Utley, Kinsler headline top second basemen of 2010
1. Chase Utley, Phillies
For the sake of posterity, try to block out Utley's 5-HR barrage in Games 1-5 of the '09 World Series. And then momentarily forget about his career-high 23 steals last season for the National League champs. With those high-profile omissions, Utley would still reign as the No. 1 second baseman. Put it all together ... and Utley is a realistic threat to crack the top-4 in mixed-league drafts -- ahead of Miguel Cabrera, David Wright, Ryan Howard, Tim Lincecum, Joe Mauer, Prince Fielder, Mark Teixeira and the next the guy in this countdown. Projections: 28 HRs, 102 RBIs, 112 runs, 21 steals, .307 average.
2. Ian Kinsler, Rangers
If anyone can challenge Utley for a full season, the smart money lies with Kinsler (31 HRs, 86 RBIs, 101 runs, 31 steals in '09). But that could only happen if Kinsler returns to the neighborhood of his 2008 production in batting average (.319) -- which shouldn't be too hard with Nelson Cruz, Josh Hamilton, Chris Davis and Michael Young as immediate sources of lineup protection. Projections: 27 HRs, 90 RBIs, 111 runs, 34 steals, .291 average.
3. Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox
Without a doubt, Pedroia is superior to Kinsler in the runs department (233 in 2008-09) ... and probably batting average, as well. But there are noticeable gaps with homers, RBIs and steals, which explains why he's a firm-but-distant No. 3. Projections: 15 HRs, 77 RBIs, 117 runs, 16 steals, .304 average.
4. Brian Roberts, Orioles
There are two ways of characterizing Roberts' fantasy value at the ripe age of 32: The optimist would point to a sizable spike in HRs (16) and RBIs (79) last season, while also mentioning his three consecutive years of 100-plus runs. The pessimist would point to Roberts' 25-percent reduction in steals (just 30 in '09) and batting(.283). At this point, the optimist would interrupt the debate to smash the pessimist over the head with a mallet, before shouting: "You're going to pass on a stud hitter with an up-and-coming team that's ALMOST stocked with Braves-in-the-90s-like pitching ... all because of ONLY 30 steals? Get real." Projections: 15 HRs, 74 RBIs, 104 runs, 33 steals, .282 average.
5. Robinson Cano, Yankees
In AL-only leagues for Rounds 1-4, I value speed guys over one-trick-ponies in the power department; hence, I must move heaven and earth to draft Cano this year. Check out his sick numbers from 2009 -- .320 batting average, 103 runs, 25 homers -- it's a wonder he's not getting more preseason fantasy run than Gordon Beckham or Adam Jones; and it's a wonder why anyone would cast Cano in a negative light just because he's not a reliable source for 10-plus steals. Simply put, anytime after Round 3 is the perfect time to grab Cano, who could end up as the Yankees' MVP. Projections: 24 HRs, 83 RBIs, 102 runs, 4 steals, .318 average.
6. Dan Uggla, Marlins
It's a pretty simple concept with Uggla on draft day: Take your 30 homers, 91 RBIs and 93 runs and move on to the next round. No questions asked. And if you're still bugging out over someone who hits like Brandon Inge and runs like Todd Helton ... make a point to draft Placido Polanco and Emilio Bonifacio in the later rounds. No questions asked.
7. Ian Stewart, Rockies
There's just something about a guy named "Ian" who once enjoyed Brandon Wood-like production in the minor leagues (that's a good thing) and gets to play 81 games in the thin Colorado air (humidors be damned!). And there's just something about a versatile player who seems like a strong candidate for 24 HRs, 80 RBIs and 80 runs ... and has absolutely no shot of hitting .228 again. This pick is admittedly a gamble; but in Stewart's defense, the next six second basemen have their fair share of negative nellies, as well. Projections: 24 HRs, 79 RBIs, 84 runs, 7 steals, .264 average.
8. Brandon Phillips, Reds
If you're planning to invest a Round 2 or 3 pick on Phillips, please be aware of the following: The statute of limitations for his monstrous 2007 season (30 HRs, 94 RBIs, 107 runs, 32 steals, .288 average) has just about expired. Translation: It's almost getting to the point where savvy fantasy owners can write Phillips off as a one-year fantasy dynamo ... and adjust his realistic rankings for this countdown. Projections: 22 HRs, 84 RBIs, 83 runs, 24 steals, .275 average.
9. Aaron Hill, Blue Jays
With the recent acquisitions of Kyle Drabek and Brett Wallace and emergence of Ricky Romero, Travis Snider, Adam Lind and Mark Rzepczynski, I admire the Blue Jays' long-term focus. But with long-term planning comes short-term misery -- which is why Hill has zero chance of amassing 36 HRs, 108 RBIs or 103 runs in 2010. Of course, I'd be a tad less pessimistic if he had more than nine total homers in the years 2005, 2006 and '08.
10. Asdrubal Cabrera, Indians
Forget about homers and RBIs, Cabrera is a reasonable lock to surpass 90 runs, 20 steals and a .295 batting average this season for a sneaky-good Indians club. And that alone gets him ranked over guys with the potential to be great but may have a greater talent waiting in the wings.
11. Ben Zobrist, Rays
How's this for taking both sides of an argument? On one hand, I'm not dismissing Zobrist's All-Star breakout from 2009 (27 HRs, 91 RBIs, 17 steals, 91 runs, .297 BA). After all, Zobrist has been a highly regarded staple of the Rays' fertile farm system for many years. And finally, at 28, he's making the most of his opportunity. On the flip side, I believe that Tampa Bay scored a major coup in acquiring Sean Rodriguez in the Scott Kazmir trade. Rodriguez, in my opinion, is the Rays' future at second base. Best way to rectify this quandary? Simply take Rodriguez as a last-round handcuff (unless his cover is blown with a big-time spring).
12. Howie Kendrick, Angels
Even at 27, Kendrick has no established fantasy ceiling -- or floor, for that matter. He could hit 15 HRs, hit .300 and score 85 runs this season, surprising no one. Conversely, he could go single-digits in homers and steals and hit a soul-crushing .255 -- also a surprise to no one. Perhaps that explains why he's barely getting more love than Milwaukee's oft-injured, sometimes-anemic hitter at the position.
13. Rickie Weeks, Brewers
Just like Brandon Phillips (above), the statute of limitations for Weeks' .400 season in college (Tulane) and/or .320 season at Triple-A Nashville are on the brink of expiration. We've also grown weary (read: borderline intolerant) over his time-tested knack for getting injured. Lucky for us, the Brewers already have a ready-made stud to replace Weeks.
14. Casey McGehee, Brewers
This time next year, McGehee (16 HRs, 66 RBIs, 58 runs, .301 average in just 116 games in '09) could easily be a top-10 second basemen. Heck, he might even crack the top-7 -- if Milwaukee entrusts him with at-bats while playing second, third base or maybe the outfield. Or, whenever Rickie Weeks (predictably) visits the infirmary sometime in June. Projections: 20 HRs, 74 RBIs, 71 runs, 4 steals, .304 average.
15. Jose Lopez, Mariners
This ranking is more of a reflection of Lopez's underrated fantasy value than his actual production (25 HRs, 96 RBIs, 69 runs in '09). Simply put, it's easy to fall off the proverbial radar when you play in Seattle and infamously stand as perhaps the Mariners' greatest source of power. We say "infamously" for the following reason: It's quite possible that Seattle's projected starters (Casey Kotchman, Jack Wilson, Chone Figgins, Ichiro Suzuki, Franklin Gutierrez, Milton Bradley, Rob Johnson and Lopez) might not eclipse 50 combined homers this season and even if Lopez goes yard more than anyone, opposing pitchers will have little incentive to submit quality pitches. Translation: Expect fewer homers, fewer RBIs, more walks and more strikeouts.
Best Of The Rest