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Around The Diamond: 2015 Second Base Race

We have already previewed what to expect with regards to the hot corner, and next will cover who will be starting at second base in the 2015, after the late August departure of Gordon Beckham to the LA Angels.

As excited as some Sox fans were to see Gordo go, the eigth overall pick in the 2008 draft has always been a reliable defender. Despite his offensive production steadily declining since his promising rookie season, Beckham managed to record the second- and third-highest fielding percentage for a 2B (.9899 in 2012, .9889 in 2011) in the club’s history, and was second to only Jonathan Schoop in DPR (double play runs) in 2014; meaning he prevented, on average, more runs from scoring than any other qualified 2B because of the efficiency in which he and Alexei converted double plays.

With Beckham gone, GM Rick Hahn has been adamant about the Second Base “Race” (as I have coined it) being a competition between 24 year-old, IU Grad Micah Johnson and 22 year-old Venezuelan Carlos Sanchez. Sanchez is the only one to have made his major league debut, accumulating  104 plate appearances for the Sox in 2014 while splitting time with Marcus Semein, who has since been traded to Oakland in the Jeff Samardzija deal shortly after Beckham’s departure.

Who will emerge as the 2015 White Sox second baseman? Your guess is as good as mine. But, for the time being, lets review what we know about the relative skillset of both players both offensively, and defensively …

Power

With regards to power, neither Sanchez nor Johnson appear to possess the power or bat speed to be capable of consistently hitting double-digit home runs at the Major League level (yet). Using the 20-80 point grading scale by which scouts assess prospect talent, Johnson and Sanchez score well below average:

Johnson: GamePower – 30/35, RawPower 45/45

Sanchez: GamePower – 20/30, RawPower 35/35

To put those numbers in perspective, GamePower is used to predict big league power stats, while RawPower measures how far the players hit the ball in batting practice. Johnson appears to have the upper hand in both categories, which will most likely yield low, double digit HRs for Johnson in a full season, and single-digits for Sanchez.

At this point, it does not appear that either Sanchez or Johnson will consistently break 20 HRs at the Major league level, which is fine given that 20 HRs is a rarity among second basemen, but nonetheless..

Score: Johnson: 1, Sanchez: 0

Speed

With the power race being mostly a wash with a slight advantage for Johnson, the next category we will explore, is speed:

Johnson: 65/65

Sanchez: 50/50

The prospect speed grading scale is based mostly on the traditional 60-yard dash and home-to-first times adjusted for wind conditions and a variety of other factors. Needless to say, both players posssess the ability to steal bases, and more importantly, the ability steal bases better than Gordon Beckham ever did. Sanchez stole 16 bases in each of his last two seasons playing for the Charlotte Knights in AAA, while Johnson stole 22 bases splitting time between AA Birmingham and AAA Charlotte.

In 2014 the White Sox ranked 29th out of 30 in BsR – an all encompassing base running statistic that turns stolen bases, caught stealings, taking extra bases, tagging up, and other base running plays into a more accurate depiction of how many runs above/below average a team adds/subtracts on the basepaths (also a component in calculating WAR).

If you’re not one for sabermetrics, then consider this: the White Sox tied for dead last in sacrifice hits last year, totalling 19 sacrifice hits and 85 total stolen bases. Ozzie Guillen’s club in 2005 on the other hand, totalled 57 sacrifice hits and 137 stolen bases.

Clearly, both players project to help the slow Sox of yesteryear, but once again – advantage Johnson.

Score: Johnson: 2, Sanchez 0

Defense

Since offensive production is generally hard to come by at the 2B position (excluding the Canos/Altuves of the world), the bulk of players’ value is derived from their ability to be above-average defenders – an area that allowed Gordon Beckham to keep his job for as long as he did. Lets explore how scouts graded both prospects:

Johnson: Field – 45/45+, Throws – 45/45

Sanchez: Field – 55/55, Throws 55/55

In terms of fielding ability and arm strength/accuracy, both players come in as average defenders. Full-disclosure, I am a firm believer that defense is the hardest tool to evaluate, and that player’s true ability to field balls in play requires a much larger sample size than what prospects get to see. Same goes for the arm tool, which is typically more important for evaluating outfielders.

Regardless, it is clear that Sanchez has the upper hand in both categories. Point Sanchez.

Score: Johnson: 2, Sanchez 1

Verdict

Johnson appears to be the prospect with a higher ceiling based on our evaluation, but there are many more factors that will influence the club’s decision about who will start at 2B opening day. Mainly, that Sanchez is the only one of the two with Major League experience, which to me, makes him the clear front-runner at the moment.

Another source of in uncertainty stems from the club’s recent acquisition of utility man, Emilio Bonifacio. His presence will be needed all over the diamond, including a potential 3B platoon with Conor Gillaspie and backup OF role, so whoever ends up finishing on top of the “Second Base Race,” will undoubtedly see his workload reduced.

That being said, there is a LOT riding on both players’ performances this upcoming Spring Training. The economist in me believes that competition is a good thing, and will ultimately give both South Side second basemen incentive to improve in 2015, but the IU Alum in me is dying for a Micah Johnson breakout.

Regardless of my personal preference, one thing is for certain: White Sox fans have one more reason to tune in for spring training, which is a win-win for everyone. Both of these kids are intriguing prospects, so this race should be fun to watch.

Post by Contributor, Andrew Hancock

Photo Credit: Brian Kersey, Getty Images

Zachary Gropper

About Zachary Gropper

Zach is the Managing Editor of GrabSomeBench.com, and you can follow him on Twitter @zmgrop.

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