2B reborn: the dawn of an exciting new era at the keystone
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It would hardly be unique to call 2011 “the year of the rookie.” It seems that almost every season is branded with this moniker due to the baseball community’s fawning efforts to make each season impressively memorable in some way. Sure, a bevy of talented youngsters cracked big-league squads in the past several months and many have contributed in big ways to their teams’ successes. But this is hardly a one-of-a-kind occurrence.
However, there is a particular trend among the newcomers to The Show that is hard to ignore: This is the beginning of a new age of star-quality second basemen. I’d argue that the position has been dominated by the big five for several years now—that is, Pedroia, Cano, Uggla, and some mixture of Rickie Weeks, Brandon Phillips or Ian Kinsler. A huge gap separated those guys and the pedestrian remainder of the field in terms of all-around contribution. But now, in the wake of the steroid era, we’re seeing a veritable flood of young talent at the position perhaps least tainted by PED scandal (despite Bret Boone’s best efforts). In the order of the amount of hype surrounding them, here are the household name second basemen of the immediate future.
Dustin Ackley, Mariners
Seattle’s savior is already hard at work living up to his billing, as TTFB’s Jared Thatcher has noted several times. The North Carolina product is cast in the mold of another Dustin (namely, Pedroia). He is the sort of hard-nosed guy who plays the game right and has hit at every level through sheer will power. While his lefty stroke may not generate 30+ homers, he is the sort of steadfast player you build a winning franchise around—a Derek Jeter on the other side of the middle infield. Ackley has already settled into the three spot in the Mariners’ order and is flirting with .300. He will get on base and with halfway decent bats behind him, he will score runs. Many baseball people were underwhelmed and critical of Pedroia and his approach when he came up—now he’s the proud owner of Rookie of the Year and MVP trophies and a World Series ring. Careful not to make the same mistake twice, the baseball world is embracing Ackley from the get-go, with good reason.
Brett Lawrie, Blue Jays
The key to the deal that sent Shaun Marcum to Milwaukee, Lawrie (whose family does not make seasoning salt) is already looking like a good investment. After slogging through the Brewers system with a sub-.300 average and only moderate power numbers, the native Canadian responded well to the move to his homeland franchise. In 2011 he absolutely crippled triple-A pitching to the tune of a .353/.415/.661 split, with 18 homers and 13 steals in a mere 292 at bats. This prompted the call-up that many MLB experts didn’t expect until 2012. Young Lawrie not only handled the transition in stride, but has actually improved upon his already gaudy numbers, posting a .378/.440/.711 split through his first 50 major league plate appearances. Brett projects as a potential Jeff Kent type of offensive second sacker. Speaking of Kent, was he supposed to have been on ‘roids? Or was it just his moustache that enhanced performance? Thankfully, Lawrie has yet to sport a Kentian lip toupee, though his fur-trapping heritage might not rule it out as a future facial statement.
Jason Kipnis, Indians
Along with Lonnie Chisenhall, Kipnis forms the backbone of Cleveland’s Infield of the Future. But these guys were only supposed to get limited looks at the end of 2011, eased into The Bigs while the Tribe floundered in the AL Central cellar. Instead, Kipnis has provided recent spark to an Indians team in the middle of a heated playoff race, slamming six long balls in a 10-game stretch (including a four game homer streak). Unfortunately, Kipnis just landed on the DL with a hammie tweak, but rest assured he’ll be back. Cleveland won’t baby him, not this year, not with a shot at the postseason. Beyond 2011, Jason projects as a possible Uggla type—a stocky, rather strikeout-prone 2B with some pop. But just like Uggla, he’ll offset extended dry spells with ludicrous hit-binges like his recent home run onslaught.
Jemile Weeks, Athletics
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