Third base if full of talent, but outside of the top 10 that talent is full of question marks. You have power hitters with less than desirable batting averages, young or unestablished players with little to no major league track record, injury risks and post hype sleepers. Even if you do act early to get one of the top 10, some of them come with the similar pitfalls but the risk is less than what you’ll experience if you wait too long. If you decide to wait you may want to grab several of the lower tier guys just to hedge your bets. You may end up with a couple of busts, but if they’re both winners you’ve got a good player for the utility slot or trade bait to dangle in front of those who weren’t as fortunate.
This Year’s class of free agents won’t raise many eyebrows, and I’d be surprised to see some of them wearing a uniform at all next season. The list includes Michael Young (37), Kevin Youkilis (35), Juan Uribe (34), Mark Reynolds, Jerry Hairston Jr. (38), Eric Chavez (36), Placido Polanco (38), Brandon Inge (37) and Mark DeRosa (Announced Retirement). Of that group, Young will probably get a job because of his versatility. Chavez should land a bench roll someplace as he can still hit but is not a full-time player. Reyonlds has enough power that somebody will give him a job, but odds are he loses it by mid-season. As for the rest, just hit the ignore button and move along.
One final note, the top 24 may seem a little longer but that’s because there are 4 players listed here that qualify for third but were covered in the top 24 for either first or second base. Instead of listing them at the bottom like I did with catchers I placed them where I would take them.
As always, feel free to disagree in the comments section below.
1. Miguel Cabrera (Tigers): Seriously! Do I really have to explain to you not only Why Miguel Cabrera is the top rated third baseman in the league but the perennial first round pick? REALLY! If you have to read any further on Cabrera then take out your fantasy baseball membership card (I’ll wait)………………..
Now rip it in half and go by a tennis racket.
Seriously though, if you exclude his 2003 rookie season, Cabrera has played 10 full seasons. Over the course of that time he has failed to reach 30 home runs just once and has surpassed the 40 mark twice. He has accumulated 110 RBIs each season with the exception of two, but he did pass 100 for those 2 seasons. There have been zero DL trips in his career, the occasional day off but otherwise he’s as healthy as they come. He’s also scored more than 100 run seven times out of ten (his lowest total was 85). Eight seasons of batting .320 or higher. His lowest batting average was .292 which just shows that he’s human (barely). He’s a four category stud…..no, Monster that can carry your team in any given week. Oh, and he will steal you a couple of bases just for the hell of it. Sign me up.
2. Edwin Encarnacion (Blue Jays): Like I stated above, Edwin was featured in the First Base: Top 24 for 2014 coverage. He played 10 games at third this season so if he qualifies in your league; this is where I’d rank him. While he’ll play first, he has more value to your team as a third baseman.
2. Adrian Beltre (Rangers): He started and finished the season slow, but everything in between was money. He lost some of his counting stats this season, but that is usually expected for a player of his age. What was unusual was that he slightly lowered his strikeout rate while raising his walk total. Normally as a player ages they tend to hack away a little more raising their strikeout total and lowering their batting average, but Beltre was one of the exceptions to the rule. He’ll turn 35 next year and while his power may start to diminish he should be able to duplicate the numbers he gave us in 2013, but I would predict a few less homers and an average closer to .300.
3. Evan Longoria (Rays): Despite bouts with injuries in the past, Evan has been a top 5 third baseman since he arrived 6 years ago. A healthy Longoria can give you 30 homers with run and RBI totals of 80-100. Some people will consider Longoria an injury risk (including myself), so to be fair I took a deeper look into the years he missed time to see if the risk is worth the reward. He missed about a month’s time in 2008 and 2011 and still managed to deliver 27/31 long balls with 85/99 RBIs. Nobody likes losing any player for a month, but considering his bottom line those two years it’s really hard to complain. So realistically he’s only really hurt fantasy owners in 2012 when he missed over half the season, and he still managed 17 homers and 55 RBIs that season. I was usually hesitant when it came to Longoria, but after giving it some thought he’s not the big injury risk people consider him to be. Deal with the little time he may or may not miss and enjoy the bottom line.
4. David Wright (Mets): If you take out his rookie season, David Wright has hit above .300 for 7 of the past 9 seasons. He’s lost some power over the years and some speed as well, but he has enough left of each to put up a 20/20 season (or come damn close). He missed close to two months near the end of the season and another two months in 2011 so his durability has come into question, but his bat should not be. Because of the team he plays for his run and RBI total tend to fluctuate from year to year, but you can’t fault him for that. You can question his health but there is no questioning Wright is still one of the top third basemen in the league. He’s no longer a first round pick, but he’s still a five category contributor.
5. Ryan Zimmerman (Nationals): Talent and frustration; that’s what you see and feel when you look at Zimmerman. Ryan has established two trends over the past three seasons. The first is he’s a .300 hitter at home but on the road his average dips to the .256 range. The second is he’s more of a .260 hitter before the break but hits .300 or better in the second half (we call this Aramis Ramirez syndrome). His shoulder still acts up at times so he can go months looking average and then go on a tear hitting the snot out of the ball. Zimmerman has put up similar numbers in 3 of the past 4 years so if you take out his 2011 season and average the other three, that’s about what you’re going to get. It’s clear at this point that 2009 was just a career year and not a sign of things to come. He’s no longer a top pick or must have, but you can do a lot worse than Ryan on draft day.
6. Manny Machado (Orioles): While his numbers were good they were not that good, until you consider the fact that he just turned 21 in July. Knowing that fact, they stand out a lot more. Manny spent under two years in the minors so he’s had a lot of on the job training. His power is maybe another year or two away from truly shinning through. He had 50 doubles this year and we all know doubles usually turn into homers as a player matures. He stole 8 bases this year but he was also caught 7 times. He’s young enough to maybe learn from his mistakes but something tells me that double-digit steals aren’t in his future. He wasn’t projected to hit for a high batting average, and if he doesn’t improve his plate discipline and learn to take some more walks there could be some regression coming here. I’m not going to make any long-term projections here, but for next season I can see 21 home runs, 75 runs and RBIs and a batting average in the .270 range. Don’t draft him for speed and be happy if he contributes a handful. Kyle Seager is the safer pick but he doesn’t have the upside Machado has.
7. Kyle Seager (Mariners): With his second twenty home run season under his belt, Seager has silenced a few of his critics and established himself as a useful third baseman. He made strides in several categories including runs, walks and batting average (both at home and against lefties). His average did slip some with men on base resulting in a few less RBI opportunities, but overall I think fantasy owners we’re pleased with the final results. His college and minor league numbers suggest he could improve his batting average even more, and possibly close the gap some between his walks and strikeouts. He’ll turn 26 in November so he can still improve, and while I expect an increase across the board I don’t see him hitting more than 25 bombs so limit your expectations in the power department.
8. Josh Donaldson (A’s): This is one of the harder picks to gauge. The 27-year-old enjoyed a breakout season finishing in the top 10 in four of the five basic scoring categories among third basemen. His K/BB ratio was approximately 2/1 with isn’t far off from the 1.5/1 ratio he put up in college and the minors. The batting average was a bit of a surprise as he profiles more of a .280 hitter which is close to what he put up in the second half. His power at home and on the road was similar so he’s not bothered by the cavernous Coliseum. So what can we expect from Donaldson in 2014…that’s a good question. If he can maintain the average he showed us in the second half there’s no reason he can’t duplicate this season (or at least come close). With no ML track record to go by thought, it will take a leap of faith for fantasy owners when drafting him. I believe he can come close but I would still try to grab one of the guys below later in the draft, just in case.
9. Matt Carpenter (Cardinals): Like I stated above, Carpenter was featured in the Second Base: Top 24 for 2014 coverage He has more value as a second baseman but if you waited too long and don’t get one of the third baseman listed above, he might be a safer option than some of the names listed below. His lack of power makes him more suited for second, but if he can maintain the run and RBI production he showed this year there’s no reason to fear putting him at the corner.
9. Pedro Alvarez (Pirates): Mark Reynolds did his best to be like Adam Dunn and look where that got him. Pedro Alvarez is now attempting to follow in his footsteps. He surpassed the 30 home run mark for the second straight year and increased his RBI total as well, but at what cost. His walks were down from last year along with his batting average (it was below .200 at home and against lefties), and his strikeouts were right there with Dunn (which isn’t a good place to be). He did have a magical June in which he hit 10 homers and batted .309, but other than that the season was a disaster. He turns 27 next season which is the magical age where players usually breakout which puts Pedro at the crossroads. His minor league numbers suggest he’s not this bad of a hitter and he has terrific power, but if he doesn’t turn things around next year I don’t see much of a future for him. He’s a 2 category player with the potential for more, but that window is closing quickly.
10. Pablo Sandoval (Giants): His weight is listed at 240, but something tells me he paid off the scale. He’s had two good average/power years, and coincidentally those two years he weighed less and was in shape. Unfortunately the other three years he spent the off-season conditioning at good burger. Some guys can carry the extra weight and still perform at a high level, but Sandoval is not one of those people. He has the skills to be a top 10 third baseman and I’m hoping the Giants put him on some kind of program in the off-season. Until we know which Pablo will show up for spring training, it’s hard to rank him much higher than this. An out of shape panda like the one we saw this year is no better than half the guys listed below him, but a conditioned one can compete with anyone listed outside the top 5.
11. Todd Frazier (Reds): Frazier put up numbers in part-time play in 2012 similar to that of his two years in AAA. Given his minor league and NCAA numbers, it appeared that a breakout might be in order. The Frazier we saw this year was not the same player, hitting below .250 with diminished power numbers. So what went wrong? His fly ball, ground ball and line drive rate were almost in line with the previous year, as were his walks and strikeouts. He did rebound to have a strong September so maybe it’s a sign of things to come (or he was just due). His minor league track record and 2012 numbers say he’s better than what we saw this year so look for a rebound next year. One other note, Frazer stole 32 bases between 2010 and 2011 so he has some speed if Dusty Baker ever decides to give him the green light (and bats him second over Cozart).
Edit: 10/22 With Dusty Baker gone there is a chance Frazier is utilized correctly next year. Keep on eye on this situation during spring training as Frazer now moves into a potential sleeper role for third base.
12. Aramis Ramirez (Brewers): Injuries wrecked the season for an otherwise dependable Ramirez this year. He missed time each month and disappointed owners who were holding him in hopes of his usual second half surge. He’s put up very similar numbers in 5 of the past 6 years leading into this season. As for the one year he fell short due to injuries, if you extrapolate his numbers over a full season they would have been right in line with the other 5 years. He’ll turn 36 next summer and while aging players are not usually a good investment, Ramirez hasn’t shown any signs of a decline. If he was declining this year it would be hard to gauge as he was hurt from the get go and when he finally seemed healthy and ready to pick it up, he went down again. Odds are many fantasy owners will be wary of Ramirez next season and will pass on him for one of the new fresh faces that have emerged. If you draft him as your starter, make sure you grab another third baseman as Ramirez is a notorious slow starter.
13. Will Middlebrooks (Red Sox): He impressed people during his 2012 debut and even ran Kevin Youkilis out-of-town. This year it got so bad for him they sent him back to AAA to figure things out. He was much better upon his return and played .300 ball for the remainder of the season and struck out less in those two months than he did in April. He may not have the upside of player like Nolan Arenado or the power of a Mike Moustakas, but he has proved he can perform at the major league level and that is more important in my opinion. Middlebrooks had a .275 average in the minors and if can lower his strikeout rate and add a few more walks (something Middlebrooks has shown he’s capable of), that average could go a little higher. If he has truly turned the corner, you can pencil him in for a .275 average with at least 20 home runs and RBIs somewhere in the 70 range. He’s still a risk to regress, but I think he’s a safer pick then the players below.
14. Nolan Arenado (Rockies): He didn’t do anything his rookie season to impress fantasy owners, but he did get his feet wet. His fantasy numbers this year were similar to Trevor Plouffe *cringe*, but he has more potential than Trevor (as does my 2-year-old Labrador, zero errors on balls thrown her way). The batting average wasn’t bad for a 22-year-old with only 18 games experience above AA. Just like with almost every rookie I’ve mentioned, he needs to learn to take more walks, but on a positive note he did carry his low strikeout rate over from the minors. He enjoyed hitting in friendly Coors Field and lefties didn’t bother him, but he needs to improve against right-handed pitchers and figure out how to hit on the road (along with the rest of the team). He has the potential to hit 20 home runs annually, but I think he is a year away from that. For next season look for incremental increases across the board.
15. Cody Asche (Phillies): The 23-year-old got the call up at the end of July and held his own. His average was on the low side, but the rest of his numbers were right in line with his minor league line. Asche isn’t a big power hitter but could eventually be a 20+ home run guy. He also had some speed in the minors and given the chance to display it in the majors he could reach double digits. His batting average will be the deciding factor as he was a .300 hitter in college and close to .290 in the minors. If he can eventually bring his average up to that range he could be a nice player to own. Like many young players he needs to cut down on his strikeouts, and while a few more walks would be nice he should get enough even if he doesn’t improve here. For 2014, expect modest growth with a batting average in the .275/.280 range with about 16 homers (being conservative here). Runs and RBIs will be dependent on where he ends up in the lineup. He’s a solid CI player with the chance of being more.
16. Chris Johnson (Braves): He’ll have the starting job all to himself next year with Juan Francisco shipped out-of-town. Johnson doesn’t have a ton of power and he has zero speed (not a ringing endorsement so far), but he can hit for a pretty good average. I don’t see him coming close to the .330 mark again, but an average around .290 is realistic. Like I said he doesn’t have much power but he has enough to hit between 10-15 homers. His runs and RBI numbers are a little hard to predict as Atlanta bounced him up and down the order in 2013. Worst case he gets 50 of each with the potential for more. These aren’t the numbers we want from a third baseman but he could be useful as an injury fill in or for your CI slot. He should probably be ranked a few spots lower, but most of the players below don’t have the stability to be ranked any higher, at least not yet.
17. Martin Prado (Diamondbacks): Prado is primarily a third baseman but was featured in the Second Base: Top 24 for 2014 coverage. His value is at second but if you were to play him at third, this is where I would rank him.
17. Chase Headley (Padres): Those that picked Headley up off waivers last season were rewarded with a superhuman performance, and the fantasy world rejoiced that Headley had finally arrived. He was moved up draft boards and stashed in keeper leagues as people had thought they’d struck gold. Unfortunately their claim turned out to be pyrite and the market soon crashed. His numbers this year were below what he had averaged from 2008 to 2010 and his overall value was right there with Kelly Johnson (ugh..). His track record suggests he can deliver more in the runs, RBI and batting average department so he does have some use, but overall he’s nothing more than a bench player/injury fill in. He turns 30 next year so the there’s really no room for improvement, only luck. Leave this one for someone else.
18. Brett Lawrie (Blue Jays): In 2011 the heavens opened, the sky parted and fantasy managers bowed down to the potential of Brett Lawrie (yes, I drank the cool-aid too). Two years later we’re left scratching our heads wondering what the hell happened to him. Maybe we expected too much too soon, or maybe he just had a very good/lucky year. Your guess is as good as mine. He’s dealt with multiple injuries hitting the DL twice this year with rib and ankle injuries and last year he missed time with an oblique injury along with calf, back, groin and knee problems. That’s a lot for a 23-year-old kid. He’ll probably go off the board earlier than he should next season. If he’s there in the middle to later rounds he’s worth a bench spot, but don’t draft his as your primary starter. He did play 6 games at second so depending on your league rules, he could make a sneaky play for those with MI slots.
19. Mike Moustakas (Royals): One step forward and two steps back for Moose. His stats fell across the board, most notably his power. Just like Hosmer, maybe it was attributed to their former batting coach tinkering with his new toys, but even after KC made a change he just couldn’t find his power stroke. It wasn’t all bad though. He hit .274, .267 and .301 from June through August (less than .200 the other 3 months) and he cut down on his strikeouts. Lefties owned him at the plate and he struggled on the road for the second year. He had a .282 average in the minors (.290 in AAA) and has a ton of power potential, but none of that matter if he can’t translate that talent to the major league level. He might just need a few years to adjust, maybe he’s taking the Chris Davis route and will explode in a few years, or maybe he’s just another AAAA player. It’s hard to give up on a kid who just turned 25, but it’s hard to recommend drafting someone who hasn’t given us a hint he can play with the big dogs. He’s worth a later round pick just in case he turns things around (or earlier if you’re a believer).
20. Matt Dominguez (Astros): After a strong showing in 2012 he got a shot to be the starting third baseman for the Astros. Although fantasy owners would like to see a batting average higher than .240, you can’t really complain about a guy that gives you 20 home runs and 75 RBIs that you probably plucked off the waiver wire. He hit .256 in the minors so while the average was low, it wasn’t that far off of what he usually put up. He has shown power in the minors but nothing consistent so what he put up this year I would say is his ceiling. On average I would expect only 15 homers with a chance for more as he is only 24 and could still add some muscle. For now he’s a below average hitter with some pop on a team with many question marks. He’s worth monitoring on waivers, but I don’t think he’d be on my draft board outside of an AL only league.
21. Trevor Plouffe (Twins): He lingered in mediocrity for most of his minor league career and didn’t impress his first year with the big club. In 2012 Plouffe came out of nowhere to crack 24 home runs (11 in June). He had 2 great months (along with 4 forgettable ones), but it was enough for him to garner a late round pick by some of you in 2013. While he didn’t match those power numbers he still managed to reach double digits and brought his average up to the .250 range. While he made some improvements, his overall numbers weren’t anything special. This could be his last chance to impress as the Twins have uber-prospect Miguel Sano simmering in the minors. There is no need to draft Plouffe next year; you can see him whenever you want on your friendly neighborhood waiver wire.
22. Michael Young (Free Agent): He still hits enough that he should be able to land a job somewhere, but the days of Young being a starter on our fantasy teams are over. The soon to be 37-year-old free agent has no more speed and his power is officially stuck below double digits. He can still hit for a decent batting average and give you some numbers in the run and RBI department. That may be nice for a second baseman but for someone who plays the corners now, you can do better. If he signs someplace that gives him an opportunity to play second his value goes up but as a third (first) baseman, I’ll pass …. and so should you.
23. Mark Reynolds (Free Agent): This is where Pedro Alvarez will be in a few years if he doesn’t change his ways. Cleveland gave him a shot and for one month he made people believe he was a changed man, but you know what they say about April averages. He hit .218 in May, .187 in June and .098 in July and was released in August. The Yankees picked him up and while he showed flashed of April when he arrived, that quickly faded. The soon to be free agent will turn 30 next season and while his power is fading and his average is below the Mendoza line, I’m sure somebody will be willing to take a chance on him (If Carlos Pena got a job this year, anything is possible). Short of a hot streak there is no value here.
24. Alex Rodriguez (Yankees): What to do and where to rank
A-Roid A-Rod, that is the million dollar question (or should I say multimillion). Bud Selig wants to make an example out of him. The Yankees aren’t going to help as they (privately) hope to get out of that ghastly contract they gave him. As for A-rod, he still wants to get paid play. This could get settled in the off-season or it could get dragged right up until spring training. Let’s see if they will let him play first. Once we have that answer we’ll speculate more on what he can do for us next season.
Be sure to check out the entire Top 24 for 2014 Series.