From the 21st of January to the 20th of February, the writers at TDG will be taking you through our rankings position-by-position. As I mentioned in the primer, this year we’re doing things a little differently. Instead of having my personal rankings up on this site, like last year, these rankings for 2014 are of the consensus variety and being brought to you by all of the TDG staff. Everyone put a lot of work into this project, so we hope you enjoy the end result. And if you are looking for my personal dynasty league rankings, you can find them this off-season at Baseball Prospectus.
So we hope you enjoy the rankings package that we’ve put together here. And if you do, I hope that you will make a donation to show appreciation for the content you’ve seen here at the Dynasty Guru. You can do that through this link, or by clicking the “Donate” button on the top-right corner of the homepage. All donations are truly appreciated.
Third base, like last year, has some heavy hitters at the top. In fact, the top-five at the position may be as strong as any other position on the diamond (including first base). However, once you get beyond that, it’s a number of players who either haven’t proven anything or have been breakout stars without the requisite prospect status to give that extra layer of comfort. Then you have the aging third basemen who are still hanging on to their value despite being one year closer to retirement. It’s a position of power, and that’s only going to get stronger as the two prospects who clock in highest on this list both have at least 70 power potential.
Now the 20 best third baseman in dynasty leagues, starting with one of the best hitters in the game today:
1) Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers (Age: 30, Previous Rank: 1)
Even with the move over to first base this year, Miggy still tops TDG’s rankings. It really doesn’t matter what position is next to the name when a hitter is as valuable as Cabrera. He’s coming off back-to-back seasons of 44 home runs and 130+ runs batted in. He hasn’t hit less than .320 in over 5 years. While he’s already been in the league for over 10 seasons, he is still just 30 years old and has a handful of very productive years ahead of him as one of the game’s biggest run producers. To put it simply, the chance to own a player like Cabrera for multiple seasons is why many of us play in dynasty leagues in the first place.
2) Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay Rays (Age: 28, Previous Rank: 2)
Like Cabrera, Longoria maintains his spot from last year’s rankings. He bounced back from injuries in 2012 to hit over 30 home runs for the third time in his career. His peripherals were all in line with his career numbers, so there’s no reason to believe the good times can’t keep rolling. Injuries have been a thorn in his side at times, but he is smack dab in the prime of his career. His ability to provide above average counting stats at a shallower position make it hard to find a reason not to want him on your fantasy roster.
3) David Wright, New York Mets (Age: 31, Previous Rank: 4)
Aside from a hamstring injury that cost him six weeks, 2013 was yet another year of solid offensive production for the Mets’ third baseman. The top ten this year contains a nice mix of fresh talent on the rise and time-tested veterans like Wright who provide some consistency and security. A good dynasty league roster will likely have a mixture of both as well. One of the things that makes Wright so valuable is his ability to contribute across all 5 standard fantasy categories. He’s coming off two straight years with 18+ homers, 15+ steals, and a .300+ batting average.
4) Manny Machado, Baltimore Orioles (Age: 21, Previous Rank: 5)
A bad knee injury at the end of the 2013 season may depress some of Machado’s value in redraft leagues this year, but dynasty league owners should still be really excited about the young third baseman’s future. All he did in his first full season in the bigs was hit .283 with 14 home runs and 51 doubles. That doubles total was good for second best in all of Major League Baseball, and if you believe that young players turn some of their doubles into homers as they mature, then there is still a lot of power untapped in Machado’s bat.
5) Adrian Beltre, Texas Rangers (Age: 34, Previous Rank: 3)
The slight dip in Beltre’s ranking from last year has less to do with his production (which is fantastic) and more to do with the fact that of the other top ten players listed here, he probably has the fewest miles left on his tires. Not only has he joined the 30 home run club every year since joining the Rangers, but he also struck out less than anybody else in this top ten (11.3%). He’s a safe bet for elite contributions in both power and batting average, which is a combination that isn’t always easy to find.
6) Miguel Sano, Minnesota Twins (Age: 20, Previous Rank: 13)
The youngest player in this year’s top ten may also end up hitting the most home runs in his prime. Across two levels of the minor leagues last season, Sano slugged 35 home runs with 103 runs batted in. He’s not without flaws, though, and his 29.3% whiff rate in Double-A last season is worth monitoring as he progresses. Sano has reportedly put a lot of time and effort into improving his defense at the hot corner, which is good news for fantasy owners hoping he’ll be their third baseman of the future. If you haven’t seen him play in person, please do…he’s special. If you can’t, do the next best thing and check out the film Pelotero.
7) Josh Donaldson, Oakland Athletics (Age: 28, Previous Rank: 40)
Donaldson enjoyed a breakout in 2013 that was big enough to propel him over 30 spots in the rankings here at TDG. Only Miguel Cabrera had a higher on-base percentage last season among third basemen. A lot of his value came from his 24 home runs and .301 batting average. Doubters might point to the fact that 13 of his 24 homers were of the “just-enough” variety according to the ESPN home run tracker. Considering 4 other top ten third baseman on this list had at least 12 “just-enoughs”, we won’t hold it against him. At just 28, he should continue to put up similar numbers, if not improve upon them.
8) Kris Bryant, Chicago Cubs (Age: 22, Previous Rank: NR)
A ‘bonanza’ is defined as something that produces very good results for someone or something. It’s probably not a coincidence that the Cubs’ first-round draft pick in 2013 came out of Bonanza High School in Vegas before he was a University of San DIego star. Dynasty owners would be smart to invest as well, since Bryant projects to be a fantasy stud like fellow youngster Miguel Sano. In 36 games last year across 3 minor league levels, Bryant posted a 1.078 OPS. There’s a question as to what position he’ll ultimately play, but there is no question about the offensive potential here.
9) Ryan Zimmerman, Washington Nationals (Age: 29, Previous Rank: 6)
Zimmerman put up his second straight season of 25+ homers in 2013 even though he missed a handful of games due to injury again. His strikeout percentage has increased each of the last 3 years, but he is still a safe bet for an average in the .275-.285 range to go along with the solid power numbers. There are some grumblings that Zimmerman could move off of the position if/when Adam LaRoche leaves town, but if Anthony Rendon settles in at second base, there’s no reason the Nats can’t keep trotting him out there at the hot corner, where his bat has a lot of value for fantasy owners.
10) Pedro Alvarez, Pittsburgh Pirates (Age: 27, Previous Rank: 20)
Alvarez is really good at two things: hitting for power and striking out. He was second among all third basemen in both categories last year with 36 homers and a 30.3% strikeout percentage. The question is how much are those 30+ homers worth, and at a time when power is at a premium, Alvarez makes for a solid play at third base. He led all third basemen with a 26.3% HR/FB ratio, and while you can try to balance his average out somewhere else in your lineup, those homers aren’t as easy to replicate. He’s still just 27, and even a small improvement against lefties might swing his batting average in a better direction.
11) Kyle Seager, Seattle Mariners (Age: 26, Previous Rank: 21)
Seager didn’t have many believers headed into 2013 thanks to his relatively anonymous status as a minor leaguer, but we now have more than 1,300 innings of freakish consistency from the Mariners third baseman. He’s averaged a .260 average, 21 homers and 11 steals over the past two seasons, with the only real variance coming in his R and RBI totals. Given that Seager is entering his Age 26 season and the lineup around him improved this year, there’s no reason to expect him to fail to produce along similar lines in 2014. The ceiling here is limited, but he’s about as safe as they come.
12) Pablo Sandoval, San Francisco Giants (Age: 27, Previous Rank: 7)
That Sandoval still rates this highly after back-to-back subpar seasons speaks to the lack of depth at third base right now. The Kung-Fu Panda hit .278/.341/.417 last season, and it’s beginning to look more like Sandoval’s two 20-plus-homer seasons are the anomalies, rather than the modest mid-teen totals he posts now. On the other hand, he’s entering his prime and appears to be a legitimate Best Shape Of His Life candidate. The uncertainty makes Sandoval an unattractive fantasy target if he’s drafted based on name recognition, but a potential steal if he slips thanks to a pedestrian 2013.
13) Nolan Arenado, Colorado Rockies (Age: 22, Previous Rank: 22)
Arenado’s prospect path is one we’ve seen all too often. A successful young player is wildly overrated on preseason prospect lists, then wildly underrated when he fails to meet unrealistic expectations. That led to many being down on Arenado headed into 2013, but his .267/.301/.405 line with 10 homers in 514 PA represented a solid rookie effort, and I’d expect Arenado’s power to rise steadily in the year’s ahead. We’re not talking about someone who has the potential to top these rankings some day, but he could have many top-10 seasons in his prime.
14) Chase Headley, San Diego Padres (Age: 29, Previous Rank: 10)
Remember when everyone was all like, “Headley isn’t going to hit for 31 homers again” after last season? That’s because Headley is never going to hit for 30-plus homers again. I do expect a modest rebound in 2014, as there’s nothing in his LD, GB or FB percentages to suggest that he should hit in the .250 range again. But even if he spends half of 2014 outside of Petco I don’t see him pushing for more than 20 homers, and I’m not sure I love his odds at 15-plus steals again as he’s about to turn 30 and has leg injuries (literally) under his belt.
15) Brett Lawrie, Toronto Blue Jays (Age: 24, Previous Rank: 8)
With Justin Bieber soon to be deported (topical reference!), Lawrie may soon be the most disappointing embedded Canadian regularly visiting the U.S. “Four Loko personified” can’t stay on the field, playing in just 107 games last season after playing in 125 in 2012, and his average last season was disappointing as well. Odds are Lawrie will stay healthy one of these years, and he has the raw skills to hit 20 homers and steal 15 bases with a decent average. That’d be a great season from third base, but Lawarie is past the point where he deserves the constant benefit of our collective doubt.
16) Nick Castellanos, Detroit Tigers (Age: 22, Previous Rank: 12)
It’s odd to see Castellanos rank lower than he did in 2012 given his proximity to the majors now, but such are the quirks you face when transitioning from individual to consensus rankings. After experimenting with Castellanos in the outfield so as to use him in the same lineup as Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder, Casty will now get to return to the hot corner after the Fielder trade, which is huge for his fantasy value. I think the power won’t be there right away, but Castellanos can roll out of bed and hit for a good average, and I’ll trust the scouting over the MiLB numbers here. He could be quite valuable in 2014 given the lineup he’ll be playing in.
17) Aramis Ramirez, Milwaukee Brewers (Age: 35, Previous Rank: 9)
Ramirez is one of the more offensive gifted third basemen of his generation, and I think he’ll be able to hit .280 with 20 homers per 600 PA for the rest of time. The issue at this point in Ramirez’ career becomes how often he’ll be able to stay on the field, as Ramirez played in just 92 games last season after two consecutive years of appearing in 149 contests. Ramirez is still a strong option in redraft leagues, and may actually be undervalued thanks to last year’s injuries, but dynasty league owners should be skeptical of the value he’ll provide in 2015 and beyond.
18) Will Middlebrooks, Boston Red Sox (Age: 25, Previous Rank: 15)
Aside from the whole winning the World Series thing, WMB’s 2013 season didn’t go as planned. After a standout 2013 debut that saw Middlebrooks hit 15 homers with a .288 average in 286 PA, the pitch recognition and contact issues that many feared while WMB was a prospect really limited him last season. While Middlebrooks was better after a mid-season demotion back to Triple-A, his flaws have been clearly exposed and 2014 is a make-or-break year for him so far as starting on a first division team is concerned. There’s real 25-homer upside here. The only question is whether it will come with a usable average. Jenny Dell, though.
19) Todd Frazier, Cincinnati Reds (Age: 28, Previous Rank: 16)
Frazier’s 2013 campaign is likely considered somewhat of a disappointment, as he slightly underperformed on a per-PA basis from his decent 2012 campaign. He was still able to hit 19 homers with 73 RBI and 63 R, but a .269 BABIP sunk Frazier’s average to .234. A decline in LD% is partially to blame, and it gels with what many thought about Frazier as a prospect – he’s going to have trouble hitting for average. He’ll still accumulate stats as an everyday starter and the 20-homer power is nice, but this is a player largely devoid of upside.
20) Mike Moustakas, Kansas City Royals (Age: 25, Previous Rank: 14)
Perhaps no one on this list has broken as many fantasy hearts as has Moustakas, who many once believed was on his way to legit MLB stardom and who instead just took a large step back during his age-24 season. Moustakas already has a 20-homer season under his belt in the majors, so we know the power is real, but he’s probably another half-season away from becoming a platoon player thanks to his inability to hit lefties, and bad LD and BABIP numbers have submarined his average, too. I’d still take his upside over some older, more boring players, but I’m done being seduced by the Moose.
Commentary by Mike Buttil, Ben Carsley and Bret Sayre.