Third Basemen Rankings – First Run by Paul Sporer November 22, 2016 OK, don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed writing about second basemen, but that sucker ran 2500 words. That’s kinda nuts, especially for a November first run that only covered 15 players. Anyway, I’m back and this time with third base, but we’re going to change up the format a bit. Instead of diving in on all 15, we’ll look at the top 10 and then group a bunch more. You’ll see, it’s going to be awesome, don’t worry. Starting Pitchers Part 1, Part 2 First Base Second Base Third base is interesting. It’s really stacked up top with as many as four first rounders and then another handful sure to go within the first 5-6 rounds. Nolan Arenado | Rockies – I’m not sure you can go wrong between Arenado and Bryant, but I lean Arenado. He has back-to-back 40+ HR-130+ RBI seasons while also doubling his walk rate and shaving a bit off of his strikeout rate this past season. His road OPS the last two seasons is .834, easily the team’s best and well above the .676 mark that the Rockies have posted as a team on the road. There’s no denying he benefits heavily from Coors, but he doesn’t lose all of it on the road which is what takes him from very good player to top-of-the-heap superstar. Kris Bryant | Cubs – Bryant’s only real advantage over Arenado has been stolen bases. He has 21 in the last two seasons, but he was just 8-for-13 (62%) this past season and SBs are likely to fade from his game as he continues to establish himself as a middle-of-the-order stud. No one would be surprised if he put up his own 40-130 season in 2017, but we haven’t seen it just yet so I’d personally rather have Arenado. Manny Machado | Orioles – Machado reminded us all just how stupid stolen bases are as he dropped a big fat 0 on everyone’s face after nabbing 20 in 2015. It was a useful reminder that outside of the true rabbits like Billy Hamilton (and a few others), steals are a choice. They can be a player choice, but also a team choice. I don’t know if the Orioles chose to park Machado or he did it himself, but maybe we shouldn’t have been so surprised considering he was just 10-for-17 (59%) prior to 2015 and has two bum knees. The tradeoff was that he played 45 games at shortstop, giving him dual eligibility this year. Josh Donaldson | Blue Jays – He’s the old man of this quartet as he enters his age-31 season, but Donaldson was 4 HRs, 24 RBIs, and 13 points of AVG from repeating his MVP season. Concerns of a three-peat in that outcome range are fair given that the Toronto offense is likely to look very different. Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista are both free agents and the signing of Kendrys Morales seems to block off at least one of them. Over the last four seasons, Donaldson is 6th in HRs, 2nd in runs, 4th in RBIs, and 4th in plate appearances. Don’t be scared off by the age, he’s a late first-rounder. Jonathan Villar | Brewers – Arguably the fantasy MVP of 2016 (not just price-to-performance ratio, but performance alone), Villar exploded in his first full season after a trio of modest extended stays (.653 OPS in 658 PA in 2013-15). There is certainly some skepticism about what he’ll do for a follow up, but concerns should lie mostly with the power. His HR/FB rate ballooned to 20% and he hit about 10 homers per 600 PA as a minor league. The speed is legit. He stole at a 79% clip in the minors with 53 SBs/600 PA over his 2848 PA. Even if he slides back into a 9-12 HR range, it’ll work if it comes with 50 SBs and a .270+ AVG. Don’t forget that Villar also walks so even a drop in AVG won’t necessarily curb his SBs and runs too much. Throw in some dual-eligibility (3B/SS) and he’s 2nd-3rd rounder. Kyle Seager | Mariners – Did you know that Seager has upped his home run total every year in the majors? He cracked 30 in 2016 while also hitting a career-high .276. His 99 RBIs were also a new best and a triple-digit season could be next. Seager is kind of underrated and it’s only gotten worse with his brother bursting onto the scene, winning Rookie of the Year and being an MVP finalist. I think you can make a case to take Kyle over Corey for 2017. It’s a slam dunk when you consider their relative costs (Corey in the 1st-2nd round, Kyle about 3-4 rounds later), but even in a 1:1 comparison it’s close. Corey will likely maintain his batting average edge, but Kyle had the better HR+SB and R+RBI totals in 2016. Many assume automatic growth from Corey, but he just posted the 15th-best wRC+ as a 22-year old, it’s a lot to ask him to improve upon that. Either way, don’t sleep on Kyle. Maybe just get both. And Justin, I guess. Anthony Rendon | Nationals – Rendon’s 2016 was essentially a regressed 2014 (20 fewer R, 1 fewer HR, 2 more RBI, 5 fewer SB, and 17 points off the AVG) and it looks even better when you consider that he didn’t even get going until May (.242-15-0-1-1 in 100 April PA). In five months, he put up a .275-76-20-84-11 line. His injury-riddled half season in 2015 has dimmed his star, but this is still a really good bat and I don’t think 2014 will be his high water mark when it’s all said and done. Adrian Beltre | Rangers – Grandpa Beltre looked like he was entering a smooth decline phase of upper-teens homers, good AVG, and 80ish R/RBI, but then he took part in the league’s power surge, clubbing 32 with 104 RBIs (his highest in each category since 2012). He is going to be 38 in 2017, though, which is a non-starter for many and put him somewhere in the 5-7 round range, depending on league size. No one wants to be holding the hot potato, but there’s nothing in his profile that suggests a sharp decline. His plate skills are tremendous, even a return to the 2014-15 power levels would be fine, and he’s been pretty darn healthy in his 30s – averaging 148 games per season over the last seven years. Pair him with a Maikel Franco or Nick Castellanos down the line if you want some insurance. Evan Longoria | Rays – Can you believe he’s only 31? I feel like most would guess a little older because he’s been around so long, but he started at age-22 back in 2008. He set a new career-high in homers with 36 while his 98 RBIs and .273 AVG were both four-year highs. Prior to 2016, he had back-to-back seasons of useful work at third base, driven mostly by his playing time volume (in fact, he’s played at least 160 games each of the last four seasons now). His jump in homers wasn’t just the league change. He altered his approach and found more loft, yielding a career-best 47% flyball rate at the same time that his HR/FB rate jump 5% to 16%. He really improved against fastballs, too. He hit 23 of his homers off heaters (325 PA), compared to 28 HR in 2014-15 combined (707 PA). Let’s be real, Longoria is more floor than ceiling, but at least we can see that 30-100 (or very close… he had 98 ribbies this year) is back in play. Matt Carpenter | Cardinals – The newly found power from 2015 was proven legitimate in 2016 with an identical .505 SLG and actually two points better in ISO at .235. An oblique injury cost him time and the chance to repeat or improve upon the home run total, but there’s no reason not to bet on Carp as a mid-20s power bat with a good shot at 100+ runs and a .270ish AVG. — After the top 10, I’ll be looking to pluck profile types to fit my team construction as opposed to following a straight ranking: ESTABLISHED POWER Todd Frazier (CWS), Miguel Sano (MIN) Justin Turner (FA), and Jung Ho Kang (PIT) Frazier has matched or added to his HR total every year of his career: 6, 19, 19, 29, 35, and 40. His batting average is on the decline with a .225 last year and a career-high of .273 (2012, 2014). I realize Sano only has 830 PA in the majors so “established” might be a jarring term for the 24-year old, but he has justified his 80 raw power grade from the minors (43 HR, .240 ISO). I fit Turner into this category despite just 1061 PA as a power threat, but I buy into the changes that have yielded the new pop. EMERGING POWER Jake Lamb (ARI), Maikel Franco (PHI), Ryon Healy (OAK), Nick Castellanos (DET), Danny Valencia (SEA), and Mike Moustakas (KC) The league started to figure out Lamb down the stretch as he managed just a .185/.283/.348 line in his final 50 games (6 HR in 205 PA). He still had four great months and there’s obviously 35+ HR upside in the future. Eno got me on the Healy train and I’ve become so enamored that I tried to take the engineer hat. Eno didn’t like that. He got mad, in fact. Castellanos was in the midst of a fantastic season before a fractured hand essentially ended his season (he played the last 5 games). He cooled a bit after May, but his June-July (8 HR, .773 OPS) was still a solid level of play, essentially what Marcell Ozuna did over the full season (23, .773). Don’t forget this 25-year old who was in the midst of a big breakout. Speaking of not forgetting, Moose played just 27 games last season before a torn ACL cut him down. It was a small sample (113 PA), but he maintained the power (.260 ISO, 7 HRs) we saw in the second half of 2015 (.253 ISO, 15 HRs in 280 PA). POWER-SPEED (10+ HR/10+ SB) Jose Ramirez (CLE), Javier Baez (CHC), Alex Bregman (HOU), Eugenio Suarez (CIN), Jose Reyes (NYM), Eduardo Nunez (SF), and… maybe… Hernan Perez?! (MIL) Ramirez suffered through a .232 BABIP in 2015, but he rediscovered his line drive stroke from 2014, added some loft, and put up a strong do-everything season (.312/.363/.462, 84 R-11 HR-76 RBI-22 SB) while also qualifying at four positions: 3B/SS/2B/OF. He’ll only have 3B/OF in 2017, but the skills support the performance. I talked about Baez in my 2B rankings. Suarez made the cut because he reached the thresholds this season, but speed isn’t a huge component of his game so I’d bank more on the power. I’m not sure what to make of Nunez’s killer 2016. His 16 HR/40 SB season was undoubtedly awesome, but he was a 29-year old who couldn’t even match those numbers in the parts of four seasons he played before 2016 with 12 HR/38 SB in 853 PA from 2012-15. Be careful. I’m even less sure of Perez’s ’16. He completely came out of nowhere for a 13 HR/34 SB season as Milwaukee’s utilityman. He only needed 430 PA to do it, too. I’d be more interested with some middle infield eligibility, but he’ll be 3B/OF in 2017. SOLID CORNER INFIELDERS Yangervis Solarte (SD), Matt Duffy (TB), Martin Prado (MIA), Yulieski Gurriel (HOU), Adonis Garcia (ATL), and Yunel Escobar (LAA) Solarte set a career-high in homers (15) despite a career-low 443 PA. He really took off batting fourth for the Padres (.831 OPS, 11 HR in 289 PA) so while he’s hardly a conventional cleanup hitter, I hope they use him continue to use him in the heart of the order. The league’s power surge hurt Prado because now his single-digit HR total the last two years really sticks out. He can still be relied on for a great AVG and solid R/RBI numbers, but make sure you’re power is taken care of elsewhere or you’ll fall behind. Gurriel is a wildcard who could definitely outplay his draft spot, but we only saw him for 36 games. He might actually be a power-speed option as he did steal 14 bases as recently as 2014 in Cuba and did so in just 464 PA.