Over the last 13 seasons, the Colorado Rockies have had a merry-go-round of mediocrity manning the second base position. The list reads off like a "who's who" of failed franchise experiments: Mike Lansing, Todd Walker, Jose Ortiz, Ronnie Belliard, Luis Gonzalez (2004 & 2006), Aaron Miles, Kaz Matsui, Jayson Nix, Ian Stewart, Clint Barmes, Jose Lopez, and Marco Scutaro. Those twelve players have combined to give Colorado a grand total of 4.4 rWAR from its Opening Day second basemen over the last 13 years, and 3.3 of that was from just Matsui's 2007 campaign. In other words, the Rockies have been averaging 0.1 rWAR from their Opening Day second baseman in years they haven't gone to the World Series since the turn of the century.
However, that failure to find production out of the second base position may become a thing of the past for the Rockies in 2013 - And it's not just because of Josh Rutledge's high potential either. The often forgotten DJ LeMahieu has his sights set on the second base job, and if Rutledge is not careful, the "Fake Frenchman" (as LeMahieu jokingly referred to himself last January at fan fest) could swipe the position away. It's not something that's necessarily likely to happen, but it is a possible reality that hasn't gotten enough press over the last couple of months.
On November 7th, LeMahieu retweeted the following...
Define or be defined. Don't allow others to label you and your abilities, YOU dictate the course. Work the process. Stay in the present.
Define or be defined. Don't allow others to label you and your abilities, YOU dictate the course. Work the process. Stay in the present.— DK (@think2win) November 7, 2012
I like this tweet, and I think it really embodies LeMahieu's situation with the Rockies well. In DJ's mind, he's going to be turning web gem double plays with Tulo all summer and Rutledge isn't getting that position unless he wrestles it away with an improved glove and red hot bat. That may sound a little odd to some, but LeMahieu's world may not be all that different from the real one.
Start by looking at his glove. LeMahieu was not only rated positive at second base by all three major defensive metrics, but he also passed the eye test with flying colors and started making plays like this on a somewhat regular basis down the stretch last season. In fact, there were many times last September where LeMahieu was the only person on the field in a Rockies uniform who looked competent with a glove. This gives him a big advantage over all the other options at second base.
While a good start, that alone won't win LeMahieu the second base job. He'll also need to show more with the bat as Rutledge has a good shot at outclassing him in this category - But LeMahieu might be closer to showing that improvement than most people think. Before we touch on that though, take a look at LeMahieu's triple slash line (batting average / on base percentage / slugging percentage) for each level he's played at so far...
High A: .314 / .346 / .386
AA (Only 202 plate appearances): .358 / .386 / .492
AAA: .314 / .368 / .396
MLB: .297 / .332 / .410
It's pretty clear what type of hitter the Rockies have here. LeMahieu can hit for average, and he's proven it at every level. The problem is that his average ends up a little empty because of his lack of power and walks. However, LeMahieu is still young, he won't be 25 until July 13th, so there's still time for him to improve at the plate.
Actually, it may already be happening. This article from Thomas Harding went largely under the radar last September but it highlights a really important point about LeMahieu's leg kick and finally starting to generate some power with his lower body late in the season. At 6' 4" and 205 pounds, DJ is not small man. This doesn't mean he needs to be whacking balls out of the park on a nightly basis, but it does underscore that with a proper weight transfer during his swing, LeMahieu should be able to drive the ball into the expansive Coors Field gaps with more regularity going forward.
He actually just started doing this at the end of the season too. In 247 MLB plate appearances in 2012, LeMahieu had just 18 extra base hits, but it's worth noting that seven of them came in his final 50 trips to the dish. The late season hot streak brought LeMahieu's OPS from an ugly .650 in late September to a respectable but quiet .742 at season's end. Only time will tell if DJ's strong finish is a sign of things to come or just some random run of good fortune, but there is reason to be optimistic here. If LeMahieu can develop into something close to a league average bat, you are talking about a legit 2.0 WAR player when you factor in what he can do at second base with the glove - And if that happens, Josh Rutledge is going to have to put on quite a show if he wants to hold on to a job most fans think he's already got nailed down.
Joe Posnanski has an excellent piece this morning looking back on each team's #1 prospect from 2006 (ranked by Baseball America) and analyzes how they turned out.