Now we start to get to the good stuff. We’re getting far enough along on the defensive spectrum that we’re starting to see some depth below the deep. Whereas catchers are inherently shaky investments in dynasty leagues, and both first- and second-base ranks tend to swell later on with good bats that fail more demanding positions, third base has its share of lifers. The position boasts a fairly deep prospect pool right now, with notable strength in the last two draft classes. That’s where I’ve concentrated the bulk of the notes below, with another 25 names (plus Will Middlebrooks) beyond Bret’s Top 50 for the position. Here are the previous columns in this series for catchers, first basemen, and second basemen, along with last year’s article for the position.
Back-Up Types, But In (Or Close Enough To) Their Primes!
Cheslor Cuthbert, Kansas City Royals – We start with the rare, young, former sorta prospect who’s in the majors but didn’t crack the 50 anyway. After a monster April start to his third pass through the PCL, Cuthbert stepped up to take Mike Moustakas’ every-day at-bats after the starter was lost for the season to a knee injury. He brought with him generally sound contact skills and modest pop, and that’s pretty much what he does. He lacks the kind of above-average power that most dynasty leaguers want to see at a minimum from their third-base targets, and he doesn’t make up for it with particularly helpful speed, either. It’s possible he takes another step forward if he can work into some playing time via another Moose injury or opportunity cropping up elsewhere, but there weren’t a ton of signs to point to under-the-hood that a breakout should be considered imminent.
Chase Headley, New York Yankees – 2017 will mark five years since Headley put up a league-average TAv over a full season, and he was worth all of seven mixed-league bucks last year despite logging more than 500 plate appearances. Suffice to say the 31-homer version of 2012 ain’t walking through that door again, but he still holds at least some AL-only and deep-mixed value on account of New Yok lacking any immediate threats to his playing time.
David Freese, Pittsburgh Pirates – Depending on what does or does not happen with Jung Ho Kang’s potential suspension in the wake of sexual assault and DUI investigations by the league, Freese may find himself the recipient of regular playing time yet again. That’s perfectly fine news for NL-only players, as Freese has shown perfectly capable of and consistent in generating double-digit –only value with requisite at-bats. His whiff rate did balloon uncomfortably last year at age 33, however, so even the most modest of expectations should probably be kept in check.
Marwin Gonzalez, Houston Astros – I have a soft spot for Gonzalez, who has stepped in with well-timed hot streaks for injured members of assorted teams of mine in each of the past two seasons now. But beyond that, there’s not a ton here. The Astros’ depth chart is exceedingly crowded at the corners, and while his versatility beyond those positions offers additional paths to playing time, well, the rest of the positions he plays are crowded in Houston, too.
Adonis Garcia, Atlanta Braves – Garcia stepped in to fill the scumbag shoes of convicted domestic abuser Hector Olivera after the latter’s arrest and subsequent suspension, and he actually kind of managed to provide some utility in the process. He was a $15 NL-only player when all was said and done, pretty much entirely based on counting stat accumulation that arose out of a lack of better options for the rebuilding Braves.
Will Middlebrooks, Texas Rangers – He’s still only 28!
Ke’Bryan Hayes, Pittsburgh Pirates – The 32nd overall pick out of high school in 2015, Hayes remains a raw hitter at the dish, particularly in terms of binging above-average raw power into games. As David Lee noted in a report last summer, he tends to utilize a flatter-planed stroke in games, failing to engage his lower half and create the leverage to drive pitches the way most fantasy owners want their third baseman to drive pitches. He remains quite young, and the ingredients to hit .280-plus at the big-league level one day are there. That’s a good baseline for any youngster who cracks 200 pounds, and if Hayes can start to show progress in his ability to turn on pitches with authority in full-season, he can evolve into a name worth adding right quick.
Austin Riley, Atlanta Braves – Riley came off the board nine picks behind Hayes in 2015, and he showed an enticing ability to bring plus power into full-season games last year at 19. There’s a pretty significant split in the scouting community as to whether Riley’s stiff swing and contact issues will or will not derail his progression farther up the minor-league chain. David Lee noted some positive mechanical and approach developments in a piece last summer, and indeed his whiff rate improved as the season wore on. So stage one has largely been cleared, and we’ll see where last year’s adjustments leave him against High-A pitching in the spring.
Rio Ruiz, Atlanta Braves – Speaking of Braves third-base prospects who made positive changes to their swing’s load, Ruiz kept his walk rate up at Triple A and started getting short to the ball last summer. The swing has more torque to it now, and that’s a good thing for a player who will need more still if he’s going to grow into passable power at the hot corner. He’s always shown an advanced approach and good barrel skills, and he’ll be knocking on the doorstep of regular at-bats in Atlanta this season. Expectations should remain in check until he shows more consistent game power, but particularly for those in deep OBP leagues, he’s an interesting late flyer.
Yandy Diaz, Cleveland Indians – Speaking of OBP league flyers, all Diaz has ever done as a professional is get on base, with a .403 career mark across nearly 1,500 career plate appearances – and that includes a .318/.408/.446 mark between Double and Triple A last year. He’ll steal the occasional base and hit he occasional homerun, though the ceiling for either of those fantasy skills is modest, and he’s stuck in an unappealing depth chart situation in Cleveland. There’s enough demonstrated performance that he should be monitored closely and grabbed immediately in the event of injury in shallower leagues, or stored away as speculation in deeper ones.
Kevin Padlo, Tampa Bay Rays – Padlo lost some fantasy prospect shine by the sheer virtue (or lack thereof) of getting dealt from Colorado’s system to Tampa, and the former fifth-rounder’s full-season debut this year was a mixed bag. He worked a ton of deep counts, striking out in over a quarter of his plate appearances, but in over 15-percent of ‘em. Strikeouts and lower batting averages are likely to be a perpetual part of his game, as the swing is geared towards fly ball contact. But with above-average power and an advanced approach, he’s another one that holds particular intrigue for OBP leaguers as a guy who could make some noise at High A next year.
Renato Nunez, Oakland Athletics – After showering you with a few OBP guys, here’s one that definitely more appropriate for standards, if even that. Nunez popped 23 homers in Triple A last year as a 22-year-old, but he did so in spite of a .278 OBP. He hits a lot of pop-ups, and while his strikeout rate isn’t obscene, it isn’t great, either. There’s a good bit of power to speculate on here, but with Trevor Plouffe now ahead of him and Matt Chapman not far behind, Nunez’ll have a tight window to impress.
J.D. Davis, Houton Astros – I’m not a huge Davis guy, as he’s consistently shown just a metric ton of in-zone swing-and-miss throughout his career to date, and the defensive actions are borderline for third. But he continued to hit dingers last year at Double A, so there’s at least some chance he turns into a power-first second-division starter that returns some deep league value. It’s not likely to come with a pretty batting average, however,
Bryce Denton, St. Louis Cardinals – Denton remained in complex and short-season ball for the entirety of 2016, but he showed some encouraging signs of development after a lost debut season after signing out of high school in 2015. He’s an easy dude to lose in the shuffle of year-to-year turnover, especially after the power didn’t really play against Appy pitching. But there’s a solid-average hit tool and plus raw power here, and though the burn may be slower, the organization is just right to extract maximum value out of his skillset. Keep an eye on him this year.
Class of 2016: The Actual Third Basemen
Nolan Jones, Cleveland Indians – Jones was a shortstop in high school but at 6-foot-5 he was always a suspect proposition there, and Cleveland immediately moved him to third after signing. He has since packed on a whole bunch of good muscle, giving rise to plus or better raw power projection. And he has impressed from the jump with a reasonably advanced approach at the dish (especially for a cold-weather prep bat). His production wasn’t all that after signing, but he’s a kid that can really rocket up dynasty rankings by this time next year if he shows signs of translating raw potential into game skill.
Joe Rizzo, Seattle Mariners – Rizzo is another cold-weather prep bat, and a less advanced one than Jones at that, meaning the lead time here is bound to be significant. He struggled mightily with pitch recognition in his first taste of pro pitching, and his potentially plus power is very much theoretical at this stage. The swing is a nice one to look at, however, and pre-draft reports gushed about his feel for manipulating the barrel and using the whole field. There’s potential for a good bit of helium this year if the Low-A production starts to match the scouting thoughts at all.
Sheldon Neuse, Washington Nationals – Neuse was actually a shortstop in college who was converted over to the hot corner upon receipt by the Nationals after a second-round selection last June. The offensive tools are more alright than awesome, with none of the hit, power, or speed tools projecting to more than average. That doesn’t leave much in the way of wiggle room if things don’t max out, and there just isn’t a lot to get excited about fantasy-wise, at least at this early stage of his professional development. His well-roundedness offers some hope for eventual utility, but it’s not the kind of profile you invest heavily in stashing on your minor league roster, regardless of league depth.
Colton Welker, Colorado Rockies – Another high-school shortstop, Welker already tips the scales at 200 pounds despite moderate physical projection remaining, and the Rockies have bumped him over to third since picking him in the fourth round last summer. Welker raked in the Pioneer League after signing, showing a solid approach, quality swing fundamentals, and the potential for above-average game power down the line. Did I mention he’s in Colorado’s system? He’s in Colorado’s system.
Jae-Gyun Hwang, San Francisco Giants – San Francisco snagged the KBO star on a minor-league deal that could be worth $1.5 million plus incentives if he’s able to crack the 25-man. The 29-year-old’s production in Korea has been stellar, with a .335/.396/.570 line last season that included 27 homes and 25 steals. He’s played some shortstop in his career as well, and probably profiles more in the utility mold if the skills show signs of translating. He’s a nice end-game flier if your league is deep enough, while players in leagues with a bat flip category should invest heavy in this dude’s skills.
Luis Yander La O, Texas Rangers – The Rangers signed La O on a minor-league deal that barely scraped six figures on the back-end of a year-and-a-half of halting negotiations and administrative issues that ultimately appear to have cost the Cuban defector a bunch of up-front money. He’s 25 already, and the offensive approach is of the non-traditional style for a third baseman: he hits primarily to the opposite field, with a line-drive plane that saps much hope for power production. He was also a fairly raw base-stealer in the Serie Nacional in spite of plus run times. He may get some juice in deep-league drafts this spring, but the skillset isn’t great from a fantasy perspective.
Class of 2016: The Actual First Basemen
Will Craig, Pittsburgh Pirates – It’s getting a little lonely out here on Will Craig Island, but that’s okay. He absolutely obliterated college pitching in both his sophomore and junior campaigns, posting video game numbers highlighted by an excellent power-and-patience combination. The production has thus far fail to translate with a wooden bat in his hand, however, with struggles first on Cape Cod and then unremarkable production following his first-round selection last June. I still believe in a quality deep-league CI profile here, but another summer of struggle will make that position all the more untenable.
Bobby Dalbec, Boston Red Sox – Dalbec has reportedly made some strides with his lateral agility and footwork at third, but it’s still an open question as to whether he can stick at third long term. He profiles similarly to J.D. Davis, as a guy with two plus-or-better tools (power, arm) but questionable vehicles to allow either to play in games. His swing is highly leveraged, with a ton of loft and, with it, minimal time on plane through the zone. There’s a ton of swing-and-miss in his game as a result, and coupled with an over-aggressive approach it’s a recipe for a lot of strikeouts. If he can get the power to play there’s some fantasy intrigue here, but we probably won’t know the answer to that question for another couple seasons.
Class of 2017 and Beyond!
Joe Dunand, North Carolina State – The nephew of Alex Rodriguez physically resembles his blood in a lot of his baseball actions, the swing chief among them. He gained notoriety in high school after launching homeruns on eight consecutive swings in games at a showcase tournament, and while his production at NC State has been fairly bland to date, he impressed scouts on the Cape last summer, where he showed a bunch of bat speed and put up solid numbers in a depressed offensive environment. If he can carry over some of those gains into a productive junior season, there’s ample helium potential here for Dunand to jump into first-round consideration.
Dylan Busby, Florida State – Busby crushed the ball all spring in Tallahassee, and then crushed the ball all summer on Cape Cod before succumbing to hernia surgery that knocked him out for a significant portion of off-season workouts. He shows a nice blend of contact ability and power at the dish, though an aggressive approach makes for a less-enticing OBP-league prospect. He’ll enter spring with billing as one of the better college bats around, however, and if he shows as healthy should be a strong Day 1 candidate in June.
Jake Burger, Missouri State – Burger may be one of the most volatile college bats in this draft class entering the spring, though that mostly has to do with his future defensive home. After raking with minimal power as a freshman in 2015, Burger focused his energy on the top of the cage in 2016 and broke out big time, hitting .349/.420/.689 with the second-most home runs in college baseball. He tends towards an aggressive approach that will yield its share of strikeouts, but there are some tasty fantasy skills here if he can sustain the power outburst. It remains entirely possible he has to migrate across the diamond at the next level, but if the bat plays like it showed it could last year, it won’t much matter for dynasty leaguers.
Josh Anthony, Auburn – Anthony will be one of the more interesting bats to watch this spring, as the former junior-college masher came very close to signing a professional contract with the Braves last summer after Atlanta took him in the 16th round. After initially declining Atlanta’s offer in favor of a transfer to Auburn, Atlanta upped the ante and subsequently revoked their offer after other draftees signed and pushed them to the brink of their cap space. He’s a big strong kid with a ton of power, and he put up video game numbers in his season at Western Oklahoma State (.425/.519/.822 in 250 plate appearances). How that translates to SEC play will determine how many zeroes get tacked on to his signing bonus.
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