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March 16, 2001

The Daily Prospectus

The Hot Corner

by Dave Pease

Third base might be the most interesting position on the field this spring.

  • Last year it was Kevin Elster. This year, the Dodgers dusted Mark Lewis off and handed him a contract and a shot at a position where they're way short on contributing talent.

    Of course, that's where the similarities end. The Dodgers have a pretty solid third baseman by the name of Adrian Beltre, but as you certainly know by now, Beltre's suffering from the aftereffects of an appendectomy wound that just won't close. He underwent surgery this week, and won't be ready to swing a bat until May or later. Backup Dave Hansen broke his finger in spring training action and will be out for a while as well, leaving what should have been a locked up position wide open.

    Hansen is one of my favorite "what could have been" players. He only got a really good shot at a starting job in the majors once, all the way back in 1992. The Dodgers gave the then 23-year-old the majority of the playing time at third, and he fumbled the ball, batting .214/.286/.299 and failing to fend off Mike Sharperson. Having seen enough, the team brought in Tim Wallach to man third the next year.

    The Wallach Era in Los Angeles turned out about as well as could be expected--generally below average performance for the former Expo, with the exception of his fluke 1994 season. The Dodgers then turned to immortals like Mike Blowers and Todd Zeile, while Hansen quietly established a reputation as one of the better bench players in the league.

    Now in his second tour of duty with the Dodgers, Hansen has added some sock to his offensive game and remains a very dangerous pinch hitter. I was hoping he'd have a chance at expanding his role this season, but looking at the whole thing from another angle, he's done fairly well for himself for a player with about 1500 career plate appearances.

    I just hope he doesn't lose any playing time to someone like Lewis.

  • The Brewers had the makings of a fun competition between Jose Hernandez, former catcher/Cubbie Tyler Houston, and import Tony Fernandez before shortstop Mark Loretta went down with torn thumb ligament. Now, Hernandez will likely move to short while Houston and Fernandez share the hot corner.

    Houston hit 18 home runs and slugged .493 last year, but the Brewers have plenty of sluggers who have trouble avoiding outs. Fernandez could give the Brewers the top of the order hitter they're going to need in front of Jeromy Burnitz, Geoff Jenkins, and Rich Sexson. Here's his complete projection for 2001, courtesy of Clay Davenport:

    293 82 12  0  7 50 38 48  44  1  1 212 .280 .385 .392 .271  41

    If Ron Belliard is in shape by the time the season starts, the Brew Crew has a chance at a very good-looking top five.

  • San Francisco traded Bill Mueller in the offseason, which leaves Russ Davis and Pedro Feliz as their options at third base this year. We've said it before, and we'll say it again: Feliz is not a very good prospect, no matter how many home runs he hit in Fresno last year. He's got power, but his eye at the plate is very poor and hasn't improved as he's moved through the system.

    That being said, he's in competition with Davis, who is a somewhat similar player and doesn't have that nifty prospect shine; in fact, Davis was waiver wire bait a year ago. Feliz has started off hot in spring training, and the Giants organization is high on him. He's got a good chance of starting the season as the Giants' regular third basemen. His chances of long-term success are significantly less promising.

  • We've gotten several pieces of mail wondering why we haven't been very excited about on Placido Polanco's shot at a productive career. With the Cardinals trading Fernando Tatis and Polanco coming off a .316 batting average last season, his chances of taking most of the playing time at third base this season are also good, and his .438 spring average thus far does nothing to hurt him.

    But the degree of Polanco's improvement in 2000 has me wondering how much of it is for real. If he's had a true development spike, he's got good things to look forward to. Even if that's the case, he isn't all that young or effective, and is certainly miscast as a starting third baseman. Like Eric Owens, Polanco is one of the better utility players in the league, and like Owens he'll be overmatched with a starting job.

Dave Pease is an author of Baseball Prospectus. Contact him by clicking here.

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

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