It’s tough out there in fantasy baseball-land; everyone has the same information, the same cheat sheets, and the same list of sleepers that you do. Fortunately, our expert fantasy staff at Baseball Prospectus is there for you, with five recommendations at third base that will blow your minds into the 22nd Century.
Nick Castellanos, Tigers
Castellanos won’t help too much with his batting average; let’s get that out of the way immediately. Even with a career .324 BABIP, he’s never eclipsed the .260 plateau. At only 23 years old, though, he showed a bit of pop down the stretch in 2015. His .208 ISO helped him launch nine homers in just 267 plate appearances. Extrapolate that over an entire season, and that’s 20-plus homer potential. The Tigers’ potent offense should also aid Castellanos’ fantasy value. He plated 74 runners a year ago and should benefit from the Kinsler-Cabrera-Upton-Martinez quartet in front of him in the batting order. The question is whether the former top-100 prospect can finally figure out right-handers, as he only hit .230/.277/.379 against them in 2015. Fantasy owners who can alter lineups everyday should value Castellanos a bit more than weekly leagues; however, he’s still somehow being drafted after the walking corpse that is David Wright in winter drafts. The top-tier guys are no-brainers this year. Castellanos is someone a bit further down the draft board that could put up solid fantasy numbers. —J.P. Breen
Manny Machado, Orioles
Sure, yeah, let’s waste everybody’s time with a “target” recommendation for the dude currently going eighth overall in NFBC drafts. But this is a matter of draft strategy, and it is, I think, an important concept to spend a little time on. There are certain places in the draft where it’s expedient to target undervalued guys with the hope of generating surplus value. But there are also certain times when making a pragmatic pick to lock down production can set you up for the next several rounds to come, and grabbing an elite third baseman—this one, in particular—at the top of your draft is a critical one this year. As has been the case for much of the past decade, third base clocked in as the second-most “productive” fantasy position: third basemen collectively generated the second-best batting average of the six positional groupings, along with the second-most homers, RBI, and runs, while stealing significantly more bases than the first basemen who bested them in the power categories.
That elite cumulative production was top-heavy, however; whereas nine first basemen returned at least $20 of standard, mixed league value, just five third basemen did. And this is reflected in current ADP trends: after a spectacular run of four third basemen going within five picks of each other in the top 10, there are just four more going in the entire top 100. You can currently grab the 12th-best first baseman 88th overall. All of this is to say that it will pay to be one of the people in your draft who grabs a premium bat at one of the premium fantasy positions.
I chose Machado over the other top-10 options (Donaldson, Arenado, Bryant) because he has the most diversified skillset of the bunch, to go along with marginal upside (somehow) for more production than he delivered last year. The exit velocity was elite (18th of 221 qualified), and while maturity brought more flyballs last year (and the lower BABIP ceiling that tends to go with them) his marginally below-average performance on balls in play was probably a little light given the overall contact profile—particularly against southpaws, where his .279 was well south of career norms. The speed, lack of a pronounced home/road or handedness split, the stellar contact rate, his age and ballpark… the whole package is the most complete of the bunch, making him the highest-floor player of the group and the best choice as your starting third baseman in 2016. —Wilson Karaman
Pablo Sandoval, Red Sox
There was a time, not very long ago, that the 29-year-old was a consistent fantasy performer. Sure, he was also a stud in two seasons before he turned 25, but those who drafted Sandoval in 2014 and 2015 were surely not expecting those type of numbers. Instead, he was a .280-hitting third baseman with expectations of 15-20 homers and good enough counting stats to make him an easy starter at third base in most mixed leagues.
Of course, sometimes it only takes one bad dish to ruin a restaurant, and Sandoval's 2015 season was served both with no regard for ingredients or presentation. He played in 126 games, hit below .250 and couldn't manage to crack either 50 runs or RBI—putting him right behind Cody Asche and Andres Blanco as the 51st-overall third baseman in mixed leagues. In fact, if he were a Philadelphia Phillie, Sandoval would have finished as the fifth-most-valuable fantasy third baseman on his own team. It's all so deliciously deserving of a brutal takedown on Yelp.
I've talked a good bit on Flags Fly Forever recently about the National League to American League transition, and the difficulty some players can have with it. This was year one of that for Sandoval, and while it doesn't excuse his terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year, it gives me slightly more confidence that it's a one year blip. The move from AT&T to Fenway was supposed to reverse all of the park-adjusting we've done for him in the past, yet at the dawn of year two in Boston, Sandoval finds himself being drafted nearly 300th overall, directly behind Yangervis Solarte. Just because he's shaped a little like a pumpkin, that doesn't mean he's actually turned into one. —Bret Sayre
Kyle Seager, Mariners
While his younger brother, Corey, was recently named BP’s top prospect heading into 2016, and is being selected nearly 20 spots higher, the elder Seager has been the model of consistency at the hot corner over the last four years. Dating back to 2012, Seager has eclipsed the 20-home run plateau, while hitting at least .260, in four consecutive seasons. The only other third basemen to average similar numbers over that span are Josh Donaldson, Adrian Beltre, and Evan Longoria. Despite his track record of stellar performance, he continues to remain an extremely undervalued fantasy asset.
The most obvious reason for this phenomenon may be the fact that he doesn’t possess the cathedral-esque ceilings of the truly elite options at the position like Donaldson and the trio of young upstarts in Arenado, Machado and Bryant. However, he remains squarely in his prime at just 28 years old, and is a lock to post 20-plus home runs with a solid batting average going forward. While he’s unlikely to rack up double-digit stolen bases ever again, the handful he provides are just gravy at this point.
There were a few prominent indicators, which emerged last season (especially during his late-season surge) that he could be even better going forward. Among the most notable was the sharp increase in his contact rate, which rose from 80 percent for his career to 84 percent last season. Were it not for for a paltry .278 BABIP (well below his .292 career mark coming into the year) he would’ve posted an average closer to .280 than just .266. Also, after years of futility against left-handers, he hit .297/.324/.511 with 13 homers off southpaws in 2015. If Seager is able to sustain the gains he made against left-handers, it’s not out of the question that he could slug upwards of 30 home runs with an average near .280 in 2016. —George Bissell
Justin Turner – Dodgers
Let's start with the obvious reason: He looks like Tormund Giantsbane. Okay, on to the less important stuff. Turner is going 21st among third baseman (A-Rod included for some reason), per NFBC ADP information, behind such luminaries as Nick Castellanos and Danny Valencia. While I actually like both players, the guy who has slugged .490 or higher in each of the last two seasons shouldn't be going behind them. Turner doesn't run, and is less likely to do so having undergone offseason knee surgery (perhaps a factor in his low ADP number). Aside from that though, he hits for average (.294 and .341 the last two seasons), gets on base, and hits for power, if not always home runs. Throw in a lineup recently lengthened by the re-addition of Howie Kendrick, and Turner has positive contextual stats as well. While he's certain to miss time with injury even if he enters the season healthy, he's a top-10 player at the position when healthy. This isn't a high-brow argument that's meant to bowl you over. It's a simple, straightforward one: Justin Turner shouldn't be going this late. Since he is, you should take advantage. —Craig Goldstein