The Best Young Second Basemen of 2007

This week, I will continue my position-by-position review of the game’s best players by examining young second basemen. The following list differs from traditional prospect lists in two ways. First, anyone under 25 is eligible. Second, I won’t give you a false sense of precision by ranking players. Instead, I’ll group players according to their upside and closeness to fulfilling their potential. I order players alphabetically within groups.

When I describe “excellent” potential, I mean that the player has a non-trivial chance of being among the top five major leaguers at his position during multiple seasons. In other words, these are guys who could be perennial All-Stars. These players usually have all the skills to become complete hitters and at least average fielders at their position.

When I describe “good” potential, I usually mean a player who has the skills to become a consistently above-average starter at the position. Often, these players will have at least one major limitation that probably will prevent them from becoming top-tier players. When I describe “average” upside, I usually am describing a player with more than one major concern or limitation that suggests he probably will become an average player relative to other starters at his position.

Players who are “close to their prime” usually are within a year of reaching a level of performance that will be among the five best seasons of their career.

I don’t have a crystal ball, so I rely heavily on quantitative analysis of hitting and fielding performance to describe these players’ futures. These are simply estimates—any one of these players could be out of baseball at age 26 and any one could become a star. Mostly, I hope this list can help you identify exciting young players who are worth watching in the near future.

Excellent Upside, Close to Prime

Robinson Cano and Howie Kendrick
24 years old | New York Yankees and 23 years old | Los Angeles Angels
Cano and Kendrick are such similar young players that I might as well describe their strengths and weaknesses together. The good news is that both are exceptionally talented at making contact and probably will compete against one another for a batting title or two over the next few years. The bad news is that neither is a particularly strong fielder and they both take a walk only once every 10 days or so. Their free-swinging ways lead to merely average on-base skills right now, but I think their upside is excellent in spite of these present weaknesses. History tells us that good hitters will improve their walk rates as they age, and both Cano and Kendrick are well-positioned for long and productive careers as well above-average second basemen.

Rickie Weeks
24 years old | Milwaukee Brewers
Rickie Weeks’ quick wrists and combination of power potential and speed have earned him attention for many years now, but injuries stopped him from breaking out as one of baseball’s better second basemen in 2006. Although he strikes out too often to hit for a high average, Weeks has a record of patience that suggests he can complement his speed and power skills with an above-average on-base percentage.

Excellent Upside, at Least Two Years from Prime

No players qualify for this category.

Good Upside, Close to Prime

Josh Barfield
24 years old | Cleveland Indians
Barfield’s strikeout totals have decreased in each of his past three seasons, and one only needs to look at his numbers away from Petco in 2006 to understand why the Indians believe they finally have a long-term solution at second base.

Dustin Pedroia
23 years old | Boston Red Sox
A .191 batting average during a late season callup with Boston shouldn’t be a cause for concern; Pedroia maintained his good contact skills and high line drive rate at the major league level. He was simply unlucky with a .188 batting average of balls in play (BABIP). He remains an above-average on-base threat and should be a defensive upgrade over Mark Loretta in the coming season. Pedroia has not developed the power that some hoped for, but I don’t think the seven home runs he hit in 2006 represent his ceiling. A lingering wrist injury may have sapped some of his strength for much of the 2006 season.

Alberto Callaspo
23 years old | Arizona Diamondbacks
A trade from the Angels system led to substantial improvements in Callaspo’s value. Diamondbacks coaches preached the value of taking pitches, and the former free-swinger put together the best season of his career. Callaspo remained one of the minor leagues’ best contact hitters and started walking often enough to post an OBP in the Pacific Coast League that suggests he could hit near the top of the Diamondbacks lineup some day.

Ian Kinsler
24 years old | Texas Rangers
Kinsler’s hot start to the 2006 season was derailed by a dislocated thumb injury. New Rangers manager Ron Washington is talking about batting Kinsler ninth in the lineup, but Kinsler is a well-rounded offensive player who could be among the Rangers’ three most productive hitters in 2007.

Good Upside, At Least Two Years from Prime

Blake DeWitt
21 years old | Los Angeles Dodgers
DeWitt was widely regard as the best young hitter out of high school in the 2004 draft, but he has not put together a strong complete season yet. DeWitt played three infield positions in 2006, but the presence of Andy LaRoche in the Dodgers system suggests that he will have to break through as a second baseman. DeWitt does have good power potential for a middle infielder, but his 19 HR total was partly due to playing half his games in one of baseball’s most hitter-friendly parks.

Eric Campbell
21 years old | Atlanta Braves
Campbell doesn’t have a position, struggled with a back injury in 2006, and has an aggressive style at the plate that doesn’t allow for many walks. That said, his potential as a hitter is as promising as any player on this list. As Bryan Smith has recently noted, young players who demonstrate above-average contact skills and power in A-ball often find continued success in the upper minor league and major league level. Campbell only recently started playing on the right side of the infield, but I’m projecting him at second base for now because Van Pope, a superior fielder at third base, is ahead of Campbell in the Braves organization.

Average Upside, Close to Prime

Alexi Casilla
22 years old | Minnesota Twins
Casilla is a burner on the basepaths who can field his position well and put the ball in play. His upside is limited by the fact that he is primarily a singles hitter with a career total of four home runs.

Eric Patterson
23 years old | Chicago Cubs
The antithesis to brother Corey, Eric Patterson doesn’t have the raw tools that inspire dreams of 40/40 seasons in the big leagues, but he can get on base. His speed and plate patience could take him to the top of the Cubs lineup by 2008.

Jose Lopez
23 years old | Seattle Mariners
Lopez just turned 23 and posted respectable offensive numbers considering his home park in 2006. He flashed some power during the early months of each of the past three seasons but has not yet maintained more than average production over a full season. I would be more optimistic about his future value if he could make like Alberto Callaspo and learn to walk once in a while, but at least his bat is playable and he is a solid fielder at second base.

Elliot Johnson
23 years old | Tampa Bay Devil Rays
Johnson signed as a free agent after going undrafted in high school, and four years later he was leading the Double-A Montgomery offense to the playoffs. Johnson is a good baserunner who also launched a career-high 46 extra-base hits in 2006, but he swings and misses too often to be more than an average hitter at the major league level.

Kevin Melillo
24 years old | Oakland Athletics
Melillo’s on-base skills will take him to Oakland, but his 2006 season was a mixed bag as his improvements as a fielder were overshadowed by decreased power production during his second stint in the Texas League. His 2007 effort in the Pacific Coast League will go a long way in determining whether he belongs in Oakland’s plans as a reserve or a full-time infielder.

Mark Reynolds
23 years old | Arizona Diamondbacks
A former 14th-round pick, Reynolds exploded onto the prospect scene with 31 home runs between high Single-A Lancaster and Double-A Tennessee in 2006. His unorthodox swing and high strikeout rate limit his offensive potential, but his power, athleticism and ability to play almost anywhere on the field probably will earn him a role on a major league team by 2008. Reynolds logged playing time at five positions in 2006, but some believe he profiles best as a second baseman.

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