Ranking MLB's 10 Best Second Basemen Ahead of 2021 Spring Training

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterFebruary 14, 2021

Ranking MLB's 10 Best Second Basemen Ahead of 2021 Spring Training

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    Mary Altaffer/Associated Press

    With teams across Major League Baseball set to report to spring training next week, we're continuing with our rankings for the top players at every position for 2021.

    Now that the top 10 first basemen and third basemen in the bag, it's on to second basemen.

    Though there was a clear option for the No. 1 spot on this list, it wasn't as simple to determine who else had to be in the top 10 or in which order they belonged. That speaks to how deep second base runs these days.

    As per usual, we made our decisions by considering players' established track records and upside and downside for the coming season.

    We'll begin with some honorable mentions and then count down the top 10.

5 to Watch

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    Gavin Lux
    Gavin LuxGregory Bull/Associated Press

    Nico Hoerner, Chicago Cubs

    If he can earn a starting gig at second base this spring, he could become a dependable regular by way of his solid bat-to-ball skill and slick fielding.

            

    Gavin Lux, Los Angeles Dodgers

    He was Baseball America's Minor League Player of the Year in 2019 and he's still only 23 years old, so it's way too early to give up on him even after his lost season in 2020.

               

    Nick Madrigal, Chicago White Sox

    His below-average power limits his offensive upside, but the .340 average that he had in 29 games last season hints toward a possible future as a batting champion.

          

    Dylan Moore, Seattle Mariners

    We'll see if he can hack it as a full-time second baseman after working as a utility man in 2019 and 2020, but it's definitely intriguing that 17 of the 35 hits he had last year went for extra bases.

           

    Nick Solak, Texas Rangers

    Though he hit a modest .268/.326/.344 last season, any hitter who posts above-average figures for both strikeout rate and exit velocity is worth watching.

First 5 Out

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    Mike Moustakas
    Mike MoustakasJeff Roberson/Associated Press

    Luis Arraez, Minnesota Twins

    It was tough to leave him out of the top 10 on account of his .331 career average, but 111 of his 145 hits have been singles and he hasn't been an especially good defender.

            

    Mike Moustakas, Cincinnati Reds

    He's a good bet for 30-to-35 home runs this season, yet his .310 career OBP captures how he's traditionally an all-or-nothing hitter.

             

    Jean Segura, Philadelphia Phillies

    He's been a solid regular over the last two seasons, but not quite the star that he was as he was hitting .308 with a 116 OPS+ between 2016 and 2018.

          

    Marcus Semien, Toronto Blue Jays

    The Blue Jays are hoping he can bounce back at a new position after he posted just a 91 OPS+ and 0.5 rWAR in 2020. Ideally, he'll be more like the MVP contender that he was in 2019.

             

    Donovan Solano, San Francisco Giants

    He's found new life in San Francisco to the tune of a .324 average since 2019, but his Donnie Barrels nickname is a bit much given that he literally has only 14 barrels over the past two years.

10. David Fletcher, Los Angeles Angels

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Age: 26

    Key 2020 Stats: 49 G, 230 PA, 3 HR, 2 SB, .319 AVG, .376 OBP, .425 SLG, 121 OPS+

    2020 WAR: 1.8

    When David Fletcher swings, he has a better chance than anyone of ending up with a hit.

    Seriously. He's taken 1,760 swings since 2018 and 18.0 percent of them have resulted in hits. That's the highest such rate of any player, even ahead of Michael Brantley, Mookie Betts and DJ LeMahieu.

    That's a testament to how Fletcher is selective with his swings and to how good he is at putting the ball in play—he struck out only 25 times in 2020. The fact that he had at least 18 hits to each field last year underscores how he's also pretty much shift-proof.

    Because Fletcher is one of baseball's worst exit velocity merchants, the Los Angeles Angels should know by now that he won't be much of a power supply in 2021. But compared to Nick Madrigal and Luiz Arraez, Fletcher nonetheless gets our vote as the best of the throwback-style hitters at second base right now.

9. Cesar Hernandez, Cleveland

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    Tony Dejak/Associated Press

    Age: 30

    Key 2020 Stats: 58 G, 261 PA, 3 HR, 0 SB, .283 AVG, .355 OBP, .408 SLG, 106 OPS+

    2020 WAR: 1.8

    In lieu of paying him a projected $11.8 million salary in arbitration, the Philadelphia Phillies non-tendered Cesar Hernandez ahead of the 2020 season.

    Though that decision wasn't altogether indefensible, it wasn't as if the Phillies were ridding themselves of dead weight. Hernandez had been a solid table-setter for them in racking up a .352 OBP in seven seasons, and his defense had been worth three outs above average in 2019.

    Philly's loss was Cleveland's gain in 2020, as Hernandez deservedly won his first Gold Glove while adding a new wrinkle to his offense. Through new personal highs for average exit velocity (87.3 mph) and hard-hit rate (37.3 percent), he hit an American League-high 20 doubles to go with his characteristically strong OBP.

    Even if Hernandez can't augment his over-the-fence pop in 2021, his doubles power, on-base acumen and defensive ability will secure his place among the league's top second basemen.

8. Jose Altuve, Houston Astros

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    Gregory Bull/Associated Press

    Age: 30

    Key 2020 Stats: 48 G, 210 PA, 5 HR, 2 SB, .219 AVG, .286 OBP, .344 OBP, 71 OPS+

    2020 WAR: Minus-0.2

    Jose Altuve was one of the surest things in MLB between 2014 and 2019. He was an All-Star five times and the AL MVP in 2017, and his offensive output included a .327 average and a 140 OPS+.

    Yet Altuve has been breaking down of late. The Houston Astros star has missed time with leg injuries in each of the last three seasons. And after sputtering in 2018 and 2019, his bat finally ran out of gas amid the worst offensive season of his career in 2020.

    At least, so it was in the regular season. Altuve was in vintage form in the postseason, going off for a .375/.500/.729 line and five home runs in 13 games.

    Altuve's brilliant postseason doesn't entirely distract from his recent injury and performance issues, the latter of which include a rising strikeout rate. But as an indication that his stardom may yet have some life left in it, well, we'll take it.

7. Chris Taylor, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Ashley Landis/Associated Press

    Age: 30

    Key 2020 Stats: 56 G, 214 PA, 8 HR, 3 SB, .270 AVG, .366 OBP, .476 SLG, 128 OPS+

    2020 WAR: 2.1

    It's easy to lose sight of Chris Taylor amid the Los Angeles Dodgers' many superstars, yet he's been a vital component to their success over the last four seasons.

    In addition to ably playing several defensive positions, he's also compiled a 116 OPS+, 58 home runs and 37 stolen bases since 2017. Only 10 other players have hit those particular marks.

    What's more, Taylor is coming off his finest offensive season. He got a lot better at laying off breaking balls outside the strike zone in 2020. That not only boosted his walk rate to 12.7 percent, but also had a hand in lifting his hard-hit rate into the 80th percentile.

    Granted, Taylor still had quite a bit of swing-and-miss in his game as he whiffed in 25.7 percent of his plate appearances last season. He nonetheless profiles as a well-rounded regular even if Gavin Lux eventually forces him out of an everyday job at second.

6. Jake Cronenworth, San Diego Padres

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    Derrick Tuskan/Associated Press

    Age: 27

    Key 2020 Stats: 54 G, 192 PA, 4 HR, 3 SB, .285 AVG, .354 OBP, .477 SLG, 128 OPS+

    2020 WAR: 1.6

    One season into his career, the apparent catch with Jake Cronenworth is that he can't hit left-handers. He had 55 at-bats against them in 2020 and went just 12-for-55 with only two extra-base hits.

    However, this would also seem to be Cronenworth's only real downside.

    The Padres acquired Cronenworth along with Tommy Pham from the Tampa Bay Rays after the 2019 season, in which he'd posted a stellar .334/.429/.520 slash line at Triple-A. He obviously didn't regress much as a rookie last year, and he did so with metrics that were uniformly above average.

    If anything, Cronenworth actually underachieved offensively last season. So if he can collect on some outstanding good luck while also continuing to play a good second base, even his platoon split shouldn't keep him from becoming an All-Star for the first time in 2021.

5. Ketel Marte, Arizona Diamondbacks

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    Age: 27

    Key 2020 Stats: 45 G, 195 PA, 2 HR, 1 SB, .287 AVG, .323 OBP, .409 SLG, 95 OPS+

    2020 WAR: 1.5

    After a solid year in 2018, Ketel Marte broke out as one of the best players in baseball in 2019. He hit .329/.389/.592 with 32 home runs, 10 stolen bases and 7.2 rWAR.

    Then came 2020, in which Marte missed time with a wrist injury and otherwise suffered through an alarming power outage. Out of all players who took at least 195 plate appearances, only Raimel Tapia and Kolten Wong hit fewer home runs than Marte.

    Yet there were some silver linings to be found amid Marte's struggles. Though he drew only seven walks all year, his hard-hit rate actually went up from 40.0 percent in 2019 to 40.5 percent in 2020. He also finished with a career-low 10.8 strikeout percentage.

    Health permitting, Marte can and should have a bounce-back year for the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2021. Even if he doesn't play at an MVP-caliber level again, he might at least have an All-Star effort in him.

4. Jeff McNeil, New York Mets

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    Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

    Age: 28

    Key 2020 Stats: 52 G, 209 PA, 4 HR, 0 SB, .311 AVG, .383 OBP, .454 SLG, 131 OPS+

    2020 WAR: 1.5

    When Jeff McNeil debuted for the New York Mets on July 24, 2018, he was a 26-year-old who had never been a top-100 prospect as a minor leaguer.

    You wouldn't know it from how he's performed in the majors. He's indeed been one of the top hitters in MLB since 2018, authoring a 139 OPS+ that's tied with Justin Turner for 12th-best out of all hitters who've taken at least 1,000 plate appearances.

    Because his average exit velocity has been exactly 86.6 mph in two of his three seasons, McNeil's power potential for 2021 is suspect. He's nonetheless a rare hitter with a good eye, an excellent bat-to-ball skill and a penchant for finding holes in the defense, so he should carry on as a high-average, high-OBP guy.

    Whether second base is McNeil's best defensive position is debatable, yet it's doubtful that the Mets will lose anything defensively while he spells Robinson Cano (suspension) in 2021.

3. Ozzie Albies, Atlanta

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    Eric Gay/Associated Press

    Age: 24

    Key 2020 Stats: 29 G, 124 PA, 6 HR, 3 SB, .271 AVG, .306 OBP, .466 SLG, 99 OPS+

    2020 WAR: 0.7

    Following his promising breakthrough in 2017, Ozzie Albies firmly established himself as a cornerstone star in Atlanta and perhaps became baseball's most well-rounded second baseman across the 2018 and 2019 seasons.

    He led the National League in hits in the latter, and he posted a 107 OPS+ with 48 home runs, 29 stolen bases and 9.7 rWAR altogether. The last of those figures ranked behind only Ketel Marte among primary second basemen.

    As for what happened in 2020, Albies injured his wrist early in the season and was clearly never right afterward. Notably, his strikeout rate spiked from 16.0 percent in 2019 to 24.2 percent.

    Albies did, however, salvage a career-high barrel rate and four outs above average in spite of his limited playing time. He's young enough to take a return to health for granted, and with that should come a return to his previous All-Star-caliber form.

2. Brandon Lowe, Tampa Bay Rays

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    Eric Gay/Associated Press

    Age: 26

    Key 2020 Stats: 56 G, 224 PA, 14 HR, 3 SB, .269 AVG, .362 OBP, .554 SLG, 152 OPS+

    2020 WAR: 2.4

    The list of full-time second basemen with at least a 130 OPS+ and 30 home runs since 2018 is a short one. It's just Brandon Lowe and nobody else.

    Even better, the Tampa Bay Rays star is getting, well, better.

    Though he isn't an imposing figure at 5'10", 185 pounds, Lowe is hitting more barrels—batted balls with an ideal combination of exit velocity and launch angle—on an annual basis. In 2020, he was up among the big boys with a barrel rate in the 98th percentile.

    Lowe's power doesn't come at the expense of consistency, as he also worked an 11.2 walk percentage with a non-terrible 25.9 strikeout rate in 2020. So were it not for a certain New York Yankee, he would be the game's best offensive second baseman and perhaps the best overall player at the position.

1. DJ LeMahieu, New York Yankees

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    Michael Owens/Associated Press

    Age: 32

    Key 2020 Stats: 50 G, 216 PA, 10 HR, 3 SB, .364 AVG, .421 OBP, .590 SLG, 177 OPS+

    2020 WAR: 3.0

    The New York Yankees raised some eyebrows when they signed DJ LeMahieu after the 2018 season, but he's now worth $90 million for a reason.

    Put simply: He's the best pure hitter in MLB right now.

    His numbers over the last two seasons—namely his .336/.386/.536 batting line—support that notion well enough, but even better is LeMahieu's sheer efficiency. He finished 2020 with a strikeout rate in the 100th percentile, and he's made hard contact on a higher percentage of his swings than anyone since 2019.

    LeMahieu's only downside at this point is that he isn't the same defender that he was as he was winning three Gold Gloves with the Colorado Rockies between 2014 and 2018. All the same, his offensive prowess alone is enough to anoint him as the best second baseman in baseball.

              

    Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference, FanGraphs and Baseball Savant.