals system each of the past two seasons, according to Baseball America.
Now it's time for him to prove he's worthy of that lofty billing.
The 21-year-old got his first extended MLB action last season when he took over as the team's primary second baseman in the second half, and he was completely overmatched at the plate.
Just how poor were his offensive numbers?
A total of 401 players tallied at least 140 plate appearances last season. Mondesi ranked 400th with a .512 OPS, surpassing only Baltimore Orioles backup catcher Caleb Joseph (.413).
There's still plenty of reason for optimism, though.
Mondesi has consistently been one of the youngest players every step of the way in his pro career, dating back to making his full-season debut as a 17-year-old in 2013.
Last season was no different, as he was the second-youngest player to appear in an MLB game behind Los Angeles Dodgers left-hander Julio Urias.
With a solid contact rate, plus speed and the tools to be a Gold Glove-caliber defender, there's no reason Mondesi can't be a staple up the middle for the Royals for years to come.
Now he heads to spring training looking to claim an Opening Day roster spot for the first time in his career.
Cory Spangenberg, San Diego Padres
The San Diego Padres' second base job figures to be one of the more wide-open position battles in the league this spring.
Ryan Schimpf could get the first crack at winning the job after he came out of nowhere to post an .869 OPS with 17 doubles and 20 home runs as a 28-year-old rookie.
However, a .217 batting average, 31.8 percent strikeout rate and a likely unsustainable 17.7 percent home-run-to-fly-ball rate raises plenty of questions about whether he'll be able to repeat that performance.
That said, a slow spring from Schimpf could open the door for Cory Spangenberg to reclaim a job that looked to be his for the long term heading into last season.
Spangenberg hit .271 with 26 extra-base hits and nine stolen bases in 108 games while posting a 2.1 WAR as a rookie in 2015, serving in a super-utility role.
That was enough for the 25-year-old to break camp as the starting second baseman last spring, but he made it just 14 games into the 2016 campaign before suffering a torn left quad muscle that effectively ended his season.
Now back to 100 percent, he'll be out to prove he can be a significant part of the Padres' rebuilding efforts.
As a former No. 10 overall pick back in the 2011 draft and a well-regarded prospect during his time in the minors, the potential is still there for him to be an impact table-setter.
Joey Wendle, Oakland Athletics
In a move that didn't receive much fanfare at the time—especially on the Oakland side of things—the A's sent slugger Brandon Moss to the Cleveland Indians in exchange for second baseman Joey Wendle prior to the 2015 season.
While he's never been regarded as a top-tier prospect, Wendle does have intriguing offensive tools with a .288/.340/.459 line over five minor league seasons and an impressive 73 doubles and 22 home runs over the past two years in Triple-A.
After holding his own in a six-week audition and then hitting .307/.345/.511 with 25 RBI in 34 games in the Mexican Pacific League, the 26-year-old will enter camp with a shot at winning the starting second base job.
The front office has "gauged trade interest" in veteran Jed Lowrie, the presumptive starting second baseman, provided he's fully recovered from foot surgery that ended his 2016 season in August, per Joe Stiglich of CSN Bay Area.
However, it doesn't sound like they want to rush Wendle or fellow prospect Chad Pinder into the starting role.
"Long term, I think we feel like we have some options that probably aren’t quite ready yet. I think we prefer not to rush those options," executive vice president of baseball operations Billy Beane told Stiglich.
Then again, if the A's can find a taker for Lowrie and at least a portion of the $6.5 million he's owed in the final guaranteed year of his contract, they'll likely jump at the chance.
If Wendle uses his strong winter league performance as a springboard to a big preseason, he could force the team's hand.
Kolten Wong, St. Louis Cardinals
Kolten Wong started off 2016 with a bang.
After back-to-back solid seasons to begin his MLB career and with plenty more potential to tap into, the St. Louis Cardinals signed him to an early five-year, $25.5 million extension in March.
That vote of confidence from the organization didn't spark the breakout season many were hoping for, and Wong actually found himself demoted to the minors in early June with a .222/.306/.286 slash line over his first 144 plate appearances.
When he returned to the big leagues a couple of weeks later, the everyday second base job was no longer waiting for him, as Jedd Gyorko had pushed his way into more significant playing time.
That meant learning to play the outfield in order to see semi-regular at-bats, and Wong obliged.
He went on to hit .251/.341/.401 with 15 extra-base hits in 217 plate appearances post-demotion, settling back in as the primary second baseman in September.
To his credit, the organization still seems to have high hopes for the former first-round pick.
"I see exciting things ahead for him," manager Mike Matheny told Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Wong, Gyorko, Aledmys Diaz, Jhonny Peralta and Matt Carpenter are all candidates to see time up the middle for the Cardinals in 2017, though Carpenter is currently slated to take over as the primary first baseman.
As such, Wong won't have the everyday second base job just handed back to him, but he'll be given every opportunity to go out and grab it this spring.