When we look at the young second baseman around baseball the names at the prospect level are not going to blow you away. That’s because the top options at the position seemed to all graduate at once in 2011, with five rookies entrenching themselves as starters for their team. Who is the best long-term? Let’s take a look:
1) Jason Kipnis – Cleveland Indians – 24-years old
Of all the young second baseman in the league Kipnis is the one that tops my list. As of right now I consider him a poor man’s Ben Zobrist, though the potential is there for him to be far more than that. I am not putting much stock in his cup of coffee with the Indians in ’11 (.272, 7 HR, 19 RBI, 24 R and 5 SB over 136 AB), thanks to a 20.6% HR/FB. That’s not his game and he shouldn’t be viewed as a potential 25+ HR hitter.
Kipnis is a balanced player who will hit near the top of the Indians lineup (likely second) and help you across the board. Across two levels in ’10 he had 16 HR and 9 SB. Last season, prior to his recall, he had 12 HR and 12 SB in 343 AB at Triple-A (the International League). As long as he can get his strikeout rate in order (he posted a 22.7% mark in the Majors last year), you are looking at a player who should hit .270+ with 20/20 potential.
2) Dustin Ackley – Seattle Mariners – 24-years old
Maybe long-term he could develop into the best young player at the position, but right now I just am not believing the hype. In 333 AB last season he hit 6 HR with 6 SB, and his minor league numbers don’t indicate much better production (16 HR, 17 SB over 772 AB). Considering that included time in the Pacific Coast League, there is reason to be skeptical.
Maybe, in time, he will develop more power or be able to hit for a big average, but right now I am not seeing it. He hit just .273 last season and, while he should improve on his 21.0% strikeout rate, you can’t expect him to post anything better than his .339 BABIP. That means he’s going to be a .290 hitter, tops, with maybe 10/10 potential. We’ll have to see how he develops, but right now I don’t see enough to push him past Kipnis on the rankings.
3) Jemile Weeks – Oakland Athletics – 25-years old
Weeks is not going to hit for much power, but he is going to provide some speed and hit atop the A’s lineup. He showed what he could do last season, swiping 22 bases in 406 AB. However, that is more speed upside then he had shown at any time in his minor league career (41 SB over 873 AB). He’s not going to be Dee Gordon, with the potential to steal 50+ bases, but seeing him be in the 25-30 range annually is believable.
Things would look a lot better if he were to have a better lineup around him, especially in 2011 (he scored just 50 R). That said, with a likely improvement in his walk rate on the horizon, he should steal bases, score runs and hit for a solid average.
4) Danny Espinosa – Washington Nationals – 24-years old
Espinosa faces quite a few questions, which hurts his potential value at this point:
- Will he be able to stick in Washington? (there have been rumors of a potential trade)
- Can he make consistent contact? (25.5% in 676 Major League AB)
- Where will he hit in the lineup?
He has proven that he can hit for power (21 HR) and add some speed (17 SB). However, his spot in the order is going to affect his RBI/R ability and the strikeouts make him a consistent sub-.250 hitter. If he can answer the questions he could be the top player on this list, but given his track record both in the Majors and minors, I am not holding my breath.
5) Jose Altuve – Houston Astros – 21-years old
One of several Astro prospects who made the jump from Double-A in ’11, Altuve showed some potential by hitting .276 with 7 SB in 221 AB. He is not going to hit for a ton of power, though he has shown the potential to steal a good amount of bases. He has stolen as many as 42 bases in a season and had a total of 31 SB across three levels in last season.
I wouldn’t read much into his minor league average thanks to inflated BABIP, but he proved he can make consistent contact (12.4% in the Majors) and could easily develop into a .300 hitter with 30 SB potential. Sliding into the #2 spot in the order, he could be a real under-the-radar option for the savvy owner.
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Make sure to check out all of our 2012 rankings: