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August 27, 2014

They Hold No Quarter

Third Basemen

by Baseball Prospectus

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If there’s anything we love more than baseball around here on the fantasy staff, it’s collaborating with each other. So, at the behest of myself, we’re going to be doing one final group series of the year to close out the last seven weeks of the season. For this series, we will each select one player who is below 25 percent owned in either ESPN or Yahoo! leagues who could be someone to consider grabbing before the end of the season with an eye toward a keeper spot. Now, given the depth we’re dealing with here, these recommendations are not for owners who can keep five or seven players from season-to-season—it’s more for those of you who play in leagues where keepers take up more than half of your roster (and possibly more, in the case of some recommendations contained within).

Garin Cecchini, Boston Red Sox
“Garin Cecchini has had a down year. His much-vaunted walk rate is down and his strikeout rate is up. Trading walks for strikeouts is not good. The good that might come of this is that his poor performance has potentially made him acquirable. We know that owners hate selling low, but if he has not been claimed or if he has been dropped, then I still think he is worth a shot. Since he’s still only 23 years old, 2014 might prove to be an adjustment year for Cecchini. Of course, it might not. But if it does, you are looking at a cheap third basemen that gives you a little bit of everything while playing half his games at Fenway. On top of that, opportunity is not unforeseeable as only Will Middlebrooks and Brock Holt stand in front of him on the depth chart. Cecchini could also very easily be traded, potentially in a package including Boston’s many outfielders and number five/six starters. The advantage here is that the acquiring team probably likes Cecchini, meaning playing time would be likely. It is not a sexy gamble, but it is a gamble that (depending on your league) might just be cheap enough to be worth the risk.” —Jeff Quinton

David Freese, Los Angeles Angels
“Freese is owned in just 7.6 percent of ESPN leagues in the midst of a lackluster first season with the Angels. Viewed as a potential cheap source of power heading into the season, the former Cardinal has hit just .255/.321/.359 this year, making him just the latest in a long line of disappointing Mr. Freeses. His days of challenging for 20 homers are probably over, but Freese has a chance to be usable in AL-only or mixed leagues deeper than 16-plus teams next season. A lot can change over the course of an offseason, but the Halos don't have anyone who can really challenge him for playing time right now, and Freese could rack up something along the lines of 60 RBI, 50 R and 10 HR over a full healthy season. Obviously there's not a ton of reason for optimism here, but given the dearth of appealing options at third base Freese warrants a look for one more season, even if the upside is quite modest. “ —Ben Carsley

Maikel Franco, Philadelphia Phillies
“A quick glance at Franco’s 2013 numbers and it is easy to think that this was a lost season for the Phillies prospect. The reality is he played most of the year as a 21-year-old in Triple-A. Franco scuffled early, and then had an up and down year. When everything is going right, he looks like a potential 25-30 home run masher with decent batting average potential. The problem is that even with a full year in Triple-A, Franco is still somewhat raw. His offspeed pitch recognition still leaves something to be desired and when he slumps he falls into bad habits that prolong the bad times. He is listed in this space because the competition in front of him at third isn’t awe-inspiring. Cody Asche may have performed better than many expected, but he isn’t part of the next Phillies championship club whereas Franco might be. I’d stash Franco if you can keep him next year. There is a good chance that he is up at some point, and with a hot spring, that some point could be as early as April. Even if Franco isn’t ready right out of the gate, he could still provide more power from third base than many established regulars at the position do.” —Mike Gianella

Mike Moustakas, Kansas City Royals
“Look, I get it, Mike Moustakas has pretty dramatically underperformed his prospect projections and has been by and large a terrible hitter in the Major Leagues. But hear me out for a second here. His BABIP this season is .207. That's not a typo. Even for a lumbering dude with a history of bad contact that's absurd, and it's some 60 points below his already-well-below-average career number heading into the season.

Despite the bad luck holding down his overall fantasy value this season though, there are actually some highly encouraging signs in his performance. Most basically, his strikeout rates the last three years have gone from 20.2 percent to 16.1 percent to his current 14.9 percent, while he's gained almost 1.5 percentage points on his walk rate from last season. The gains are backed up by an overall contact rate that's risen six percent during that time, and to boot he's swing at four and a half percent less balls out of the zone while maintaining a consistent overall swing rate. And the contact he's making is much better. His average batted ball distance of 284.6 feet cracks the top 100 in baseball on the heels of a season in which he checked in at a dismal 231st. All of this is to say he's been making very steady, linear progress in the right direction, and at 25 he's only just now starting to enter his physical peak. He may never be the corner monster some envisioned when he first burst onto the scene, but fantasy owners would be foolish to ignore the real and significant improvements he's made this year. In deeper leagues he warrants attention as a sneaky end-game keeper option as a breakout flyer at the hot corner while he's cheap.” —Wilson Karaman

Mike Olt, Chicago Cubs
“I originally selected Kris Bryant here but I was eventually shouted down with insults mainly targeted at my perceived homer-ism and Bryant’s relative lack relevance for an article such as this one. If you’re in a keeper chances are real good Bryant is owned and will be kept. So instead of picking Bryant I went with Mike Olt, which is akin to going from a Ferrari to a 10 speed bike. It’s not all bad for Olt, he can hit for power and has made some adjustments down at the minor-league level in response to the bad habits he developed in his time with the big-league club. If he hits .230 he’s hitting 25 homeruns and providing positive value. Getting there is a hurdle, but if you’re looking for a 3B your options are really limited. Sure, there are some “safer” options out there but let’s be honest, Trevor Plouffe ain’t winning anyone any fantasy rings.” —Mauricio Rubio

Mark Reynolds, Milwaukee Brewers
“There are only three big-league hitters who have clubbed at least 20 homers in the past six seasons, including 2014: David Ortiz, Nelson Cruz, and Mark Reynolds. The batting average will remain an anchor that drags down his overall fantasy value; however, hitters who can provide a near-guaranteed 20-plus home runs are exceedingly rare. As long as Reynolds gets regular playing time, the power will be there. The Brewers don’t have an obvious internal answer at first base and have been pleased with Reynolds defensively to the point that he’s the leading candidate to start at first base in 2015. For fantasy owners, it’s important that he has started 28 games at third base, so the positional flexibility remains. Reynolds is the 25th-ranked fantasy third baseman and possesses massive holes in his overall value, so don’t go crazy. For owners targeting cheap power, though, it’s hard to go wrong with the 31-year-old veteran.” —J.P. Breen

Alex Rodriguez, New York Yankees (for now)
“Remember him? That guy who kissed his reflection in a mirror, slapped a ball out of Bronson Arroyo’s hands and then became the poster boy for steroids. Well, he’s also one of the greatest players we’ve ever seen and the final few grains of sand are left in the hourglass that is his suspension. Rodriguez will be 39 years old on Opening Day, and is coming off a completely lost season—however, he also had a 114 OPS+ in 2013 after missing nearly four months due to hip surgery and is rather rested at this point. The bigger question here is whether A-Rod will actually find a major league team to play for in 2015—not a small piece of the equation by any stretch. With the landscape of third base at possibly the lowest point in recent memory, it’s not far-fetched at all that a rusty and old(er) version of Rodriguez could be viable in deeper mixed leagues if he plays next season. And the best part is that you’ll likely know whether he’ll even be in the league next season prior to your keeper deadline.” —Bret Sayre

Juan Uribe, Los Angeles Dodgers
“There's not a lot of sizzle to Uribe but the steak is there, even if it comes with more gristle than you'd like. He’s been injury prone this year, but has compiled a .285/.326/.426 slash line over the last two seasons. Per 162 games, that's 14 homers and 40 doubles to go along with that batting average. He's a useful fill in should your starting 3B succumb to injury or whatever it is that's plaguing David Wright in the second half, and is a competent corner infielder in 15-team leagues and deeper.” —Craig Goldstein

Related Content:  Third Base,  Fantasy

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