It’s difficult to find a position with more intrigue across the baseball landscape than that of third base. This is especially true from a fantasy perspective. Not only do you have the mix of youth, many of which have already been tagged with the elite label, but there’s a ton of versatility going on here from top to bottom. As such, that makes it one of the deepest positions in fantasy. While not all players that make their way onto these rankings will man third on Opening Day, they’ll at least maintain eligibility to do so for fantasy squads.
Preseason rankings tend to be quite a bit more arbitrary than they are throughout the remainder of the season. Past performance is the only indicator to go off of, with OBP serving as a main focal point in these initial rankings, and other whimsical reasoning having the potential to make its way into the rankings as well before regular season play begins. And as deep as the position is, at least to start the year, tiered rankings allow us to break this up a little bit and separate the elite from the fringe types that’ll log time at third. Given that these are our initial rankings for the 2016 season, we’ll just give it to you as straightforward as possible.
There’s no question that this is the very elite group among the hot corner, and it’s really difficult to peg the appropriate order. If we’re building a legitimate franchise, and not looking solely at the fantasy aspect, Arenado or Machado could end up fighting for the top spot. But from a fantasy perspective, nobody unseats Josh Donaldson atop the group. He led third basemen in virtually every offensive category last year, and with the lineup in which he’s hitting, there’s no reason to think he can’t replicate that success.
Bryant takes the no. 2 here not because I’m a homer, but because he has a legitimate chance to climb as high as no. 1 before the season ends. He tinkered with his swing during the offseason to cut down his strikeouts, which could subsequently lead to more fantasy success. Arenado takes no. 3 due to his home ballpark, which should lead to a relatively stable number of big flies, even if the power does regress a little. Machado will be solid all the way around again, as that 30+ homer potential was finally reached. That isn’t going anywhere. When looking for a third baseman early, you legitimately cannot go wrong with anything available at the top.
This was a difficult group to make any smaller than it currently is. Todd Frazier has established himself as a pretty consistent force, and while he’s not feasting off of Great American Ballpark anymore, U.S. Cellular has its own benefits for hitters. Matt Carpenter saw an uptick in power last year, even if it came at the expense of his contact. He was still able to reach base regularly, even with that dip. Seager isn’t quite elite, but he sure is consistent.
Franco could climb farther up these rankings as the year wears on. Longoria and especially Beltre are the real veterans here, and that may not bode well for their standing moving forward. Longoria appears to be somewhat sapped of his former power, but should still be good for 20 home runs and decent OBP skills. Beltre had a strong second half that salvages his spot in these rankings for now. But neither appears to be entirely solidified in their respective spots moving forward.
This is an interesting group, because there are a couple of individuals here that could find themselves higher up the rankings as soon as the next edition. Sano, in particular, is an intriguing commodity. He’ll likely be the offensive catalyst for a Twins offense that could definitely use it. Turner will have to prove that he’s more than just a flash in the pan after posting a .370 OBP. Matt Duffy is a quality contact hitter, and should benefit from that ability in the average and on-base departments. Mike Moustakas is somewhat underrated after a couple of really questionable seasons. But he learned to hit opposite field last year and absolutely thrived. He can contribute some power and a decent approach should lead to those OBP skills remaining up.
This is essentially the middle-of-the-road tier. It’ll be interesting to see how Kang rebounds from Chris Coghlan ending his season last year. He posted an OBP over .350 and demonstrated good power, but that .344 BABIP could indicate regression. Even if he regresses, though, as a shortstop option, he’s in a much higher tier, given the lack of offense at the position.
The White Sox are the second team to hope that Brett Lawrie can benefit from a change of scenery. He was streaky last year, and there’s clearly some power there. He’ll have to seriously overhaul his approach and cut down on those strikeouts if he’s to be taken seriously. Wright’s back issues are terrifying for prospective fantasy owners (and obviously more so for the player himself). Castellanos has been decidedly average, but he hits the ball hard with regularity. If he can couple that with an improved approach that somehow leads to more walks, and he can be a far more valuable player than he’s currently considered.
These are your veteran guys who are just kind of there. As in they exist. The Nationals were the team that likely overpaid Daniel Murphy after a scorching postseason. Valbuena provides power, but a decidedly lower average than many fantasy owners might be comfortable with. Danny Valencia provided good upside with Oakland. He hits the ball hard and discovered some power there. He could climb up these rankings a touch if that’s for real. Prado is just about as average as it gets, and Headley might be slightly below.
This is an interesting group that could definitely outplay where they sit right now. Guys like Tomas and Lamb, in particular, are hitting in a strong offensive lineup that could lead to an uptick in their own production. Lamb is an interesting quantity because he’s a guy who makes good contact and gets on base regularly, but saw his power sapped a bit last year. Now completely healthy and with an altered swing, he could be a late-round steal. Solarte and Escobar are similar options that represent nice fallback choices, who can provide some pop (with the former providing more) and high OBP skills.
These guys are going to find their at-bats for their respective clubs, regardless of where they actually line up on the field. Baez has the highest upside of the three, but Plouffe is the more proven commodity out of the trio. He has 20+ homer power and is, overall, an above average player. We know what Baez can do with the stick, with a potentially elite bat, but with a crowded Cubs lineup, it’s better to wait and see how he’s deployed early on in the season. Josh Harrison is going to find playing time wherever he can get it, and does a lot of things well, even if he isn’t particularly elite in any category. Brock Holt is going to fetch regular at-bats and continues to improve at the plate. Even if he doesn’t have the power potential, he’s a high OBP guy capable of adding a couple of swipes.
“Honorable” Mention Tier
These are more desperation, plug-and-play type of options, but still important names to keep an eye on. Villar could benefit from regular at-bats with the Brewers, and won’t play third regularly for Milwaukee, but will still maintain that eligibility. Chisenhall tends to be somewhat enigmatic and should be in for something of a rebound campaign in 2016, whatever that means for him. Sandoval could be motivated by the threat of his starting job being taken away, but in the same breathe, it’s important to note that he’s on this list more out of sympathy than anything. Same goes for Freese, who didn’t sign until late in the offseason. There’s some pop there, which means there’s some value. It’ll be interesting to see what his at-bats look like early in the season.
This group doesn’t necessarily provide enough for us to go off of at this point, even though we know that each one here provides significant upside. Hector Oliver isn’t a traditional prospect because he’s 30, but the latest Cuban product has had a strong spring and should be a middle-of-the-order presence for Atlanta. He should shoot up the rankings if that can carry over into the regular season.
Travis Shaw has created a buzz around Red Sox camp this spring, and there’s no shortage of talk about him supplanting Pablo Sandoval. We know what Joey Gallo can do, it’s just a matter of him returning to the Major Leagues to demonstrate that supreme power. It remains to be seen how Brandon Drury can fit in the lineup, with an Arizona infield possibly consisting of Paul Goldschmidt, Jean Segura, Nick Ahmed, and Jake Lamb, given that the lineup is hitting across the board this spring. But Drury projects quite well, and his versatility should allow him to fit in there somewhere at some point early on.
Again, at the end of the day, these are preliminary rankings. A lot can change, and a lot will change early on. But, at the very least, these give us a solid basis moving forward, and watching them change over the course of the season should be a fascinating ordeal.