Top 10 Second Base Prospects

 

Second base is a difficult position for prospect hunting. Most major league second basemen are converted minor league shortstops. Even among the top second base prospects there may be great concern among scouts that a move to the outfield, or another position, is eventually likely.

 

The best hope of several minor league second basemen in making an impact at the major league level is to do so in a utility role. Some of the players on this list, however, will rise above the standard low level of expectation for minor league second basemen and make a significant impact at the position at the highest level. Which ones will they be?

 

1. Rickie Weeks -- Milwaukee Brewers

Age 2004 level at-bats ave 2b 3b hr bb so obp slg
22 AA 479 .259 35 6 8 55 107 .366 .407

 

Drafted 2nd overall in 2003, behind only Tampa Bay's Delmon Young, Weeks boasted the best college bat in his draft class. A polished hitter with a pure swing who is patient at the plate and works deep into counts, his brief professional debut of 63 at-bats at the Midwest League in 2003 (.349/.494/.556) was enough to warrant a 12 at-bat trial by fire in Milwaukee at the end of the season.

 

However, 2004, his first full-season experience in the Double-A Southern League, proved to be a bit more trying. His batting average dropped, his walk total appeared much more modest while he struck out a lot. It's expected that, with more experience, his approach at the plate will eventually win over what looks right now like statistical mediocrity.

 

Entering the draft, there was concern whether Weeks would be a better fit in leftfield rather than continue to improve his footwork at second base. The Brewers, however, have been determined to keep him at second base and he has responded positively.

 

Weeks' extra-base totals are a promising sign that increased power is in his future. His immediate future may take him to Triple-A for a bit more grooming to start 2005. But don't be surprised if the Brewers give him a substantial look at Milwaukee this season.

 

2. Chris Burke -- Houston Astros

Age 2004 level at-bats ave 2b 3b hr bb so obp slg
25 Majors 17 .059 0 0 0 3 3 .200 .059
AAA 483 .315 33 6 16 55 76 .396 .507

 

Burke was taken 10th overall in the 2001 Draft, a draft class that could go down as one of the best ever. Originally a shortstop, his lack of arm strength forced him to move across the bag. Other than 2002 when he was assigned to Double-A a year ahead of his development, Burke has proven himself a .300 hitter at each level he has played. He displayed more power in 2004 than in any previous season, though some of that could be due to the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League.

 

Burke's offensive skills fits best at the top of the lineup, either 1st or 2nd. Not only does he hit .300, but he takes pitches, limits his strikeouts, and steals bases (37 in 2004, 108 in his career which prorates to nearly 39 stolen bases for every 162 games played). His speed and athleticism will also allow him to be a good defensive second baseman.

 

The Astros gave Jeff Kent $700,000 to buy out their $9M option for 2005 in order to allow Burke an opportunity to be their starter. The only thing that would prevent Burke from being the Astros starting second baseman in 2005 would be if they made a trade for someone like Alfonso Soriano, but Burke would certainly be moved as part of the same deal.

3. Robinson Cano -- New York Yankees

Age 2004 level at-bats ave 2b 3b hr bb so obp slg
22 AAA 216 .259 9 2 6 18 27 .316 .403
AA 292 .301 20 8 7 24 40 .356 .497

 

Cano first made noise as a 19-year old in the South Atlantic League in 2002. Since then, though it may not look like it, he has been slightly improving his ability to draw a walk and cut his '02 and '03 strikeout-to-walk ratios of over 2.5-1.0 down to 1.6-1.0 in 2004.

 

He has steadily hit in the area of the .270-.280 throughout his career, and his composite average for 2004 comes out to .283. He has good power, particularly for a second baseman. Though he does not have much speed for a middle infielder and his range is suspect, he has a very strong arm.

 

With the Tony Womack signing at the major league level, Cano should expect a return trip to Columbus.

4. Josh Barfield -- San Diego Padres

Age 2004 level at-bats ave 2b 3b hr bb so obp slg
22 AA 521 .248 28 3 18 48 119 .313 .417

 

Since being drafted by the Padres in the 4th round of the 2001 Draft, this was Barfield's worst season as a professional, just a year after his honor of being California League MVP. He likely would have placed #2 behind Weeks on this list a year ago, but for the first time in his career he hit below .300 and he set a career low for on-base percentage.

 

Barfield has very good power potential, which also hinders his willingness to be patient at the plate. If he is to make an impact in the big leagues, he will do it with his bat. Though scouts say he has soft hands, he may outgrow second base and have to move to the outfield.

 

Barfield is hopeful for a bounce-back season in 2005 at Triple-A. With Mark Loretta signed for one more season, Barfield has the chance to use this season to redeem the opening that could be waiting for him on Opening Day 2006.

 

5. Ryan Raburn -- Detroit Tigers

Age 2004 level at-bats ave 2b 3b hr bb so obp slg
23 AA 366 .301 29 4 16 47 96 .390 .533

 

In each of his first three seasons, Raburn failed to prove himself consistent. From 2001 through 2003, Raburn split each season between two different levels in the organization. Every season had one assignment displaying offensive prowess, the other assignment showed struggle and confusion. The three "good" parts of those seasons total 258 at-bats hitting .353 and slugging .667. The three "bad" portions of the same seasons totaled 533 at-bats hitting only .214 and slugging .385. Will the real Ryan Raburn please stand up?

 

Fortunately for Raburn, 2004 turned out to be good and was rewarded by not being offered a second assignment. Part of Raburn's struggle for consistency was the result of a snowmobile accident that broke his hip. The Tigers were cautious with his return.

 

Formerly a third baseman, Raburn has the bat to be a Jeff Kent-type offense first second baseman. If he is able to continue to develop at the plate, the Tigers will find a way to get his bat in the lineup.

6. Freddy Sanchez -- Pittsburgh Pirates

Age 2004 level at-bats ave 2b 3b hr bb so obp slg
26 AAA 125 .264 7 1 1 11 17 .326 .360

 

Battling through injury in 2004 marred how Sanchez is capable of performing. Two seasons ago, Sanchez was close to establishing himself as the Red Sox second baseman. Dealt to the Pirates at the 2003 trade deadline, not much has gone right for Sanchez since.

 

In 1,409 at-bats entering 2004, Sanchez had a career minor league batting average of .323. He doesn't have much power but uses the whole field and rarely strikes out. Formerly a shortstop, his arm was not strong enough to stay at the position and he needs his hustling style of play to make up for average range..

 

Sanchez needs to have a good Spring Training to emerge from a crowded lot (including Jose Castillo and Bobby Hill) to warrant the starting job with the Pirates in 2005.

 

7. Delwyn Young -- Los Angeles Dodgers

Age 2004 level at-bats ave 2b 3b hr bb so obp slg
22 high A 470 .281 36 3 22 57 134 .364 .511

 

Young has very good power, displaying a .500+ slugging percentage each season as a professional. However, he is not very selective at the plate. Though he improved his ability to draw a walk last year, his strikeout total rose to an alarming rate.

 

Young's defense has drawn criticism and he may need to move to third base or the outfield if it does not improve.

 

If his plate discipline does not improve this year in Double-A, his overall package as an offense-first player will be diminished.

8. William Bergolla -- Cincinnati Reds

Age 2004 level at-bats ave 2b 3b hr bb so obp slg
22 AA 466 .283 26 1 4 40 63 .342 .369

 

Playing Double-A baseball at age 21, Bergolla held his own. He'll never be mistaken for having much power, but he handles the bat very well. He would be well off if he were to draw a few more walks. Bergolla has good base-stealing ability, thieving 36 bases last year and 52 the season before.

 

The Venezuelan originally signed with the Reds as a shortstop and still played about 20% of his games there in 2004. Getting most of his playing time at second base now, he is a good defensive player, his hands being his greatest asset.

 

Bergolla should spend 2005 in Triple-A, perhaps receiving a late-season promotion and could have an opportunity for a spot with the Reds in 2006.

9. Mike Fontenot -- Chicago Cubs

Age 2004 level at-bats ave 2b 3b hr bb so obp slg
24 AAA 524 .279 30 10 8 48 111 .346 .420

 

Rarely are second basemen first-round selections in the draft, but the Orioles used the 19th overall pick in 2001 on the former-LSU second baseman. Fontenot is listed at only 5'8", 160 lbs. A player of his stature can still be a quality big league player, but he would have to cut down on his strikeouts and draw more walks. He can't get away with being a free swinger, as he is sometimes prone to get caught up in trying to show that he has power.

 

His 2003 campaign in Double-A proved to be very promising, but he came back down to earth last year. His speed is good but he has had to work on his defense to be adequate.

 

His normal progress would have taken him to Baltimore next year, but was not likely to supplant Brian Roberts so the Orioles found him expendable and packaged him in the deal for Sammy Sosa. Perhaps he will challenge for the starting second base duties with the Cubs, but Triple-A Iowa may be more likely.

10. Donald Murphy -- Kansas City Royals

Age 2004 level at-bats ave 2b 3b hr bb so obp slg
22 Majors 27 .185 3 0 0 0 7 .185 .296
high A 485 .254 32 4 10 52 96 .326 .398

 

Murphy is an offense-oriented second baseman. His defense is good enough that he'll stay at the position, but he lacks great range.

 

At the plate, his batting average dropped from the .313 he posted in 2003. Though his home run totals won't impress anyone, he has good gap power and is capable of producing a good number of extra-base hits. A more disciplined approach at the plate could help him flourish in 2005, likely at Double-A. 

 

 

Honorable mention (in alphabetical order):

Jason Bourgeois, Texas Rangers

John Holt, Atlanta Braves

Howie Kendrick, Anaheim Angels

 

 

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