Written by: David Holler
This is the position I was looking forward to writing about, and you should be looking to build your fantasy team around. In a keeper league, Bryant, Arenado and Machado are three of the most valuable commodities you can add to your roster. In a seasonal league, add Donaldson to that list and you have a fantastic four player debate to decide who will be the top third baseman of 2017.
Here is a great example of why tiers are so important. The distance between the fourth and fifth ranked third baseman is a canyon. The gap between the top-tier and everyone else is not any greater than at the third base position. Do what it takes to acquire a player in the elite tier, because if you’re setting Machado in your lineup and I’m taking a late round flier, you’re already a full lap ahead. Let the third base debate begin!
The Elite Tier
- Kris Bryant CHC 25
- Nolan Arenado COL 25
- Manny Machado BAL 24
- Josh Donaldson TOR 31
Kris Bryant has a slim lead going into 2017. His stock couldn’t be any higher winning the Rookie of the Year award in 2015 and winning the NL MVP award for an encore in 2016. The guy hasn’t really experienced failure at this level. If he does manage to mature as a hitter, he will challenge Mike Trout and the rest of the field for the number one overall player. The only knock on Bryant at this point is the lack of a track record. He isn’t the safest of the big four, but the upside and 2016 production are unquestioned.
Nolan Arenado has been an absolute offensive monster over the past two seasons. The numbers are great across the board, but 40+ home runs and 130+ RBI’s make a strong case for being the top name of this group. These unworldly counting stats appear to be completely repeatable playing half his games in Coors field. In keeper leagues, it’s worth noting that 2019 will be Arenado’s fourth and final year of contract arbitration, meaning that he’s most likely a Rockie through that year and possibly much longer if an extension can be reached. Take the Coors Field Crusher as the safest third baseman of the elite tier who could easily repeat as the top player of the group.
Manny Machado broke into the majors as a baby-faced 20-year-old in 2012, but the Orioles star took it to a whole other level over the past two seasons by hitting 35 and 37 home runs respectively. The batting average just keeps increasing for Machado (.294 last season), and he feels like a player that could win a batting title at some point in the near future. The case for Manny being the top player of the group involves him taking a step forward with his development as a hitter and going back to stealing bases (20 in 2015). Take Machado if you think he’s going to keep getting better in his age 24 season, you believe in the eye test for that sweet swing, or he’s just the last guy from this tier on the board.
Josh Donaldson is significantly older than the other players in this tier, but his production is right on par with the rest of the group. An OPS well over .900 and 120+ runs over each of the past two seasons makes his case for being the strongest of this 2017 tier. Jose Bautista is coming back and this will still be a strong Toronto lineup. Give Donaldson a bump in non-keeper leagues.
The Big Names Tier
- Kyle Seager SEA 29
- Adrian Beltre TEX 37
- Todd Frazier CWS 31
- Evan Longoria TB 31
Kyle Seager is one consistent dude. Since 2012 when he hit 20 home runs, Seager has increased his total every single season up to career high 30 in 2016. He’s also steadily increased his batting average, up to .278 last season. Seager’s appeal is incredibly steady numbers, so take him to bank on around another 30 homers, 90 or so RBIs and runs, and an OPS that should land somewhere above .800.
Adrian Beltre might be reverse aging. I’m done trying to bet against a guy who should have been declining for years, but does not. It’s possible he’s just going to ride off into the sunset like David Ortiz. Every season since 2010 (age 31 season) Beltre has hit between .287 and .324, hit at least 28 home runs in five of the seven seasons, and tallied a very healthy total of runs and RBIs each season. Barring a sudden decline or injury, Beltre’s floor seems as high as anyone’s in this tier.
Todd Frazier provides some serious home run power, but you will sacrifice some of your hitting percentages to get it. The 2016 slashline of .225/.302/.464 indicates a downward trend for the 31-year-old. Those numbers will not get it done in leagues that weight those categories heavily. The White Sox may trade the Toddfather to continue their rebuilding process, but he seems a lock to hit 30+ home runs for somebody this year. Adjust your rankings and tiers depending on your league rules to account for the “swing for the fences” approach that Frazier has adopted.
Evan Longoria has hit 20+ home runs and played at least 160 games in each the past four seasons. The 2008 rookie of the year is a career .271 hitter who flashed the potential of old with a career high 36 home runs last season. The ceiling is lower than it once was for the 31-year-old as he hits in the very pedestrian Rays lineup. Grab Longoria once the rest of the big names have already been taken to lock in a season of solid production.
The Position Flexibility Tier
- Jonathan Villar MIL 25
- Matt Carpenter STL 31
Jonathan Villar is expected to slide over to second base this year, meaning he will have eligibility at 2B, 3B and SS around mid-April. He provides very different production from the other players who are third base eligible because he’s expected to hit leadoff and swipe bases. Playing Villar at third base would give you a huge advantage in stolen bases, but you’re going to have to make up for the lack of power and RBI production somewhere else in your lineup. There is a wide range of outcomes for Villar’s value since we are speculating on stolen bases, which is always dangerous. His MLB leading 62 stolen bases last year were driven by 679 plate appearances and a career high .369 OBP. Expect a little regression and hope for 40 plus stolen bases from the 2017 Swiss army knife of infield eligibility.
Matt Carpenter is very good hitter in a solid Cardinals lineup, but he’s not going to provide the same home run upside as other players at the hot corner. I would pencil him in for the low 20’s in that department. Give Carpenter a solid boost to your rankings in formats that reward his impressive OBP and OPS. He’s going to play first base for the Cards this year, but still has eligibility at 2B and 3B, so there is a good chance you’ll acquire him to play a different position or take advantage of his versatility.
The Potential Stars Tier
- Alex Bregman HOU 23
- Miguel Sano MIN 23
Alex Bregman has the pedigree to be an MLB superstar. Selected 2nd overall in the 2015 amateur draft, the Houston Astros believe that he will be part of their young core of talent for years to come. The only knock on Bregman at this point is simply the lack of a major league track record. It’s difficult to make wide sweeping speculations about a player who has only had 217 MLB plate appearances, so let’s keep an eye on young Alex as he plays for Team USA in the WBC this Spring. Take Bregman if you like to gamble on high ceiling prospects, but be prepared for plan B if he experiences the typical professional learning curve.
Miguel Sano flashed incredible potential in 2015. In essentially half a season he slashed .269/.385/.530, hit 18 home runs and showed the world why he is considered one of the top hitting prospects in baseball. Owners in keeper leagues were doing whatever they could to acquire the Twins slugger. Then 2016 happened. It would have been difficult to predict such a precipitous decline to a .236/.319/.462 slash. Sano did manage to hit 25 home runs last season, but now there is serious doubt in his ability to develop into a complete hitter. The 2017 numbers will most likely fall somewhere between the previous two seasons – so do you believe his OPS going forward will be closer to the .916 of his rookie season or the .781 he posted last year? Take Sano if you can afford to take a post-hype sleeper flier with major power upside, especially if you can stomach the poor batting average.
The Fallback Tier
- Anthony Rendon WAS 26
- Jose Ramirez CLE 24
- Justin Turner LAD 32
- Jake Lamb ARI 26
Anthony Rendon registered two quality seasons in 2014 and 2016, each with 20 HRs, 80+ RBIs, double-digit stolen bases and an OPS around .800. That makes 2015’s injury shortened clunker the outlier, right? Rendon should just be entering his prime years, batting in a really good Washington lineup. Take the National’s third baseman if you don’t mind a bit of risk to go with a real chance of some improvement and upside as well.
Jose Ramirez may have just shown us his ceiling last season. His value going forward will likely be a third baseman who can steal you 20 bases and chip in 10 home runs. I expect some regression from his .312 average towards the poor figures he put up in his first two seasons. Take Ramirez if you believe he can nearly repeat last season, just don’t be the guy to overpay to find out.
Justin Turner is a late bloomer by baseball standards. His increase in production came at age 30, but the LA Dodgers believed in it enough to reward him with a four-year / $64 million dollar contract this offseason. If Turner could repeat the 27 home runs and 90 RBIs of 2016, he would be a bargain considering his price in drafts and auctions. Take the Dodgers third baseman for solid production at a discount, since his place in the heart of the LA lineup appears secure.
Jake Lamb broke out in 2016, so why is he not getting more love? It was a tale of two halves for Lamb, who went off for a .983 OPS pre-ASG in 2016 and came crashing back down to earth with a .663 over the second half. I’m not dismissing Lamb or his monster first half of the season, although it does look like a big outlier when compared to his career OPS of .772. Check out my previous FA article on recency bias to see why guys like this can often be acquired at a healthy discount. Lamb is an interesting flier because of his potential, but he is a serious bust possibility as well, which should be factored into his value.
The Fall Way Back Tier
- Jung Ho Kang PIT 29
- Nick Castellanos DET 25
- Maikel Franco PHI 24
- Ryon Healy OAK 25
Jung Ho Kang’s situation is completely unique. Kang has hit for power in his two years in the majors, hitting 15 in 467 plate appearances in 2015 and launching another 21 in only 370 PA’s last season. We would be discussing the South Korean slugger in a higher tier if not for a slew of off field baggage. Kang has an unresolved sexual assault case that could be subject to the MLB player discipline policy and has reportedly has accrued three DWI’s in his native South Korea. All that aside, he’s also dealt with serious health issues with his knee and shoulder. Take Kang because character doesn’t factor into fantasy and he could hit you 30 home runs if he actually sees 600 plate appearances this year.
Nick Castellanos is 25 years old and appears to be getting better every year. The Tigers third baseman went over a .800 OPS for the first time last season and managed a .285 batting average in the process. Castellanos belongs in this tier because he has not shown elite upside, but should continue to produce in a solid Tigers lineup.
Maikel Franco was a popular breakout candidate last Spring after hitting 14 home runs and driving in 50 runs in only 80 games in 2015. In a cautionary tale about placing sky-high expectations on young players, Franco slashed .255/.306/.427 last year. Most prospect fliers do not pay off. The Phillies still have a lot invested in Franco in the heart of their lineup, so consider him as a post hype sleeper who should be had at a heavy discount.
Ryon Healy will be a popular sleeper pick hitting up in the A’s batting order. The Trevor Plouffe signing might affect his 2018 third base eligibility, but shouldn’t take too many at bats as there is already speculation that Healy will slot in at DH. Projections are looking for him to hit north of 20 home runs with a solid batting average.
The AL/NL Only Tier
Players in this tier should only be considered for AL/NL only leagues and the deepest of mixed leagues. Most of these players have major deficiencies from a fantasy perspective, so let’s take a strengths based view and look for players who can flash something.
- Mike Moustakas KC 28
- Pablo Sandoval BOS 30
- Yulieski Gurriel HOU 32
- Eugenio Suarez CIN 25
- Yangervis Solarte SD 29
- Martin Prado MIA 33
- Wilmer Flores NYM 25
- Hernan Perez MIL 26
- Travis Shaw MIL 26
Mike Moustakas hit .284 with 22 home runs in 2015 before having his 2016 wiped out by a serious injury. Pablo Sandoval has an unblocked path to the starting third base gig for the Boston Red Sox and is reportedly trying to get himself into playing shape. Yulieski Gurriel must have flashed some serious talent for the Astros to sign him to that 5 year $47 million dollar contract, so perhaps there is more to see here. Eugenio Suarez hit 21 home runs and stole 11 bases last year in his age 24 season. Yangervis Solarte had an OPS over .800 and drove in 71 runs in only 109 games last year. Martin Prado is a career .293 hitter who managed to knock in 75 runs last year. Wilmer Flores hit 16 home runs in back to back seasons, last year in only 335 plate appearances. Hernan Perez stole 34 bases last season and is OF eligible. Travis Shaw had a .788 OPS and drove in 48 runs over the first half of 2016.
Playing Other Positions
These players are eligible at positions that offer less depth, so check out positional previews of other infield positions for the breakdown of these players.
- Eduardo Nunez SF 29 2B & SS
- Javier Baez CHC 24 2B, 3B & SS
- Jedd Gyorko STL 28 2B, 3B & SS
Positional eligibility is based on playing 20 games at the position in 2016 – the same criteria used for ESPN fantasy leagues.
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