Wednesday, February 03, 2010

2010 Top Prospects pt 3: Second Baseman

Second base is rarely a hotbed for prospects. Many of the players that end up playing second base in the majors have moved from another position, usually shortstop, and as a result there are generally slim pickings for true second base prospects. This year is even more of a down year with none rating in my top 30 overall prospects. In fact only six made the top 100 and I would not be surprised if half of them actually ended up at different positions in the majors anyway. Still, there are some interesting names on this list, including several that will see the majors this year.

Pt. 1: Catchers
Pt. 2: First Baseman

1. Brett Lawrie - Brewers (33)

The Midwest League is a tough first year assignment for a fairly raw high-schooler from Canada, but Milwaukee felt Lawrie's bat could handle it. Despite his background, Lawrie was considered to be one of the best pure hitters among prep players and his play thus far has lived up to that reputation. Originally drafted as a catcher, Lawrie has a powerful build and a quick, short swing that should result in plenty of contact and power.

Lawrie gave up on catching before he made his pro debut in favor of second base, but he has a long way to go there as well. Even though 2009 was a success offensively, he also exacerbated doubts about his ability to stick in the middle of the diamond. There have been reports that Lawrie cares a lot more about hitting that defense and that if he dedicated himself, he would be fine with the glove. He was pushed up to AA for a couple of weeks and was overwhelmed, but given his age that is not really a concern.

Easily the most gifted hitter among second base prospects, Lawrie should move quickly because of his bat. Milwaukee's corner positions are already crowded and they really need Lawrie to become at least average with the glove, something that Ryan Braun and Mat Gamel could not do at third base. With Alcides Escobar already set to start at shortstop, the Brewers could have a completely home grown double play combination in a couple of years when Lawrie makes it to the majors.

2. Todd Frazier - Reds (44)

Frazier does not really have a position, he has played almost everywhere on the diamond since signing as a supplemental first round pick in 2007. I've been a fan of Frazier's ever since I saw him crush some mammoth home runs while playing shortstop at Rutgers, but his swing has never been textbook leading to scouts wondering about his potential. He lacks the range for short and might not have the agility to play second, but Cincinnati has so many options at third base already in the minors that second base seems like the best place to put him for now.

In 2009 Frazier finally persuaded doubters in his hitting ability to get on board. He racked up 63 extra-base hits in just over 500 at-bats and also managed an excellent BB:K ratio. Most of his power shows up in doubles right now, but he has the strength to get over 20 home runs a year once fully developed. The Reds continued to move Frazier all around the diamond last year, hurting his chances to get comfortable at any position. It is difficult to know just how much their handling of him has hurt his development. In a worst-case scenario Frazier will end up in left-field where his bat will be acceptable but much less impressive.

2010 will mostly be about finding a defensive home for Frazier. Even though his bat is nearly ready, he is blocked at the two positions he would have the most value, (second and third) so he could spend most of the season in AAA. At 24, time is not on his side anymore and if he does not establish himself in the majors this season at some position, Frazier runs the danger of getting passed by other players in the system.

3. Adrian Cardenas - Athletics (49)

Cardenas, a supplemental first round pick in 2006, was acquired in the Joe Blanton trade. A left-handed hitter with gap power, his glove would fit better at third base, but he can handle second and his bat looks more impressive in the middle of the infield. He has a disciplined approach at the plate and a compact swing, resulting in low strikeout totals.

Cardenas started 2009 in AAA at the age of 21 and really struggled out of the gate. Oakland demoted him to AA and after tearing up that level for a few months he went back to AAA and fared much better. Cardenas has still only totaled 20 home runs in over 1,500 minor league at bats and it seems unlikely he will develop much power at this point.

With his professional approach and solid base-running skills, Cardenas looks like a candidate to bat first or second in a lineup. He's not a burner and probably will not steal more than 10-15 bases in the majors but his OBP's should be high and he rarely gives away at-bats. After a solid August and September at AAA, Cardenas should start 2010 there and get a shot at the bigs before the year ends.

4. Jemile Weeks - Athletics (66)

Weeks, the brother of Milwaukee Brewer Rickie, was taken 12th overall in 2008, a surprise to most teams. Oakland was in desperate need of some premier athletes and like Weeks' combination of speed and defense. Unfortunately, like his brother he has struggled to stay healthy but has been impressive while on the field.

Weeks is a far superior defender than fellow Athletic, Cardenas, but lacks the hitting ability. He is also older and lower in the minors, making him, in my opinion, the lesser of the two in terms of value. Weeks put up big numbers in high-A but struggled mightily in just over 100 at-bats after being moved up a level. Although he can hit home runs, consistency has been an issue as Weeks tends to go through phases where he fails to drive the ball, leading to easy outs.

Weeks still needs more time at AA and will probably spend all of 2010 in the minors. He has a good, compact swing, but needs to stay on the field in order to refine his game. Even though he is older than Cardenas he has more upside and if both make it to the majors he is the surer bet to play second, likely shifting Cardenas over to third. In a dream world, Oakland probably envisions them as the top two hitters in their lineup as soon as 2011.

5. Scott Sizemore - Tigers (72)

Sizemore has always been a grinder, slowly building up his status as a prospect since being drafted in the 5th round of 2006. He has average tools across the board and while his defense is nothing special at second base he does get the job done. Similarly he has some power and a good eye, but nothing that would be called "plus."

After hitting only 4 home runs in 2007 and 2008, Sizemore broke through a bit last season with 17 between AA and AAA. His performance, and the departure of Placido Polanco, made him the odds-on-favorite to start at second base in 2010 for the Tigers. However, after a hot start in the Arizona Fall League, Sizemore broke his ankle and it is uncertain when he will be at full strength again. Most reports have him projected to be at full strength for spring training, but if the injury hurts his already mediocre range Detroit may look elsewhere.

Already 25, the injury couldn't have come at a worse time for Sizemore who had a job wide open for the taking. Spring Training will be important for him; Tigers' manager Jim Leyland is not afraid to give jobs to young players and if Sizemore can show he is healthy, expect him to be in the opening day lineup.

6. Reese Havens - Mets (90)

Havens has always displayed the two things I look for most in a prospect as a hitter. He knows what pitches to swing at, and can do some damage when he does pull the trigger. He has played exclusively at shortstop since signing with the Mets but his range was always poor there, and they are now intent on developing him as a second baseman.

Havens' 2009 numbers were hurt by a horrible BABIP that masked just how good the season was. The biggest problem was that a quadriceps injury and bruised hand robbed him of nearly 2 full months of development time that he sorely needs. Havens also missed time in 2008 with nagging injuries, a disturbing trend that must seem all-too-familiar with Mets fans who have watched Fernando Martinez struggle to stay on the field.

Havens should begin 2010 at AA as a 23-year-old. He is already a bit behind the development path the Mets typically put their prospects on because of the injuries, but has plenty of time to recover. Defense and making consistent contact will be Havens' focus this year and if he shows improvement, a September callup is not out of the question. Luis Castillo is signed through 2011 and Havens should be ready for the majors easily by 2012, if not sooner.

7. Ivan Dejesus Jr. - Dodgers

A second round pick in 2005, Dejesus had a big season at AA in 2008 but missed nearly all of 2009 with a broken leg. He has a great eye and is fast enough to be a threat on the bases, but has minimal power and his defense is only average. Dejesus could take over the starting job for Los Angeles this year at some point if he has fully recovered.

8. Daniel Descalso - Cardinals

Descalso had a big 2009, almost out of nowhere. He has a decent idea of the strike-zone and doubles power. Although his range is only adequate, he makes the plays on balls he gets to and has a shortstop's arm. He really struggled after a promotion to AAA and will need to show he can hit more advanced pitching before St. Louis considers him part of their future plans.

9. Chris Nelson - Rockies

Nelson was considered by many to be the top prep position player in the 2004 draft, but the man with a lightning bat and rocket arm has struggled since signing. He has all the tools but has rarely been able to stay healthy and only shown glimpses of being able to put it all together. Still, there is too much upside in Nelson to forget about him completely, but even after signing over 5-years-ago, he is not that close to the majors.

10. Eric Young Jr. - Rockies

Young was drafted the year before Nelson and is on the opposite end of the spectrum. He is a finished product but his defense at second is below average and he has minimal pop in his bat. He has shown good plate discipline and is a great base-runner, and therefore profiles as a lead-off hitter if his deficiencies can be overcome.

11. David Adams - Yankees

After a mid-season promotion to high-A, Adams' bat took off and he started hitting the ball with authority for the first time. He's a decent defender, with a good arm but average range. If he continues to improve with the bat Adams will be an interesting prospect, but given the small sample size, it is too soon to believe hia power is anything more than a hot streak.

12. Johnny Giavotella - Royals

The scrappy 5'8 Giavotella is actually a below average defender at second, but has one of the best eyes in the minor leagues and surprising pop for his size. He can run as well and has a chance to be a lead-off hitter in the majors, but will have to prove he can hit more advanced pitching.

13. Nick Noonan - Giants

A supplemental first round pick in 2007, Noonan has good tools but an ugly swing that Keith Law loves to make fun of. He hasn't yet shown the power to project as an impact hitter, nor does he have the speed to be a top of the order threat. There is a lot of upside here if he can figure it out, but a complete reworking of his approach appears necessary for him to develop fully.

14. Brad Emaus - Blue Jays

The stocky Emaus had a nice spring training in 2009 and got off to a hot start at AA but his power faded as the year went on. He has an excellent approach at the plate but below-average range and because of his size, he may struggle to hit home runs as he moves up the ladder. An overachiever, it will be interesting to see how he fares at AAA in 2010.

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