Third base is exceptionally deep in 2018. On Monday, Mike Sheehan covered the first four tiers at the position, highlighting a total of 18 players. In any 12-team league, that would be more than enough talent for everyone. Some may feel the need to grab one of those top elite options in the first two rounds. Others may reach a round or two early to nab one of the next best options. For those of you who decide to address other positions and wait, there is no reason to panic.
Players like Jake Lamb, Miguel Sano, Travis Shaw, Nick Castellanos, and Maikel Franco are all listed outside the top-12 and were covered in that third base tier article. However, there are still worthy options available should you miss out on one of those sluggers. Granted that the remaining players lack the punch and star power of the ones listed in the top-12, and I would prefer to run them out as corner infielders, but they are more than capable of manning the position, especially in leagues with 15 or more teams. With that being said, on to the best of the rest.
Rafael Devers: Red Sox
Devers has already made a name for himself in prospect circles and could find himself being taken just outside (or near the tail end) of the top-12 as draft season approaches. The primary reasons are hype (which in this case is deserved) and upside (something many players ranked outside the top-12 lack).
Devers turned 21 late last year, so he’s still young and growing into his power. He hit 20 home runs between Double-A and Triple-A last year and added another 10 at the major league level. He has 30-plus home run potential, but temper your expectations some early on. Plus, In 2016 he stole 18 bases; last season, he did not steal one before his promotion. Although the Red Sox could give him a chance to run, stolen bases are not something you want to bank on. A ground ball rate close to 50% would play well if he does run, but it will not do his power numbers any favors.
What makes Devers special is his contact ability. He posted a .288 average in Class-A, a .282 in High-A, and a .300 average in Double-A. His patience was on display at every level, so walks are not an issue. The strikeout rate was strong too — that is, until he reached Triple-A and the majors, where it went above 20% for the first time. This could lead to early struggles and growing painsm capping the batting average potential.
In keeper leaguesm you want Devers. For 2018 he is a risk, but the upside makes him very appealing. I can see a worst-case scenerio floor of .260 with 20 home runs, but if he adjusts quickly and doesn’t struggle as much as some youngstersm we could see an average of.280 or more with 25-plus homers. If Devers is your starter, make sure to roster an alternate as well in case things go south.
Eugenio Suarez: Reds
In any other yearm we might be discussing Suarez as a target just outside the top-12. He improved his line across the board in 2017, showing more power (26 HR to 21 in 2016) and an increase RBIs (82 from 70) and batting average (from .248 to .260). Tack on 87 runs and a handful of stolen basesm and you’ve got some nice production that may have only cost you a waiver wire pick last year.
The power is steady but doesn’t show any signs of increasing. Both his hard hit rate and fly ball percentage remained the same, but his ISO topped the .200 mark. His contact rate is averagem and the strikeout rate is a little high with a two-year average of 24%, but a steady dose of line drives, improved plate discipline (13% walk rate) and steady BABIP should keep the batting average in at least the .260 range. Finally, the steady improvement shown in 2017 could warrant a higher spot in the batting order in 2018m which makes the counting stats repeatable.
Suarez finished the 2017 season at #20 on the ESPN player rater, ahead of Josh Donaldson, the power-hitting Joey Gallo, and popular sleeper pick Miguel Sano. He may not move up much in 2017, but it’s doubtful he moves downm giving Suarez a safe floor.
Evan Longoria: Giants
Fantasy experts and owners have been bashing and downgrading Longoria for years. Last year’s almost 100-point drop in slugging, combined with being shipped to San Francisco, was the final straw for most, and now Longoria is universally ranked in the bottom half of the top-20, maybe even lower in some circles. Was 2017 the beginning of the end for Longoria, or can he turn things around?
The ground ball rate was above 40 percent for the first time in his major league career, but it did drop considerably in August and September, giving us the first sign of hope. A .261 batting average was 10 points lower than expected. However, Longoia posted the lowest strikeout percentage of his career (16.1%) along with a career high 81% contact rate. The BABIP was only slightly unlucky compared to his career mark, and the line drive rate was only slightly off. The average did not go up when the ground balls decreased — he actually posted a batter average with the high grounder rate. Realistically, he should have hit better.
As for the power, those 20 home runs represent a career low (notwithstanding his injury-shortened 2012 season). The hard hit, while lower than 2016, was in line with his career average. The fly ball rate dipped below 40% for the first time in the majors, but a 38.9% rate is still strong. And the ISO, which was .163, has been that low before only to bounce back up to the .200 range, so it isn’t a given he will hit only 20-22 home runs this season.
The move to San Francisco is a lateral move, park wise; his home in Tampa wasn’t a hitter-friendly environment, and so the change of address should not mean much. If anything, Longoria’s case improves given he will now have Buster Posey and Andrew McCutchen in the same lineup — protection he did not have with the Rays. I do not envision a return to his 2016 form, but I also do not expect numbers any worse than Eugenio Suarez above. Don’t be scared off by Longoria this year. You’ll get solid production, and sometimes that’s enough if you focused on the other infield positions early.
Joey Gallo: Rangers
Fun fact: Gallo had more home runs in 2017 than he did singles. Only two other hitters have accomplished this, Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds. All he needs now is to get popped for PED’s — just kidding. Gallo has long been viewed as a power hitter, but this was the first time he was given enough at bats to showcase said power at the major league level. The reason this 40 home run hitter is ranked so low is there are doubts he can repeat this feat, as well as genuine concerns about his batting average and strikeouts.
There is no sugar-coating the fact that Gallo strikes out way too much, in close to half of his at-bats. When you add in the fact his contact rate (59.1%) was not only the lowest in the majors but 15% lower than the next lowest player, it makes any sort of batting average improvement a pipe dream. Even a 2% improvement in line drives, bringing up the average to 20%, will not make much difference. This is Adam Dunn at his worst. The one glimmer of hope is that Gallo is only 24 years old, and so he has a chance to improve. That will not happen overnight, but a slight improvement and a .220 average would be promising.
Gallo’s main attribute is power, and he has plenty of it. His .327 ISO was bested by only Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton (it’s sick that those two now play together). His 46.4% hard hit rate was the best in the league, a full point higher than Judge. And his 54.2% fly ball rate was the highest in the league in 2017, only one of three players with a rate above 50%. Some see a 30.1% HR/FB ratio as unrepeatable, but with that kind of power, it may be sustainable. For those who think he was just a homebody, Gallo hit 19 on the road and 22 in Arlington.
It’s all or nothing with Gallo. His power upside is immense. However, as we’ve seen with Chris Davis and other big boppers in the past, if that power dips ever so slightly, the combination of decreased power and low average can make a player unusable. Gallo makes a terrific gamble, especially when you factor in his multi-eligibility. However, just like Devers, draft another third baseman as well — someone you’ll be comfortable with.
Ryon Healy: Mariners
Healy was the first player traded this offseason, moving from Oakland, and he will take a shot playing the revolving door that has been first base for the Mariners. This time last year, we assumed Dan Vogelbach would be the man, but early and season-long struggles put a temporary end to that dream. Now Healy, fresh off a .271/25 season, gets the job, but can he come close to repeating in his second full season?
I don’t expect the batting average to drop; if it does, it should only be a point or two. Healy batted .285 in High-A and was a .300 hitter in Double-A and Triple-A. His contact rate was below average but should improve. The line drive rate was also acceptable, as was the ground ball rate when you factor in the hard and medium contact. The one potential worry is the strikeout rate, which is on a steady climb from Double-A on up. Last year’s 23.5% was high yet manageable, but if it goes up any more, he will need some improved power to make up for the loss.
Power is Healy’s meal ticket. He hit 25 home runs last year and 27 over three stops in 2016. His ISO was down in 2017 (.181 from .219), but he did maintain his fly ball rate and added four percentage points to his hard hit rate. He may need another jump in hard hit rate because Safeco is not accommodating to right-handed power hitters. The Colosseum was no picnic either, so a worst-case scenario would be another 25 homers.
Healy’s biggest advantage comes in the form of a much-improved supporting cast. With Gordon and Segura setting the table and Cano, Cruz and Seager holding down the middle of the order, there will be less pressure for Healy to perform. This should allow him to relax some at the plate and possibly see some better pitches. His run total may take a hit, but he should get some decent RBI opportunities. Like everyone else mentioned, you will want to hedge your bets and draft a second third baseman if you’re looking at Healy as your starter. Inexperienced hitters tend to struggle in the majors, and the new environment can take some getting used to.
Combined with the players already mentioned in the third base tiers article, that gives you a total of 24 third base eligible players. Remarkably, there is still some depth after this point. Touted prospect Miguel Andujar could have some value should he land a starting job in New York. Some see Colin Moran and Matt Davidson as sleepers. And then there are super utility players like Wilmer Flores and Marwin Gonzalez, who just need a place to play.
In my opinion, there is no deeper position than third base among the infield. That doesn’t mean you should avoid those top stars or reach to get one of your favorite next best. What it does mean is you don’t have to. Before you draft your corner man, look around at what’s available at other positions first. You might find you are better off waiting and filling other needs first to be more prudent.
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