The theme continues as we make our way to the final infield position – the right side of the infield is getting weaker from a fantasy perspective, as the left side of the infield is getting stronger. With Miguel Cabrera and Manny Machado joining the ranks, along with breakouts from Chase Headley, Will Middlebrooks, Todd Frazier and others, the third base position is primed for a run of quality and depth that hasn’t been seen in a long time. Even the top-10 only has three members over 30 years old (and David Wright just turned 30 last month).
The trend continues on the minor league side of the equation, as six out of my top 50 prospects are third basemen. This includes potential high-end talent in Rendon, Castellanos, Sano, Olt and more. In addition to that, there’s a whole wave of SS prospects that are unlikely to stick at the position long-term, and may end up at the hot corner. In fact, it’s not a stretch to say that four to five more top-50 prospects have the potential to end up at the position.
I think we’re pretty close to a renaissance for the position, and the biggest difference between the growth at shortstop and third base is that the revolution isn’t just approaching on the horizon, it’s here now. The position is deep and getting deeper, although it’s still impossible to touch the guy at the top.
And now your top 50 dynasty league third basemen, with commentary:
#1 – Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers
It didn’t take the Triple Crown to tell you this one was a no brainer. There’s a valid argument that he’s the #1 player in fantasy today (though you’ll get opposition from the Trout and Braun contingents), and the only risk with Miggy is when he loses the 3B eligibility – though my guess is he maintains it through the 2014 fantasy season. But in the end, it doesn’t really matter.
#2 – Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay Rays
#3 – Adrian Beltre, Texas Rangers
#4 – David Wright, New York Mets
You wouldn’t get a huge argument from me if you arranged these next three guys in a different order, but Longoria’s youth rules out here. It’s not unreasonable to point out that I docked Tulowitzki for not being able to stay healthy, but am keeping Longoria above two other elite performers at the position – however, since Longoria came up to the majors in 2008, he’s played fewer games than Tulowitzki only once (11 fewer games in 2011). Beltre is a reliable stud, but he’s also going to turn 34 during the first week of the season and this party won’t continue on forever. I do, however, like it to continue for at least another few years – which is why he’s barely ahead of David Wright. The concerns with Wright are with how much he’ll steal as he ages, as he’s a different player when he’s stealing 25 bases than he is when he’s stealing 10-15. It will be very interesting to see where Wright’s strikeout rate settles in 2013, as he was constantly in the 16-17% range from 2004 to 2008, in the 21-24% range from 2009 to 2011 and back down to 16.6% in 2012. He’ll need to keep it there if he wants to be a .300 hitter going forward.
#5 – Manny Machado, Baltimore Orioles
Yes, this is aggressive, but Machado is going to be a star and soon. Possibly even as soon as 2013. He’s going to play the first half of the 2013 at the age of 20 and, although Mike Trout and Bryce Harper have ruined prospects for us forever, I expect him to build on his 200+ PA trial from this past season. In his prime, this should be a plus average, plus-plus power hitter with a very real shot at gaining SS eligibility within the next two seasons. On top of that, he’s fully capable of stealing 15-20 bases annually during the first half of his career. If he were SS eligible now, I’d rank him just above Jurickson Profar.
#6 – Ryan Zimmerman, Washington Nationals
I had to do a bit of a double take when I saw that Zimmerman will still play all but the last week of the 2013 season at the age of 28. His overall line for 2012 masks how good he was in the second half, when he hit .319/.381/.564 with 17 HR and 55 RBI in 298 AB. Despite the improved performance, his shoulder continued to be an issue throughout the season, and he had surgery after the post-season to repair the AC joint in his right shoulder. When healthy, Zimm can provide near-elite production.
#7 – Pablo Sandoval, San Francisco Giants
Kung Fu Panda is a really valuable player when he’s hitting over .300 and puts up more than 20 HR. When he’s not doing either of those things, he’s a disappointment, as he’s not one to put up monster counting stats and he doesn’t steal bases. And as much as his home park plays against hitters, Sandoval (amazingly) had a .874 OPS at home and .718 mark on the road in 2012. I think Sandoval builds off his World Series MVP and re-establishes himself as a great fantasy option at 3B this season.
#8 – Brett Lawrie, Toronto Blue Jays
The hype was out of control with Lawrie during the 2012 pre-season, but the skills are still there which got everyone excited in the first place – we just need to keep it toned down this time. The now 23-year old, still has 20/20 potential, it just might take an extra year to get there. As part of that stacked-on-paper Blue Jays lineup, Lawrie could amazingly be undervalued heading into the 2013 season.
#9 – Aramis Ramirez, Milwaukee Brewers
I just recently wrote about what fantasy owners should do about Aramis Ramirez here, but the short answer is “hold onto him and enjoy the production”. He may be 34 years old, but he shows little sign of slowing down. His average season over the past ten years has been .294 with 28 HR and 98 RBI – and he’s been just as good, if not better, over the last two (.303, 27 HR, 99 RBI). The injury risk is also a little overblown, as Ramirez has only been on the DL twice in the last five seasons.
#10 – Chase Headley, San Diego Padres
My feelings about Headley can best be explained using a Venn diagram. This Venn diagram to be exact:
#11 – Anthony Rendon, Washington Nationals
#12 – Nick Castellanos, Detroit Tigers
#13 – Miguel Sano, Minnesota Twins
#14 – Mike Moustakas, Kansas City Royals
#15 – Will Middlebrooks, Boston Red Sox
#16 – Todd Frazier, Cincinnati Reds
This is where you really feel the depth at the 3B position. Both Middlebrooks and Moustakas will be 24 on Opening Day, which sets them a little apart from Frazier (who will be 27), even though Frazier had the better 2012 season. All three of these guys have the ability to hit for 25-30 HR power with reasonable batting averages – and if there wasn’t a glut of high-end guys in front of them, they’d be much bigger deals. I give Moustakas the slight nod because I think he has the most power potential of the group.
#17 – Martin Prado, Atlanta Braves
Prado falls victim to some positional fallout here, as his steady value is overshadowed by both the depth and upside of the 3B position in general – similarly to the next name on this list. I don’t see any reason why Prado will not continue as a .300 hitter with double digit power and a handful of steals – it would just be much more valuable if he were to gain 2B eligibility.
#18 – Mike Olt, Texas Rangers
#19 – David Freese, St Louis Cardinals
Freese is a great example of why you just can’t regress a player’s BABIP to some sort of league average. In parts of four major league seasons, Freese has never had a BABIP lower than his 2012 level of .352 – his career rate is .359. The reason he is not higher on this list is two-fold. First, he has a very checkered injury past. His 144 games played in 2012 was a career high, and he played in only 253 games over the last three seasons (including the minors). Secondly, as a solid (but not amazing) option at the position, he similarly falls prey to positional depth, like Martin Prado before him.
#20 – Pedro Alvarez, Pittsburgh Pirates
#21 – Kyle Seager, Seattle Mariners
Just a pair of 25 year olds trying to make it in a tough position. Alvarez’s 30 HR power that he showed in 2012 is legit and repeatable, but the average will never make him a high quality option at 3B. It’s just tough to hit higher than around .240-.250 if you’re striking out over 30% of the time. Seager’s game is more about all-around production, and should benefit from the off-season dimension altering at Safeco. He’s also got more room for growth in the batting average department, making him a potential .270-15-15 player going forward.
#22 – Nolan Arenado, Colorado Rockies
#23 – Kaleb Cowart, Los Angeles Angels
#24 – Matt Davidson, Arizona Diamondbacks
#25 – Corey Seager, Los Angeles Dodgers
#26 – Alex Rodriguez, New York Yankees
Yes, the hip. And yes, the age. And yes, the down performance. And yes, the playoff benching. Even with all of those things in the equation, I still believe A-Rod still has some good performance left in him. Before he was hit by a Felix Hernandez pitch on July 24, he was hitting .276/.358/.449 with 15 HR and 11 SB in 400 PA. If he can come back healthy from his hip surgery (whenever that is), he could provide underrated production if everyone thinks he’s just flat out done.
#27 – Chris Nelson, Colorado Rockies
If I told you that there was a former first round pick heading into his age-27 season and coming off a year where he quietly hit .324/.363/.504 with 9 HR, 46 RBI and 41 R in 272 AB from June 1 to the end of the year, you’d listen, right? And if he could be had cheaply, played at Coors Field and also carried 2B eligibility? Even though Nelson’s BABIP was pretty unsustainable, he could hit .280-.290 with 20 HR power in 2013.
#28 – Richie Shaffer, Tampa Bay Rays
#29 – Joey Gallo, Texas Rangers
#30 – Kevin Youkilis, New York Yankees
#31 – Michael Young, Philadelphia Phillies
Just two old guys looking to bounce back. It’s like the start of a really bad CBS sitcom. Youkilis hasn’t hit 20 HR since 2009, but it’s mostly because of playing time issues (he hasn’t played more than 122 games since 2009 either). When he’s playing, he can still be productive, but you’ll need a capable backup. And as far as Young goes, the difference between a below-average and above-average Michael Young season usually comes down to BABIP. A swing back in the direction of positive luck could make Young look more like the 2011 version than the 2012 version this season, so don’t leave him for dead yet.
#32 – Jeimer Candelario, Chicago Cubs
#33 – Lonnie Chisenhall, Cleveland Indians
Still only 24 years old, Chisenhall hasn’t exactly ingratiated himself with Indians fans so far in his career, but hasn’t embarrassed himself either (.260 with 12 HR in 109 career games). The talent that made him a two time top-50 prospect in baseball (by Baseball America) is still there. He’s a worthy flier.
#34 – Trevor Plouffe, Minnesota Twins
The power is pretty legit with Plouffe, but unfortunately, so is the batting average risk. The biggest problem going forward is the fact that he’s now lost his SS eligibility – making him a much less interesting asset (though it’s not out of the realm of possibility that he could get it back in-season).
#35 – Wilmer Flores, New York Mets
#36 – Cheslor Cuthbert, Kansas City Royals
#37 – Rio Ruiz, Houston Astros
One of my favorite final cuts from the Top-150, Ruiz carries upside everywhere with the bat, but he has some injury risk and he’s very young/raw. Definitely a potential breakout candidate for 2013 (or even 2014).
#38 – Juan Francisco, Atlanta Braves
#39 – Chris Johnson, Atlanta Braves
Juan Francisco may have the first crack at the Braves 3B job, but with his power comes severe contact issues. Chris Johnson is a better player than people give him credit for, and for his career has been decidedly average (100 wRC+ and 102 OPS+, with 100 being league average in both cases). He’s the perfect replacement-level player in a 14-16 team mixed format when he has a job — which may be soon if Francisco strikes out in 34% of his at bats like he did in 2012.
#40 – Josh Donaldson, Oakland Athletics
After returning to the A’s lineup on August 14th, Donaldson quietly hit .290/.356/.489 with 8 HR, 26 RBI and 3 SB in 176 AB. It’s tough to trust September stats all that much, but if you’re looking for a cheap flier who could bust out, Donaldson is as good as any.
#41 – Tyler Goeddel, Tampa Bay Rays
#42 – Stefen Romero, Seattle Mariners
#43 – Alberto Callaspo, Los Angeles Angels
#44 – Matt Dominguez, Houston Astros
#45 – Josh Vitters, Chicago Cubs
Raise your hand if you were a first round pick in the MLB draft! Now raise your hand if you have a career OPS+ greater than 10. You can put your hand down now, Josh.
#46 – Eric Chavez, Arizona Diamondbacks
Clearly, I’m not very confident in Chavez staying healthy with no DH position to fall back on. Plus, he appears to have lost his job to Martin Prado anyway.
#47 – Jordan Pacheco, Colorado Rockies
#48 – Stephen Piscotty, St Louis Cardinals
#49 – Scott Rolen, Cincinnati Reds
#50 – Placido Polanco, Philadelphia Phillies
Let’s be honest, you weren’t sure if either of these guys were retired either.
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