Last time out, we ranked the NL West First Basemen. Arizona and Los Angeles were pretty clear frontrunners there, with the potent bats of Paul Goldschmidt and Adrian Gonzalez giving them a notable edge. But baseball pennants are not won by a single player – even ones as talented as Goldschmidt and the Silver Slugger. So let’s continue to compare the left coast senior circuit teams at other positions. How do they stack up at Second Base, the keystone corner?
This crew includes Aaron Hill (AZ), Marco Scutaro (SF), Jedd Gyorko (SD), Josh Rutledge (COL), and Alexander Guerrero (LAD). Not quite the same talent pool we saw at first base, but there are some intriguing players in this group, not the least of whom is our own Jedd Gyorko. Let’s see where he stands among his peers.
1. Aaron Hill (AZ) – Settle down, Friars faithful, I’m just as excited about Gyorko as you are. But Hill has a pretty interesting track record; let’s call it a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hill career. Following his 12th place MVP finish in 2009, when he hit .286 with 36 HR and 108 RBI, he hit only .205 in 2010, eking out only 108 hits in 528 ABs. After following that with a .246, 8 HR season, the Blue Jays became disenchanted with their former golden boy, and traded him the following year to the Dbacks. The warm weather seemed to agree with Hill, and although he missed nearly half of last year with a hand broken by a pitched ball, his 162-game averages since moving from Toronto to Phoenix show a lofty .300 BA with 45 doubles, 23 HRs, and 84 RBI. Plus he gets to hit next to Paul Goldschmidt in the batting order. So, for now, the good doctor gets the nod over Jedd.
2. Jedd Gyorko (SD) – This is the most exciting position player to come out of the Padres farm system in years. And Padres fans are thrilled to have Gyorko firmly entrenched at second base after a rookie season in which he showed ample power, improving defense, and an air of leadership on the field. A lot of fans might be familiar with Jedd’s basic 2013 numbers: .249 average, 23 bombs, and 63 RBI in 125 games. Here are a few numbers that might add additional insight into where Jedd stands right now as a major league hitter. He hit 13 HRs at home and 10 on the road last year, so he does not seem to have the same psychological barrier to hitting for power at Petco that many Padres have had in the past. While his paltry 33 walks in 525 plate appearances might give the appearance that he was a less-than-patient hitter, he averaged 3.89 pitches per plate appearance, the 23rd highest total in the NL. So perhaps he is best described as a “patient aggressive” hitter. He is willing to wait for his pitch to hit, and he jumps on it when it comes, even with two strikes. That’s the positive spin. The negative spin might be that he expands the strike zone with two strikes and grounds out to second on what might otherwise be ball four. But this is a guy with less than a full season played who led the team in homers and ribbies this year. Let’s stick with the positive and root for Jedd to become the perennial All-Star that we all believe he can be.
3. Marco Scutaro (SF) – A familiar name, to be sure. Scutaro has been around since 2002, and garnered some fame in San Francisco in 2012, hitting .362 after a midseason trade from the Rockies, and continuing with a torrid .328 in the Giants’ postseason run to the world championship. Scutaro is a rarity in baseball – a player who has had more success at the plate after turning 35 than before that age. A tough, gritty player for most of his career, Scutaro has hit .301 over the last three years, after hitting .267 in the first 9 years of his career. But he missed the end of 2013 with a persistent pinky injury suffered in a hit-by-pitch in a July AB. There were reports of nagging hamstring and lower back pain. In other words, the kinds of things that keep 38-year-olds out of games. So after playing a career high 156 games in 2012, he was limited to 128 last year. The Giants backups are Joaquin Arias and Tony Abreu, so there is some dropoff in offense when Scutaro is out of the lineup. While Marco may be the type of player fans love – the kind that finishes most games with a dirty uniform, he is now fighting the battle that every player eventually loses – the battle against time.
4. Josh Rutledge (COL) – The Rockies got an unexpected surprise after Rutledge’s 2012 callup. The minor league shortstop was called upon to replace Troy Tulowitzki after the oft-injured Tulo went on the DL - no easy task. The young man surpassed all expectations, hitting .375 and slugging .722 in his first three weeks in the bigs, finishing his phenomenal streak with 5 homers in a 6-game span. This outburst was particularly surprising since Rutledge was not considered a star prospect by any of the major publications, and indeed, he has hit only .230 since that hot start. But Rutledge has exceeded expectations throughout his minor league career to date, with the 24-year old putting up a career .328 minor league average. So, do we believe the pundits or the production? At this point, it’s too early in his career to tell.
5. Alexander Guerrero (LAD) – I’m sorry, who? The only 2B on the Dodgers depth chart, Guerrero hasn’t played in the majors yet. Some research in previously uncharted corners of the interwebs revealed that Guerrero is a 26-year old who has played the last four years in Cuba’s top league, with two years as an All-star. His “estadisticas bateo” show batting averages above .300, OBPs over .400 and a homer every 15 or 16 ABs. Whether the Dodgers are ready to hand the starting job to a player with no major league experience remains to be seen, and there are a number of second base free agents that remain unsigned, including Alexi Casilla, Chris Getz, Cesar Izturis and Paul Janish. With their loaded lineup, the team could afford to sign the best defensive player available to a one-year contract while they see how Guerrero fares in the minors.
Padres fans have plenty to look forward to with Jedd Gyorko manning the keystone corner. If Aaron reverts to his old Mr. Hill ways this year, the Pads second baseman could be the best in the west.
Next up: Shortstop