by Ray Kuhn
Does it really matter? Well other than to the Colorado Rockies and their fans, should it matter to anyone else who their starter at second base is?
Obviously it does, because otherwise I would not have written this and you would not be reading this article. Your two options are D.J. LeMahieu and Josh Rutledge, and at the beginning of the season neither should really be on your draft board except for in deeper or NL-only leagues, but that does not mean that you shouldn’t have a preference for who wins the job.
Entering the season, LeMahieu is the likely favorite, but from a fantasy standpoint he offers the least upside. Last season the steady infielder batted .280 in 404 at bats and stole 18 bases. Other than that, fantasy owners did get too much production.
That even keeled performance is what endeared LeMahieu to the Rockies, but it is also will eliminate much of the value that he can bring to your fantasy team. Yes the batting average will help, but it will not stand out enough to have a material impact for you. This is especially an issue when the contributions in the other four categories are minimal.
I know, LeMahieu did steal those 18 bases last season so it very possible that helped some fantasy teams down the stretch. However, I just don’t think you can expect that to continue. While it is possible that he steals 20-25 bases if he gets a full season’s worth of playing time, I’m not sure how much I do actually trust it. The 18 bases he stole last year were his most ever, and you can’t be too overzealous in expecting a repeat.
If he is not stealing bases, LeMahieu will likely not be much help. He doesn’t have any power, and depending on where he bats in the lineup (current projection is second) his RBI opportunities will likely be limited. However, he could be in position to score some runs if he gets on base. That coupled with a decent batting average and perhaps some sneaky stolen bases makes LeMahieu a very deep possible sleeper to watch, but I would not expect much from him.
Rutledge is the player fantasy owners should be rooting for to win the job. On paper he is your classic post-hype sleeper, but we also might have a case here where Rutledge will never fully realize his presumed potential.
For the last two years hw has been teasing fantasy owners by showing flashes of his power and speed combination, but he has yet to put it together. Last year the Rockies lost patience with him as they turned to LeMahieu, and you have to be concerned that it could happen again.
Last season Rutledge hit .235 with seven home runs and 12 stolen bases. Granted some that production was streaky, but you can’t help but do the math. If Rutledge gets 500-600 at bats we are then looking at maybe a 15/20 player from your middle infield position. The problem, though, is that he hits too many groundballs (49.1%) and has not shown in the minor leagues that he can hit line drives (15.8%). Rutledge’s minor league success has come from a high BABIP, but his major league BABIP has been equally as low.
The hope, is that the answer lies somewhere in between and you can get a .260 average out of him. However, those swings in BABIP are in fact influenced by the lack of line drives. That will continue to be a problem for him as he struggles to find major league success.
Unless Rutledge comes out dominating in Spring Training, I would look for LeMahieu to take the job at least on a temporary basis. If Rutledge can hit with more consistency, the job will ultimately be his which should put him on your radars.
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