Fred Zinkie

On second thought: Keystone fantasy studs

Altuve stands tall among strong crop of talent at 2B

On second thought: Keystone fantasy studs

At times one of the weakest fantasy positions, second base is currently enjoying a bit of a resurgence. With a cast of productive 20-somethings and a group of reliable veterans, the keystone position has the necessary depth for fantasy owners to fill out both the second-base slot and the middle-infield opening in rotisserie leagues.

Tier One: Jose Altuve (Astros)

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Altuve has led the American League in hits and steals during each of the past two seasons, batting .327 with 94 swipes across that span. He also emerged as a power producer a year ago, smacking a career-high 15 homers -- more than double his previous personal best. The diminutive sparkplug is certain to use his elite contact skills to hit for a high average again in '16, and he is the early favorite to lead the AL in stolen bases for a third straight year. And though he is yet to score 90 times or drive in 70 runs in a single season, Altuve could further cement his first-round status by compiling more counting stats in his first full season flanked by budding star Carlos Correa.

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Tier Two: Dee Gordon (Marlins), Robinson Cano (Mariners)

Gordon was one of fantasy's most valuable hitters last season, leading the Majors with 58 steals and winning the National League batting title with a .333 average. While his batting mark will likely dip as his batted-ball luck wanes (.383 BABIP in '15), the native Floridian should nonetheless exceed 50 swipes for the third consecutive season. And if superstar slugger Giancarlo Stanton can stay off the disabled list, Gordon could score 90 runs to boot.

Outlook: Gordon, 2B, MIA

The gold standard at this position for several seasons, Cano appeared to be in rapid decline when he hit .251 with six homers during the first half of '15. But after revealing that a stomach illness had been slowing him down, the lifetime .307 hitter batted .331 with 15 homers in the second half. His furious finish fuels optimism that he is primed for his best year since joining the Mariners prior to the '14 season.

Tier Three: Anthony Rendon (Nationals), Rougned Odor (Rangers), Ian Kinsler (Tigers), Jason Kipnis (Indians), Brian Dozier (Twins)

Owners who opt to eschew this position in the initial rounds will still find several productive options thereafter. Just 22 years old, Odor is the most exciting player in this group. The native Venezuelan has already logged 887 big league plate appearances, and his early introduction to the Majors started to pay off when he hit .292 with 15 homers in his final 91 games last season.

Outlook: Odor, 2B, TEX

Kinsler, Kipnis and Dozier are no longer ascending, but each player remains a productive option. As the expected sparkplug atop a powerful Detroit lineup, Kinsler can hit for average, score 90 runs and post double-digit totals in both homers and swipes.

Kipnis surged out of the gate last year with a .401 first-half on-base percentage, but a quiet second half and an overall lack of counting stats (nine homers, 52 RBIs, 12 steals) keep him out of the second tier. To rise up these ranks, Kipnis will need to replicate his production across the 2012-13 seasons, when he averaged 16 homers and 31 swipes.

If fantasy seasons concluded at the All-Star break, Dozier would be an early-round pick. Across the past two seasons, he has hit .249 with 37 homers and 25 steals in the first half as opposed to .225 with 14 homers and eight swipes after the Midsummer Classic. With a stronger finish to the coming campaign, Dozier could ascend to the second tier.

For risk-takers, Rendon is the player to target. After hitting .287 with 21 homers, 111 runs scored and 17 steals in '14, the native Texan produced a .264 average with just five homers and one swipe in an injury-riddled '15 season. Heading into '16, owners will need to decide if Rendon -- who could bat in front of superstar Bryce Harper -- is more likely to deal with further injury woes or return to his top form.

Tier Four: Dustin Pedroia (Red Sox), Daniel Murphy (Nationals), Kolten Wong (Cardinals), Ben Zobrist (Cubs)

With one exception, veterans dominate the fourth tier of second basemen. That exception is Wong, who took a small step backward last season. Despite registering 180 more plate appearances than he did in '14, the native Hawaiian compiled fewer homers and steals. While he still possesses notable potential, Wong will need to improve on his .552 OPS against southpaws from last season in order to avoid a platoon situation with newly acquired Jedd Gyorko.

Outlook: Wong, 2B, STL

As for the more experienced members of the fourth tier, fantasy owners have reasons to be enthusiastic. In addition to his postseason heroics, Murphy is coming off the most powerful regular season of his career (14 homers across 499 at-bats). Along with solid pop, Murphy is poised to produce a high batting average if his .278 BABIP from a year ago normalizes to his lifetime .314 mark.

Reunited with manager Joe Maddon, Zobrist could also have an excellent season. Although he is not a premium power or speed threat at this stage of his career, the 34-year-old should use his strong plate skills and a premium spot in a strong Chicago lineup to get involved in plenty of run scoring.

Like Zobrist, Pedroia projects to bat from a prime spot within a lethal lineup. Pedroia has seen his power and speed dip in recent years, but he should still hit for average and score plenty of runs.

Fred Zinkie is the lead fantasy baseball writer for Follow him on Twitter at @FredZinkieMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.