Anthony Rendon, Washington Nationals
It’s strange to me how quickly Anthony Rendon has gone from the hot, young player at this position to just being seen as an average player in the middle of the pack. As of this writing, the Nationals third baseman was being selected at the bottom of the top 10 at his position, jockeying for position with Alex Bregman. This appears to be great value, as Rendon can contribute to your lineup in every area. If you’re looking for one loud tool, you can look elsewhere, but you will find the all-around talent here.
Rendon has never had a BABIP below .300 nor has he had a strikeout rate above 20 percent. All of this leads to consistently strong batting averages. You can expect him to finish right around the .275 mark on a yearly basis. You can also get home runs, too. I’m generally being cautious with home run totals from 2016, but Rendon’s 20 homers was right on pace with his 2014 season, his only other full season. The 26-year-old also stole 12 bases, marking the second time he’s reached the double-digit mark in as many full seasons. After that, you get to the fact that he’ll be hitting in a lineup that features Bryce Harper, Trea Turner, Adam Eaton, and Daniel Murphy. He’s among a foursome of himself, Adrian Beltre, Bregman, and José Ramirez all being taken within 15 picks, and he’s the easy choice to me. In fact, he’s easily preferable to Todd Frazier, who’s being taken 20 picks earlier. —Matt Collins
Justin Turner, Los Angeles Dodgers
We tend to underrate older hitters who surprise us. Kole Calhoun, Kendrys Morales, and Edwin Encarnacion, have all been underdrafted more years than not recently because they either became productive after once being unproductive or became productive after we assumed they would not be. Turner has become such a player. After coming off the best season of his career in 2015, Turner turned in the best season of his career in 2016, roto-slashing .275/27/79/90/4. Starting in 2015, he began pulling the ball more and hitting more balls in the air, and the homers began piling up. Between a leg infection that cost him 20 or so games in 2015, unproductiveness earlier in his career, and his age (he is entering his age 32 season), it seems the market still has not come to fully appreciate Turner’s abilities as his current average NFBC ADP of 132 is 14th among third basement. A third baseman or corner infielder who will likely provide 25 or so home runs with good counting stats (he hits in the middle of a very good lineup), a few steals, and an average-to-plus AVG is a player I would be thrilled to take around pick 130. I’d likely happily take such a player 15 picks earlier; thus, I’ll be targeting Turner. —Jeff Quinton
Mike Moustakas, Kansas City Royals
What if I told you that you could draft a third baseman outside of the NFBC Top 200 who had 27 home runs, 75 runs, 93 RBI, and a .275 AVG? You would probably say something like “stop lying” or “you’re a real jerk! I hate you, Mike Gianella!” But that line is what Mike Moustakas has done over his last 162 games. Moustakas’ value has taken a hit because an ACL injury curtailed his season after 27 games and 113 plate appearances. Moustakas is expected to be 100 percent in spring training with no restrictions, and his injury isn’t something that should have any long-term impact on his power. Even if you believe his batting average is going to slip somewhat (he hit .240 in 2016), the potential for 20-25 home runs remains. This isn’t to suggest that Moose is as good as third basemen like Adrian Beltre or Evan Longoria, but rather that the ADP gap between him and those stalwarts is wider than the performance likely will be. Moose’s early projections align quite nicely with the 162-game average listed above. Third is a difficult position to find a bargain because there are so many high-profile players at the position, so Moose’s injury gives you an opportunity you may not have had otherwise. Take it. —Mike Gianella
Adrian Beltre, Texas Rangers
There are a few things in life that get better with age. Wine, cheese, and your favorite pair of blue jeans are all on this list. Baseball players usually aren’t. Adrian Beltre is working hard to be the exception. Six of Beltre’s seven best offensive seasons have come since he turned 30, and last season he offered top five value at third base in mixed leagues.
The 2015 season made it look like Beltre might finally be slowing down. However, he bounced back and then some in 2016. His 32 HR were his highest total since 2012. He finished second at the position in RBI, and found himself in the top 10 by runs. He was also one of only four players at third to hit at or over .300. Even if he takes a small dip in home runs, he’s going to be a solid contributor in four categories.
Beltre won’t give you the same production as the guys in the top tier at the position, but he might not be too far off. You’re also going to be able to get him at a much more comfortable price or draft slot. 20-25 HR, 90+ RBI, 80+ R with a near .300 batting average seems like a pretty safe bet, and most owners would gladly take that production. —Eric Roseberry
Jung-Ho Kang, Pittsburgh Pirates
It would be an understatement to say Kang has issues, and if you decide to avoid him based on his injury history, summer domestic violence allegation or offseason DUI conviction, his third, I understand. I love his numbers, but I’m not pedantic enough to argue that a player’s personal life has nothing to do with his fantasy value; of course players like Kang and Jose Reyes can, and should, force us to ask difficult questions about our relationship to baseball both fantastical and real. It’s healthy, and if your moral or mental health is best served by avoiding Kang on draft day, godspeed. There are many ways to win a fantasy baseball title. Not all of them require elaborate games of self-justification or self-deceit. Kang does.
He’s just really quite good. In our behind-the-scenes third base week chatter, we acknowledged that Kang’s relatively low rank is due to his off-field actions, because when he’s played, he has played very well. He hit .255/.354/.513 over 103 games last season with 21 homers and 62 RBI, which is good, and over a full year, if the .273 BABIP normalized even a little, it would put him in 30 homer territory with an OPS of about .900. In 2014, he put up a 287/.355/.461 with 15 homers and a .344 BABIP before getting cleated by Chris Coghlan, ending his season early. The baseline performance level he has demonstrated so far, especially after returning from the injury, has been excellent. Across a full season, it would likely make him a top-10 third baseman. Put another way, he’s a top-10 option as long as he plays, and if he doesn’t go for top-10 value in your draft or auction, he’s a good upside play, even if you ultimately may be playing yourself. You might even be able to play him at shortstop, too. —Bryan Joiner
Nick Castellanos, Detroit Tigers
Castellanos has always looked the part of a potentially elite hitter, earning elusive better-than-plus hit tool grades from two of our evaluators back in his minor league days. And with consistently well above-average line-drive rates in his three full(ish) seasons now, he has shown why he got those grades. He’s also shown the kind of improvement you’d expect to see from a hitter with his raw talent, most notably in driving the ball more forcefully to the pull side as he has matured. This is a trait of a lot of great hitters: they establish away, they figure out how to drive away with authority, they figure out how to pull with authority. Before the injury last season Castellanos was taking Step Three after flirting with the second in previous seasons. He hit a lot of line drives last year. He hit an increasing number of fly balls and line drives with carry. And he increasingly pulling those balls in the air.
Castellanos is a 6-foot-4, 210-pound, soon-to-be-25-year-old with over 1,600 big-league plate appearances under his belt already. And they’ve been increasingly successful plate appearances. And his physical frame is entering full maturity. This is exactly the kind of profile you should be targeting whenever it’s cost-effective, and as just the 20th third baseman off the board right now in NFBC drafts (207th overall), he looks like an awfully juicy target in the middle rounds of a draft. The counting-stat context for him in the middle of that Twins lineup has a chance to be sneaky valuable, and if he continues building on his recent evolution you’ve got the makings of a player very easily capable of returning mixed league dollars in the high-teens. That’s Kyle Seager/Justin Turner/Evan Longoria territory, and at a fraction of the acquisition cost. –Wilson Karaman
Jose Ramirez, Cleveland Indians
Don’t let anyone tell you Ramirez’s breakout came from nowhere. It’s an easy but lazy narrative to buy into. Picture this: It’s 2012. Ramirez is one of the youngest hitters in the Midwest League (A). He posts the league’s best K% and its fifth-best wRC+ (min. 300 PA). Fast forward to 2013. Ramirez is the youngest hitter in the Eastern League (AA) and, again, posts the league’s best K%—while stealing 38 bases. Now it’s 2014. Just 22, the next-youngest player in the Pacific Coast League (AAA) with better plate discipline is 27. The peripherals—elite contact skills, all-fields line drive approach, plus speed—inspire optimism. An anemic BABIP in 2015 reverses rather than accelerates Ramirez’s path to a starting gig—probably why you didn’t care about him until June last year—but he still walked nearly as often as he struck out while putting up a roughly 10-homer, 20-steal pace.
It was a matter of time before he put it all together. It came sooner than later, and it came together like clockwork: 10-ish homers, 20-ish steals, a .310-ish average. Alas, it’s also easy to buy into the narrative that, although he’s probably legit, he’ll likely regress. Don’t. Player performance fluctuates—if he goes 8/18/.290 in 2017, I will be neither upset nor surprised—but this is who he is. At a position dominated by home runs and a lack of consistency in the middle ranks, Ramirez’s modest profile but high floor play up. Where the hot corner zigs, Ramirez zags. Plus, he has multipositional eligibility, making him all the more intriguing. As unofficial president of Little Bags of Flour, Ramirez’s equally unofficial fan club, I cordially invite you to join us in our eternal optimism for the Indians’ most underappreciated star. –Alex Chamberlain