Today, we’re going to continue the ranking of the Reds’ NL Central competition that Jesse Borek started a couple weeks ago. With the catchers and first basemen crossed off the list, we now look at the second basemen:
#5: Javier Baez — Chicago Cubs
Baez is one of the many young Cubs prospects that has everyone in the north side of Chicago excited about the future of the team.
The ninth overall draft pick in the 2011 draft was ranked the No. 5 prospect in baseball before last season by Baseball America and earned a call-up to the Cubs in August. Baez showed flashes of his potential, but struggled overall and his numbers reflected that, as he hit .169/.227/.324 with nine home runs and 20 runs batted in. Particularly alarming was Baez’s strikeout rate, as he was punched out 95 times in 229 plate appearances for a beyond ugly 41.5 K%.
Baez’s struggles last season and his overall inexperience in the big leagues have him last on the list for now, but with the talent he has, he could very well wind up at the top of the list in coming years.
#4: Kolten Wong — St. Louis Cardinals
The 24-year-old Hawaiian native his coming off of a solid rookie year in which he finished third in the National League Rookie of the Year voting.
Going into the 2014 season as the Cards’ No. 3 ranked prospect, Wong was the starter at second base from day one and hit .249/.292/.388 with 12 HRs, 42 RBIs, and 20 stolen bases while playing solid defense. His biggest moment of the season came in Game 2 of the NLCS against the San Francisco Giants, where Wong hit a walk-off home run to tie the series at one apiece.
While he didn’t light it up in his first full season, Wong certainly left Cardinals fans hopeful for what he can do in the future. If he can improve his batting average and on-base percentage to go along with his speed, he could be a thorn in the side of the NL Central for years to come at the top of the Cardinals lineup.
#3: Scooter Gennett — Milwaukee Brewers
With Rickie Weeks now a member of the Seattle Mariners, Gennett now has sole possession of the Brewers starting job at second base.
Gennett won’t intimidate many opposing teams with his stature (5-foot-10, 180 pounds), but he is quite a scrappy player. Coming off of an impressive rookie year in 2013 where he batted .324/.356/.479, he had an equally impressive season in 2014. While splitting time with the veteran Weeks, the 24-year-old batted .289/.320/.434 with nine HRs and 54 RBIs to go along with six stolen bases and a wRC+ of 104.
There was definitely consideration into putting Gennett second on the list because of his hitting ability, but his average fielding ability puts him at No. 3 for now (although if it’s any consolation, he definitely would’ve been first if the rankings were for best name).
#2: Brandon Phillips — Cincinnati Reds
A couple of years ago, Phillips would’ve been a lock for first in these rankings. While his defense is still Gold Glove caliber (and the reason I gave him the edge over Gennett), he’s seen a decline in his numbers on the offensive side over the last few seasons.
Let’s start with his defensive prowess. Among all Major League second basemen in 2014, Phillips was fifth in UZR (8.1) and sixth in DRS (6). Among NL Central second basemen, he finished in first in UZR and second in DRS behind Wong. On top of that, the four-time Gold Glover only committed two errors (though he was limited to 121 games).
The offensive side was a different story for Phillips, as he had his worst season since becoming a member of the Reds in 2006. He hit .266/.306/.372 with eight HRs (the first time he’s had less than 17 as a Red), 51 RBIs, just two stolen bases, and a wRC+ of 88. Except for his batting average, all were career lows since joining the Reds.
While some of Phillips’ lack of production last season can be attributed to his thumb injury, there’s still no doubt that his offensive numbers have been in decline in recent years, especially in his ability to get on base. Though he’s not a top-of-the-lineup hitter anymore, with the glove, Phillips shows no signs of slowing down and continues to be one of the great defensive second basemen in the game.
#1: Neil Walker — Pittsburgh Pirates
When it comes down to it, the former first round pick (2004) has taken the reigns as the top second baseman in the NL Central.
While simply mediocre defensively, Walker’s skills with the bat put him over the top. 2014 was Walker’s finest big league season, hitting .271/.342/.467 with 23 HRs (six of those against the Reds) and 76 RBIs. The 29-year-old was tied with Brian Dozier for the most home runs of all second basemen and was first in isolated power (ISO) at .195. Additionally, Walker’s wRC+ of 130 was third among all Major League second basemen, behind only Robinson Cano and Jose Altuve.
Although Walker isn’t one of the big names that come to mind when you think of second basemen, he has quietly become one of the best in all of baseball. Walker recently lost his arbitration hearing against the Pirates as the team ponders whether to sign him long-term, but he’ll still be in Pittsburgh through the 2016 season. And if his career .280 average against the Central is any indication, he’ll continue to be a pain to the rest of the NL Central for at least a couple more years.
1. Neil Walker
2. Brandon Phillips
3. Scooter Gennett
4. Kolten Wong
5. Javier Baez
Other NL Central Positional Rankings: