Albies, Semien sit atop speedy 2B class

March 20th, 2022

Second base is not a remarkably deep position when it comes to elite talent. But it does offer a lot of fantasy baseball's scarcest resource: stolen bases. Three of the top four steals leaders last season are eligible here. Six second baseman nabbed at least 20 bags in 2021, so this is a good place to fortify your team's speed. The position is headed by Ozzie Albies and Marcus Semien, both of whom are coming off historic campaigns.

Here’s a closer look at this year’s best second-base options.

Last year, Albies became the youngest second baseman in AL/NL history to record 30 homers and 100 RBIs in a single season. He also topped 100 runs and stole 20 bases; Shohei Ohtani and José Ramírez were the only two other players to reach all four plateaus in 2021. Albies made a concerted effort to drive the ball into the air more often, as seen in his 48.5% fly ball rate and his 21.1-degree average launch angle, which tied for the highest in MLB. But that change also helped him set personal bests in his barrel rate (9.3%) and hard-hit rate (36.8%). His .310 on-base percentage over the past two seasons and his struggles versus right-handed pitching stand out as two of his most glaring flaws. But from a raw production standpoint, Albies is unquestionably the best fantasy commodity at this position and should be at least a second-round pick in all leagues. There might even be room for growth as he enters his age-25 season.

No position player had more Baseball-Reference WAR over the past three years than Semien (15.9). His 45 homers last season – the most ever by a primary second baseman in AL/NL history – certainly catch your eye, but don’t overlook that Semien also went 15-for-16 in stolen bases. He has registered double-digit steals in each of the past six full seasons and according to FanGraphs, Semien's baserunning last year was 4.0 runs above average, which was 24th best in MLB. His availability might be his best ability as Semien has missed a total of 10 games over the previous four seasons, including none in 2019 and 2021. Although his counting stats may slip as he moves out of Toronto’s potent lineup and deeper into his 30s, the brand-new Texas Ranger should remain one of the best second basemen. He’s also eligible at shortstop.

Speaking of durable second basemen, Merrifield has been on every Royals lineup card since the start of 2019. He is also a testament to the value of reliability and speed in fantasy baseball. The 33-year-old has seen his batting average, OBP and wRC+ decline in each of the past three seasons. Never one to hit the ball with consistent authority, Merrifield turned in a paltry 3.5% barrel rate last year. However, because he is always atop Kansas City’s batting order and led the AL with 40 steals last season, there is still a spot for him in the top tier.

Altuve put a disappointing 2020 season behind him by tying or setting career highs last year in home runs (31), runs (117) and walk rate (8.7%). His batting average (.278) was a few steps down from the Altuve of old who hit .331 from 2014-18, but he still possesses superb bat skills as evidenced by his high contact rates and low strikeout percentage. Altuve admitted this spring that he “got a little in love with homers” over the past two full seasons and would like to focus more on getting hits and getting on base. While that seems like a realistic goal for the 31-year-old, two questions hover over his fantasy profile: Will he run more often this season after attempting only eight steals last year? And how will the loss of Carlos Correa, per source, impact his numbers?

Lowe is this position’s best power hitter, with 70 homers over the past three seasons. His .532 slugging percentage and 141 wRC+ each rank among the top 15 in baseball since the start of 2020. He still whiffs a lot, but Lowe has cut his K rate by about 20% since 2019 and boosted his walk rate to 11%. Entering his age-27 season, Lowe should produce another hefty stat line in 2022. He also holds outfield eligibility.

Polanco tapped into his power to unforeseen levels during the second half of 2021, bashing 21 homers and producing a .914 OPS in his final 70 games. Can he sustain that? It appears possible, especially if he can maintain his career-high 10.1% barrel rate. He chipped in 11 steals last year as well, and the Twins' acquisition of Correa adds a little more shine to Polanco’s fantasy outlook.

The reigning National League Rookie of the Year, India is another player who broke out following a slow start to 2021. He turned in a .281/.390/.493 slash line with 18 home runs and 10 steals after May. His 11.1% walk rate and 22.1% swing rate at pitches outside the zone tell you that he already has an advanced plate approach, one that will enable him to improve upon his .269 batting average. India should contribute solid fantasy numbers across the board, excluding RBIs.

Chisholm is kind of the anti-India: He rarely walks and often swings wildly out of the zone. But if he can hone his batting eye a smidgen, there’s a fantasy stud just waiting to emerge here. He totaled 18 homers and stole 23 bases in just 124 games during his rookie year. His quality of contact rates were solid as a 23-year-old, especially his 112.1 maximum exit velocity. He also registered a 94th percentile sprint speed, so a 25-homer, 30-steal campaign seems reasonable.

If you pass up Merrifield early in your draft, you can find a pretty similar player later on in Edman. Like the Royals’ star, Edman carries outfield eligibility, collects a lot of steals (30-for-35 last year), doesn’t get on base much (.308 OBP), has some pop (11 homers) and makes a lot of contact (13.7% K rate).

LeMahieu’s 2021 season was impacted by a sports hernia which dragged down a lot of his numbers. His power was especially affected as his slugging percentage plummeted to .362 after exceeding .500 in 2019 and 2020. He was still one of the game’s best contact hitters and registered a career-high 10.8% walk rate. We’ll see if the 33-year-old can rebound now that he’s healthy following offseason surgery. He’s eligible at third base and first base.

You can also start Cronenworth at three positions: second base, first base and shortstop. Overshadowed somewhat in San Diego’s star-laden lineup, Cronenworth has the third-highest WAR among second basemen (6.5) and a 123 OPS+ since debuting in 2020. He hit 21 homers last season while registering a minuscule 5.4% swinging-strike rate, tied for the seventh lowest in MLB.

This tier contains three players -- Segura, Wong and Rojas -- who can provide double-digit homers and steals in the latter rounds of your draft. The 32-year-old Segura lacks upside, but if he stays healthy, he could flirt with 90-100 runs batting in front of Philadelphia's growing list of sluggers. Wong has been a useful if unheralded offensive player over the previous two full seasons, posting a 109 wRC+ in each. Rojas won't give you as much in batting average as the two veterans due to his 25% strikeout rate, but he does offer versatility. You can roster him at second base, third base, shortstop and outfield.

Rodgers, who's eligible at both middle-infield spots, is the biggest power threat in this tier after hitting 15 homers over 102 games in 2021. Injuries have really held him down since debuting in 2019, but a full season at Coors Field and maybe a slight swing change to create more loft could lead the former top prospect to 25 HRs this summer.