Second base may not be the deepest position in the NL Central, but it really does offer intrigue for each team.
In this series we are looking at every position in the NL Central division to see how each team ranks by player. Each position will be graded by the player expected to start the most games at that position. For pitching, each collective of starters and bullpen arms will be evaluated. At the end, we will take all of the positional rankings and try to predict where each team will finish in the standings. Last week we looked at first base. This week it’s on to second base.
Javier Baez – CHC
You either love him or you hate him. There’s no middle ground with Baez. Personally, even as a Cardinals fan, Baez is one of my favorite players to watch play. He’s one of those guys that just loves to have fun playing the game. And who can forget his no look tagout from Yadier Molina in the World Baseball Classic? Priceless.
The talent has always been there for Javi. Last year was the season everything seemed to come together for him. He rode his hot bat and incredible defense to a second place finish in MVP voting. The kid was just flat out spectacular in 2018.
Let’s just talk about Baez’s offense for a bit. He slashed a robust .290/.326/.554 with 34 HR while leading the league in RBI at 111. It’s not surprising then that Javi’s ISO increased for the third straight year up to .264. It was the breakout that many have anticipated for years.
Baez was also a force on the base paths, as he swiped 21 bags and finished tied for second in the NL with 9 triples. Baez’s 83 extra base hits were also good for second in the league. There were times last year when Baez was the Cubs offense.
The scary part about Baez is, he can get even better. He walked at a mere 4% clip and struck out 25% of the time. That’s incredible for a player who trailed only Jose Altuve with a 131 wRC+ for second basemen.
If Baez can cut down on the strikeouts and increase his walks, then we very well could be talking about the best hitter in the league for the 2019 season. Oh, he also led all major league second basemen in WAR at 5.3.
Defense for Baez is sometimes a conundrum. He makes impossible plays look easy while at other times making routine plays look impossible. Still, Baez was able to put up impressive numbers.
Javi managed a +10 DRS combined between 2B, SS, and 3B in 2018. Not only can he hit, but Baez is about as good as they get defensively. He was also a finalist for the Gold Glove at second base despite splitting time at three spots.
Baez has the offensive firepower to go with the defensive versatility to make him a threat anywhere. Had certain things gone a little differently last year, we could be talking MVP. He’s slated to start the year at shortstop until Addison Russell returns from suspension, but for second base Baez gets an easy A+ and it isn’t even close.
Scooter Gennett – CIN
Boy oh boy do the Brewers look like idiots on this one. After being given up on after the 2016 season, Gennett played the ultimate revenge card by tearing up the league for a division rival in 2017.
Gennett proved last year that 2017 was no fluke. He slashed .310/.357/.490 with 23 HR and 92 RBI. He has quickly established himself as one of the best offensive second basemen in the league.
Even with the nearly 60 point dip in ISO, Gennett was only four homers short of his 2017 total. He walked at roughly the same rate, but he managed to get his K% down below 20%. It was a solid year with a 125 wRC+ and a 4.5 WAR.
Defense was where the struggle was for Gennett. His -1 DRS and 11 errors were both worst in the division. Still, it’s an improvement over his -8 DRS 2017. His defense is serviceable so long as he’s hitting.
Gennett has been on fire for two years. If he comes out swinging again and puts up big numbers for a third straight year, that’s what we call consistency. It’s exactly what he needs to raise his grade. For now, Gennett scores a cool A-. His bat is strong and the defense is good enough.
Who’s on Second? – MIL
Baseball is a fickle game. At the start of last season this would have been a set answer. Jonathan Villar was the guy. Since then nine different players suited up at the keystone for the Brewers.
This season looks to be no different. The Brewers are said to be in talks with free agent third baseman Mike Moustakas. If he returns then that likely moves Travis Shaw back to second base. But that’s not a sure thing.
It could be that top prospect Keston Hiura is the eventual starter at second. Prospects are an unknown quantity until they actually start logging major league at bats. The Brewers also aren’t likely to start Hiura’s service clock early either and will wait to promote him.
That leaves a crew of utility men as the most likely candidates to fill in at various points. In fact, there as many as six different candidates to fill in with Hernan Perez as the most likely until Hiura is ready or in the event Moustakas returns.
Again, this is beginning to sound more and more like an Abbott and Costello skit the closer we get to Spring Training. Still, you would think the reigning division champs would have addressed their weakest position coming off an NLCS loss.
We’re giving the Brewers a D at second base. There’s too much uncertainty and way too many variables to be sure of anything. Whoever is there will produce enough to help some, but it’s underwhelming to say the least.
Adam Frazier – PIT
The utility man with the stick is finally getting his shot at an everyday gig. Frazier will enter the season as the starter at second base. It’s a welcome sign for Frazier who has spent the last two seasons bouncing around just to get his bat in the lineup.
Make no mistake, Frazier is going to hit. He slashed .277/.342/.456 in 2018. He’s always been a high average guy, but with little power as his career .141 ISO shows. That being said, Frazier did manage 10 HR in limited action.
Frazier is one of those players that is sneaky good. He flies under the radar, but was effective enough to put up a 116 wRC+ and 1.9 WAR, again in limited action. He’s going to be an above average hitter that will likely bat lead off.
Defense is the big question with Frazier. He had nine errors in 2018. Five of those came at second base. Still, his +4 DRS and 5.0 UZR/150 isn’t terrible. Frazier could be a solid starter at the keystone.
The Pirates are hoping that’s the case. Frazier gets a grade of C for his slightly above average offense and defense that should be good enough. Who knows, maybe a full year of at bats will improve his grade.
Kolten Wong – STL
Wong has had his shares of ups and downs. The excitement he came into the Cardinals system with after being their top pick in the 2011 draft has almost faded. Still, the front office is behind him.
Wong finally has a manager that’s behind him as well. Mike Shildt is committed to Kolten Wong and the confidence is sparking a new fire in him. The team can only hope so.
Last year was nearly another lost year. Kolten struggled mightily in the first half batting only .213 before Mike Matheny was fired. With a renewed commitment to him by manager Mike Shildt, Wong went on a tear.
Kolten hit .317 during the second half, including an August where he hit .362 for the month. Injuries derailed the rest of his season, but he still managed to hit .280 in September, finishing .249/.332/.338 on the year.
Wong has shown over the years that when given consistent playing time he can be an offensive force. For proof, look at his splits from 2018. While he had a 98 wRC+ overall, he managed a 126 wRC+ and an OBP in .lthe .380 range in the second half. His .139 ISO leaves something to be desired, but when you’re creating runs at that rate the power doesn’t matter.
Wong’s calling card has always been his defense. He finally got recognized as one of the best as he was named a Gold Glove finalist. His 19 DRS was sixth overall in the majors at any position and led all second basemen. He also posted a 17.6 UZR/150.
The big question for Wong is which player will show up at the plate? If it’s the guy we saw in the second half last year, then look out. If not, then it will be another disappointing year for him.
For now, Kolten’s glove keeps his grade up, but his bat needs to progress some more. At 28 years of age, now is the time he should be at his prime. Kolten grades out as B due to his stellar glove and improving bat, but nagging injuries might keep this grade lower than it should be.
Second Base Grade Recap
CHC – A+
CIN – A-
STL – B
PIT – C
MIL – D
Check back next week as we continue our look at the NL Central landscape with shortstops. If you would like to see other installments of this series, look for the links below: