It’s been a couple of weeks since our debut of the “Ask the Industry” series, so we’ll remind you how it works. I asked five scouts/front-office members if they were starting a franchise with one prospect at each position, who would those players be and why? They were then asked to fill out an MVP-style ballot, with first-place votes receiving five points, second-place four points, etc.
This week, we take a look at third base. Even with the graduation of Kris Bryant and the fairly recent promotion of Joey Gallo, this is still one of the more talented groups in baseball; though as you’ll soon see, there wasn’t much debate as to who the guy they wanted at the position was.
Note: While almost everyone I’ve spoken with agrees that Corey Seager will move to third base at some point in his career, he was not eligible for this list.
Why: “With the wave of call-ups, I think you could say that Sano is the best offensive prospect in the baseball. The hit tool is above average, though I think the dream of the plus hit tool is likely fading, and the power is obvious; he can hit any pitch on any part of the plate out of any part of the park. There’s just so much strength in that swing.
“My only concern is whether or not he’s a good enough athlete to play third base, but really, he doesn’t have to be Adrian Beltre with the glove, he just has to be not a detriment. My guess is he ends his career at first, but you deal with that when you have to. If you’re asking me to start a franchise right now, he’s the guy I’d want.”
NL West scout: Sano
Why: “This one’s pretty easy to me. If there’s one guy currently in the minor leagues who has a chance to be an elite offensive player from the right side, it’s Sano. He’s got light-tower power, and I think people underrate just how advanced the feel for hitting is; he’s only 22 and missed a year of development, and the numbers at Chattanooga are pretty impressive when you consider how much he struggled out of the shoot. The defensive profile isn’t that great and that’s what brings guys like McMahon and Devers into the discussion, but he’s just so much better offensively than the other options.”
AL Central scout: Sano
Why: “I don’t see how you can say anyone but Sano. Even if you were to count Gallo, I don’t think there’s any question that you go with Sano in this situation. The only thing he can’t do is steal bases, and when you’re hitting .280 with 30 homers, who cares? I think he’s a better defender than some give him credit for, he’s still got a strong throwing arm and he makes the plays that are in front of him. This guy’s going to be a star.”
AL East scout: Sano
“If you’d asked me in April what third baseman I’d take, I would have taken Devers, partially because he’s been really good and Sano looked really off in my early looks. Since then Devers has been fine but Sano has been outstanding, and I shouldn’t be surprised. He’s going to hit 35 homers a year if he can stay healthy, and he’s not just a power-hitter, this is a kid who can hit .300 as a big-leaguer. There’s the obvious concerns about missing a year of development and what not, but I don’t buy it. This kid can flat out swing the bat.”
His top five: 1. Sano 2. Devers 3. McMahon 4. Peterson 5. Moran
NL front-office member: Devers
“My first instinct was to go with Sano, and it’s really hard to argue against that choice. But I have to go with Devers. I think he’s the better defender, I think he has the better hit tool, I think he’s better on the bases, and I think he’s going to have at least an above-average power tool. Neither player is a lock to stick at third base, and if you’re looking for a guy who’s going to assuredly stick at the hot corner, I think you have to go with McMahon. As someone who values ceiling but respects floor, I think Devers is the guy I’d want to start my franchise with. Boy it’s hard to pass on Sano, though.
His top five: 1. Devers 2. Sano 3. McMahon 4. Peterson 5. Jagielo
Points: Sano 24, Devers 19, McMahon 17, Peterson 7, Moran 3, Jagielo 3, Ruiz 2
In addition to the names above, I asked some members of the prospect team which third-base prospect they’d start a franchise with.
Al Skorupa: Miguel Sano. The tools are just so loud and there’s 80 raw power. He's actually a surprisingly good defensive third baseman right now, too. He moves incredibly well for a man that size and can make some jaw dropping plays coming in on the ball. At the plate the power plays already, and there's still more he'll tap into. I'm not confident he'll hit for a high average, especially right away. He expands his zone, has some problems with spin, and there will of course be strikeouts. You can nitpick Sano a little, but this profile is going to play pretty damn well. He's a star-level third baseman for me and I expect him to contend for the home-run title every year.
Craig Goldstein: I think the answer is Sano and it's not even close. The guy has top of the scale raw power and a good enough hit tool to make it plus-plus in game. He's always going to swing and miss, but it's not a deal breaker for someone with his power; and while the Tommy John surgery puts a bit of a damper on the arm, it's still strong enough to stay at the hot corner. How he fills out/ages will do more to move him off the position than his arm, though I think he can stick for at least a few years should his club want him to. Sano also balances his strikeouts with a solid approach at the plate, and while I've seen him struggle with soft spinning stuff at times, I think he gets a good enough read that it won't sink him. He will struggle to hit for average at times, but the pop is a constant and should give him value even when he's struggling, and provide well more than that when he's going well.
Wilson Karaman: I'll go with what I'm sure will be overwhelming consensus and take Sano. A couple other guys like Devers and McMahon would be fun to try and make a case for, but I just don't see how Sano is anything other than a runaway choice here. You have to be impressed with the strides he's made this year at the plate. After missing a full season he's come back and appeased early-season contact rate concerns by lopping nearly five percent off his bugaboo strikeout rate while retaining his power production and walk rate. The 14 errors remain a blight on his development and push the question of whether or not he'll remain on the hot corner long term, but I haven't heard any suggestions that he's due for a shift anytime soon. If he's not a top-five overall prospect in the game now in the wake of all the recent promotions. he's pretty darn close.
Jeff Moore: I don't know that these two would be the guys I'd start with because they're both young, but any discussion of young third basemen has to include Rafael Devers and Jhoan Urena, Devers especially. Urena is a guy I've liked for a few years as a switch hitter with good power from both sides, but he's currently overmatched after the Mets inexplicably jumped him straight to the FSL. He's a real talent though and got himself into good shape last winter, trading in the baby fat for muscle. Devers is younger and even more talented. He's a potential top 50 guy and one of the best pure young hitters in the game. He could outgrow third base, which will be an issue, but he can stay there for now and has the requisite hands and arm.
Mark Anderson: As a guy who has always been a huge believer in Sano, he's the easy answer here, and even if I try to stretch for a guy like Peterson, Devers, or McMahon, it's hard to get there. Sano's raw power obviously stands out and he has the potential to blast 30-plus home runs at his peak, even with questions about how his hit tool will play. He's going to stick at third base thanks to some surprising athleticism for his size, and that makes him a very enticing player. While I've been extremely impressed with Devers and McMahon over the last 18 months, I still can't take them over the massive potential of Sano.
My choice: I thought this would be our one unanimous result (spoiler alert: there were no unanimous positions in this exercise), but the more I think about it, the more the Devers vote does make sense. If you think Devers is a 60-hit, 60-power guy who is going to stay at third base and you think Sano is going to move across the diamond, why wouldn’t you?
I still think Sano is the choice though, even if it isn’t as blatantly obvious as I thought it was before the 2015 season. Like so many of the people above I do think he’ll have to move across the diamond at some point, but that isn’t happening anytime soon, and I would actually give him a chance of playing right field before I put him at first base, understanding that there's a risk with the Tommy John surgery because of a longer throw, but not enough to invalidate the extra value he would provide from a corner outfield position. Devers and McMahon are both going to be really nice players, but we’re starting a franchise, so I’m taking the guy who has a chance to be a superstar in Sano.
Thank you for reading
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