2013 Season Preview: The Second Basemen

3/5 Camp Notes: Sabathia, Rivera, Hughes, Cuts
Spring Training Game Thread: Yankees vs. Cano

Starting this week and continuing through the end of the Spring Training, we’re going to preview the Yankees position-by-position and on a couple of different levels.

(Star-Ledger)
(Star-Ledger)

Second base is one of the four premium up-the-middle positions, but it is the fourth-most important of those positions. It doesn’t require the athleticism of shortstop or center field or the pure toughness of catcher, nor does it require the arm strength — second baseman have the most time to make the routine play of any infielder. Don’t get me wrong though, it’s a rough position because of the blind double play pivot, but it sorta is the black sheep of the up-the-middle spots. That said, second base is the highlight of the Yankees’ organization for a number of reasons.

The Starter
Robinson Cano isn’t just the best player on the Yankees, he’s the best second baseman in baseball and one of the very best players in the game period. The 30-year-old has hit .311/.370/.539 (142 wRC+) over the last three seasons and put up career-highs in doubles (48), homers (33), extra-base hits (82), ISO (.238), SLG (.550), walks (61), walk rate (8.8%), wOBA (.394), wRC+ (150), fWAR (7.8), and bWAR (8.2) last summer. It was his third consecutive MVP-caliber season and there’s really no reason to expect his performance to suddenly fall off a cliff in 2013. He might not be as amazingly awesome again, but there’s no obvious reason why he would be anything less that excellent.

In the field, Cano is dynamite gloveman in the eyes of DRS (+17 career), Total Zone (+43) and FRAA (+45.1), but not so much UZR (-30.2). Robbie doesn’t have the greatest range going to his left, but c’mon. That UZR stands out like a sore thumb because it doesn’t jibe with the eye test. He might not be as good as Total Zone and FRAA say, but Cano is clearly above-average defensively in my opinion. His range to his right is very good and his arm is a rocket, and when you add in the fact that he plays pretty much every single game year after year, you’ve got a two-way threat who is among the most dependable players in the world.

Cano’s performance in 2013 will be very important and not just to the Yankees given all the offense they lost over the winter. Robbie will be a free agent after the season and is in line for a mammoth nine-figure contract, and in fact Brian Cashman confirmed the club has already extended a “significant offer.” Scott Boras won’t go down that easily though, so expect contract talks to linger pretty much all season long. It will be the cloud hanging over the team all summer, kinda like CC Sabathia‘s opt-out clause two years ago. The off-field issue doesn’t diminish Cano’s on-field awesomeness or importance, however.

(AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
(AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

The Backup
The bench is still a few weeks away from being finalized, but the two obvious candidates are Eduardo Nunez and Jayson Nix. The 25-year-old Nunez is a defensive nightmare who has been working out at shortstop exclusively since last May, though Cashman did say he would return to a utility role if he makes the team. The speed and contact ability are certainly useful tools, useful tools that are negated (and then some) by the unusable defense.

Nix, 30, was solid in a limited role last year, mainly by hitting lefties (97 wRC+) and playing all over the field. He’s a second baseman by trade and a much better defender than Nunez, but no better than average overall. I don’t think it would be a surprise if either guy made the team as a reserve infielder, and heck, there’s even a scenario in which both make the team. Either way, the step down from Cano to either Nix or Nunez is enormous. Maybe the biggest drop-off from one player to their replacement in all of baseball.

Knocking on the Door
The Yankees are blessed with very good second base depth, including at the Triple-A level. Both 25-year-old David Adams and 24-year-old Corban Joseph are slated to begin the season with Triple-A Scranton and they’re cut from a similar cloth: bat-first players who are below-average defenders at second. Adams, a right-handed hitter, used to be a solid defender at the position but has lost a few steps following the massive ankle injury he suffered in 2010. Joseph, a left-handed hitter, has always been a below-average defender. Both guys can hit and are willing to walk though, making them very good depth pieces (and trade bait). Adams is dealing with a back injury and could miss the start of the season, which I guess makes Joseph first in line for a call-up.

(Post and Courier)
(Post and Courier)

The Top Prospect
One of New York’s best and most exciting prospects is second baseman Angelo Gumbs, who placed ninth on my preseason top 30 list. Still just 20 years old (with an October birthday!), the right-handed hitter signed for $750k as the team’s second round pick in 2010 and hit .268/.317/.428 (102 wRC+) with seven homers and 26 steals (in 29 attempts) in 278 plate appearances for Low-A Charleston last season. His season ended prematurely due to a partially torn elbow ligament, but he’s 100% healthy and even managed to squeeze in a few winter ball games. Gumbs stands out of his electric bat speed — best in the organization and among the best in minor league baseball — and athleticism, so he’s a premium breakout candidate for 2013 if healthy given his age. The Yankees will bump him up to High-A Tampa this year, so he won’t be a big league factor this summer unless he’s traded for an actual big leaguer.

The Deep Sleeper
Gumbs, Adams, and Joseph are exceptions — there just aren’t many true second base prospects throughout baseball. There aren’t as rare as true first base prospects, but most second base prospects are failed shortstops (like Cano). The Yankees don’t have a deep second base sleeper prospect, but they do have 2012 sixth rounder Rob Refsnyder. The 21-year-old followed up his College World Series Most Outstanding Player performance by hitting .247/.324/.370 (95 wRC+) with four homers and 11 steals (in 12 chances) in 182 plate appearances for Charleston last year. Although he played the outfield in his pro debut, the Yankees announced him as a second baseman at the draft and are expected to move him back there going forward. Refsnyder played the position in high school and would raise his long-term profile quite a bit if he shows he can handle second adequately. He’s not as good a prospect as the other three guys but he’s definitely interesting, hence his inclusion in my not top 30 prospects post.

* * *

The Yankees have more quality depth at second base than at any other position, and it starts right at the top with Cano. He’s the team’s best and most important player heading into the 2013 season, after which he will sign a gigantic contract to either remain in pinstripes or leave the only organization he’s ever known. Adams and Joseph give New York legitimate alternatives in Triple-A if needed, and Gumbs boasts breakout potential despite already being one of the team’s better prospects. Second base is a major bright spot for the organization from top to bottom.

Other Previews: Catchers, First Basemen

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3/5 Camp Notes: Sabathia, Rivera, Hughes, Cuts
Spring Training Game Thread: Yankees vs. Cano
  • Andy In Sunny Daytona

    No mention of Anderson Feliz? You will rue the day, Axisa. RUE IT!!!!

  • kyle

    RAB, do you see any scenario where the Yankees trade Cano this season?

    • Murderers Row Boat

      Zombie Boss rises from the grave, somehow retakes control of the team through a lengthy zombie rights trail, and the Yankees are in last place by 25 games.

      • kyle

        I was thinking more like if he wants a ten year deal and the Yanks are going to miss the playoffs….

        • Murderers Row Boat

          There is no way, but not because the Yankees are the Yankees! The team that trades for him would need to have two things: The prospects to trade, and the money to overwhelm Cano so he doesn’t hit free agency.

          There are lots of teams with the players to make the trade, but none of them have the money. And there are a few teams with the money, but not the players.

          • kyle

            Cardinals?

            • Murderers Row Boat

              They have the prospects, one of which is the #2 Second baseman prospect in Kolten Wong. They have no reason to trade for, then sign Cano for what will most likely be a 8-9yr, 26-28m AAV contract.

              • kyle

                ok. thanks. I wasn’t arguing that the Yankees would (i don’t think they will) just asking how/if it would be possible. I hope the Yankees don’t resign him to a 10 year contract and would rather trade him to a WS contender at the deadline then see him walk for a draft pick. That’s all. thanks

      • Murderers Row Boat

        Trail, trial. Lets call the whole thing off.

  • Eddard: Back and better than never

    My friend and family don’t know as much about baseball as I do so they often ask me what is going on with the Yankees. The other day they asked me how far the Yankees were going to go this year and I told them as far as Robbie Cano will take them. With a diminished offense Robbie needs to step up. He’s in a contract year so the stars are aligned for him to have the MVP season we know he is capable of. Jeter’s still the captain but this is Robbie Cano’s team.

    • gc

      Eddard’s friend and family. Meaning his toothbrush and his pants.

      • Laz

        I thought his hand was his best friend?

    • Robinson Tilapia

      Thank you, Captain Obvious.

    • MannyGeee

      I liked it better when you hated on shit. This “real Analrapy” of team needs Eddard is kinda boring.

      “Please Please Uncle Eddard… Tell us about the Big Left Handed Hairy Monsters that used to roam these parts!”

  • BeanTooth

    Any way the Yanks can wrap Cano in bubble wrap for the WBC? The way things are going, I’m thinking Cashman swiped a little idol from a cave while he was vacationing in Hawaii.

  • dalelama

    Just another example of how dreadfully barren our farm system is.

    • Havok9120

      You don’t even bother reading the entire article anymore, do you?

      • Cris Pengiucci

        I don’t think it’s possible for him to make that more obvious.

      • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike Axisa

        Who cares. The schtick got old a long time ago. Obvious attention grab.

    • h

      “The Yankees are blessed with very good second base depth, including at the Triple-A level.”

      Umm…

    • Get Phelps Up

      Just another example of how dreadfully stupid you are.

      • dalelama

        You homers just can’t face facts, we have a farm system full of sub par defensive second basemen. Your blind homerism is really boring. Please wake up and smell the coffee burning.

        • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike Axisa

          Your blind homerism is really boring.

          And there’s the attention-grab admission.

          • murderers row boat

            Blind Homerism is the name of my travelling ‘Simpsons’ theatre group.

          • Get Phelps Up

            Why hasn’t he been banned yet? He doesn’t even provide comedic value anymore.

  • Gonzo

    It’s funny, but Gumbs thought he was going to be a CFer when he was drafted, IIRC. The system looks better with him at 2b.

  • dkidd

    nunez “returning to a utility role” is terrifying

  • JMK

    What’s the ceiling with Gumbs? Brandon Phillips (no, I don’t say that because of race), perhaps?

  • Mike myers

    This seems like a strong case to let cano go.

    I know you cant replace his 2013-16 bat. But you can have a viable replacement with future upside and 200mm in the bank to spend in other areas.

  • voiceofirrationalrationale

    I must be f’d up in the head, but the thought of Cano at 26-28mm for 8/9 years is obscene to me. Im I the only one ? I think he’s good, but 225-260mm for Robbie Cano ?! Obscene.