February 5, 2016
Dynasty League Positional Rankings
Top 50 Third Basemen
Previous articles in this series:
We, at Baseball Prospectus, have been talking about third basemen for a while now (four days and change to be exact, depending on when you are reading this) and the party continues to rage on. Yet before we rage, we shall calibrate—since rankings aren’t useful without knowing what you’re reading. The list you are about to read here presupposes a 16-team standard (read: 5x5 roto) dynasty format, in which there are no contracts/salaries, players can be kept forever, and owners have minor-league farm systems in which to hoard prospects. So feel free to adjust this as necessary for your individual league, whether it’s moving non-elite prospects without 2016 ETAs down if you don’t have separate farm teams or moving lower-risk, lower-reward players up in deeper mixed or -only formats.
This hot corner is so top-heavy right now, it’s constantly on the verge of falling over. And what it has in big young talent, it lacks in any semblance of depth at the major league level. This won’t get less lopsided next year as Anthony Rendon looks to join the crew here and a few of the lower downs continue to lose eligibility. In fact, the middle tier is so down that you’re unlikely to find more than one or two owners in any given league playing a third baseman at CI, which is only exacerbated by the depth at the former.
So without any further ado, we’ll get to the third baseman with the hottest new tattoo of the offseason:
1) Manny Machado, Baltimore Orioles
Well, that was the season we thought he was capable of. We knew he was capable of hitting for average and for power, but he made good on a Spring Training promise to steal more bases causing him to launch his value into the stratosphere. Even if those 20 steals aren’t here to stay, his youth and his power make him a mainstay at the hot corner for the next decade. He’s also still younger than the second player on this list (and probably always will be).
2) Kris Bryant, Chicago Cubs
If the eyes are the windows to the soul, then Bryant’s soul is must be a landmark of unspeakable and unquestionable beauty. And if his 2015 season is the start of things to come, Bryant could be one of the great fantasy sluggers of this generation. However, superlatives aside, there’s the problem of his contact rate and just how much that will affect his batting average over time. We know he’s capable of putting up strong BABIPs, but if he constantly needs to pull in a .378 mark to be a positive contributor in batting average, he may just be a three-category guy.
3) Josh Donaldson, Toronto Blue Jays
4) Nolan Arenado, Colorado Rockies
Youth or track record? Track record or youth? If you think that Arenado and Donaldson are interchangeable for the 2016 season, then the order here should clearly be flipped. This is a long way of saying that I don’t believe this to be the case, and I don’t believe 40-homer seasons (or even 30-homer ones) are often in Arenado’s future. Donaldson, on the other hand, plays in quite an attractive park of his own, surrounded by other great hitters—and this leads to the best counting stats in baseball. In fact, Donaldson was the first hitter to both score and drive in 120 runs in a season since Albert Pujols in 2009. This drives value. There’s nothing wrong with Arenado being a .290 hitter with 25-plus homers, and he’s still an elite dynasty player, but Donaldson gets the edge here.
5) Kyle Seager, Seattle Mariners
There has not been a more consistently strong option at the hot corner the past few years than Seager, who has managed to overcome an offense-suppressing home park and a more exciting younger brother to dynasty league owners. You know when you own him, you can bank a .260-.270 average and 20-25 homers—which may not sound world-beating, but when you see the wasteland at the middle and bottom of this list, it’s important. Unfortunately for fantasy owners, but fortunately for Meg Rowley (and her socks), Seager looks locked into Safeco for the next six years.
6) Miguel Sano, Minnesota Twins
7) Matt Carpenter, St Louis Cardinals
The biggest differences between Seager and Carpenter are age (the Cardinal is two years older) and the consistency in profile, which allows the powerful Sano to sneak between them. Sano could be the next to join the 40-homer monsters at the top of this list, but he faces an uphill battle with his contact rate in order to maximize that power and avoid sinkhole batting averages. The potential is there for him to be a .260-.270 hitter in time, which would make him an absolute stud. Carpenter, on the other hand, will not be confused with a stud, but his power performance raised some eyebrows in 2015. Unfortunately, he sold out for that power (racking up 151 strikeouts) and could be putting his batting-average impact at risk.
8) Maikel Franco, Philadelphia Phillies
9) Todd Frazier, Chicago White Sox
10) Mike Moustakas, Kansas City Royals
The combination of the contact and power ability of Franco (along with his attractive home park for right-handers—just ask Jayson Werth how valuable that can be), gets him the nod over the two 2015-high performers. Or at least, in Frazier’s case, a 2015-high first-half performer. It’s not difficult to envision Franco hitting .280 with 25 homers in Philadelphia, and while it’s also not difficult to envision Moustakas doing the same thing, he has that whole issue of about 2,000 plate appearances of disappointing performance to wash away. It takes more than one season to accomplish this, but those who buy him this season, ahead of the cement, have the right idea. I like Frazier in U.S. Cellular, but surprising speed rarely lasts into a player’s 30s, and without those steals, he’s just not all that valuable.
11) Rafael Devers, Boston Red Sox
Hey, look, it’s a prospect. Devers is no lock to stick at third, but his bat will play anywhere if it even gets to his realistic outcome. He might be more likely to hit .300 than to hit 30 homers, but he’s capable of doing either.
12) Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay Rays
13) Adrian Beltre, Texas Rangers
14) Pablo Sandoval, Boston Red Sox
And now we’ve reached the famous, but not all that valuable stage of the list. Longoria has turned into a model of consistency; it’s just been as a $15-20 performer rather than the $25-30 performer many have expected over the past half-decade. Beltre continues to defy age, but the soon-to-be-37-year-old only has so many years left, even if he can keep contributing as a top-10 third baseman. Sandoval fell off the face of the earth in 2015, and became one of the worst players in baseball in Boston, but his track record should give us pause before leaving him for dead in fantasy circles. A return to a .280 average and 20 homers is absolutely attainable.
15) Matt Duffy, San Francisco Giants
16) Ryan McMahon, Colorado Rockies
17) Nick Castellanos, Detroit Tigers
18) Yasmany Tomas, Arizona Diamondbacks
19) David Wright, New York Mets
20) Justin Turner, Los Angeles Dodgers
21) Trevor Plouffe, Minnesota Twins
This is where you start to notice the lack of depth at the position. Duffy was surprisingly good in 2015, but this did not line up with expectations and everyone knows that dynasty owners just hate that. The power is certainly no lock to last at this level—in fact, expectations should be for single digits. Castellanos has been the anti-Duffy, not living up to his high prospect pedigree, but still contains the natural hitting ability to tap into it. Tomas had a disappointing rookie season and a craterous second half, but he was not a finished product when coming stateside and the 25-plus homer upside remains. Plouffe is boring, but gets the job done (until it doesn’t and he’s replaced at third by Sano). Turner is also boring, but gets the job done better than Plouffe—yet is also coming off microfracture surgery. Then there’s David Wright, who makes for a great investment if you either have a very good backup or enjoy playing Russian Roulette.
22) Hector Olivera, Atlanta Braves
In many ways, Olivera is a forgotten man in dynasty leagues right now. There was hype at this time last year, and it was warranted. Now, after taking a long time to get going in the minors, getting traded and having an overly generic small sample with the Braves in September, dynasty leaguers are wary because of his age and perceived lack of upside. Yet, while the risk is true and his 3B eligibility may not last one more season, Olivera still has a good chance to prove that he is the natural hitter he was billed as when he inked that contract with the Dodgers.
23) Danny Valencia, Oakland Athletics
On the contrary to what we’ve been discussing recently, Valencia’s stock took a step forward in 2015, hitting like an elite third baseman in a little more than a half-season. If he can continue to hit right-handers (.881 OPS in 2015 versus .664 OPS for his career), he’ll return much more medium-term value than this ranking presupposes.
24) Jomar Reyes, Baltimore Orioles
25) Austin Riley, Atlanta Braves
Here we have the start of the potential next wave of teenaged hot corner thumpers. Both Reyes and Riley could be 30-homer bats one day, and though there’s always a risk it will be at another position, they both put themselves in strong position to make the Fantasy 101 (coming soon).
26) Jake Lamb, Arizona Diamondbacks
27) Martin Prado, Miami Marlins
28) Chase Headley, New York Yankees
29) Yunel Escobar, Los Angeles Angels
30) Luis Valbuena, Houston Astros
31) Yangervis Solarte, San Diego Padres
32) Garin Cecchini, Milwaukee Brewers
33) David Freese, Los Angeles Angels
If you’re stuck with someone in this tier, you’re scouring the trade market constantly. In fact, you probably just checked someone’s OTB while reading this blurb. It’s ok, I’d never judge. Lamb and Headley may never hit for the power they need to in order to be satisfyingly playable in mixed leagues. We know Prado and Escobar won’t, but at least they’ll probably hit for average. Solarte and Valbuena may continue to have jobs, but long-term that’s an issue. Cecchini will haunt Ben Carsley’s dreams forever, and David Freese might be the best current player of this bunch if he could stay healthy (which he rarely can).
34) Jeimer Candelario, Chicago Cubs
35) Matt Chapman, Oakland Athletics
36) Michael Chavis, Boston Red Sox
37) D.J. Peterson, Seattle Mariners
This is quite the grouping of just-interesting-enough-to-be-interesting prospects. Candelario saw his stock rise back up in 2015 when he raked in Double-A (.291/.379/.462 with five homers and more walks than strikeouts) after a mid-season promotion and continued to do so into the fall league. Chapman has the pop, but might not have much else. Chavis was billed as one of the best natural hitters in the 2014 draft, but struck out 144 times and hit .223 in his full-season debut; still, give him time, he played most of the season at 19 years old. Peterson is not long for the position (in fact, he played more games at first than at third this year) and he had a very bad year, but it’s too early to give up on him entirely.
38) Adonis Garcia, Atlanta Braves
39) Tyler Nevin, Colorado Rockies
40) Mark Reynolds, Colorado Rockies
41) Lonnie Chisenhall, Cleveland Indians
42) Renato Nunez, Oakland Athletics
43) Derek Dietrich, Miami Marlins
44) Ke’Bryan Hayes, Pittsburgh Pirates
45) Kevin Padlo, Tampa Bay Rays
46) Giovanny Urshela, Cleveland Indians
47) Hunter Dozier, Kansas City Royals
48) Will Middlebrooks, Milwaukee Brewers
49) Trey Michalczewski, Chicago White Sox
50) Colin Moran, Houston Astros
This is not a final tier to remember. It’s filled with prospects that many would consider busts already, prospects who seem unlikely to fulfill even mixed-league promise, part-time major leaguers, a few Clevelanders, and a few recent draftees who are light years away. If you’re getting too excited about a player in this tier, either your league is deep enough to infiltrate a gang or your expectations need to be reset.
Bret Sayre is an author of Baseball Prospectus.
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