The Washington Times - February 27, 2009, 12:01AM

Big league teams have demanded more and more offensive production from the second base position in recent years, and the effects have been felt in fantasy baseball as well. Dustin Pedroia and Chase Utley were top-10 hitters in my league last year and Ian Kinsler and Brian Roberts also cracked the top 30, and if you can snag any of these players, you’ll have a leg up on the competition. If not you’re still left with plenty of options, ranging from multi-tool, high upside guys to all-or-nothing sluggers to steady regulars to crafty veterans to injury-rebound sleepers.

1. Dustin Pedroia, BOS

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Simply put, the 5-foot-9, 180-pound Pedroia does everything well. He hits for average (.326 in 2008) and power (17 homers, 54 doubles), steals bases (20) and rarely strikes out (52). Hitting near the top of a great lineup and playing his home games at Fenway helps, too.

2. Chase Utley, PHI +

Utley has averaged around 30 homers and 100 RBI over the past four years while never hitting below .291. He tailed off after a hot start in 2008 and needed hip surgery in the offseason, but he expects to be ready for Opening Day.

3. Ian Kinsler, TEX

Kinsler was in the midst of his best season as a big leaguer in 2008 (.319, 18 homers, 71 RBI) when hernia surgery ended his year in mid-August. Kinsler doesn’t whiff much, and as a bonus, he’s stolen 20-plus bases in each of the past two years.

4. Brian Roberts, BAL

Roberts flies under the radar somewhat because of his lack of pop, but he always finishes near the top of his position in fantasy points. That’s because he’s durable, hits for a solid average, scores runs and ranks among the leaders in steals.

5. Alexei Ramirez, CHW

Ramirez was quite a pleasant surprise last season, hitting .290 with 21 homers in just 480 at bats as a rookie. He’ll enter 2009 with a starting gig locked up and with the extra at bats, he could very well join the ranks of elite second basemen.

6. Brandon Phillips, CIN

Phillips was a breakout star in 2006 and a 30-30 stud in 2007, making his 2008 campaign (.261, 21 jacks, 23 steals) a bit of a disappointment. At 27 he should regain his 30-30 form, and his 2008 numbers were pretty good for his position anyway.

7. Jose Lopez, SEA

It will be interesting to see which Lopez shows up in 2009. He hit .289 with 17 homers and 89 RBI last year but managed just 11 homers, 62 RBI and a putrid .284 OBP in 2007. He’s only 25, so hopefully he’ll keep improving with experience.

8. Dan Uggla, FLA

Uggla rivals Utley for the most pop of any second baseman and has topped 30 homers the past two years. And though he hit just .260 last year, he got on base at a .360 clip. The strikeouts - 171 in 2008 - hurt in leagues that penalize them, though.

9. Mark DeRosa, CLE (3B,OF)

Now an Indian, DeRosa turned in a career year for the Cubs at age 33 in 2008. He hit .281 and clubbed 21 homers - eight more than his previous season high. Don’t count on a repeat, but his triple eligibility will help your team regardless.

10. Placido Polanco, DET

Polanco isn’t flashy, but he’s the best bargain going at second - especially in leagues that penalize strikeouts, since he almost never whiffs. He usually hits around .300 and has hit as high as .341 in 2007 and .331 in 2005. He’s a solid mid-round pick.

11. Kelly Johnson, ATL

Johnson turned in a second straight solid season in 2008, hitting .287 with 12 homers and 69 RBI. He’ll be 27 this year and if some of the 39 doubles he hit last year start flying over the fence, he’ll be a lot higher on this list next season.

12. Robinson Cano, NYY

Cano’s batting average and on-base percentage have declined in each of the past three seasons, though his homer totals have held steady in the mid-teens. Even a modest bounceback would put him among the top second basemen.

13. Rickie Weeks, MIL

The 2003 No. 2 overall pick has always oozed potential and never lived up to it. However, he can hit for power and steal bases, and his poor batting averages mask the fact that he gets on base a lot. Once again, he’s a solid sleeper.

14. Orlando Hudson, LA

Hudson has earned the injury-prone tag, but when healthy, he’s a solid, if unspectacular, fantasy second baseman. Expect an average around .280 with 10 to 15 jacks and you won’t be disappointed - unless, of course, he gets hurt again.

15. Kazuo Matsui, HOU

The former Big Apple bust has turned into a pretty good player - when he can stay on the field, that is. If he plays close to a full season, he could score 100 runs and steal 40-plus bases. Roll the dice on him in the later rounds.

16. Aaron Hill, TOR

Hill entered 2008 as a popular sleeper pick but never really got going before missing the final four months with post-concussion syndrome. Barring any setbacks, it’s possible he could return to his 2007 form (.291, 17 homers, 78 RBI).

17. Clint Barmes, COL

Barmes has looked really good and really bad at different points during his career, but he was solid in 2008 (.290, 11 homers in 393 at bats) and has the inside track on the Rockies’ second base gig. He’s worthy of a late-round flier.

18. Howie Kendrick, LAA

Kendrick hit for robust averages in the minors but hasn’t been anything special in the bigs. His inability to take a walk makes his .300-plus averages hollow, and he’s injury prone. He’s overrated in fantasy, but take a chance if he slips.

19. Mark Ellis, OAK +

Ellis had a career year in 2007, hitting .276 with 19 homers and 76 RBI. He had a down year last year, though, and hit just .233 with 12 jacks. If he’s sufficiently recovered from offseason shoulder surgery, a return to his 2007 form is possible.

20. Felipe Lopez, ARI

Lopez was a major disappointment with the Nationals but it wasn’t terribly long ago that he showed a tantalizing combination of pop (23 jacks in 2005) and speed (44 steals in 2006). He could bounce back as the D-Backs leadoff man.

THE BEST OF THE REST

21. Alexi Casilla, MIN
22. Akinori Iwamura, TB
23. Asdrubal Cabrera, CLE (SS)
24. Ronnie Belliard, WAS (1B,3B)
25. Freddy Sanchez, PIT +
26. Luis Castillo, NYM
27. Kevin Frandsen, SF
28. Alberto Callaspo, KC
29. Jeff Baker, COL (1B)
30. Chris Getz, CHW
31. Matt Antonelli, SD
32. Emilio Bonifacio, FLA
33. Eugenio Velez, SF
34. Joaquin Arias, TEX
35. Mike Fontenot, CHC
36. Ramon Vazquez, PIT (3B,SS)
37. Blake DeWitt, LA (3B)
38. Luis Valbuena, CLE
39. Mark Grudzielanek
40. Aaron Miles, CHC (SS)
41. Mark Loretta, LA
42. Sean Rodriguez, LAA
43. Eric Patterson, OAK
44. Cliff Pennington, OAK
45. Edgar Gonzalez, SD
46. Ray Durham
47. Joe Inglett, TOR
48. Juan Uribe, SF (3B)
49. Esteban German, KC (OF)
50. Josh Barfield, CLE

PROSPECTS TO KEEP AN EYE ON

1. Luke Hughes, MIN
2. Eric Young, COL
3. Chris Coghlan, FLA
4. Shelby Ford, PIT
5. Scott Sizemore, DET
6. Jemile Weeks, OAK

 

FANTASY PREVIEW SCHEDULE

Monday, Feb. 23 - Intro & Catchers
Wednesday, Feb. 25 - First Basemen
Friday, Feb. 27 - Second Basemen
Monday, March 2 - Third Basemen
Wednesday, March 4 - Shortstops
Friday, March 6 - Outfielders
Monday, March 9 - DH-only
Wednesday, March 11 - Starting Pitchers
Friday, March 13 - Relief Pitchers

Jay LeBlanc is an assistant news editor at The Washington Times. He can be reached at jleblanc@washingtontimes.com.

Photo by the Associated Press