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Second to none: Altuve tops 2B fantasy ranks

MLB.com

From a fantasy perspective, second base is a mix of stalwarts and upstarts this year. If you don't land reigning American League MVP Jose Altuve on draft day -- which requires a top-three overall pick -- it's not a bad strategy to wait until one of the next four or five proven names in the top three tiers drops enough to become a value pick.

While the position offers decent depth overall beyond the handful of steady stars, if you wait too long to pick a starter, you may have to throw a dart or two at some of the high-risk/high-reward options from the lower tiers. That's not such a bad approach, especially if you are willing to go with the upside of a youngster like Javier Baez or Yoan Moncada. Otherwise, you could bank on a bounceback season from a veteran like Jason Kipnis or Dustin Pedroia.

From a fantasy perspective, second base is a mix of stalwarts and upstarts this year. If you don't land reigning American League MVP Jose Altuve on draft day -- which requires a top-three overall pick -- it's not a bad strategy to wait until one of the next four or five proven names in the top three tiers drops enough to become a value pick.

While the position offers decent depth overall beyond the handful of steady stars, if you wait too long to pick a starter, you may have to throw a dart or two at some of the high-risk/high-reward options from the lower tiers. That's not such a bad approach, especially if you are willing to go with the upside of a youngster like Javier Baez or Yoan Moncada. Otherwise, you could bank on a bounceback season from a veteran like Jason Kipnis or Dustin Pedroia.

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Tier 1: Altuve

Coming off a stellar campaign that won him AL MVP honors (and netted him the No. 2 overall ranking in MLB.com's fantasy preview), Altuve gets a tier all to himself.

That's what happens when you're an all-around superstar hitting in the heart of baseball's best lineup as a 27-year-old who fell only one double shy of a fourth straight season with at least 200 hits, 40 doubles and 30 steals -- marks that no other player in MLB history has achieved in a season more than twice. Throw in Altuve's ability to repeat his career-high 24 home runs for a second consecutive season and his overall durability -- at least 152 games each of the past five years -- and he actually might have a case for being the top selection on draft day.

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Tier 2: Dee Gordon, Brian Dozier

These two players occupy the same tier, but boy, do they bring different skill sets.

On one hand, Gordon is all about posting a solid batting average and racking up loads of stolen bases. Take out his suspension-shortened 2016, and the 29-year-old has registered a .310 average, 98 runs and 61 steals per season since the start of '14. Now the Mariners' center fielder after an offseason swap, Gordon likely will face an adjustment period as he transitions to a new league and a new position, but the former second baseman will provide elite stolen bases and should be above-average in two other fantasy categories.

On the other, Dozier has been the most consistent power-hitting second baseman in baseball. After racking up 34 homers and 93 RBIs in 2017, the 30-year-old leads all players at the position since '14 with 127 home runs -- 30 more than Robinson Cano. The leadoff hitter for a dynamic young Twins lineup that scored the second most runs in baseball over the second half of '17, Dozier also has averaged north of 100 runs scored and 700 plate appearances the past four years. His batting average has fluctuated from .236 to .271 in that time, but he offsets that by chipping in about 15 steals a season.

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Tier 3: Daniel Murphy, Whit Merrifield, Jonathan Schoop, Cano, Rougned Odor

For this tier, let's start with the three steady stalwarts in Murphy, Schoop and Cano.

A case could be made that Murphy belongs in Tier 2 after averaging a .334/.387/.569 slash line with 91 runs, 24 homers and 99 RBIs the past two seasons. But the 32-year-old's offseason debridement and microfracture surgery on his right knee puts his Opening Day status in question and provides pause. That actually could present a buying opportunity in your draft, as long as Murphy reaches full strength at some point in April. Remember, he'll occupy a premium spot in a deep and dangerous Nationals lineup.

Schoop followed up his 2016 breakout with a full-on breakthrough in '17, as his 32 homers trailed only Dozier at the position and his 105 RBIs led all keystoners. Still just 26 years old, Schoop could take another step forward if he improves his plate discipline again (career-high 5.2 percent walk rate in '17), but his aggressive approach also fits in with teammates Manny Machado (6.7 percent) and Adam Jones (4.5) in an attacking O's lineup.

As for Cano, his 2017 was somewhat underwhelming because he couldn't approach his career-best 107 runs and 39 homers from '16 with 79 and 23 in those categories, respectively. Sure, Cano is now 35 years old and a decline could be forthcoming, but he still reached the 150-game threshold for -- get this -- the 11th straight season. If nothing else, he should remain a durable and consistent bat in the middle of a solid Mariners lineup that now features Gordon at the top and fellow sluggers Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager in the heart. That stability counts for something in fantasy.

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The two other names here are Merrifield, a surprising riser who busted out a year ago, and Odor, a still-promising slugger coming off a disappointing 2017.

Merrifield came practically from out of nowhere to seize a regular role with the Royals and lead the AL with 34 stolen bases (yes, really), while hitting .288 with 80 runs, 78 RBIs and even swatting 19 homers. His all-around ability is enticing, but some skepticism should be baked in here. For one, it took Merrifield, now 29, until last year to have a full big league season. For another, he never hit more than 10 total long balls between the Minors and Majors in a season prior to 2017. And while he'll get plenty of playing time as Kansas City rebuilds, the surrounding lineup won't do Merrifield any favors.

What to make of Odor? Entering last season, he was seen as a burgeoning stud coming off a 33-home run campaign at just 23 years old. While his counting stats weren't far off in 2017 (79 R, 30 HR, 75 RBIs, 15 SB), Odor managed a meager .204 average, in part because of a continued lack of plate discipline (4.9 percent walk rate, 24.9 percent strikeout rate). Before you write him off, though, consider that he was unquestionably unlucky with MLB's lowest overall BABIP (.224), not to mention a .185 mark on grounders (league average: .241). With better batted-ball fortune, Odor should hit closer to .300 than .200 in 2018 -- even if it's in the .250-.270 range.

Tier 4: Baez, DJ LeMahieu, Ian Kinsler, Moncada

If you want upside, the bookend names in this final batch bring it. Alas, both Baez and Moncada also bring loads of risk, which is why they're in Tier 4.

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Baez, 25, still possesses massive upside and put up his best stats yet in 2017, with career highs in runs (75), home runs (25) and RBIs (75). The obstacles? He struck out 28.3 percent of the time and will be fighting for playing time in a Cubs infield rotation of sorts that involves veteran Ben Zobrist along with fellow youngsters Addison Russell and Ian Happ. That might limit Baez's counting stats and, thus, his overall fantasy potential for the time being.

Moncada, meanwhile, shouldn't have any such playing time concerns given his status as an elite prospect a year ago and as the starter for the rebuilding White Sox. Moncada has had his share of bumps as he's transitioned to The Show; he owns a .229 career batting average and a 34.3 percent strikeout rate in 251 plate appearances. But playing regularly over the final two months of 2017, he hit .261/.357/.447 and flashed the power and patience that hint at the raw 22-year-old's seemingly sky-is-the-limit ceiling. He might be a year away from a breakout, though, so gauge your ability to take a gamble and consider teaming Moncada with a fallback plan at the position.

Like, say, LeMahieu, a much safer and more proven mid-round selection. He doesn't hold the same cache, because he lacks the speed to lock in more than 10 steals or the pop to guarantee even double-digit homers or much more than 60 RBIs. However, LeMahieu takes full advantage of hitter-friendly Coors Field by making tons of contact (12.9 percent strikeout rate across 2016-17) to post strong batting averages and score loads of runs.

The remaining second-sacker is Kinsler, whose production has taken different shapes in recent years. While his batting averages have fluctuated from .296 in 2015 to last year's career-low .236, his home run totals jumped back into the 20s in '16 and '17. If nothing else, Kinsler should be good for solid counting stats (including about 15 steals), because he has been durable (152 games played per year since 2014), and because he's likely the new Angels leadoff hitter in front of Mike Trout. Just be wary that he's also entering his age-36 season, so his production could a decline sooner than later.

Jason Catania is a fantasy baseball writer for MLB.com.

Jose Altuve, Brian Dozier, Dee Gordon, Whit Merrifield, Daniel Murphy