WTNYFebruary 15, 2006
Second in Line
By Bryan Smith

Shortstop prospects are held on a pedestal. Thanks to their high place on the defensive spectrum, good SS prospects are constantly being given the benefit of the doubt. Oftentimes, this creates an excess of hype, and ultimately, a bust.

But, at the very least, these shortstops are given a shot. Their double play partners, however, are not always given the same star treatment. Second base prospects are never as sexy as those at short, and despite a year in which Howie Kendrick and Dustin Pedroia rank so highly on my prospect list, it's fair to say that second basemen are runs in the prospect world.

In perusing the prospect battles that will open with Spring Training soon, one fact struck me as obvious: young second basemen are just not given the opportunity that shortstops are. While Hanley Ramirez, a volatile player with a questionable past has been all-but-handed the shortstop job in Florida, prospects from all over -- accomplished at AAA -- are not being given opportunities. Instead, organizations are making these prospects battle veterans that are often favored.

No fantasy position enters spring with as many question marks as second base. Today we will look at the five Major League organizations that are being hesitant to lean towards talented youth in the face of poor veterans. We'll go in descending order given the amount of sense that I believe the team is using...

Florida Marlins

Competition: Pokey Reese v. Dan Uggla v. Alfredo Amezaga v. Robert Andino

Not only do we start with the most reasonable organization of the five, but the most confusing as well. While the Florida firesale has been widely lauded for Larry Beinfest's ability to stockpile pitching, the Marlins go to camp with major question marks. We have addressed the shortstop (Ramirez) and second base issues, but there are also question marks at catcher and in the outfield. Joe Girardi stepped into a real "fix-me-upper" in Miami.

It's arguable that Reese was one of the Marlins most substantial free agent signings this winter, a fact that might speak more to the Marlins chances in 2006 than anything I have heard before. Pokey is coming off a stint in Seattle during which he was oft-injured -- the story of his career -- and brought nothing to the table. While the Marlins could surely handle an injury to Reese, they certainly could use his presence this spring.

The best of the four, in terms of talent, is Andino. There is a chance that Andino will start the year at shortstop while Hanley gets more seasoning, and in fact, a chance that Andino isn't moved to second at all. If not, the next youngest competitor is Rule 5 pick Dan Uggla. While Uggla might look good from the statistic side, it's hard to ask Rule 5 picks to start out of Spring Training. Finally, Amezaga is a minor league veteran that has never maximized on Major League opportunities.

If Ramirez secures the shortstop job, I'd like the Marlins to see what they have in Andino and keep Reese on the bench. Besides that scenario, however, this might be one instance when older is better.

New York Mets

Competition: Kaz Matsui v. Anderson Hernandez v. Jeff Keppinger v. Chris Woodward

Simply put, Matsui is not going to go down as a Japanese success story. For whatever reason, he is one player that simply couldn't make the conversion, and will likely be a drain on any roster he plays. Even the Mets know this, I think, but Omar Minaya's re-haul just did not make it's way to second base this winter. In the end, the decision will come down to Willie Randolph, who for the Mets sake, has to believe Matsui has nothing left in the tank.

Since Matsui has never been a favorite among Mets brass, look for Hernandez to get a long look in Spring Training. Known only for his defense before 2005, Hernandez broke out with the bat between AA and AAA last year. Skeptics think he'll revert back to his weak-hitting ways, but he's certainly a better bet to succeed than Matsui.

I'm not a fan of the other two players. Keppinger is a blue-collar player that everyone can like, and makes contact at a pretty insane rate. However, that's the only plus he offers, and an empty .280 average won't do a lot. Finally, the Chris Woodward ship has sailed, and he should really be in camp to try and motivate Jose Valentin, who has the chance to be a great bench pick-up.

Unless Minaya gets creative with a trade, I think the Mets would be crazy not to start the season with Hernandez up the middle. However, if the season started today, I certainly wouldn't be surprised to see Matsui in the eight spot.

Cincinnati Reds

Competition: Tony Womack v. Rich Aurilia v. Ryan Freel

Dan O'Brien's tenure of this team took a real left turn this winter when he gave up multiple players for the carcass of Tony Womack. Not only is Womack a player with a pathetic career, but the Reds were relatively loaded at second. Most people would put together a lineup with Womack on the bench, where there are dozens (Uggla, for one) of inexperienced players who are better suited for the role.

The job should be going to Ryan Freel. With the outfield settled -- Chris Denorfia is even waiting in the wings -- and the hot corner curse presumably over, one would think this could be the season Freel focuses on second. His OBP is among the team's best and his speed is absolutely fantastic. He has little to no pop, sure, but that hardly separates him from the other players on this list.

Aurilia wasn't a bad re-sign, a player that I might bring to camp to compete with a player like Freel. However, it's one thing to do it with the agenda of motivating a young player, it's another to give the veteran a leg-up on the job. Rich has become very volatile at this point in his career, and while he's a smarter bet than Womack to succeed, he's looking to be just another failure.

If Cincinnati wants to maximize their offensive output, Ryan Freel must be the Opening Day second baseman, plain and simple.

San Diego Padres

Competition: Josh Barfield v. Mark Bellhorn v. Geoff Blum v. Eric Young

If not for 2004, this wouldn't be a competition. As far as second baseman go, few prospects were more revered after the 2003 season than Barfield, who topped the century RBI mark in high-A. He was the future up the middle for the Padres. This all changed in 2004, however, when the Southern League brought realization to Barfield's potential. His contact skills were bound to create problems. Last year, however, Barfield succeeded in the hitter friendly PCL, putting confidence back in the minds of the Padres front office.

Not enough, however, as the club plans to make Barfield earn his spot. His main competition up the middle will come from Bellhorn, a player that is hoping San Diego tends to ignore 2005 numbers. I'm not sure Bellhorn is suited for a place like PTCO, given the fact that his power (which would be reduced at home) is one of his few assets. I'm not sure if there is a lot left in Bellhorn, and I also don't think I'd want to be the one to try and figure it out.

The other two players on the list are depth chart filler, bench players at best. While Blum made headlines for himself last year in October, no team thinks he is more than an accomplished bench player. Young has not been a good second baseman for years, and shouldn't be in baseball too much longer.

Barfield is the best player on this list, and by 2005 terms, it isn't particularly close. A revert back to 2004, however, and we'll find ourselves looking at Mark Bellhorn as a starter again.

Texas Rangers

Competition: Ian Kinsler v. D'Angelo Jimenez v. Mark Derosa

It seems as if I've been advocating a Alfonso Soriano trade for so long that I'm still in shock that new Rangers brass actually pulled the trigger. One subplot behind Daniels great haul was that it opened a door for Ian Kinsler, one of the great success stories of 2004. Anyway, I was very impressed with Kinsler in Spring Training last year, and after a slow start, he got things going at AAA> He's no star by any imagination, but contrary to popular belief, either was Soriano.

Jimenez is merely a good minor league pick-up these days for teams hoping he'll go back to posting OBPs above .350. Considering how bad he has played lately, however, that is not going to happen. The book has been written on D'Angelo Jimenez, and at this point, Buck Showalter would be silly to open it. As for Derosa, he's simply not starting material. He has value as a three-position bench player, but should not be given more than 200 ABs per year.

Kinsler has become a favorite of mine in the last two years, and I think the Rangers must start Kinsler should they want to get the most out of this club.


I'm pretty sure KazMat isn't playing in the WBC.

The Mets also have Bret Boone (grumble) in the mix. No news on what Boone has going in his mix.

If the Reds don't start Freel, I hope the Mets trade for him and plug him in the leadoff spot.

As far as the Reds situation goes, shouldn't Bill Bergolla figure into the mix to some degree? Is he likely to be used in a utility role? Of course, Freel is clearly the best option offensively, and they want his speed in the lineup, but what if an OF is traded or injured (ahem.. Junior)? I'm not sure how well Freel plays CF, but I'd think his speed would be an asset there and make him a better option than Wily Mo, who I've heard has gained a few lbs.

With the reds what they should do and what they are likely to do are all too often different things.

With the change in ownership and in the front office, it's not easy to predict what the reds are going to do. It's tempting to give them a pass and think they will play the kids and Freel, but....

We do know the NEW GM has brought in Timo Perez, Tuffy Rhodes, Quentin McCraken and Scott Hatteberg. Sure, only Hatteberg is guaranteed money, but those guys all smell of Womack to me.

We also know the reds manager told the press that Encarnacion would have to beat out Aurilia for the the starting third base job. Again, sure it was just a winter baseball quote, but that's darn scary.

Freel is probably the reds best defensive option in center right now. WMP's outfield woes aren't speed related, but lapses in judgement and concentration.

Interesting post, Bryan.

One minor quibble: Eric Young is a small step above roster filler, thanks to his fairly well-established contact skills and eye at the plate. He's like Womack (weak defense at 2B and OF) with eyes.

That's worth something--though certainly not a starting nod...

Doesn't former Cubs and Bucs pivot man Bobby Hill fit into the Padres' mix as well? (I realize we're scraping the bottom of the barrel for many of these players.)

Here's another one:

Seattle Mariners:

Fernando Vina vs. Willie Bloomquist vs. Jose Lopez.