Typically, second base is one of the weaker positions in baseball. In 2023, however, the position is as deep as it’s been in years. Last year, four players who made this list finished top 15 in their league’s MVP voting. Not just are they better than the 2nd basemen of the past, but this bunch is the youngest we’ve seen in years. Andres Gimenez, who had a massive breakout year in 2022, is just 24. Nico Hoerner, who recently moved from shortstop to second base when the Cubs acquired Dansby Swanson, is 25. There are still some great established veterans like Jose Altuve and Marcus Semien, but most of the entries on this list are still on their rookie contracts.
Which closer would use to win you the World Series?
10. Trevor Story, BOS (Last year: 3)
The question surrounding Trevor Story at the moment is whether or not he’ll even see the field in 2023. He struggled to adjust to a new environment in Boston in 2022, finishing last season with just a 100 wRC+ and 2.4 fWAR. Those numbers may not look awful, but he put up half of that WAR in a two-week span in mid-May.
This offseason, Story underwent surgery to repair his right elbow and is expected to miss most of the season. You could argue he should be left off this list entirely due to his injury concerns and subpar 2022 season, but Story’s track record is so strong that I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.
9. Jorge Polanco, MIN (9)
Jorge Polanco had a huge year in 2021, and followed that up with another decent season in 2022, landing him at the exact same spot on the 2023 list. Overall, he put up just 1.8 fWAR but battled injuries throughout the year. Despite that, he still had a 119 wRC+ while underperforming his xwOBA by 25 points.
With a little bit of added batted-ball luck, Polanco could easily revert back to his 2021 ways. In 2021, Polanco hit 33 home runs, slugged .503, and finished the year with 4.2 fWAR. Steamer projects Polanco as a 119 wRC+, 3.1 fWAR player for 2023, and they’re the lowest on him of the five major projection models.
8. Ozzie Albies, ATL (8)
Ozzie Albies had, by far, the worst season of his young career in 2022. He appeared in just 64 games, had just a 93 wRC+, and accumulated only 1.1 fWAR. He’s about a league-average bat with a good glove, but he distinguishes himself with his legs. In his six-year career, Albies has accumulated 24.2 base runs (BsR).
In 2021, Albies ranked 3rd in the league with 8.3 BsR. Albies’ struggles in 2022 aren’t too concerning given his injuries, so expect a bounce-back year from the 26-year-old in 2023.
7. Nico Hoerner, CHC (NR – SS)
The Cubs signed Dansby Swanson to a seven-year deal this offseason, pushing Nico Hoerner back to 2nd base, a position he’s only played 468.1 innings at in his Major League career. In those innings, though, Hoerner has put up 10 DRS, 14 OAA, and 3.3 UZR.
Hoerner has already established himself as one of the premier defensive shortstops in baseball. In a full season at 2nd base, Hoerner may be able to put up league-leading defensive metrics. Combine that with his projected 109 wRC+ and you could have yourself a 4-5 win player at 2nd base.
6. Luis Arraez, MIA (NR – 1B)
The Marlins acquired Luis Arraez for one reason. He simply puts the ball in play. Arraez is the FOIL to the modern major league hitter. He’s every sabermetrician’s worst nightmare. In 603 plate appearances, Arraez had just eight home runs, 50 walks, and 43 strikeouts – a three-true outcome rate of just 16.7%.
For reference, the three-true outcome rate across baseball in 2022 was 33.4%. Arraez’s glove is concerning, though. In 1248 career innings played at 2nd base, Arraez has -15 OAA. In 2023, Arraez may win another batting title. But if he can’t figure it out defensively, his ceiling is capped at around 4 WAR.
5. Brandon Lowe, TBR (2)
Brandon Lowe falls a few spots on this after severely struggling in 2022. He played only 65 games and slashed just .221/.308/.383 (104 wRC+). Previously, Lowe had put up a .253/.346/.532 slash line with a 141 wRC+ and 7.2 fWAR in 205 games over the past two years.
Lowe has really only put together one full great season but his batted-ball data is promising and when healthy, he’s one of the best hitters at the position.
4. Jeff McNeil, NYM (NR)
At first, I was confused why I couldn’t find Jeff McNeil on my 2022 list. Then, I looked at his numbers from the past couple of years. My conclusion? McNeil doesn’t get nearly enough credit for the improvements he’s made since debuting in 2018.
Within just a year, the discourse around McNeil went from questioning whether he’d be a juiced ball casualty to whether or not he’s a top-three second baseman. With another year like 2022, the latter question will be answered.
3. Andres Gimenez, CLE (NR)
If I told you at the beginning of last season that Andres Gimenez would ever be considered a consensus top-three player at his position, you’d have thought I was absolutely insane. Now, just one year later, I’d question any ranking lower than the number spot he resides in on this list.
In 2022, Gimenez made his first All-Star game, won his first Gold Glove, and finished 6th in MVP voting in the American League. His 140 wRC+ has fluke written all over it, but even if he regresses to 115 as Steamer projects him to, he still has 5 WAR potential due to his legs and glove.
2. Marcus Semien, TEX (1)
Within the past two years, Marcus Semien set the all-time record for home runs by a second baseman with 45, signed a contract for $175 million dollars of guaranteed money, got booed by his new fanbase, then finished the year on a scorching hot streak. Semien’s overall numbers for 2022 aren’t bad as they are (107 wRC+, 4.2 fWAR).
But if you remove the first 40 games of the season, they look a lot more like the Marcus Semien we’ve come to know (128 wRC+, 4.8 fWAR). Entering 2023, Semien has an incredibly high floor and arguably the highest ceiling of any 2nd baseman in the league. In the past four years, Semien has been an AL MVP finalist twice.
1. Jose Altuve, HOU (4)
The 2022 version of Jose Altuve is the perfect example of a player aging well. The .350 BABIP, 90th percentile sprint speed and 50 stolen base iteration of Altuve is behind us. Instead, he had a career-high 164 wRC+, led all 2nd basemen in isolated power (ISO) at .233, and walked at a career-high 10.9% clip. Despite ranking in just the 6th percentile in average exit velocity, Altuve had a league-average barrel rate and was in the top 10% of all hitters in xwOBA. His 164 wRC+ ranked 4th in baseball among all qualified hitters.
The Jose Altuve who finds himself as the best 2nd baseman in baseball in 2023 isn’t the same one who took home American League MVP honors in 2017, but we should all expect another MVP-caliber season from the (hopefully) future Hall of Famer.
Main image credit