Third base might be the most interesting position on the field
this spring.

  • Last year it was Kevin Elster. This year, the Dodgers
    dusted Mark Lewis off and handed him a contract and a shot
    at a position where they’re way short on contributing talent.

    Of course, that’s where the similarities end. The Dodgers have a
    pretty solid third baseman by the name of Adrian Beltre,
    but as you certainly know by now, Beltre’s suffering from the
    aftereffects of an appendectomy wound that just won’t close. He
    underwent surgery this week, and won’t be ready to swing a bat
    until May or later. Backup Dave Hansen broke his finger in
    spring training action and will be out for a while as well, leaving
    what should have been a locked up position wide open.

    Hansen is one of my favorite "what could have been" players.
    He only got a really good shot at a starting job in the majors once,
    all the way back in 1992. The Dodgers gave the then 23-year-old the
    majority of the playing time at third, and he fumbled the ball, batting
    .214/.286/.299 and failing to fend off Mike Sharperson.
    Having seen enough, the team brought in Tim Wallach to man third
    the next year.

    The Wallach Era in Los Angeles turned out about as well as could be
    expected–generally below average performance for the former Expo,
    with the exception of his fluke 1994 season. The Dodgers then turned
    to immortals like Mike Blowers and Todd Zeile, while
    Hansen quietly established a reputation as one of the better bench
    players in the league.

    Now in his second tour of duty with the Dodgers, Hansen has added
    some sock to his offensive game and remains a very dangerous pinch
    hitter. I was hoping he’d have a chance at expanding his role this
    season, but looking at the whole thing from another angle, he’s
    done fairly well for himself for a player with about 1500 career plate

    I just hope he doesn’t lose any playing time to someone like Lewis.

  • The Brewers had the makings of a fun competition
    between Jose Hernandez, former catcher/Cubbie Tyler
    , and import Tony Fernandez before shortstop
    Mark Loretta went down with torn thumb ligament.
    Now, Hernandez will likely move to short while Houston and Fernandez
    share the hot corner.

    Houston hit 18 home runs and slugged .493 last year, but the Brewers
    have plenty of sluggers who have trouble avoiding outs.
    Fernandez could give the Brewers the top of the order hitter they’re
    going to need in front of Jeromy Burnitz, Geoff Jenkins,
    and Rich Sexson. Here’s his
    complete projection for 2001, courtesy of Clay Davenport:

    293 82 12  0  7 50 38 48  44  1  1 212 .280 .385 .392 .271  41

    If Ron Belliard is in shape by the time the season starts, the
    Brew Crew has a chance at a very good-looking top five.

  • San Francisco traded Bill Mueller in the offseason, which
    leaves Russ Davis and Pedro Feliz as their options at
    third base this year. We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again:
    Feliz is not a very good prospect, no matter how many home runs he
    hit in Fresno last year. He’s got power, but his eye at the plate
    is very poor and hasn’t improved as he’s moved through the system.

    That being said, he’s in competition with Davis, who is a somewhat
    similar player and doesn’t have that nifty prospect shine; in fact,
    Davis was waiver wire bait a year ago. Feliz has
    started off hot in spring training, and the Giants organization
    is high on him. He’s got a good chance of starting the season as
    the Giants’ regular third basemen. His chances of long-term
    success are significantly less promising.

  • We’ve gotten several pieces of mail wondering why we haven’t
    been very excited about on Placido Polanco‘s shot at a
    productive career. With the Cardinals trading Fernando Tatis and
    Polanco coming off a .316 batting average last season, his chances
    of taking most of the playing time at third base this season are
    also good, and his .438 spring average thus far does nothing to
    hurt him.

    But the degree of Polanco’s improvement in 2000 has me wondering
    how much of it is for real. If he’s had a true development spike,
    he’s got good things to look forward to. Even if that’s the case,
    he isn’t all that young or effective, and is certainly miscast
    as a starting third baseman. Like Eric Owens, Polanco is
    one of the better utility players in the league, and like Owens
    he’ll be overmatched with a starting job.

Dave Pease is an author of Baseball Prospectus. Contact him by

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