Note this article also be found on my new site, here.
The top-tier talent still exists, but the third base position lacks the depth we have become accustomed to in the past. By my count, only two players eligible at the position can be considered true five-category threats, Alex Rodriguez and David Wright. In fact, last season only seven third basemen stole more than nine bases and one of those guys, Emilio Bonifacio, probably should not be drafted as he only contributes in that one category.
As you will see, two themes resonate throughout the article: health and opportunity. One without the other does little.
Here’s the breakdown:
The First Rounders
1) Alex Rodriguez, NYY: A-Rod has delivered his fantasy owners at least 30 homers and 100 RBI every season since 1997. He no longer runs like he used to but can still be counted on for 15-20 stolen bases all while contributing a solid batting average. The only worry here revolves around the health of his hip which caused him to miss the first month of the 2009 season. All reports seem to indicate the hip can sustain a year of wear and tear meaning he should be the first 3B off the board in your draft.
2) David Wright, NYM: Like A-Rod, Wright missed time last season with an injury which helped to contribute to the career low numbers he produced in homers, runs, and RBI. A move to a new pitcher-friendly park did not help matters. However, Wright’s ’09 season seems to be the anomaly. At 27, he figures to see his power return to their 2005-8 levels with any luck. Despite the time missed, Wright stole 27 bases, second most among third basemen.
The Second Rounders
3) Evan Longoria, TB: Longoria, aka (by me) “A-Rod Lite”, should be good for 300-100-100-10 which more than justifies an early round pick. Like Mark Reynolds (details below), if Longoria can cut down on the strikeouts, he can bump up his average too.
4) Mark Reynolds, Ari: Reynolds had an incredible 2009 season finishing fourth in the Majors with 44 homers. He also added 24 stolen bases despite never having topped 11 in any professional year prior. So why isn’t the former Virginia Cavalier a shoo-in first rounder? Batting average. Reynolds racked up an incredible 223 strikeouts, 37 more than the next closest player, on his way to a .260 average. If Reynolds can put the ball in play even a bit more than he has in the past, his average could climb into a level of respectability making him a steal in the second round.
The Third-Fifth Rounders
5) Aramis Ramirez, CHC: When healthy, Ramirez has been a four category stud. He has garnered MVP votes in four of the past six seasons. Unfortunately, he missed half of last season with injury. Can he bounce back? My guess would be yes. After returning from the separated shoulder he suffered, Ramirez picked up right where he left off (a good sign for this year), and he will only be 31 on Opening Day.
6) Pablo Sandoval, SF: The Panda had a huge 2009 season and reportedly lost some weight meaning he might steal some bases this year too. Sign me up.
7) Kevin Youkilis, Bos: Youk’s power and RBI numbers took a dip last season but still produced at a more than adequate level to warrant a top-5 round pick. He will hit in the middle of a solid lineup. No red flags here.
8) Ryan Zimmerman, Was: The pride of DC won’t let the Nats lose 100 games but will he put up 30-100-100 for his fantasy owners? Probably not as he has only reached 30 homers, 100 runs once, and 100 RBI twice but the potential is there. I could not fault any owner who bumps Zimm up a few slots on this list.
9) Chone Figgins, Sea: He stole 50% more bases than the next closest third baseman. Plus, he will certainly help you with runs scored. For whatever reason, he cannot seem to sustain the high batting average. Look at his last five seasons: .290, .267, .330, .276, .298. Expect at least a small drop-off.
10) Chipper Jones, Atl: Despite playing in 143 games, Jones’ numbers were completely underwhelming. He will be 38 in April and seems like he is slipping down a slippery slope. Does he have one more year left in him?
11) Michael Young, Tex: Last season, Young set a career high in Slugging Percentage, a great sign. He’s always reliable for a high batting average and figures to get a ton of RBI opportunities in this potent lineup.
12) Gordon Beckham, CWS: Beckham more than held his own during his rookie year, and big things are expected this season. A position switch might be in store (second base), but for now we will enjoy his production at third. Positional flexibility never hurt anyone.
13) Adrian Beltre, Bos: Acquired because of his defensive prowess, Beltre finds himself in a great hitting situation. A rejuvenated Beltre figures to thrive now that he won’t have to play half his games in spacious Safeco.
14) Mark DeRosa, SF: DeRosa’s best asset might be his versatility both for the Giants and your fantasy team. He should qualify at 2B, 3B, and OF, but 20 homers and 80 RBI will play anywhere in your lineup. Plus, he boosts your team’s GPA.
15) Jorge Cantu, Fla: Despite being the subject of numerous trade rumors throughout the offseason, Cantu will again find himself serving as protection for Hanley Ramirez. That means he will have plenty of RBI opportunities. He will help in batting average too.
The Late Rounders
16) Casey McGehee, Mil: We have a very small sample size to work with here but, aside from a slightly below average contact rate, raises no red flags. Do not expect 30 homers but in the late rounds, you already knew that.
17) Miguel Tejada, Bal: Tejada will most likely not be eligible at third base when the season starts meaning he will need a caddy for the first few weeks, and he will be turning 36 in May. However, at this point, he offers the best value.
18) Casey Blake, LAD: Blake is a steady, unsexy, option at third base. Pencil him in for .280-20-75. Boring but dependable.
19) David Freese, StL: One of two rookies (Brandon Wood) that figures to play regularly beginning on Opening Day, Freese must overcome some off-the-fields issues in order to gain the trust of the Cardinals’ brass. For the sake of fantasy owners, we hope his 25-homer power erases those memories in a hurry. Hitting in a lineup with the likes of Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday often makes players overachieve. Works for me.
20) Mark Teahen, CWS: Teahan has been penciled into the 3-hole of the White Sox making him an attractive late round option. Do not expect power but he can be useful.
21) Brandon Inge, Det: Only draft Inge if you are either a) dumping batting average or b) planning to draft Joe Mauer. He has power but it comes with a steep price.
Guys Getting Fresh Starts
22) Kevin Kouzmanoff, Oak: Kouz is making a lateral ballpark move (Petco to Oakland Coliseum). His new digs should see him him surrounded by better hitters which could bump him runs and RBI.
23) Pedro Feliz, Hou: Feliz has had an OPS between .694 and .717 each of the last five seasons. Another guy making a lateral ballpark move (from hitter friendly Citizen’s Bank Park to hitter-friendly Minute Maid Park), Feliz should deliver more of the same.
24) Garrett Atkins, Bal: Atkins leaves the hitter heaven of Coors where he struggled mightily last season. He will be given a starting job, something he could not keep last year, and will probably hit in the heart of the O’s lineup. Worth a shot.
25) Edwin Encarnacion, Tor: Miscast as a third baseman (terrible defensively), Encarnacion was acquired in midseason from Cincinnati. He has tape measure power but cannot make consistent enough contact to be a dependable fantasy threat.
Each of these players has at least one giant red flag associated with him.
Scott Rolen (Cin), Troy Glaus (Atl), and Mike Lowell (Bos): (Injury): Rolen missed 34 games last year, Glaus missed all but 14 games last season, and Lowell had offseason wrist surgery (adios power). They all need to be drafted (in this order) and should go off the board any time after Round 15.
Adam Kennedy (No team): Kennedy remains unemployed but proved to be a useful player last season when given the opportunity.
Three Former Prospects That Should Not Be Forgotten
Less than three years ago, these three were the beacons of hope for the perennially-struggling teams in San Diego, Kansas City, and Pittsburgh. Now, they are almost afterthoughts. It shouldn’t be this way. I expect these guys to be fantasy starters in deeper leagues by year end.
Chase Headley, SD: Two years ago, the plan was to build around Adrian Gonzalez, Jake Peavey and Headley. Obviously, things have changed a bit.
Alex Gordon, KC: The best hitting prospect in the game three years ago, Gordon needs to make the most of the starting opportunity he was handed. He also needs to stay healthy.
Andy LaRoche, Pit: LaRoche was a prospect in the Dodgers system until they traded him in the Manny Ramirez-Jason bay deal. If he’s not careful, he will be watching Pedro Alvarez take his job. Can competition bring out the best from LaRoche?
The One-Category Guys
If it gets late in the draft and you see you are missing one category and a third baseman, these are four you might want to consider.
Ian Stewart, Col (Homers): He will kill your batting average but he has 30 homer power.
Placido Polanco, Phi (Runs): Like Tejada, he will not be 3B-elgible for the first few weeks, but he moved into a great situation in a great park. He might be able to help in batting average too although his average took a dip last season.
Martin Prado, Atl (Batting Average): Figures to hit .300 near the top of the Atlanta lineup.
Jhonny Peralta, Cle (RBI): Hitting in the 6-hole offers Peralta consistent opportunities to knock runs in.
Emilio Bonifacio, Fla (Stolen Bases): As mentioned above, he is probably free agent fodder but desperate times call for desperate measures and Bonifacio can be useful.
Brandon Wood, LAA: Looks like Wood will finally get his chance this year in Anaheim err, LA. ETA: Opening Day
Brett Wallace, Tor: A terrible body but a terrific hitter. ETA: June
Todd Frazier, Cin: Frazier probably fits best in the outfield as he struggles on defense but if presented with the chance to play, he could be useful. ETA: June