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$1 Second Basemen: Rodriguez, Espinosa, Hill

We debuted our second base rankings this morning and the usual suspects – Cano, Utley, Pedroia, etc – sat at the top. The players I’m going to discuss reside far from the top of the second base mountain and should be available very late in your draft, or on top of the waiver wire once the draft is completed. Either way, they’ll likely have value that outweighs their draft position.

In all likelihood Sean Rodriguez is going to be starting¬† for the Tampa Bay Rays on opening day. We’re not just sure exactly where. Luckily for us Rodriguez has second base eligibility wrapped up. Last year the Tampa Bay Rays employed a platoon with Rodriguez, Ben Zobrist, and Matt Joyce between second base and right field. That platoon is likely to remain in place, to start the season at least, as Joe Maddon has said he plans on easing Joyce in against left handed pitching.

No matter the position, Rodriguez is going to get his share of at bats.¬†He has extremely good power for second base and mashes left handed pitching. His triple slash line against LHP last season was .292/.375/.442. The Rays will give him an opportunity to prove his worth against right handed pitching as well, and as long as he isn’t completely inept against them he should be a lock to receive 400+ at bats. Strikeouts will limit his average, but 15 home runs is a realistic goal for Rodriguez in 2011.

The Nationals haven’t come out and said that Danny Espinosa is their starting second basemen this season, but the team likes his glove and he is being given every chance to win the job. In 112 plate appearances last year Espinosa racked up only 22 hits, but half of those went for extra bases, including six home runs. His power his legit – his SLG% never dipped under .460 in the minors – and he has decent speed, stealing 29 and 30 bases at AA and AAA.

That power comes at the expense of his batting average, though. He doesn’t make a lot of contact, in face he’s never had a K% lower than 23.2 at any professional level. While the power is legit and makes him an attractive buy low candidate from a traditionally power starved position, he did have surgery over the winter on his hamate bone. From someone who has broken their hamate bone before let me tell you that it doesn’t heal quickly. Having said that, his power potential would be too much for me to shy away from come draft day.

This last hitter may very well go for more than $1 in nearly every league, but he is still being greatly undervalued due to his 2010 season. It is a fact that Aaron Hill was the unluckiest hitter in baseball last season. His BABIP was a paltry .196, lowest for all qualified batters. That lead to a .205 batting average. Our own Eno Sarris gathered the statistics and calculated his expected BABIP (xBABIP) as .250. Don’t ask me how he got that number, just trust in the powers of Eno. Using that figure we can guesstimate that Hill’s average should have been in the .250-.270 range.

Despite the poor BABIP and batting average Hill managed to hit 26 home runs in 580 at bats. There was one extremely noticeable change in Hill’s game from 2009 to 2010; he stopped hitting line drives. His LD% dipped from 19.6 to 10.6. The Blue Jays’ hitting coach installed a swing-as-hard-as-you-can philosophy in the players, which lead to an amazing number of home runs but little else. There is no way Hill can be that unlucky two seasons in a row. That alone should be enough to propel him back toward the upper echelon of second basemen.