Thursday, January 11, 2018

Beyond the Top 30: Second Basemen

As the old year fades away and the new season approaches, it's time to start looking at those players of interest who are beyond the Top 30. These players may not ever make a Top 30 list (or they may), but a combination of projections, actual results, incremental improvements and intangibles keep them in the mix as interesting players to watch. I am not including any players in these posts who have already made their major league debuts since, presumably, anyone reading my blog is already very familiar with those players.

Note: Most of the 2018 player rankings haven't been released yet so I will be using the MLB Pipeline postseason list, the Baseball Prospectus Top 10+ list and Baseball America's Top 10 list to denote those players who are currently considered Top 30 type players in the Astros system. Once FanGraphs weighs in, Baseball America publishes their Top 30 and MLB Pipeline posts their 2018 pre-season list, I will post a consensus top prospect list.

SECOND BASEMEN IN THE TOP 30 (in alphabetical order)

Yeah, there aren't any. At least no players whose primary position in 2017 was second base. Of course, when you have an MVP at the major league level, you hope you won't need another second baseman any time soon. But just in case ....

SECOND BASEMEN BEYOND THE TOP 30 (in alphabetical order)

Alex De Goti - July 2016
Photo by Jayne Hansen

Ryne Birk (L/R)
Birk doesn't have any one tool that makes you say, "Wow!" But the sum of the parts seems to work well for him. Drafted in the 13th round in 2016, Birk made it to AA Corpus Christi in mid-July in his second season as a professional. Although he hit better in his 81-game stint with Buies Creek (.274/.340/.430) than he did in 37 games with Corpus Christi (.246/.286/.429), Birk was catching up with AA pitching later in the season as he compiled a .279/.311/.512 batting line in August and September. Birk does show a little power (17 doubles, five triples and 15 home runs) with the tendency being toward his pull side, and his on-base skills are generally above average. Birk is a solid defender with an average arm and decent speed. As I said, he doesn't have one tool that really stands out, so it has been his consistency that has moved him through the system more quickly than most. Birk turned 23 in November.
Key: Consistency. Continue to provide solid defense and continue to improve against hitters at the higher levels of the system.

Jeury Castillo (L/R)
I know. I know. You're going to take one look at Castillo's first season stats in the Dominican Summer League and think I'm a lunatic for including him on this list. But first please consider that he won't turn 18 until later this week and that, when he was signed for $400,000 in July of 2016, he was lauded for his offensive potential. Castillo hit only .136/.263/.235 in his first 51 professional games with a lot of ground outs, but he is expected to make good contact with a solid line-drive approach. He hit a tiny bit better as the season progressed and I fully expect his bat to improve substantially in 2018. The good news is that his defense at second base was very solid.
Key: Work on his offensive approach, getting back to the high contact rate and approach that earned him a $400,000 bonus.

Alex De Goti (R/R)
De Goti, in his second professional season, proved himself to be arguably the best defensive second baseman in the system while his bat lagged behind somewhat when it came to his first taste of High A pitching following his late May promotion to that level. However, De Goti was starting to make those adjustments at the plate by the end of the season with improving power and on-base skills. In 109 total games at Quad Cities (34), Buies Creek (70) and five fill-in games with Fresno, De Goti hit .236/.341/.356 with 18 doubles, one triple and eight home runs. De Goti played in 50 games at second, 39 games at first and 12 games at third and, although very capable at the other positions, it was his 428 errorless innings at second base that stood out. De Goti shows good leadership skills on the field to go with soft hands, good instincts and great intangibles. Drafted in the 15th round in 2016 out of Barry University in Miami Shores, Florida, De Goti signed for a mere $2,000 according to Baseball America which makes him an incredible bargain. De Goti will be 23 for most of the 2018 season.
Keys: Continue to work on the bat. Although most of his power is to the pull side, he has shown a decent penchant for using the whole field and I'd like to see him hit with more authority to the opposite field. And, although De Goti did a better job of getting on base toward the end of the 2017 season, he needs to maximize his capabilities in that regard. And, lastly, he will likely need to continue working on his versatility in the field since his value as a utility player may prove to be more than that of a second baseman.

Nick Tanielu (R/R)
Tanielu missed virtually all of the 2017 season (two rehab appearances in the Gulf Coast League and two appearances in the Arizona Fall League) after undergoing ACL surgery in late 2016. Primarily used as a third baseman in his first two professional seasons, Tanielu moved over to second for the majority of his games in 2016 and was very, very solid at the position. His .285/.327/.409 batting line for 2016 was inflated by his production at the very hitting-friendly confines of The Hangar in Lancaster, California for the first 35 games of that season prior to his mid-May promotion to Corpus Christi. Tanielu peaked at AA in July before tailing off at the plate for the remainder of the season. Tanielu has a compact swing and uses the entire field, although most of his home run power is limited to the pull side. His power in 2016 (24 doubles, three triples and 11 home runs) plays up better at second base than at third which is likely the reason for moving him from the hot corner for the majority of his appearances. In 304 career minor league games to date, he has hit a more than respectable .297/.343/.422. Add in some very nice intangibles and Tanielu is definitely a player worth watching.
Keys: Prove himself to be healthy. The fact that he only played in two games in the AFL makes one wonder if his comeback was a bit premature. Prove himself to be able to handle higher level pitching with consistency. And prove that he is still a reliable defender at second base post-injury. Having turned 25 in September, Tanielu will need to prove all of this fairly quickly.

Enmanuel Valdez (L/R)
Valdez, who just turned 19 in December, just completed his second season in the Astros organization after signing for $450,000 in July 2015. Valdez profiles a lot like Castillo in that he was signed for a healthy bonus based more on his hitting ability than his defensive prowess and has not yet lived up to early projections. And also like Castillo, Valdez's defensive abilities have been better than advertised. The good news is that, although Valdez's .217/.321/.395 batting line for 2017 was less than impressive, it was his first season stateside as an 18-year old and he showed improvement later in the season with his strikeout rate. Also Valdez has intriguing gap power when he gets the ball out of the infield.
Key: I would like to see Valdez make adjustments at the plate in order to turn some of those many groundouts into line drives. When he uses a line-drive approach, he appears to have much more success, particularly since he's an average runner at best and needs to elevate the ball out of the infield for the best results.

Other Second Basemen of Interest (all played fewer than 20 games at the position in 2017):
Alfredo Angarita (S/R) - The 21-year old Venezuelan hit a respectable .257/.359/.327 in 41 games split between the Dominican Summer League and the Gulf Coast League, ending the season on a 10-game hitting streak (.457/.525/.514) which he carried over into an excellent winter league season in Venezuela.
Ronaldo Urdaneta (S/R) - Urdaneta turned 19 in November, following his second season in the system. My note to myself after reviewing his 2017 campaign was "don't know anything about him, but bring him to the States!" In his second professional season in the Dominican Summer League in 2017 (after signing out of Venezuela in 2015), he hit a robust .312/.420/.427 with 35 walks to 44 strikeouts. Oh, and he stole 27 bases to eight caught stealing. I reiterate, "Bring him to the States!"
Marco Van Der Wijst (R/R) - I know even less about Van Der Wijst who reportedly signed in July 2017 for $17,500, but his on-base skills are quite impressive. In 35 games, he hit .273/.411/.394 with 23 walks to 20 strikeouts. He will be 20 in February.

Note: There will be additional second basemen of interest who I will be including in a later write-up on utility players.

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