February 10, 2014
State of the Position
For the earlier articles in this series, click below:
The times, they are a changing at third base.
There are a few familiar names and established stars, sure. But we're undergoing a massive changing of the guard. This figures to be the final season of eligibility at third base for Miguel Cabrera and Edwin Encarnacion—the latter of whom is already ineligible in many formats. Hanley Ramirez has his lost eligibility, and Ryan Zimmerman and Aramis Ramirez could potentially follow suit in coming years. Alex Rodriguez, who topped these rankings for many seasons, may never play game again. And what the future of third base gained in Manny Machado it may have lost in Xander Bogaerts, who looks to begin his career as a shortstop.
What we're left with are three distinct tiers for 2014—elite, boring but acceptable, and risky but tempting—and a lot of question marks moving forward. In some ways, third base is becoming shallower when it comes to upside and deeper when it comes to floor, with many current big-leaguers and minor-leaguers profiling more as safe, dependable options than as players who could be drafted in the first few rounds or who could command salaries in excess of $25.
That being said, there are enough major-leaguers migrating to third base and a promising crop of prospects who should allow third base to be a strong fantasy position far into the future. We're not seeing an elite talent renaissance as we are with shortstops, but there's still plenty to like here.
The League Breakout
David Wright still holds down the title as the NL's best third baseman, with Ryan Zimmerman, Pedro Alvarez, and Matt Carpenter a tier below. Here we see that the senior circuit is superior when it comes to probability and floor, with Aramis Ramirez, Martin Prado, Chase Headley, and Pablo Sandoval all viable if unexciting options. Todd Frazier, Chris Johnson, and Nolan Arenado represent the back end here, with Cody Asche, Juan Uribe, Casey McGehee, and Mike Olt left for the truly desperate.
The Strategy in Mixed Leagues
Third base becomes trickier in deeper leagues, where players have to settle for a lack of upside (Seager, Prado, Sandoval, Carpenter) or accept significant risk (Ramirez, Headley, Lawrie, everyone else in the AL). Depending on the composition of your team, I'd posit that if you miss out on an elite guy, it makes sense to grab a safer option in the middle of your draft, then handcuff that option with a higher-upside play like a Middlebrooks or a Castellanos late.
Players like Freese, Chris Johnson, Frazier, and Reynolds are going to be around late, and while they shouldn't be relied upon as starting options, they do make nice bench options in all but the shallowest of formats.
The Long-Term Outlook
The real source of hope comes from the minor leagues, though, where two of the eight best fantasy prospects in the game—Miguel Sano and Kris Bryant—look to see their first cups of coffee in the majors this season, followed by full-time rolls in 2015. Bryant isn't a lock to remain at third, but if he does, the position will add two 30-plus-homer threats with tolerable averages.
Beyond the big two, Garin Cecchini and Maikel Franco figure to be intriguing options in short order—though the latter may see more time at first base—while Corey Seager and Joey Gallo present higher upside options who are still a few years away. Colin Moran, D.J. Peterson, and Hunter Dozier should add to a dependable middle tier when they arrive. For those in dynasty leagues, there is a surprising number of bounce back and sleeper candidates at third base who can help round out your minor-league rosters, from Kaleb Cowart and Chelsor Cuthbert, to Ryan McMahon and Eric Jagielo, to real gambles like Rafael Devers and Jeimer Candelario. It's not a crew that can stand up to the likes of the minor-league talent at shortstop, but it's deep and multifaceted nonetheless.
A Closing Haiku