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AL Central Rundown: Second Basemen

jorge polanco nick madrigal cesar hernandez jonathan schoop nicky lopez
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#1 Andrew Thares

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Posted 18 February 2021 - 11:04 AM

For this installment of the AL Central Rundown series, we will be taking a look at second base. This is a position that will look a little different for the Minnesota Twins this season, but what will it look like for the rest of the division? Let’s dive in.The Rundown

After some changes to the position leading into the 2020 season, second base will, for the most part, look the same as it did a year ago within the American League Central, as each of the five projected Opening Day starters at second base were members of their team a season ago.

The division has a good mix of both experienced veterans, and youthful players at the position, and while there are no clear-cut stars within the division, it is more than fair to say that each of the five second basemen have their own unique set of skills that they will bring to their respective teams in 2021.

Detroit Tigers

After a rather unremarkable season with the Twins in 2019, Jonathan Schoop took his talents across the division to play for Ron Gardenhire’s Detroit Tigers on a one-year contract in 2020. Schoop did well in the shortened season, as he belted 8 home runs and had a wRC+ of 114 in 44 games as a Tiger. His defense at the position remained solid, as Statcast measured him in at two Outs Above Average.

This performance was good enough for the Tigers to decide to bring the 29-year-old Schoop back on another one-year deal for $4.5 million. For the rebuilding Tigers, Schoop is slated to be the 4th highest earning player on the roster.

While the results for Schoop were promising in 2020, the advanced metrics tell a slightly worse story of what actually happened. While Schoop produced a respectable wOBA of .334, his expected wOBA stood at just .288, which ranked in the 21st percentile of MLB hitters last season.

A big explanation for this was the fact that Schoop had a difficult time elevating the ball in 2020, as his average launch angle dropped to 8.7 degrees, down from a much more efficient 12.7 degrees in 2019 with the Twins. This resulted in Schoop’s Barrel rate dropping from 8.8% in 2019, down to just 5.6% in 2020. It will be interesting to see if this has any effect on Schoop’s performance over a much larger sample size of a full MLB season.

Cleveland

Much like Detroit has done with Jonathan Schoop, Cleveland has also decided to bring back their veteran second baseman Cesar Hernandez after signing him to a one-year deal prior to the 2020 season. Hernandez will be earning $5 million in 2021, and Cleveland has a club option for $6 million in 2022 with no buyout amount if they choose not to bring him back.

It is probably fair to say that Hernandez was the best second baseman in the AL Central a season ago. His 1.9 fWAR lead all second basemen in the division and was the third highest among all second basemen league-wide, behind only DJ LeMahieu and Brandon Lowe.

Hernandez was a steady presence for Cleveland most of the season, but he really came on strong over the final month. In his first 24 games of 2020, Hernandez posted an OPS of .685, with very little power, as he hit zero home runs and had a slugging percentage of just .337. However, over his final 34 games the power started to come around, as Hernandez tallied three home runs, 12 doubles and a slugging percentage of .457, helping increase his OPS up to .817 over that span.

In addition to a solid above-average bat, Hernandez also has an excellent glove out in the field. In 2020, Hernandez finished tied for third among second basemen with 4 Outs Above Average. Hernandez particularly excels at moving towards his left to make a play defensively, however, moving to his right, or in, can present a challenge for Hernandez at times.

Chicago White Sox

Perhaps the second basemen with the most intrigue, and the most upside, in the AL Central is former 4th overall pick Nick Madrigal, who was teammates with Twins prospect Trevor Larnach on the 2018 College World Series Champion Oregon State team.

Madrigal was a quick mover through the minors, and made his MLB debut last summer, taking over duties as the full time second baseman during the final month of the season, where he hit .340 with a 112 wRC+. Standing at 5’7”, Madrigal does not, and likely will not ever generate much for power, but his freakish contact abilities will allow him to compete for batting titles year in and year out. If he can improve upon his low walk rate of just 3.7% in 2020, Madrigal will make a great on-base threat in that dangerous White Sox lineup.

In addition to his bat, Madrigal is also a plus defender at second base. Coming up through the ranks, Madrigal has always been considered a good fielder, and he put that on display this season finishing with 2 Outs Above Average in just 29 games played.

Behind Madrigal, the White Sox also have Danny Mendick, who played in 33 games for the White Sox last season, with most of that time coming at second base before Madrigal took over. Mendick posted a slash line of just .243/.281/.383 with a wOBA of .285 and an expected wOBA of just .250, which ranked near the very bottom of position players in MLB last season.

Kansas City Royals

Kansas City Royals second baseman Nicky Lopez is certainly not the top second baseman in the division, but he is arguably the most exciting player of the group to watch. Lopez makes his hay defensively, where he shines as one of the best defensive second baseman in the game today. In 2020, Lopez lead all second basemen defensively with 6 Outs Above Average and 5 Runs Prevented.

Offensively, Lopez needs to pick it up a bit if he would like to have a long MLB career. Since being called up in 2019, Lopez has a wRC+ of just 55 in 159 career games. This ranks dead last among the 226 MLB hitters with at least 500 plate appearances over that time. Despite his poor offensive performance thus far in his MLB career, there is potential for more as he does own a career .378 OBP and a .781 OPS as a minor leaguer.

Despite his quickness on the field, and signs of high-end speed, Lopez hasn’t utilized that very effectively early on in his career, as he is just 1 for 7 on stolen base attempts and has a BsR (Base Running Runs Above Average) of -2.6.

Beyond Lopez, the options for the Royals at second base are limited. The two most likely candidates currently within the organization are Hanser Alberto, who has spent parts of five MLB seasons with the Texas Rangers and Baltimore Orioles, and Gabriel Cancel, who has not played a game above Double-A. However, neither player is currently on the 40-man roster, so expect the Royals to give Lopez plenty of leash this season as he continues to develop.

Minnesota Twins

Second base will be an intriguing storyline to follow for the Minnesota Twins this season. With the addition of Andrelton Simmons, Jorge Polanco will transition over to second base, a position he is presumably much better suited for. However, this creates the issue with what to do with Luis Arraez, who is more than good enough to be in the starting lineup in his own right. Rocco Baldelli will likely use a variety of options to get Arraez involved, which could include a transition to Left Field.

Back in 2019, Jorge Polanco got off to a great start to the season, as he had an OPS of 1.000 through the first two months of the campaign, which eventually led to him being named the American League starting shortstop in the All-Star game. However, after that hot start to 2019, Polanco has been nothing all that remarkable as a hitter. Over the final four months of 2019, Polanco had an OPS of .761, before posting a .658 OPS in 55 games in 2020. If he struggles with the bat again this year, it will not surprise me to see Arraez start getting more playing time over Polanco at second, especially if one of Alex Kirilloff, Brent Rooker or Trevor Larnach forces their way into the lineup in left field.

Jorge Polanco’s defensive struggles at shortstop are well known by nearly all Twins fans at this point. The parts of shortstop that gave Polanco the most trouble were running in on the ball, and covering the hole between short and third, and then making that throw across the diamond to first. At second, this should be less of a problem for him.

Grade ’Em

Here is how the Steamer project system has these second basemen performing, among other AL second basemen in 2021. Note, Jorge Polanco is not listed among second basemen, but rather he is in the shortstop projections.

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Download attachment: Screen Shot 2021-02-17 at 8.45.24 PM.png

Detroit Tigers: C

Jonathan Schoop will provide a nice veteran presence to this young Tigers core as they continue transition into a new era. He is not a game changer by any means, but that is not what the Tigers need him to be at this point. The best thing Schoop can provide the Tigers is getting off to a great start, and potentially creating some trade value at the trade deadline.

Cleveland: B-

Cesar Hernandez is by all accounts a quality veteran second baseman. Like Schoop, he won’t be a needle mover, especially as Cleveland looks to reload, but he will give them quality at-bats at the top of the order, and a good enough glove in the field to keep from being a big hole in the Cleveland lineup.

Chicago White Sox: B+

The future is certainly exciting for what Nick Madrigal could bring both offensively and defensively to the White Sox. While his severe lack of power will limit his celling, there is no reason why he couldn’t one day develop into an All-Star level player. Will that happen in 2021 is yet to be determined, but any sign of progression will continue to excite the White Sox fanbase about his future.

Kansas City Royals: C-

The only thing keeping this grade above a D is the potential that the soon to be 26-year-old Nicky Lopez has for improvement. However, if he fails to progress even a little offensively, the Royals could have one of the worst second base situations in the American League, and that is despite the great defense Lopez provides.

Minnesota Twins: B

There is still a lot of question marks that need to be answered with Jorge Polanco. Does that bat come back to what we have seen from him before? Will the move to second base have a big impact on Polanco defensively, or will he remain a below average fielder there as well? How much time does Luis Arraez get at second base, and will he eventually become the everyday second baseman for the Twins? With all of those questions, it is hard to give them a grade above a B, even with the potential that both Polanco and Arraez still have.

The Voice of the People

Here’s how people voted on Twins Daily’s twitter poll that ran through Wednesday night. Take it with a grain of salt, as there was defiantly some bias in the voting.


AL Central Rundown Series
AL Central Rundown: Catchers
AL Central Rundown: First Basemen

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#2 DocBauer

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Posted 18 February 2021 - 12:54 PM

I think a "B" is fair at this point but could make an honest argument for a "B+". Could easily be an "A" at season's end if Polanco is healthy.
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#3 Doctor Gast

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Posted 18 February 2021 - 01:02 PM

Polanco should be the next Dozier in time. I also grade him an A

#4 mikelink45

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Posted 18 February 2021 - 01:08 PM

A lot of home town bias in the voting.You really presented Polanco with a lot of question marks.In some ways I am very disappointed that Arraez is moved to utility, but anxious to see how the two of them work out. 


#5 nicksaviking

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Posted 18 February 2021 - 01:18 PM

Man, offensively Madrigal and Luis Arraez look like they're going to be the exact same player. 


#6 Trov

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Posted 18 February 2021 - 01:46 PM

I think with the question marks of Polonco it is fair grade for him, but think he will transition well and hit fine.Not with the power of two years ago with the dead ball, but still be a good plug and play guy. 

 

Mandrigal is an interesting guy.He is old school style with contact hitter and little power.Sox do not need the power from him and if he can get on base and play good defense he will be an annoying guy for years to come. 

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