With catchers, first baseman, and second basemen out of the way it’s time to rank the hot corner. If you read either of the first three installments or you’re familiar with this exercise from years past, you know that these rankings function best as something like a cross between keeper preferences and dynasty rankings for those whose window of contention is open in the immediate future. It’s important to state that these rankings are mine alone. They no doubt vary from the opinions of other writers on this site and that’s okay. Good, even. This wouldn’t be much fun if we all thought the same thing about every player and couldn’t learn from each other in the cases where we diverge.
Since I know you’re going to ask, allow me to pre-empt the comments: Machado would rank third, Javy Baez comes in at 16, I’ve got JaCoby Jones at 58, Charlie Nyce at 69, and Colin Moran finally off my board.
I’ll take Arenado for the top spot. He’s coming off back-to-back 40+ HR/130+ RBI seasons and the strides he made with his approach in 2016 make his hit tool a little more stable. Bryant showed gains there in his own right, erasing the mild hesitation of idiots like me by shaving more than eight percentage points off his strikeout rate. Any difference in approach that advantages Arenado is easily surmountable if Bryant consistently chips in 8-12 steals. You can’t really go wrong here. 31-year-old Donaldson is the geriatric of the group, though not old enough to expect much skill depreciation over the next three years.
Seager’s five-year averages: 159 games, 77 runs, 25 homers, 85 RBI, eight steals, .266 batting average. He set career highs in four of five roto categories in a 2016 season that will likely represent his high-water mark, but there are few players as bankable. Even accounting for some modest coming regression, Seager is as good a consolation prize as you’ll find if you don’t drop your first round pick on one of the big three.
Fooling around with an already-small 217-plate appearance sample is dangerous but what the hell. After the first 10 games – in which Bregman singled twice and walked four times in 42 trips to the dish – the young Astro slashed .313/.354/.577 the rest of the way. They all count the same as for retrospective valuation, but that doesn’t mean you have to use the full-season line for projection’s sake. I’m willing to discount the adjustment period because of the speed with which Bregman made it to Houston and the dominance he showed along the way. Buying in at this level strips away most or all of the profit potential, which is not something I advise with young players who have limited major league experience unless I’m supremely confident in the fundamental skillset.
I’ve long been a Ramirez supporter, tabbing him as the player I owned on the most teams heading in to last year while pushing him as a post-hype sleeper. With that backdrop, it shouldn’t be a surprise that I have him this high after his breakout 2016, but it does feel a touch lofty. In the end, his elite contact ability, speed-power combination, at-long-last role security, and age – he’ll be 24 this season – win out. Rendon bounced back from an injury-marred 2015 season with positive five-category contribution in 2016. Rendon was thrown out in a third of his stolen base attempts last year. If his ability to swipe bags slips, he becomes much more ordinary. I’m staying bullish on Franco, who has enough bat-to-ball to raise his batting average considerably. He drove in 88 runs for a Phillies club that scored a league-worst 610 last season and remains a 30-homer threat for the foreseeable future.
I have a high level of short-term confidence in the three players here that made Mike Gianella’s four-star tier for 2017. And then there’s Frazier, who I’m quite sure I won’t own anywhere. That .236 BABIP will bounce back some, but be careful how much rebound you bake in. Nobody hits fewer liners than Frazier and everyone hits fewer infield flies. Deterioration in his career-high HR/FB rate and/or limitation on the base paths will end his run as one of fantasy’s best third basemen in the near future.
Sano ranked 18th on the 2015 version of this exercise before he’d played a game above Double-A, so, 830 major league plate appearances later, suffice it to say he hasn’t quite developed as we’d hoped. The power is definitely there, but a career 35.8 percent strikeout rate and contact rates that rank among the worst in the league raise significant questions about whether he can get to his top-of-the-scale raw power often enough to neutralize the batting average liability. Entering his age-24 season, there is still plenty of time for Sano to reach his substantial ceiling. HeThereI’m buying the pre-injury version of Castellanos. I’ve always liked his contact ability and last year he added pull-side power, albeit with some risk that the elevated HR/FB rate doesn’t hold going forward. Moustakas looks to be a nice value as he returns from a torn ACL.
16. Yoan Moncada, Chicago White Sox
This placement really says more about the players on either side of Moncada than it does Moncada himself. I’m comfortable if I have any of the 15 players above as my starter and feel uneasy if I’m relying on the 24 below. In between is fantasy’s best prospect, who is no lock to make any kind of impact in 2017. Bear in mind that prior to last year’s ill-advised major league trial, Moncada played just 45 games at Double-A and struck out 64 times in 207 plate appearances (30.9 percent). He struck out in 10 of 24 Arizona Fall League at-bats. The physical tools are loud and his upside is the top of whatever position he plays as soon as it clicks. For that to happen, he needs reps and refinement in the minor leagues to begin 2017.
21. Jurickson Profar, Texas Rangers
22. Joey Gallo, Texas Rangers
23. Yulieski Gurriel, Houston Astros
Stay tuned for the next “Players to Avoid” installment for my full thoughts on Lamb. He was dreadful in the second half of 2016 and is unplayable against lefties. Healy hit 13 bombs in half a major league season and all of a sudden he’s an important part of Oakland’s immediate future. Suarez has a clear path to all the at-bats he can handle until Nick Senzel is ready, and he should do a little bit of everything until then. Each other member of this group comes with a substantial question mark: Kang’s legal status, Profar’s up-and-down performance after a two-year absence, Gallo’s inability to hit the baseball, Gurriel’s bland domestic debut amidst Houston’s abundance of corner players.
24. Matt Duffy, Tampa Bay Rays
Last call on full-time starters you won’t completely hate yourself for rostering. Duffy is a bit of a forgotten man this preseason. He’ll give you shortstop eligibility in short order and a little bit of speed to go along with his otherwise plain skillset.
28. Travis Shaw, Milwaukee Brewers
29. Brandon Drury, Arizona Diamondbacks
Last call on part-timers you won’t completely hate yourself for rostering. I don’t believe in Perez’s 2016 season in the slightest, but the speed is valuable enough that I had to slot him in here as a hedge against the chance I’m wrong. Perez will occupy the utility role again and should get a big chunk of his playing time spelling Shaw against southpaws. Miller Park will help the former Red Sox’ primary tool play up. I like Drury’s bat. I’m less sure about how he fits into the lineup as a regular given Arizona’s roster construction.
31. Danny Valencia, Seattle Mariners
34. Trevor Plouffe, Oakland Athletics
37. David Freese, Pittsburgh Pirates
Just stop with the Panda stories already.
39. Cheslor Cuthbert, Kansas City Royals
40. Wilmer Flores, New York Mets
Move them both into the high-20s if spring injuries open a path to 400 at-bats in 2017.
Between veteran shortstops sliding over and utility players showing up here as their primary fantasy position, it’s often tough to fit prospects into a third base list. Nevertheless, I thought I could find a home for at least a couple of Nick Senzel, Hunter Dozier, Jeimer Candelario, Rio Ruiz, Matt Chapman, and Luis Yander La O (in that order). Depending on where you are in your contention cycle, there’s an argument for any or all of them above the low-end current big leaguers. With the exception of Senzel, I’m not sure any of them will hit enough to make an impact upon promotion, and I don’t see a path to near-term volume.
Thank you for reading
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