While the addition and emergence of Dansby Swanson has solidified shortstop, the other side of the double play pivot has a few more questions around it going into 2017, but also prospect with a tremendous amount of potential on the cusp of the majors.
STARTER: Sean Rodriguez
While Rodriguez is listed as a back-up at almost every position, it’s at second and third base that he’ll likely log the most innings. Assuming Albies doesn’t win the job outright, Rodriguez will at the minimum start at second base against left-handed pitching. Last season he demolished lefties to the tune of .286/.415/.519 and a 153 wRC+ and while he showed remarkable improvement across the board offensively for the Pirates, hitting well against lefties is not a new trick for him. In his career, Rodriguez owns a 112 wRC+ against left-handed pitching, so expect him to be in the line-up somewhere – second, third, even right field – against lefties. That all said, right now I am penciling Rodriguez as almost the everyday starter.
BACK-UP: Jace Peterson
There is probably good reason to believe that the Opening Day second baseman will be Jace Peterson, resuming the starting spot he maintained at the close of 2016 albeit seasoned with plenty of Sean Rodriguez sprinkled. In fact, Peterson was only a 58 wRC+ hitter versus left-handed pitchers in 2016 and that’s an improvement over his career 46 wRC+ mark. To put it bluntly, Peterson hitting against left-handed hitting is similar to having another pitcher in the line-up. However, it’s not really been true that Peterson has been all that great against any pitching. Against right-handers he’s an 87 wRC+ career hitter, which is pretty bad, though he did tick that number up last season. Peterson will need to show more improvement in order to keep getting opportunities with Atlanta. When Albies takes over the position, Peterson’s positional flexibility will still of good use.
CHALLENGER: Micah Johnson
The Braves acquired Johnson this offseason from the Dodgers, and he should be considered a challenger to Jace Peterson. Like Peterson, Johnson is a left-handed infielder than can play in the outfield. He’s also younger, probably faster, and has a stronger minor league track record. What he doesn’t have is nearly as much major league exposure, so it’s unclear if his game will translate.
GWINNETT BRAVES (CLASS AAA)
**TOP 30 PROSPECT** STARTER (Promotion): Ozzie Albies
At some point in 2017 barring injury, Ozzie Albies will be the starting second baseman for the Atlanta Braves. This could occur as soon as Opening Day, but for now the conservative estimate is that Albies will get some time for more fine-tuning in Gwinnett. At the tender age of 20 years old, Albies was recently named the #2 second base prospect and the top defensive second base prospect by MLB Pipeline and won a Southern League batting title. Albies has the best hit tool of any player in the Braves system, lead-off quality speed, a good batting eye and approach, and provides plus defense and arm at second base.
BACK-UP: Emerson Landoni
Landoni has been a Braves farmhand since the 2012 season when he signed as a minor league free agent after being cut loose by the Yankees organization. For the third straight year he began the season with Mississippi in 2016, but only stayed there for 2 weeks before finally getting the call up to AAA Gwinnett. Landoni is pretty solid in everything he does and can play all the infield positions, but seems most comfortable at second base. Landoni struggled with the bat most of 2016, hitting .261/.287/.297 with Gwinnett and his pattern has been that it takes a season to adapt to a new level. Entering his age-28 season, Landoni is probably an organizational player but he wouldn’t embarrass anyone if called up to a major league team to fill a gap for a time.
CHALLENGER: Colin Walsh
Walsh signed as a minor league free agent this offseason. He’s been a farmhand for St. Louis and Oakland, and was a Rule V selection by the Brewers last offseason. He didn’t quite make the most of this opportunity as he only hit .085/.317/.106 with Milwaukee before being offered back to Oakland. As you can see by that slash line however, Walsh isn’t afraid to take a walk and he owns a .394 lifetime minor league OBP. He can play second and third as well as the corner outfield spots and will provide stiff competition for Landoni, Sean Kazmar, and Kyle Kubizca for bench roles.
MISSISSIPPI BRAVES (CLASS AA)
**TOP 30 PROSPECT** STARTER (Promotion): Travis Demeritte
Nabbed from the Rangers organization in July for pitchers Dario Alvarez and Lucas Harrell, Demeritte has three major calling cards: superior second base defense, surprising power, and tons of strikeouts. Twenty-five of Demeritte’s 29 home runs last season were hit while playing in the launching pads of the California League; he will be facing the opposite issue in the Southern League, especially in cavernous Trustmark Park. Demeritte will be challenged to adjust his game for his new conditions while also trying to back his strikeout rate from the 30% range. His play in the Arizona Fall League was an encouraging sign, and he was named the #6 second base prospect in baseball by MLB Pipeline.
BACK-UP: Dylan Moore
Moore may be the Sean Rodriguez of Pearl, MS. Look for the Braves to mix up the infield from time to time to get Demeritte work at third and possibly shortstop; when that happens, Moore will likely be the one playing second base.
FLORIDA FIRE FROGS (CLASS A+)
STARTER (Promotion): Anfernee Seymour
Seymour (along with left-handed pitcher Michael Mader) were acquired in August from the Miami Marlins for reliever Hunter Cervenka. It’s no exaggeration to say that Seymour not only is the fastest player in the Braves organization, but quite possibly could be the fastest player in the minor leagues anywhere. Unfortunately, Seymour hasn’t been able to make the best of that speed thanks to his poor .296 OBP from last season. While I thought it possible that Seymour may remain in Rome for the start of 2017, the trade of Luke Dykstra in the Jaime Garcia acquisition this winter has left a hole at second base for the Fire Frogs that Seymour looks best suited to fill. While Seymour played outfield in high school and the Marlins tried to convert him to shortstop, it was at second base that Seymour found himself at the end of the season in Rome and he seemed more comfortable there.
BACK-UP (Promotion): Matt Gonzalez
Like Danville teammate and fellow 2016 top-10 draftee Marcus Mooney, I am predicting a double promotion for former Georgia Tech standout Matt Gonzalez. At age 23, Gonzalez will be older than most of the prospects on the Fire Frogs and he had a nice season in Danville, hitting .302/.327/.397 while playing second, third, and the outfield.
ROME BRAVES (CLASS A)
STARTER: Kevin Josephina
Another signee from Curaçao, Josephina’s potential has so far outshone his performance. He has shown solid defense up the middle, mostly at second base. He also regularly puts the ball in play. Going into his age 20 season, Josephina may have more power potential than he he has shown to date as well. After getting a taste of single-A at the end of the season, I think the Braves will take a long look at him to start the year.
BACK-UP: Kurt Hoekstra
Hoekstra missed all of 2016 with an undisclosed injury, but made some rehab starts for the Gulf Coast Braves late in the season. Assuming he’s all the way back, Hoekstra has a solid bat and could press for time at either second base or shortstop.
DANVILLE BRAVES (Rookie League)
STARTER (Promotion): Luis Ovando
Usual caveats about the 2017 draft effecting the Danville roster apply. Ovando was a late 2015/16 period international free agent signee out of the Dominican Republic. Initially assigned to the Dominican Summer League, Ovando made a good impression, hitting .263/.337/.366 (115 wRC+) with impressive defense. Ovando was brought stateside to play the final two weeks of the Gulf Coast League. Ovando has shown solid bat skills and good instincts around the bag.
BACK-UP (Promotion): Jeremy Fernandez
Fernandez got most of the playing time at second for the GCL Braves prior to Ovando’s elevation and was somewhat pedestrian both at bat and at the plate. This was somewhat disappointing as he was said to have been very impressive playing mostly shortstop for the DSL Braves in 2015. Luis Mejia could also see some time at second next season for Danville.
FINAL THOUGHTS: Typically the best second base prospects in any farm system play shortstop, and the Braves aren’t so different. That said, there is some talent working the front side of the pivot already, even beyond top prospects Albies and Demeritte. Anfernee Seymour, Kevin Josephina, and Luis Ovando in particular are lower-level talents that bear watching this coming season. The plethora of prospects obtained during this international signing period that includes shortstops Kevin Maitan, Yunior Severino, Yenci Pena, and Livan Soto can’t all play shortstop on the same diamond, so it stands to reason that one or more may end up at second base and provide some star power to the right side of the diamond.
OFR TOP 5 SECOND BASE PROSPECT RANKINGS:
- Ozzie Albies
- Travis Demeritte
- Dylan Moore
- Micah Johnson
- Anfernee Seymour
Other entries in this series:
Starting Pitching, Part 1 (Atlanta/Gwinnett)
Starting Pitching, Part 2 (Mississippi/Florida)
Starting Pitching, Part 3 (Rome/Danville)