It’s that wonderful time of year where preliminary positional rankings starting pouring out for the upcoming season. Because I needed another reason to look like a fool by the end of it. The third base position opens 2017 with plenty of intrigue, with a couple of newish faces to the mix and one notable name departing for a new position. Let’s all pour one out for Matt Carpenter. My goal is to be far more consistent on the rankings side in 2017, which means more opportunity for folks to ponder, “Just what in the world is this guy thinking?”
Let’s get to it with some cleverly named tiers:
Attempting to choose between one of Kris Bryant and Josh Donaldson is an almost impossible task, and a fruitless one at that. If you can get one, you’re doing it right. Donaldson gets the slight edge over Bryant, though, because he walks more and strikes out less. Both will have ample opportunities to produce runs and should feature on-base figures that linger around .400, a mark which Donaldson exceeded last year. Plus, there are few things that I enjoy more about baseball than watching Josh Donaldson activate that lower half on his swing. Seriously, watch some video. It’s glorious.
Should we have split this tier into two and put Arenado and Machado in one to themselves? Maybe, but Arenado playing his home games at Coors remains too appealing an aspect to drop him down. It’s not as if his road numbers aren’t quality, they’re just not as astounding away from home. Nonetheless, he led the position in home runs last year and nearly doubled his walk rate. Manny Machado doesn’t walk quite as much or reach base as much overall, but his power in that lineup makes it impossible to drop him down beyond this group.
It warms my cold, dead heart to see Kyle Seager having as much success as he had offensively last year. He set career highs across the board that culminated in a park-adjusted offense that came in 33 points above league average. Carpenter is moving to first base, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t possible for him to see some time at the hot corner. For now, we’ll leave him in here for the sake of the rankings. Beltre had a couple of down power years in 2014 and 2015, but he’s hit at least 30 homers in four of his six seasons in Texas. Villar strikes out a bunch, but he gets on base at a high rate which allows him to use his exceptional baserunning ability, which he used to the tune of 62 swipes last year. Nobody at the position can rival that element of production, assuming he maintains eligibility here.
While there’s some stability here over the last several seasons, this particular tier also has the best chance to fluctuate. At some point, Beltre has decline, doesn’t he? Especially in regard to the power side. I’m going to touch on Longoria’s power in the next couple of weeks, but that could trend down as well. How much Carpenter and Villar appear at third remains to be seen. Seager’s likely a sure thing here, but the rest of this tier could feature vastly different names before long.
While these are organized into tiers, the numbers leave Alex Bregman as my no. 10 third sacker among the group overall. Could seem somewhat far-fetched for a player entering his first full season, but his combination of approach, power, and contact could have him well above that as a fantasy asset before the end of the year.
I don’t think my love of Jake Lamb is any sort of secret. His second half numbers were putrid, sure, but a completely healthy season should see him re-establish that dominance that he displayed in the first half of the season. Getting a shot against lefties, something he was never afforded the opportunity to do with Chip Hale on the bench, will be an interesting aspect to watch. Anthony Rendon quietly excelled in a rebound year. Jose Ramirez is an interesting quantity, because he doesn’t display nearly the type of pop that many hitters among this group do. But as a high contact guy with more upside on the basepaths than many of his counterparts at the position, with the obvious exception of Villar, he provides a different type of intrigue.
Todd Frazier showcased the power last year and literally nothing else. He hit 40 dingers, but struck out literally a quarter of the time and reached base at a paltry .302 rate. I just can’t get excited about a guy going all out for power when the rest of his numbers look like that. For some reason, I just can’t bring myself to be overwhelmed by Justin Turner, either. He hit 27 homers last year, which was a career high and an effective way to fight off the BABIP monster, but he’ll have to do it again before I’m too invested in him.
The other two here I’m far more interested in. Sano’s a bit of a wild card, hence my interest. His position is still a bit unclear, but the goal seems to be to get him to stick at third. He has big power at the position, even if his on-base skills leave something to be desire at this point. After shaking off his struggles and showing out in 2015, I’m excited to see Mike Moustakas try and rebound from a brutal injury last season. He’s not unlike Turner, though, in that he has to demonstrate success over more than the one year.
This is, uh…I’m not really sure what’s happening here. Nunez is probably a reliable enough option, as he has a little bit of pop and good speed, as he notched 40 steals in 2016. But his on-base skills aren’t particularly good. Kang rebounded nicely from his injury last year, with 21 homers and an OBP over .350. They’re a nice way to cap off a Top 19 (?) at the third base position.
Baez is obviously an asset because of his versatility more than anything. There’s tremendous offensive upside there, it’s just all going to come down to his approach, which is still developing. He has good power and good instincts on the basepaths, each of with could help to make him a fantasy weapon when combined with that versatility. It’s just a matter of harnessing any sort of consistency. Healy is interesting because of his power (13 homers in 283 plate appearances last year). I debated whether to even include Franco on this list, but 25 homers and the upside he flashed before 2016 have me holding out hope that he can represent anything of value at the position.
I threw these two at the tail end just in case. Yuli Gurriel will likely start at first base for Houston, and there’s some interesting upside there. He made contact at an 84.3% clip in his first big league action, but his power and on-base skills remain to be seen. Moncada is the top positional prospect in baseball, but his arrival in the bigs may not be until very late in the season, if at all. Nonetheless, each are quantities worth monitoring as the season wears on, or even perhaps stowing away on deeper rosters.
At the end of the day, a lot of what’s here is relatively arbitrary. There will be some immediate fluctuation as soon as April kicks off, for better or for worse. New names will jump on here and existing names will likely fall off, be it performance or positional changes. But as one of the deeper positions in the league, we should have a whole lot of fun exploring that variation throughout the season.