- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
I have no problem admitting the real reason why I paid close attention to the Detroit Tigers second base competition this spring. I still think Scott Sizemore can play in the majors, and I'd like to see one of fantasy's forgotten 2010 sleepers get a chance. Alas, he's on his way back to Triple-A Toledo, but the last man standing at this point isn't such a bad sleeper himself. Diminutive Will Rhymes -- maybe he's 5-foot-9 -- has apparently won the starting job and, with it, becomes a likely spot in the coveted No. 2 lineup position, so I'm certainly interested.
Perhaps you've heard by now, but second base is not at all a deep position for fantasy baseball this season, along with shortstop and third base (I think first base, outfield and even catcher, for standard leagues, is just fine), so you might actually want to take a look at someone like Rhymes. Look at his minor league numbers and they show a speedy, pesky singles hitter who always hit for average and stole enough bases to matter. And let's face it, any middle infielder hitting near .300 with 20 stolen bases does matter to us. Rhymes can and should do this.
Eventually, Tigers manager Jim Leyland might try to rationalize his with Carlos Guillen and play him at second base, but I don't expect Rhymes' performance to warrant this need, yet alone Guillen's health. Rhymes played roughly a third of the season with the Tigers and batted .304 with a .350 on-base percentage, much of it while hitting second. A lefty hitter, he did well enough against southpaw pitchers to warrant regular duty, and I expect him to score many runs in front of my pick for American League MVP, Miguel Cabrera. No, Rhymes did not steal bases for the Tigers, but earlier in 2010 he swiped 22 bags in 27 attempts for the Toledo Mud Hens. He and center fielder Austin Jackson should provide an exciting top of the order for Leyland this season, and I can make the case because of position scarcity that in AL-only formats and deeper mixed leagues that I'd prefer Rhymes. As for Sizemore, aw, there's always next year.
Of course, if you're looking for cheap speed up the middle, Rhymes isn't the only one worthy of a look in deeper leagues. Like Rhymes, none of the players discussed below is being selected in ESPN live drafts.
Luis Castillo, 2B, Philadelphia Phillies: Yep, I went there. I have to. While 98 percent of major league baseball might believe Castillo has nothing left, the Phillies clearly have a need, and they're not excited about Wilson Valdez filling it. Castillo costs the Phillies next to nothing and I don't expect to see Chase Utley suit up for a game before the All-Star break. Hey, two seasons ago Castillo hit .302 and stole 20 bases. In the past two seasons he has drawn 108 walks and fanned only 83 times. Fielding range aside, there are some skills left and, clearly, opportunity.
Cliff Pennington, SS, Oakland Athletics: He stole 29 bases last season and they weren't a fluke, since he always ran in the minors. I don't think there's much power potential, but he played much of last season with a torn labrum. If that .250 batting average rises to .275, and he continues to draw walks, Pennington gets more stolen base opportunities. I'm a bit surprised he's being ignored to this degree since he's young and tied for 20th in steals in 2010.
Chris Getz, 2B, Kansas City Royals: You might think it's crazy that Wilson Betemit and Mike Aviles are merely vying for third base at-bats -- perhaps with Pedro Feliz as well -- while Getz was named the second base starter Tuesday. But while nobody was looking, Getz has stolen 40 bases in 44 attempts in only 599 at-bats the past two seasons. No, I don't think he has a lick of power and I'm aware of his career batting average, but the Royals are never wrong, are they? This is someone that should easily swipe 20 bases.
Others: The Minnesota Twins could have a pair of 25-steal guys up the middle in Tsuyoshi Nishioka and Alexi Casilla. Nishioka, the Japanese import, is going in the 21st round. Casilla is 35 for 39 in career steals. ... I don't think the Colorado Rockies want Eric Young Jr. playing regularly, mainly because of defense, but if it happens, that's a 35-steal guy. ... Jerry Hairston Jr. of the Washington Nationals could steal double-digit bases, with middle infield eligibility, while in the team's center field platoon. ... Most assume the Tampa Bay Rays will go with Reid Brignac at shortstop. So do I. But Elliot Johnson is 8-for-8 in steals this spring and it's not like Brignac is experienced. ... The Chicago Cubs could, in theory, turn to prospect Darwin Barney at second base, and Barney runs well, though he seems more of a percentage base stealer than cumulative option. ... Finally, new Seattle Mariners shortstop Brendan Ryan isn't much of a hitter, but he managed to steal 25 bases the past two seasons.
Eric Karabell looks at some potential cheap sources of stolen bases, leading with the Tigers' Will Rhymes