At first glance, the NL third-base pool looks a little thin, primarily based on last year’s production. There are concerns about veterans coming off injury-plagued seasons (David Wright, Ryan Zimmerman, and Aramis Ramirez) that leave us unsure if they will be able to return to fantasy star status, along with uncertainty about the roles and fantasy relevance of younger players like Kris Bryant, Maikel Franco, and Yasmany Tomas. Despite the question marks and lack of fantasy studs at the position, the hot corner in the NL is deeper than you might think. Based on how last year played out and the landscape of the position heading into 2015 drafts, this player pool has the potential to provide the biggest fantasy impact of all the NL infield positions from a value perspective.
We start at the top, and by far the fantasy standouts are Anthony Rendon and Todd Frazier. Not only did both surpass $30 in earnings a year ago in standard NL-Only 5×5 formats and utilize the power/speed combo we yearn for at the hot corner, they also qualify at two positions, which increases their value. Rendon’s 2B/3B and Frazier’s 3B/1B eligibility will allow for flexibility in constructing your rosters, which can prove to be critical when putting together a balanced offense. Both players will go for a premium, and deservedly so, and once they are off the table, it’ll be time to study those sheets you agonized over for months for your preferred targets. This decision could prove crucial, as the next tier of players is where the potential for value sits.
Back to my comment about the limited production from the position last year, here is a quick overview to back up that statement. Removing Rendon and Frazier from the equation, only Josh Harrison cracked $20 in NL-only fantasy earnings. Mark Reynolds was the only other NL 3B qualifier to hit more than 18 homers and Casey McGehee was the next top RBI producer with 76 driven in. Only Harrison and Juan Uribe hit better than .290, and Harrison was the only player to swipe more than eight bases. Yes, it was a tough year all around for the senior circuit’s third sackers. Will this trend continue in 2015? I for one believe this position will be fertile ground for fantasy producers this season with several $20 players reemerging into the fold.
Nolan Arenado is the player I expect to take the next step this year and be among the upper tier of third basemen in the NL. You sometimes forget how young he is, but he will be entering his age-24 season this year, and the only thing holding this future star back is injuries. Arenado slugged .500 last year, his K and BB rates improved, and his HR:FB pace increased by a wide margin. If Arenado can stay on the field, he has the makings of a solid $25 player.
Veterans Wright and Zimmerman are coming off injury-marred seasons in which their fantasy production suffered. Wright earned $30 and $26 in standard NL-Only 5×5 scoring leagues in 2012 and 2013, respectively, when healthy, and reports are he is 100 percent healthy for the start of spring. His draft value could be the lowest we have seen in years based on his decrease in power, but he is still a top NL 3B option and should be a four-category contributor, returning to his $20 status. The same can be said for Zimmerman, who has been a consistent $25 player when healthy. Zimmerman moves to the other corner of the diamond to man first base for the Nationals, and his .280/.342/.449 slash line in his limited time in 2014 brings optimism he should be back putting up his typical 25 HR/ 90 RBI/ .280 season for his owners.
The next tier serves up some more appetizing options that can provide stats across multiple categories, led by the versatile Harrison and Matt Carpenter. Harrison was arguably the most unexpected fantasy surprise last year, considering he went undrafted in most leagues. His .315/.347/.490 slash line with 13 HR and 18 SB yielded $27 in earnings in NL-only 5×5 leagues. What brings additional value to Harrison is that in leagues that require 15 games played for position eligibility, he also qualifies at 2B and OF. There might be some regression, but Harrison looks like a player, so you can bid confidently.
After a breakout 2013, Carpenter took a step back in 2014 but was still an on-base machine, and his fantasy earnings had him as a top-five NL third baseman. He might not return to the $30 player he was in 2013, but his significant drop in BABIP in the second half last year (40 points) shows he might have been a tad unlucky to end the year. Expect something in between his 2013 and 2014, which will make Carpenter a strong choice again in 2015.
Pedro Alvarez got off to a slow start last year but began to turn it around and put up a strong June with a .299/.396/.483 slash line. Prior to the knee and foot injuries that effectively shut down his season in the second half (he only started 39 games), Alvarez was putting up very similar lines as he did the previous two seasons, and his slugging percentage was climbing. He also posted the best strikeout and walk rates of his career. Like Zimmerman, the big lefty will move across the diamond to man first base for the Pirates, and another 30 HR year could be in store for Alvarez.
Scrolling down the tiers, Martin Prado, Ramirez, Uribe, and McGehee are all reliable fantasy options who quietly earned $17, $17, $17, and $15 respectively in NL-only 5×5 scoring leagues in 2014. Of this list, Prado specifically is intriguing, as he also qualifies at 2B and is heading to Miami, which has put together a sneakily impressive lineup. When Ramirez is healthy, he has been a top 3B option, but he has not been able to stay on the field the past two seasons. His advanced age causes legitimate concerns he will be unable to avoid missing some time, but even in 400 at-bats, he can be a $15-$17 player. Uribe and McGehee are what they are, and if you can grab them around the $10 range or in the later rounds of your drafts, they should be profitable.
The real wild cards in terms of player valuation at the position and predicting potential value are the new crop of young third basemen. Bryant, Franco, and Tomas all have fantasy upside, but their roles are still uncertain as of right now. The sky is the limit for Bryant, and if can make the Cubs’ Opening Day roster, he could emerge as a top-10 NL third baseman in his first year. In reality, he will most likely start the year in Triple-A and make his big-league debut at some point this season. That should limit his bids, but if he can see 350 at-bats with the Cubs, he will have fantasy relevance and be worth a $12-$15 bid.
The ceilings are not as high for Franco and Thomas, but the playing time should be there for both in 2015. Franco has a decent shot at winning the third-base job for the Phillies this spring and has 15-20 HR potential with a decent batting average. His impressive numbers in the Dominican Winter League will help his cause at cracking the Phillies roster sooner than later. Tomas’ role probably will not be determined until this spring, as he could very well begin the season in Arizona in a corner OF spot if Jake Lamb outperforms him this spring. Tomas has big-time power potential, but there are concerns over his contact rates, and how his hitting approach will translate against major-league pitching. If he makes the Diamondbacks roster and qualifies at 3B in your league, he is certainly worth a moderate investment for the power upside.
With the multiple strong third-base options available, there is no need to panic and push players past your sheet prices especially for the younger players like Bryant or Tomas. Patience will be key when filling your third base spot, so have confidence in the depth of this position. From a 4×4 vs. 5×5 value perspective, 4×4 will yield slightly more earnings from this player pool, with the exception of Matt Carpenter, whose ability to get on base has lead to 225 runs scored over the past two seasons making him more attractive in 5×5 formats.
Amongst the lower tiers, there are a handful of players who could provide some help in deeper NL-Only leagues. Below you will find some hot corner options for consideration late in your respective auctions or drafts. “Earnings” are based on Mike Gianella’s Rotisserie-style, 4×4 and 5×5 formulas he provided in his Retrospective Player Valuation article from November 20th.
Jake Lamb – Diamondbacks
4×4 earnings: $3 / 5×5 earnings: $3
The signing of Tomas has clouded the third-base position in Arizona heading into spring training. The Diamondbacks have stated they plan to give Tomas every opportunity to win the third base job and there will be an open competition this spring between Tomas and Lamb for that spot. Lamb his risen quickly through the organization, and after the jump to AA last year he responded with a .318/.399/.551 line and named the organization’s 2014 Player of the Year. Lamb was called up by the Diamondbacks late in the season, and despite some poor plate discipline you often see with young players making the transition from Double-A to the majors, he did flash some of the extra-base potential he showed in the minors with four home runs, four doubles and one triple in his 133 PA. If Lamb beats out Tomas to earn the starting 3B gig in Arizona, he could prove to be quite a fantasy steal if taken later in drafts.
Cody Asche – Phillies
4×4 earnings: $9 / 5×5 earnings: $9
Asche has been the primary third baseman for the Phillies since July of 2013, after Michael Young was dealt to the Dodgers. While he is not the long-term answer at the hot corner in Philadelphia, he still could be the starter to begin the season if the Phillies brass would like Franco to get more seasoning in Triple-A. While not spectacular, Asche put up workmanlike stats at 3B last year hitting 10 homers with a .252 average. He is still only 24 years old and has a nice minor-league hitting résumé (.290/.348/.449) and even posted consecutive double-digit steal seasons in 2012 and 2013, so he might even surprise with a steal or two. The trade of Marlon Byrd this offseason has potentially opened up additional playing time at a corner OF spot for Asche, as the Phillies are on record saying they could try Asche in the OF this spring. If that is the case, even if Franco is called up, Asche should see 400-450 at-bats, especially if the Phillies are finally able to move Ryan Howard. He’s not a player you want as your primary third baseman, but could be an excellent corner-infield option who should be available at a modest price.
Will Middlebrooks – Padres
4×4 earnings: $-1 / 5×5 earnings: $0
2014 was a lost season for Middlebrooks, and the once-promising Red Sox prospect was shipped to San Diego this offseason. Middlebrooks appears to be the favorite to begin the season as the Padres starting third baseman and possibly could see time at first against southpaws. Not all of Middlebrooks struggles can be blamed on his broken index finger last season, but it certainly hindered his power, as he was only able to hit six home runs in 319 at-bats between Double-A and the Red Sox. Middlebrooks will never hit for a high average, but even in Petco can be a 15 HR player if he can remain healthy. He is a decent end game play as a source of cheap power.
Mark Reynolds – Cardinals
4×4 earnings: $9 / 5×5 earnings: $9
I wrote about Reynolds in my NL-only 1B piece two weeks ago. He qualifies at both corner-infield spots, and should get the starts at 1B against LHP while possibly seeing some time at 3B and at a corner OF spot. He’ll be available at a much cheaper price this year in his platoon role with St. Louis, and should hit his share of home runs. While he probably will not hit 20 HR this year, which he has done in the previous seven seasons, he will launch his share of bombs, making him a decent cheap option for your corner-infield spot.
Mike Olt – Cubs
4×4 earnings: $2 / 5×5 earnings: $2
The trade of Luis Valbuena and probability of Bryant beginning the season in the minors leads to the assumption the Cubs will turn to Olt to man the hot corner to begin the year. There are not too many superlatives to describe a player who has put up a .159/.248/.333 slash line over 298 big league plate appearances. However, he does have big -eague power (evident by his 12 home runs last year) and will be the stopgap until Bryant is ready. This might be Olt’s last opportunity to prove he can play at the major-league level, so not a bad flier in the end to fill out your corner spot in hopes he can provide some power.
Here are some additional deeper 3B plays to target very late if you are nearing the end of your drafts and still need a CI to fill out your roster, or your league allows for reserves:
Justin Turner – Dodgers
Guess who tallied $17 in NL-only 5×5 earnings last season? This guy did, and in only 288 AB to boot. Re-signed by the Dodgers this offseason, expect Turner to be used in his utility role again, and see time across the diamond. With Uribe scheduled to be the Dodgers primary third baseman, Turner should see his share of playing time again at the hot corner, where he appeared in 59 games last season. His career line of .281/.344/.395 over six big-league seasons shows Turner can produce when given the opportunity; he’s a decent endgame CI play.
Yangervis Solarte/Cory Spangenberg – Padres
It is not a lock that Middlebrooks will secure the everyday duties at third base for the Padres, so that brings Solarte and Spangenberg into the NL fantasy landscape. Solarte is the more versatile option for the Padres as he plays 2B, SS, 3B, and the OF and offers some pop, hitting 10 home runs last season. Spangenberg is a former first- ound pick who also offers some position versatility, as he can play 3B and 2B, but can also provide solid on-base skills and speed, which would be a nice fit for the Padres leadoff spot. Spangenberg is the more likely choice to begin the season in Triple-A, but is the better long-term solution for San Diego. For this year’s fantasy purposes, I still give the slight edge to Spangenberg as I think he will see 300 at-bats for the Padres and be a productive 5×5 player. Both can be targeted in the endgame or as reserve plays, if you need depth at CI.
Kelly Johnson – Braves
Johnson heads back to the team that drafted him in the first round way back in 2000, signing a minor-league contract with the Braves with an invite to spring training. Johnson will serve in a super-utility role for the Braves, and should see his share of playing time on this team. His days as a productive fantasy MI are over, but still has a little pop and will hold a little value in these deeper NL formats. Another end game or reserve target if you think he can gain enough play in his utility role to be a cheap source of a little power.