Could José Altuve have a challenger this year at the top of the fantasy second-base rankings? Welcome to the conversation, Javier Báez.
Baez's runner-up finish for National League MVP Award last year has vaulted him up the list of top second basemen. In the end, Altuve retains his No. 1 spot -- and he's the only clear-cut first-round pick at the position -- but Baez merits consideration in the early rounds, too.
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If you don't snag one of those two, you might want to wait a couple of rounds and tab a high-upside youngster like Gleyber Torres or Ozzie Albies, or hold out a few rounds more for a solid but maybe more limited option like Dee Gordon or Scooter Gennett. Or if your strategy is to wait out the market, you could always take a shot at a veteran like Robinson Canó or Daniel Murphy later on.
Here's how the fantasy tiers break down for second basemen entering 2019:
Tier 1: Jose Altuve, Javier Baez
Altuve is a perennial Tier 1 second baseman. He's just a hair lower in the 2019 overall rankings than he was a year ago (No. 8, vs. No. 2 entering '18) after a dip in production last season, when he played through a right knee injury that required offseason surgery. But he's still an elite asset at his position, and the top option for fantasy. Because here's what a "dip" looked like for Altuve: a .316 batting average, 13 homers, 61 RBIs, 84 runs scored and 17 stolen bases. He's expected to be fully recovered for the start of this season, so the 28-year-old Astros star could easily return to his 200-hit, 20-homer, 30-steal MVP level.
Baez is the new power-speed second baseman who just jumped into the MVP conversation. The electric 26-year-old hit .290 with 34 home runs, 111 RBIs, 101 runs scored and 21 steals in 2018. Baez isn't yet the proven commodity that Altuve is, but he's surrounded by other stars in the Cubs' lineup, and he offers positional versatility, too, as he'll likely have eligibility at both third base and shortstop in '19. Put it all together and that's why he's ranked No. 22 overall in fantasy this year.
Tier 2: Whit Merrifield, Ozzie Albies, Gleyber Torres
Merrifield isn't as young as the other two Tier 2 second basemen, but he's made his late breakout count. The 30-year-old has now led the AL in stolen bases two years in a row, and in 2018 he led the Majors in both hits (192) and steals (45) while hitting .304 with 12 homers, 60 RBIs and 88 runs scored for the Royals. Look for another 30-steal effort with double-digit home runs in 2019.
Albies and Torres look like stars in the making. Both are just 22 years old and have the potential to jump into the top tier at their position. Albies broke out in his sophomore season with the Braves, hitting .261 with 24 home runs, 14 stolen bases, 72 RBIs and 105 runs scored. Torres was an AL Rookie of the Year finalist after hitting .271 with 24 homers, 77 RBIs and 54 runs for the Yankees (although he wasn't a stolen-base threat, with six steals). Plus, in strong playoff-contending lineups, both players could have plenty of opportunities to pad the stat sheet.
Tier 3: Rougned Odor, Dee Gordon
Tier 3 starts with a power-speed option, but a somewhat risky one, in Odor. The 25-year-old has provided double-digit homers and steals in three straight seasons for the Rangers, but his home run total dropped from 30-plus from 2016-17 to 18 last season, as he missed time with a left hamstring strain early in the year and slumped in the first half. His plate discipline can be an issue, and he's a .248 career hitter, but if Odor can make strides in '19, he could be one of the top run producers among second basemen.
Gordon also has his drawbacks -- he won't hit for power or drive in runs -- but his speed upside gives him value. Gordon's average baserunning sprint speed last year, per Statcast™, was a top-tier 29 ft/sec -- two full feet per second above the MLB average of 27 ft/sec. The 30-year-old stole 30 bases in his first season with the Mariners, his fifth straight year reaching that mark. He projects to swipe 30-plus bags once again in 2019, and along with a decent average and run-scoring ability, that should keep him on fantasy radars.
Scooter Gennett was initially part of this tier, but he suffered a right groin strain late in Spring Training and will miss eight to 12 weeks.
Tier 4: Jonathan Villar, Daniel Murphy, Robinson Cano, Brian Dozier
Which Villar are you going to get in 2019? The one who struggled through the first half with the Brewers, or the one who put together a strong final two months after his trade to the Orioles? The projections see him at about 10-20 home runs and 20-30 stolen bases, with a batting average in the .250 range -- so, similar to his overall numbers from '18. The O's infield is a lot less crowded than the Brewers', so Villar should get plenty of playing time, but they're a rebuilding team that might not provide the run-production opportunities of Milwaukee.
After that, the theme of Tier 4 is veterans who have produced at high levels in past seasons but carry significant question marks into 2019.
Murphy got off to a slow start last year coming back from offseason right knee surgery, but his numbers soon improved, and he hit .317/.355/.493 with 12 home runs and 36 RBIs in 76 games from July through September. But there are some underlying concerns. Murphy's hard-hit rate dropped from 41.7 percent in 2017 to just 28.5 percent in '18, and the percentage of balls he pulled -- a key for his home run power -- dropped from 37.6 percent to 32.6 percent. On the other hand, he continues to make tons of contact -- his strikeout rate was just 11.4 percent last season -- and he's going to hit at Coors Field, which should boost his stats. Projections see Murphy hitting over .300 with 20-plus homers, 80-plus RBIs and 80-plus runs in his Rockies debut.
Cano fell below the 150-games-played threshold for the first time in more than a decade last year, a combination of a right hand fracture from being hit by a pitch and an 80-game suspension for testing positive for a banned substance. He's also 36 years old. But there's reason for optimism, because despite his age, Cano has continued to maintain star-level production when he's on the field. In the 80 games he did play in 2018, Cano hit .303/.374/.471 with 10 homers, 50 RBIs and 44 runs scored. His hard-hit rate of 51.7 percent was among the five best in the Majors, indicating his contact quality is still excellent. While he won't steal you any bases, the projections predict Cano will hit in the .280 range with 20-plus homers and 80-plus RBIs in his first season with the Mets.
Dozier might be the riskiest option in Tier 4, as his production plummeted in 2018. The 31-year-old hit just .215/.305/.391. From a fantasy perspective, he did stil chip in 21 homers, 12 steals and 72 RBIs, but those were also drops from the previous couple of seasons -- from '16-17, Dozier averaged 38 homers, 17 steals and 96 RBIs. In terms of underlying numbers, Dozier's hard-hit rate also dropped from 34.7 percent in 2017 to 28.4 percent in '18. Given his previous track record, the projections do see some bounceback for Dozier in his first season with the Nationals -- a batting average in the .240 range, about 20 home runs, double-digit steals and 70 or so RBIs. But even that wouldn't be the same level he was at before.
David Adler is a reporter and researcher for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @_dadler.