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Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Central Showdown - Second Base

Second base is a position in which the AL Central is sorely lacking. There is an evident absence of both quality and depth and this season will see the chance for several prospects across different organizations to emerge and secure big league starting jobs.

Jason Kipnis – Indians

Despite seeing just 126 Major League ABs in 2011, Kipnis is perhaps the class of the division. Kipnis had a solid start after being promoted to the Indians increasingly powerful infield, hitting .272/.333/.507 with 7 HR, 19 RBI and swiping 5 bags in the process. Kipnis also excelled in other metrics with an ISO of .235 but did benefit from a large slice of lady luck in his major league debut, as throughout his 3 minor league seasons he only belted only 19 HR. His HR/FB (home run to fly ball %) was one of the highest in baseball (16th best in players with at least 150 PAs. All of these assessments will need to be put on hold with Kipnis as he has provided us much too small a sample of MLB ABs to draw solid conclusions from. In his limited big league career he has proven to be a below average 2B with an Rfield of -2. Kipnis will need to improve his plate discipline if he is to continue to replicate his excellent .378 OBP over his 3 minor league seasons with the Indians organization.

Gordon Beckham – White Sox

It’s hard to believe that Beckham is just 25. He seems to have been around and was bandied about as the next big 2B prospect for a few seasons. Beckham has not lived up to the hype in his big league career so far but age is still on his side. Beckham had an excellent rookie season in 2009 in which he hit .270/.347/.460 with 14 HR. His initial success seems to have come from a propensity to walk and not strike out, with a 9.5% BB% and a SO% of 15.1 – rates which he has not been able to replicate since (posting figures of 6.3% for BB and 19.1% for SO in 2011). Beckham significantly improved his defense last season with an Rfield of 5 last year after averaging -10.5 in his previous 2 seasons, as well as increasing his fielding % by almost 40 points and showing a significant increase in range. Beckham still has the potential and the time to take his game to the next level but the previous 2 seasons since his promising rookie campaign would suggest he may not fulfill his over-inflated promise.

Johnny Giavotella – Royals

Giavotella debuted for the Royals in the stretch run of 2011 after being one of their 2nd round draft choices out of the University of New Orleans in 2008. Giavotella had a below average major league debut, producing a .247/.273/.376 line in 46 games last year. Giavotella was poor in the field but had some speed on the base paths, stealing 5 bases in his brief major league introduction. Although a small sample size, Giavotella’s initial struggles derive from an Alfonso Soriano-esque 3.2% BB% (the league average is 8.1%)! Despite these struggles, Giavotella does have an excellent minor league track record, putting up a .305/.375/.437 line through just under 450 minor league games. These numbers would suggest that Giavotella will improve his plate discipline somewhat this season, and with a depth chart in which his closest challenger is Chris Getz, Giavotella should be given a long leash by the Royals at 2B this season. Look for him to give them a solid on-base slap-hitting presence.

Ryan Raburn/Ramon Santiago – Tigers

Raburn had a poor season in 2011 with his average plummeting almost 30 points and his OBP falling almost 50 points after solid contributory seasons at 2B and in the Tigers OF in 2009 and 2010. Raburn has benefited from a career .321 BAbip, which may eventually right itself and cause a further decline in his slash line. Raburn’s biggest battle is with plate discipline, striking out a whopping 27.3% of his ABs in 2011 (league average 17.5%) and only walking 5% of his ABs (league average of 8.5%). Raburn is a solid power contributor but with a SO/BB ratio of 5.43 (yes, you read correctly), he will only ever be a platoon option plugging holes for a Tigers lineup that is loaded with power bats. In Santiago the Tigers have a solid and versatile middle infielder who is a valuable alternative to Raburn because of his superior glove (career Rfield of 12), and the fact that he plays on a team spoiled for big bats.

Alexi Casilla – Twins

The Twins have been nothing if not patient with Casilla after acquiring him from the Angels in 2005. Casilla has put his talent together in fits and spurts, including his best season in 2008 in which his .281/.333/.374 line is more in keeping with what the Twins want from their 2B. Casilla has steadily decreased his SO% and increased his BB% in his 6 years with the Twins, improvements he needs to capitalize on in order to build upon his increasing ability on the base paths, swiping a career high 15 bags in 2011. Casilla also drastically improved his performance in the field last season, having a turnaround in Rfield from -5 in 2010 to 4 in 2011. IF, and it’s a big if, Casilla can put these improvements together over an injury free season his dominant winter in the Dominican leagues is evidence that he may have his best season with the Twins to date.

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