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February 25, 2013

Pre-Season Positional Rankings

Top 15 Fantasy Third Basemen

by Bret Sayre

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It seems like in a matter of one season, third base went from a brutally thin position to one that is deceptively strong—especially at the top. Of course, you’d expect this to happen when studs at other positions, like Miguel Cabrera and Hanley Ramirez, gain eligibility at third base. And as you move down the ranks from there, you’ll also see 2012 breakout star Chase Headley comfortably in the top 10, and AL East rookie representatives Manny Machado and Will Middlebrooks at the back end of the list or just off of it. On the other side, the position lost Edwin Encarnacion to first base and Chipper Jones to retirement, but neither was drafted among the top-15 options at the position last spring.

When you look across these names, you’ll notice a consistent theme—they are mostly similar types of players, in terms of the categories in which they are strong and those in which they can hurt your team. By that, I mean they are mostly power bats. In fact, PECOTA only projects six third basemen to even reach double digits in steals during 2013—Hanley Ramirez, Brett Lawrie, David Wright, Chase Headley, Todd Frazier and Mike Aviles.

And with that, here are your top 15 third basemen for 2013:

  1. Miguel Cabrera
  2. Adrian Beltre
  3. Evan Longoria
  4. David Wright
  5. Hanley Ramirez
  6. Aramis Ramirez
  7. Ryan Zimmerman
  8. Chase Headley
  9. Pablo Sandoval
  10. Brett Lawrie
  11. David Freese*
  12. Martin Prado
  13. Todd Frazier
  14. Manny Machado
  15. Mike Moustakas

Honorable Mentions: Kyle Seager, Will Middlebrooks, Pedro Alvarez

*With eight starts at third base, Mark Trumbo is eligible in Yahoo! leagues, and would be slotted between Lawrie and Freese given the additional eligibility.

Notes:

  1. What is there to add about Cabrera that we don’t already know? He’s a stud, he’s money in the bank, and he’s by far the best option at this position. For my jellybeans, he’s the second-best player overall for fantasy, right behind Ryan Braun. And if you wanted to remove yourself from the Biogenesis risk, putting Cabrera at number one, I would have no issue with that (though I’m not personally doing it).
     
  2. Since getting out of the right-handed-power black hole that is Safeco Field, Beltre’s average season over the last three years has been a .314 batting average with 32 homers, 104 RBI and 87 runs scored. He may turn 34 during the first week of the season, but I’m not anticipating a sudden dropoff in performance.
     
  3. Longoria is an extremely talented hitter, but there’s just too much of a history of inconsistency to put him any higher here. And it’s not just the injury history, which frankly has been a little overblown (he averaged 141 games played per season from 2008 to 2011). It’s that, even when he’s healthy, he’s not putting up the type of numbers people expect. In 2010, the power wasn’t there (22 homers). In 2011, the average wasn’t there (.244). In 2012, the health wasn’t there. One of these years, he’s going to be a top-10 fantasy player—it’s just tough to know when that year is going to come.
     
  4. Wright hit over .300 for first five full seasons of his career. After a two-year hiatus, he hit .306 in 2012. Since Wright hasn’t hit 30 homers since 2008 or stolen 20 bases since 2009, he’s going to need to draw value from his batting average going forward to continue to be a top-five option at the position. Fortunately, his 16.7% strikeout rate in 2012 was his lowest since 2008, after putting up rates in the 21-24% range over the previous three seasons.
     
  5. H. Ramirez was written up in the shortstop list, but since it’s reasonable that he’d be used at the hot corner, he shows up here as well. I’m very bullish on him this season, having taken him in all three expert mocks I’ve participated in so far. He’s in the top spot on my personal list at shortstop for 2013, and barely ranks behind Wright here. It’s tough to argue with a floor of 20 homers, 20 steals and 90 RBI.
     
  6. It may surprise some to see A. Ramirez as the next name on this list, but it really shouldn’t. He has a reputation of being brittle and injury-prone, although he’s only been on the disabled list twice in the last five years. He also has a reputation of being a slow starter, which is absolutely true. He has a career OPS below 800 in both April and May, but from June to September, his career OPS figures by month are 863, 912, 910, and 890. So don’t be that guy who trades him away in May. You’ll regret it.
     
  7. To be perfectly honest, I did a double take when I saw that Zimmerman is still only 28 years old. His shoulder is a lingering concern, but it certainly didn’t affect him at the plate during the second half of 2012, when he hit .319 with 17 homers and 55 RBI in only 298 at-bats. He may be taking it slow this spring, as he recovers from off-season shoulder surgery, but he’s expected to be ready to roll on Opening Day.
     
  8. It’s a misconception that Headley’s value is completely dependent on his newfound power sticking around. Even if Headley had accumulated only 20 homers and 90 RBI, he would still have been right behind David Wright as the sixth-best third baseman for fantasy in 2012. And that 20/90 is a pretty good approximation of what I expect out of Headley going forward.
     
  9. There has been far too much talk about Sandoval’s weight so far this spring, as it relates to his fantasy value. I’m not buying it. Panda can hit at 220 pounds, he can hit at 240 pounds, and he can hit at 260 pounds. Sandoval came out of the gates mashing in 2012, hitting .316/.375/.537 with five homers in 95 at-bats, before requiring his second surgery to remove the hamate bone in his wrist. But the great thing about hamate bones is that you only have two.
     
  10. I was one of the few rational voices out there railing against the deification of Lawrie last spring, but now that there’s some post-hype quality to his value, he’s well worth the pre-draft spotlight. However, if Lawrie wants to get to the 20-homer plateau, he’s likely going to have to reduce his 50.2 percent ground-ball rate. It’s no coincidence that when he hit nine homers in only 43 games during 2011, his ground-ball rate was just 38.1 percent.
     
  11. This is the point in our programming where there’s the biggest gap between players. There’s nothing inherently wrong with Freese, but, like I mentioned with Lawrie, it’s tough to put up big power numbers when you have a ground ball rate of 50 percent or higher—and Freese has been at 52 percent in each of the last two seasons. Having a third baseman that can hit .290 with 15-20 homers is valuable, but when he also has never driven in 80 runs in a season and has played in 100 games only once since 2008, it becomes a much less intriguing proposition.
     
  12. Prado is very similar, from a fantasy perspective, to Freese, except with less upside and health risk. He’s perfectly capable of hitting .300 with 12-15 homers and 90 runs scored, but those 17 steals from 2012 were likely a fluke. However, one thing to watch out for with Prado is the specter of him potentially gaining shortstop eligibility during the season. The Diamondbacks, even after trading for half the shortstops in professional baseball during the offseason, are still weak at the position right now.
     
  13. Remember when I mentioned the handful of players who were projected by PECOTA to top 10 stolen bases? The most surprising name on the list was Frazier, who is projected for 12 steals, after accumulating four in the first 169 games of his career. The reason for this probably has to do with the 31 stolen bases he had in Triple-A between 2010 and 2011. If he can steal even 5-7 bases to go with his 20+ home-run power, Frazier could make very good on his pre-season ADP, which places him 15th among third basemen (according to the latest NFBC data).
     
  14. I’ve made no secret of the fact that I think Machado is going to be a star in this league, and soon. The Orioles have challenged him at every level during his development, which is why he doesn’t have the gaudy minor-league statistics that some of his top-prospect counterparts own. With the caveat that it’s a small sample to be working from, Machado made improvements during the short time he was in the majors last season. In August, he had two walks to 17 strikeouts in 73 plate appearances and improved that to seven walks and 21 strikeouts in 129 plate appearances in September/October—which was in the heart of the playoff race, no less. Additionally, the same comment I had about Prado gaining shortstop eligibility applies to Machado as well, and even a minor J.J. Hardy injury would likely get him there. So, while he’s likely to get overhyped due to “Mike Trout syndrome” this preseason, there is a very real chance (around 25 percent, in my opinion) that Machado breaks out and finishes the year as a top-five third baseman.
     
  15. Last year was truly a tale of two halves for Moustakas. Before the All-Star break, he hit .268/.327/.490 with 15 homers, 47 RBI and a 19.3 percent strikeout rate. Afterward, that came down to .211/.261/.325 with five homers, 26 RBI and a 21.2 percent strikeout rate. There were whispers that he was playing through a knee injury that was more serious than he was letting on down the stretch, but that’s all hearsay. The power is there for Moustakas to hit 30 homers in 2013, but it’s his career strikeout rate (below 18 percent) that separates him from the sluggers on his tail—namely Middlebrooks and Alvarez.

Bret Sayre is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Bret's other articles. You can contact Bret by clicking here

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