Second base can be one of the most difficult positions to draft in fantasy baseball. The position is considered by many to be deep, but with very mediocre talent. I am left feeling uninspired by much of the second base group outside of really the top two. Marcus Semien and Jose Altuve are lineup locks but looking past that I am filled with more questions than answers. Jazz Chisholm Jr has struggled to stay healthy with flaws in his swing. Tommy Edman has speed, but will the bat be consistent enough to stick at the top of the Cardinals lineup? Max Muncy had a great second half but was a complete waste of a roster spot during the first half of last season. In this article I identify two players that I think can provide great value at the position and help you stay ahead of your competition.
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Jorge Polanco- Second Base Minnesota Twins
Outside of just fantasy baseball, Jorge Polanco is one of the most underrated players in all of baseball period. Now that Carlos Correa is officially out of Minnesota (I think? Maybe? Who knows anything can happen!) Polanco is expected to shift back to SS for 2023. This may impact his positional eligibility in future years, but he is all but guaranteed dual eligibility for this season. Dual eligibility provides a small boost to Polanco’s value, but this is not the real reason we are here. Last year Polanco hit 16 home runs in 104 games while posting a 119 wRC+ for Minnesota. This is his second straight season with a wRC+ of at least 119. Polanco is currently going as 2B10 in fantasy drafts which is way too low.
Jorge Polanco first burst onto the fantasy scene during an excellent 2019 fantasy campaign. Despite his success, many believed it to be unsustainable and were proven right in 2020. Polanco struggled during the shortened season but got right back to work during the offseason. He altered his swing mechanics and approach at the plate to pull the ball more and tap into more power. The strides Polanco showed in 2021 stuck especially as a left-handed hitter in 2022. In the table below you can see Polanco’s three-year running pull percentage as both a righty and lefty.
Although the strides did not stick from the right side of the plate, I am okay ignoring that. Polanco has always been a better hitter from the left-side. This is where most of his power comes from and the side he bats from the most. This pull percentage has stuck, and you can see the success in his xSLG by pitch velocity. The first image below is from 2020. Ignoring the batted balls on pitch velocity over 100 (sample size of 6), Polanco was clearly struggling with velocity. He had 57 batted balls on pitches thrown 95mph+ and had an xSLG of .362.
Flash forward to 2021 and 2022, Polanco dominates pitches of high velocity. He is out in front of these pitches and pulls them for extra bases. His xSLG on pitches of high velocity in 2021 was .582. That number grew even higher up to .604 in 2022.
Enough about the history of how Polanco became a power hitter. Why should you draft him? Last season, there were 52 batters who posted at least 200 PA, a 30 percent hard-hit rate, and a 45 percent pull rate. Of these 52 batters, Polanco ranked in the 64th percentile for pull percentage and 35th percentile for hard-hit rate. Neither number blows you away, but what is interesting is that Polanco ranked in just the 25th percentile of that group for HR/FB%. The average HR/FB% of that group was 15.67% which is much closer to Polanco’s 2021 number than the 11.9% he posted last year. Polanco was on a 22HR/600 pace last season, but there is a significant upside in that number. Polanco is an easy bet for 25+ home runs which sounds even better coming from a second baseman.
Not only that, but Polanco does have speed upside as well. His career high in stolen bases is just 13 which he posted back in 2017, but he stole 11 in 2021 and could be a big benefactor of the rule changes. He has 73rd percentile sprint speed according to Statcast and it is reasonable to assume we could see 10 stolen bases out of Polanco in 2023.
As mentioned earlier, Polanco is currently going as 2B10 in fantasy drafts around pick 158. He is currently going behind players like Gleyber Torres and Nico Hoerner. Polanco is one of just 32 players to post an xwOBA in at least the 71st percentile each of the last two seasons making him an elite fantasy option. Not to mention Polanco’s proclivity to pull the ball could be helped by the shift ban in 2022. Where Polanco is going makes him one of the best values in drafts and somebody you should be all over!
Jonathan India- Second Base Cincinnati Reds
Jonathan India was one of the biggest disappointments for fantasy managers in 2022. After winning Rookie of The Year in 2021, expectations were sky-high for India last year. Dealing with injuries for most of the season, India played in just 103 games posting a .249/.327/.378 slash line. So which Jonathan India is the true Jonathan India? Early drafters have responded this season by leaving him just outside the top 180 picks. He is currently going as the 2B12 off the board which could be a mistake. India is a former top 5 draft pick who has already won a ROY award. Putting too much weight on his injury-riddled season could be one of the biggest draft mistakes in the second base market.
The injuries are the first place to start when looking at India’s rough 2022 campaign. They started in April with a hamstring injury that kept him sidelined for about two weeks. He then re-aggravated the injury causing him to lose the entire month of May. Just when India was finally starting to find his footing, he suffered a scary-looking calf injury in the Field of Dreams Game. India was able to avoid anything serious, but this injury kept popping up throughout the season. On September 5, India missed a game when this same calf began bothering him. I broke India’s season up into three segments in the table below. Part one is when he was dealing with hamstring issues, part two is when he looked comfortable at the plate, and part three is after the September 5 date when his calf started to bother him again.
|April 7 - July 1
|July 2 -Sept 4
|Sept 6 - Oct 4
The middle segment of India’s season looks drastically different than the other two. Leg injuries often impact a player’s ability to generate power. During July and August, India posted a 13HR/FB%. This is in line with India’s 2021 production and what you should expect from a player playing in Cincinnati. In addition, it is easy to see how leg injuries impact a player’s speed and stolen base total. He saw his sprint speed percentile drop from the 86th percentile in 2021 down to the 59th percentile in 2022. In conjunction, his stolen bases dropped from 12 to 3. Do not expect this speed decline to stick for India who was clearly dealing with hamstring, calf, and foot issues during last season. Look for India’s speed and stolen bases to return in 2023. Expect India to return double-digit stolen bases next season!
India’s improved contact metrics last season went virtually unnoticed. India reduced his whiff percentage by 1.5% and made contact on pitches inside the zone almost 85% of the time. While these numbers are still not anything special, they mark significant improvements from a second-year player. There is no reason not to expect India’s plate discipline to continue improving as he matures. A prime example of his growing maturity can be seen in his metrics against non-fastballs. In 2021, India whiffed on about 36% of both breaking balls and off-speed pitches. Both numbers dropped below 30% last season. India has always performed well against the fastball but improving against breaking balls unlocks a new level to his game. The counting stats might not be there yet for him against these kinds of pitches, but fantasy managers should be more focused on the positives going on behind the stats!
Chasing a player’s ceiling is enticing for fantasy managers to do. India might not have the highest ceiling, but evaluating circumstances is important when looking at a player’s outlook. The 2022 season can be chalked up to injuries and there was a two-month period where India looked like one of the best second basemen in baseball. Close to 20 home runs and 10+ stolen bases is more than reasonable to project for India. He has the added benefit of playing his home games in Cincinnati and will likely be batting leadoff. The Reds do not figure to be very good this season, but that is not stopping me from drafting lots of Jonathan India at his current value!
P.S. Both players were drafted by Dave Swan in a mock draft on PitcherList. He talks with Nick Pollack about both picks which you can check out here!