Altuve leads Top 10 second basemen into 2018

January 19th, 2018

MLB Network's "Top 10 Right Now" series ranks Major League Baseball's top players at each position headed into 2018, with two episodes airing each Saturday night from Jan. 13 through Feb. 10.'s Mike Petriello participated in the show, and as each position is aired, we'll share his list along with the reasoning behind it. Rankings were compiled with a combination of subjective and analytical data, and no, batting average and RBIs never matter.
Position overview: Second base is in a period of flux, as formerly reliable veterans like , , and are no longer obvious entrants on the list. But there's a true superstar at the top, and an interesting mix of veterans and youth coming up behind.
Eligibility notes: Players are eligible only at one position, and several players who saw time at second base in 2017 were considered in other spots for these rankings. They include (3B), (3B) and Dee Gordon (CF).
Before we get to my rankings, here is The Shredder's list -- the official ranking of Top 10 Right Now -- for comparison:
1. , Astros
2. , Mariners
3. , Twins
4. , Nationals
5. DJ LeMahieu, Rockies
6. Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox
7. , Orioles
8. , Angels
9. , free agent
10. , Phillies
Petriello's list
1. Jose Altuve, Astros
Aside from perhaps in center field, putting Altuve atop the second base list was the easiest call of any position. Altuve easily won the American League Most Valuable Player Award, and he deserved it, because there's no real flaw in his game. In addition to the six straight 30-steal seasons, he upped his OBP from .353 to .396 to .410 over the past three years, and his .547 slugging percentage was better than and Joey Gallo. He's indisputably one of the game's true superstars, and he's still only 27 years old.

2. Brian Dozier, Twins
A few years ago, Dozier was seen as something of a one-tool star, with power being his obvious calling card. That's no longer the case, as he's improved his all-around game to the point where he's been one of the 15 most valuable position players in baseball over the past two seasons. In addition to the 76 homers over the past two years, he's also increased his on-base skills (OBP up from .307 to .340 to .359) and has five straight 10-steal seasons.
3. Daniel Murphy, Nationals
Murphy's 2017 (a line of .322/.384/.543, 126 wRC+) served to prove that the offensive explosion we saw in '16 (.347/.390/.595, 155 wRC+) and in the 2015 playoffs was no fluke. While his slugging percentage dropped somewhat, even the .543 was strong enough to be one of the 20 best marks in baseball. If there's a concern here, it's that Murphy, 33 in April, is coming off relatively serious knee surgery, and his defense has never been a strength. Any loss of speed could cause some fielding problems.

4. Jonathan Schoop, Orioles
You could make a strong argument for Schoop being one of the most underrated players in the game, because his combination of high power, high strikeouts and strong fielding makes him essentially , but better. Schoop went from being a league-average hitter in 2016 (.267/.298/.454, 99 wRC+) to being a star in '17 (.293/.338/.503, 121 wRC+, 32 homers), and it's not hard to see how. Though he'll never draw enough walks, he showed signs of finally improving plate discipline, cutting his swing rate from 60 percent in previous years to 52 percent. Plus, he's only entering his age-26 season.
5. Robinson Cano, Mariners
It's difficult to know what to make of Cano going forward. On one hand, he's had two below-average (by his standards) seasons in the past three. On the other, even his "below-average seasons" are pretty good, as he hit .280/.338/.453 (112 wRC+) with 23 homers in 2017, and it came after a star-level '16 (.298/.350/.533, 138 wRC+, 39 homers). There's obvious risk here, because he's 35, but there's also evidence he was playing through pain in the second half, when his slugging percentage dropped by 61 points.

6. Ian Kinsler , Angels
The Angels traded for Kinsler in large part due to his defense, which is still considered elite. His +6 Defensive Runs Saved was tied for third-best among second basemen in 2017, and his +37 DRS over the past three years is easily the best. The concern here is that in his age-35 season, he had the weakest offensive season of his career, hitting only .236/.313/.412 (91 wRC+). But Kinsler actually increased his walk rate and lowered his strikeout rate, and his hard-hit rate stayed essentially steady, going only from 31.3 percent to 30.3. Whatever caused his poor line, his underlying skills provide some hope of an offensive bounceback.
7. Cesar Hernandez , Phillies
Perhaps the least-known player on this list, Hernandez is coming off a pair of quietly strong seasons for the Phillies, thanks to a .371 OBP in 2016 and a .373 mark in '17. Over the past two years, he's had one of the 25 best on-base marks in baseball, in between and . He's also had three straight double-digit steal seasons, just added nearly 30 points to his slugging percentage and is regarded as a good defender at second base. Put it all together, and the 27-year-old Hernandez is a solidly above-average piece for an interesting Phillies club.

8. Javier Baez, Cubs
Baez is below Hernandez for one big reason -- dependability. No one disagrees that Baez has a much higher ceiling, and an explosive 40-homer season with excellent defense could come at any time. The problem is that not only hasn't it happened, but he hasn't had an above-average batting season yet, with 2017's .273/.317/.480 line coming in at a 98 wRC+, just below the league-average mark of 100. All that said, Baez is only 25, and his second-half line of .291/.340/.511 (113 wRC+) was strong. Is that the start of the breakout to come?
9. DJ LeMahieu, Rockies
LeMahieu is always a divisive player, because the surface-level stats all look wonderful (.310/.374/.409), but of course a lot of that production came in Coors Field. At home, his batting average was higher by 33 points, his OBP by 44 points and his slugging by 16 points. That all matters. It has to. He's still a good defender, of course, and his hard-hit rate of 41.2 percent was well above the Major League average of 33.3 percent. There remains a lot to like here.

10. , Braves
With our final spot, we're betting on youth and talent. Albies came up at 20 years old, was the youngest player in the Majors for most of the season and put up a .286/.354/.456 (112 wRC+) line while doing it. As we recently investigated, putting up an above-average season like that at 20 or younger is something that's so difficult to do that those who have done it before have overwhelmingly became Hall of Famers or All-Stars. That's far too much to put on Albies' shoulders right now, of course. It's not too soon to put him in our Top 10.
Just missed (in no order): Walker, free agent; Joe Panik, Giants; , A's; , Cardinals.