Yesterday, we began our look at possible impact prospects for the 2017 season with five first baseman poised to bring their talents to The Show. Today, we switch our focus to their neighbor in the infield: the second baseman.
Remember, this isn’t a list of the best second base prospects in baseball. You won’t see names like Forrest Wall or Andy Ibanez (although he is hitting everything thrown his way in the Arizona Fall League right now) on the list with a 2018 full-time debut much more likely. Nor will you see the Chicago Cubs’ Ian Happ or Boston Red Sox’s Yoan Moncada (at least not until Sunday).
No matter how young and exciting Happ may be, there simply isn’t any room on the current roster with Ben Zobrist and the red-hot Javier Baez. That could easily change if Theo Epstein goes wheeling and dealing in the offseason as he has become infamously known for, but as it stands, the Cubs have time to allow Happ to mature for a full season at Triple-A. The Red Sox extended Dustin Pedroia until 2021, meaning Moncada is likely the new third baseman of the Red Sox future, which makes him ineligible for this list.
So who’s on tap for 2017?
OZZIE ALBIES, ATLANTA BRAVES
Albies was a mere few months from joining his Mississippi Braves double-play partner Dansby Swanson in the big leagues on the 2017 Opening Day roster. Then, in the playoffs no less, he suffered the fractured elbow that forced him to miss the Arizona Fall League and likely some, if not all, of spring training. That doesn’t change Albies’ final destination for 2017.
The 19-year-old from Curacao was groomed from day one as the shortstop of the Braves future. Then Swanson came along, and Albies quickly became the second baseman of the Braves future. He handled the transition smoothly, and most importantly with no teenage bravado or ego, showing his makeup is just as high as his talent.
It was a little bumpy at first in Triple-A, but once he joined Swanson in Mississippi to specifically work together, they gelled. He made two errors in 261 chances (a .992 fielding percentage) while turning 30 double plays.
Albies won’t rock your socks off with power, as ten home runs may be his ceiling, but he did find some pop at the plate this season. Having hit just two home runs in his young career until 2016, he unloaded for six over two levels, adding in 33 doubles. He has the ability to hit for average, find the gaps and use his speed wisely on the base paths, converting 30 of 43 stolen base attempts. With he and Swanson atop this new-look Braves roster, they are going to score a lot of runs.
Expect a small stint in the minors as rehab, but second base will be Albies as soon as he is healthy.
CARLOS ASUAJE, SAN DIEGO PADRES
The real question was why he wasn’t an impact prospect in 2016. Asuaje has all the tools to be a solid — not elite, but solid — big league second baseman, but was left in El Paso along with super-slugging outfielder Hunter Renfroe as the Chihuahuas made their title run, capturing the PCL crown and falling just short in the Triple-A Championship to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
Asuaje was acquired in the Craig Kimbrel trade from the Boston Red Sox in what could turn out to be a steal of a deal if the four prospects continue to progress as they have. Asuaje will get the first chance — maybe joining Manuel Margot on Opening Day — at the big league level, as he should be the Padres starting second baseman after playing six games there in his September audition.
Asuaje has modest over-the-fence power, but will likely settle in as a 10-to-15 home run type, which he balances with nice gap power and speed, although he needs to be more selective on the base paths (a career 68 percent success rate in stolen bases). He hits for average (a career .292 hitter) and has sound plate discipline, balancing a career 15 percent strikeout rate with a 10 percent walk rate.
Twenty-eight-year-old Ryan Schimpf showed some exciting pop this season when he finally got his chance in the big leagues, but he won’t be able to hold off Asuaje, who is the better all around player and second baseman for a long time to come.
WILLIE CALHOUN, LOS ANGELES DODGERS
Chase Utley performed well in his age-37 season, but with free agency looming, the Dodgers know he is no spring chicken. Nor is former everyday second baseman, now-left fielder Howie Kendrick at 32. It’s a good thing that the Dodgers have Willie Calhoun waiting in the wings.
Calhoun brings an element of power to the second base position that rivals very few. The 21-year-old left-handed hitter may be small in stature — standing at 5-foot-8 and 187 pounds — but he is big in offense at a position that is suddenly becoming known for its power hitters. He raked 27 home runs in 2016, second-best in the Texas League, while adding 25 doubles. He also adds a solid awareness at the plate, striking out just 11.6 percent of the time and walking eight percent.
The only issue with Calhoun was his defensive woes at second base. He has always been a bit error-prone and his bat seems to fit the profile of a left fielder or third baseman, two positions he has past experience playing in college. The Dodgers have yet to experiment with Calhoun at any other position, and though still a bit error-prone, he posted his best fielding percentage (.957) and range factor (3.89) of his young career in 2016. Is he there yet? No, but clearly progress is being made.
Calhoun has already blasted a home run in the Arizona Fall League and will certainly get an invite to spring training. He won’t make the Opening Day roster, having never seen a pitch in the PCL, but with question marks at the second base position for 2017, you can expect a big league debut. If his bat works at the big league level, Calhoun could stick.
To see who else made the cut, head on over to Today’s Knuckleball for my full feature by clicking on the link below: