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Fantasy Baseball 2014: Ranking the Top 25 Third Basemen

Jason CataniaMLB Lead WriterFebruary 24, 2014

Fantasy Baseball 2014: Ranking the Top 25 Third Basemen

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    Miguel Cabrera will be returning to first base this year, but he's still atop the third base rankings for fantasy.
    Miguel Cabrera will be returning to first base this year, but he's still atop the third base rankings for fantasy.Mark Duncan/Associated Press

    With the top 150 fantasy baseball players all ordered and ranked on the inaugural Big Board, it's time to get into the individual position rankings.

    After providing some sequencing to the second basemen last time out, next up is third base. Despite trending toward trouble recently, the position remains at least fairly deep among the infield positions, behind only first base in that regard.

    To that end, there are about 10 perfectly capable fantasy starters at third base, assuming health and typical performances (neither of which will actually happen for all 10). A Pablo Sandoval or a Josh Donaldson, among others, might be at least a couple notches down from Miguel Cabrera (pictured) and Adrian Beltre, but they make for solid selections.

    Once you get outside that range, though, things fall off rather quickly, which means at least one or two owners could leave the draft unhappy with their hot cornerman. If you don't want that to be you, read up on the top 25 overall fantasy third basemen and a few others you should watch.

     

    These rankings consider three factors:

    First, everything is based on 10- or 12-team mixed leagues with standard five-by-five rotisserie scoring (BA, R, HR, RBI, SB for hitters; W, ERA, WHIP, K, SV for pitchers).

    Second, lineup construction accounts for 22 active roster positions consisting of: one each for catcher, first base, second base, third base, shortstop, corner infield, middle infield and utility; along with five outfielders and nine pitchers.

    And third, to be eligible at a particular position, players either must have played at least 20 games there in 2013 or be in line to start there in 2014. Additionally, players are listed in the rankings at the position where their fantasy utility would be most useful.

     

    Statistics come from Baseball Reference and FanGraphs.

The Third Base "Watch List"

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    Lonnie Chisenhall, 3B, Indians (pictured)

    It's now or never for this former first-round draft pick.

    Chisenhall has been pretty brutal in his three-year career (.284 OBP), but he's still only 25 and does have 60 extra-base hits—including 23 homers—in about a season's worth of plate appearances (682). Having a dart land on him isn't the worst thing in AL-only leagues.

     

    Danny Valencia, 3B, Royals

    Valencia, 29, resuscitated his big-league career last year by resurfacing with the Orioles and doing what he does best—hitting left-handers. The righty swinger batted .371 with a 1.031 OPS in 102 plate appearances against southpaws, and now that he's in K.C., he could be lefty Mike Moustakas' caddy.

     

    Eric Chavez, 3B, Diamondbacks

    At 36, Chavez is oldverging on ancientin today's MLB, but he's been productive in a reduced role over the past two years that has had him facing righties and avoiding lefties. He's strictly an NL-only play as a corner infield option, but for as long as the injury-prone lefty swinger is active, he should be useful. 

     

    Wilmer Flores, 3B, Mets

    Flores has been one of the Mets' better prospects since, like, the Clinton administration, but the 22-year-old is finally ready to contribute in 2014 after a strong showing at Triple-A (.887 OPS). Alas, he doesn't have a definitive defensive position and is behind David Wright at third and Daniel Murphy at second.

     

    Mike Olt, 3B, Cubs

    A high-end prospect this time last year, the 25-year-old Olt has a legitimate claim of Murphy's Law against 2013. After a 28-homer 2012 at Double-A, Olt dealt with a concussion and vision problems resulting from an injury during winter league play that November. Then, he hit just .213 before being traded as part of the Matt Garza deal.

    His career in doubt, Olt just might get a shot sooner than later considering only Luis Valbuena stands in his way in Chicago and there's but a small window before better, younger players like Kris Bryant break through.

Nos. 25-21

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    Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

    No. 25: Trevor Plouffe, 3B, Twins

    The Twins do need to deploy someone at third base, and the 27-year-old Plouffe is the best in-house option at the outset of 2014. He may be pushed aside by top prospect Miguel Sano by midseason, but in the meantime, Plouffe could reach the mid-teens in the homer department.

     

    No. 24: Cody Asche, 3B, Phillies

    This 23-year-old isn't a big bat, but he does crack the top 25 at third based on an opportunity to play every day for Philly after a 50-game audition last year. And it's not like Asche can't hit, as his .287/.343/.438 career minor-league slash line indicates; he's just more of a won't-hurt-you type.

     

    No. 23: Juan Uribe, 3B, Dodgers

    Uribe, now 34, returned to the Dodgers this winter, which was a good move for him, as he'll continue to be the team's starting third baseman and get to hit in a deep lineup. He's streaky and always seems to be on the verge of disaster (see: 2011-12), but double-digit homers and 60-plus runs and RBI are likely if he stays healthy.

     

    No. 22: Matt Davidson, 3B, White Sox 

    A first-rounder in 2009, Davidson, 22, has shown consistent power on his climb to the bigs, smacking 78 home runs in his four full pro seasons, which earned him a big-league cameo late in 2013. The offseason trade to Chicago helps his fantasy future, as he now has a clear path to start. A .250 average with 20 homers is possible for him this year.

     

    No. 21: Matt Dominguez, 3B, Astros (pictured)

    Fittingly, Dominguez's numbers from his rookie season in 2013 (.241 BA, 56 R, 21 HR, 77 RBI) presents a fair ceiling for Davidson in 2014. A repeat performance is also a fair expectation for Dominguez in his second full major-league campaign, as he possesses power but lacks the discipline to improve his average.

     

Nos. 20-16

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    No. 20: Mike Moustakas, 3B, Royals

    Following a flawed-but-productive 2012 (.242 BA, 34 2B, 20 HR in 149 games), Moustakas' 2013 performance was entirely flawed, as he hit just .233 with all of 12 homers.

    The 25-year-old is now facing a key make-or-break season and needs to prove that he can handle lefties (.196 BAA in 2013) if he wants to be a full-timer.

     

    No. 19: Chris Johnson, 3B, Braves

    Is it crazy that Johnson is only one spot higher than Moustakas? Not really, considering he won't come close to matching last year's MLB-high .394 BABIP, which helped sustain his .321 average, the fifth-highest in the sport. Without that, this is a 29-year-old who has never topped 15 homers or 76 RBI (both of which he did in 2012).

     

    No. 18: Todd Frazier, 3B, Reds 

    Frazier, 28, suffered a let down last season, barely surpassing his rookie totals in runs (63 to 55) and RBI (73 to 67) while equaling his homer output (19), all despite 135 more trips to the dish. Oh, and his average plummeted from .273 to .234. He's fine as a fill-in at third or corner infield, but not as a starter.

     

    No. 17: Will Middlebrooks, 3B, Red Sox

    Plenty of owners saw that impressive 2012 debut (.288 BA, 15 HR, 54 RBI in only 75 games) and bought in on Middlebrooks last season. The problem was, because of his approach (five percent walk rate), the 25-year-old hacked his way to a demotion last season.

    He was better upon his return in August and the power is legit, so landing him at a reduce rate in 2014 might actually allow for some surplus value this time around.

     

    No. 16: David Freese, 3B, Angels (pictured)

    Freese's power evaporated last year, as his first long ball came on May 17, and he had only eight more in total for the rest of the year. Part of that likely can be attributed to a back strain that cost him the start of the season and lingered.

    Now in L.A., Freese could bounce back to something close to his 2012 line: .293 BA, 20 HR, 79 RBI—if he can stay healthy.

No. 15: Nick Castellanos, 3B, Tigers

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    2013 Fantasy Stats: .278 BA, 1 R, 0 HR, 0 RBI, 0 SB (18 PA)

     

    One of the top prospects in the sport, Nick Castellanos is coming off a year in which he, as a 21-year-old, hit .274/.343/.450 in the International League, the less hitter-friendly of the two Triple-A circuits. To wit, he actually led the IL in runs (81) and doubles (37), while also placing in the top five in homers (18) and RBI (76).

    That performance, in what was an aggressive assignment, made it a bit easier for the Tigers to unload Prince Fielder's big bat (and hefty contract). As such, Miguel Cabrera is shifting from third back to first base, opening up the hot corner for Castellanos, who is primed to be the Opening Day starter.

    While the rookie might not hit more than 12 to 15 homers in his first year, he could pepper the gaps with doubles and sport a .270-.290 average, with upside for more. In what remains a very good Tigers lineup, that will play up.

No. 14: Nolan Arenado, 3B, Rockies

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    Chris Schneider/Associated Press

    2013 Fantasy Stats: .267 BA, 49 R, 10 HR, 52 RBI, 2 SB (514 PA)

     

    Nolan Arenado's rookie stats would be a good approximation of Castellanos' first-year numbers after factoring in the prorated calculations for a full season.

    As for Arenado himself, expect the 22-year-old to continue to get better. He doesn't walk or whiff much—only 23 of the former and 72 of the latter in 2013—and while a little more discipline would go a long way, all that contact he makes should do the same, especially at Coors Field.

    There's room in Arenado's bat for an across-the-board uptick, which might have him squeezing into the back of the top-10 fantasy third basemen by season's end.

No. 13: Aramis Ramirez, 3B, Brewers

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    Morry Gash/Associated Press

    2013 Fantasy Stats: .283 BA, 43 R, 12 HR, 49 RBI, 0 SB (351 PA)

     

    Aramis Ramirez has been incredibly productive, year in and year out, for a heck of a long time. In 2014, that could perhaps be coming to an end, though.

    Heading into his age-36 season, Ramirez is a very real risk for a cliff campaign, particularly after missing much of last season with knee trouble that cropped up during spring training and again during the regular season. Plus, while he did manage to play 149 games in back-to-back years in 2011 and 2012, this isn't exactly the most durable player around.

    Complicating matters even more? Ramirez underwent colon surgery in the offseason that will set him back some this spring, according to Todd Rosiak of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

    If you draft Ramirez as your starter, there's still a chance he can produce one last 25-homer, 90-RBI season with a good batting average. Just don't select him with that expectation—and beware of the cliff.

No. 12: Chase Headley, 3B, Padres

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    2013 Fantasy Stats: .250 BA, 59 R, 13 HR, 50 RBI, 8 SB (600 PA)

     

    Really, who knows who the real Chase Headley is? After an (out-of-nowhere) absolutely monstrous second half in 2012, during which he hit .308 with 23 homers and 73 RBI in 75 games, the 29-year-old became a fantasy darling this time a year ago.

    A fractured thumb last spring got his follow-up campaign off to a late start—he missed the first 14 games—and Headley did a whole lot of nothing after his return. Sure, some regression was expected on what was an outlier-and-then-some 21.4 percent HR/FB rate, but for him to fall back to what he'd been before was perhaps a bit unexpected, too. It's possible the thumb impacted his swing and/or power.

    Except, maybe not. After all, players do have aberrational seasons (think: Joe Mauer's 28-homer output in 2009), so chances are that Headley is what he always has been—minus about three months in 2012. That still makes him a quality fantasy contributor, maybe even a starting third baseman, but he is not a lineup stalwart.

    In case you needed another reason to downgrade him, he's already getting 2014 off to an inauspicious start, suffering a strained right calf at the outset of camp, according to Corey Brock of MLB.com.

No. 11: Brett Lawrie, 3B, Blue Jays

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    Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

    2013 Fantasy Stats: .254 BA, 41 R, 11 HR, 46 RBI, 9 SB (442 PA)

     

    Go ahead, hate Brett Lawrie. Feisty guy that he is, he likes it when you do that. Just don't overlook him as a potential fantasy breakout candidate.

    Three years into his still-young career, Lawrie still remains a mystery, and that's primarily because he hasn't stayed healthy enough to be more than that. He has made at least one trip to the DL in each of his MLB seasons (including two trips in 2013 for separate rib cage and ankle maladies that limited him to 107 games).

    Lawrie also remains all of 24 years old, making him far too young and far too promising to simply cast aside as a disappointment. While any owner who drafts him as a starter would be wise to obtain a dependable backup, there is 20-homer, 15-steal potential in Lawrie's skill set, making him a gamble that could pay off with a poor man's David Wright-like season.

    Not having to pay full price after a pair of injury-riddled, subpar seasons for that kind of upside? What's to hate about that?

     

No. 10: Pedro Alvarez, 3B, Pirates

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    2013 Fantasy Stats: .233 BA, 70 R, 36 HR, 100 RBI, 2 SB (614 PA)

     

    Pedro Alvarez is a one-trick pony, but boy, what a trick. The 27-year-old's 36 home runs last season topped the NL, and his 100 RBI helped boost his fantasy production in a second important category.

    One look at the numbers above, though, and it's clear that all that separates Alvarez from disaster is a few extra fly balls dying on the warning track. His HR/FB rate has been north of 25 percent in each of the past two years, so it's not like his power is the fluky kind. Still, Chris Davis is the only other slugger with two such seasons over the past five years.

    Combine that with a wicked strikeout rate that has been above 30 percent in each of his first four years, keeping his average below .250, and Alvarez is a potential bust a la Adam Dunn in 2011.

    Still, power is at a premium, and Alvarez has plenty of it. Hoping for another 35-homer, 100-RBI year isn't silly, but expecting it might be. This is the ultimate do-you-feel-lucky pick.

No. 9: Josh Donaldson, 3B, Athletics

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    Lon Horwedel/Associated Press

    2013 Fantasy Stats: .301 BA, 89 R, 24 HR, 93 RBI, 5 SB (668 PA)

     

    In a vacuum, Josh Donaldson would be ranked higher than this, perhaps even in the top five among hot cornermen. Fantasy baseball, like the real thing, isn't played in a vacuum.

    The history of players having didn't-see-that-coming breakout years with fewer than 100 career games in the majors under their belts isn't necessarily all that uncommon. Doing so at age 27, though? Yeah, that is pretty much unheard of.

    That makes Donaldson both a curiosity and quandary, especially considering many of his underlying numbers—like a .333 BABIP, 11.4 percent walk rate or 16.5 percent strikeout rate—are indications that his success wasn't all smoke and mirrors.

    Still, a combination of history and gut instinct says Donaldson's 2013 was a career year that he won't replicate this time around. Whether his production dips just a bit or gets sucked away entirely, well, that depends on the strength of the vacuum.

No. 8: Kyle Seager, 3B, Mariners

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    Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

    2013 Fantasy Stats: .260 BA, 79 R, 22 HR, 69 RBI, 9 SB (695 PA)

     

    Kyle Seager has gained a foothold in the fantasy community after two very nice years in a row. In fact, his performance has many seeing further growth and production from him, which is why he comes in higher on other rankings.

    Here, the sentiment is that Seager is a solid player, one who's capable of being a starter but without the upside of those ahead of him. The fact that he gets to hit in front of Robinson Cano this year, which should boost his runs scored, helps his cause, as does the potential for 10-plus stolen bases, a rarity for this position.

    Just don't select him and see a surefire solution that you'll never have to consider upgrading in that "3B" spot in your lineup. If Seager proves to be that, however, so be it, but says here he's more likely to leave his owners wanting just a little bit more.

No. 7: Pablo Sandoval, 3B, Giants

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    Gregory Bull/Associated Press

    2013 Fantasy Stats: .278 BA, 52 R, 14 HR, 79 RBI, 0 SB (584 PA)

     

    Pablo Sandoval, it seems, is being vastly underrated by many fantasy circuits this spring. Look, the 2013 numbers weren't exactly pretty, but it's not like they were hideous, either, especially given that he went through another DL stint.

    That's right: out of hamate bones to break, Pablo Sandoval instead missed a portion of the season with a foot injury; otherwise the stats would look, uh, heftier.

    Speaking of looking hefty, that's one thing Sandoval no longer does (at least to the same degree), as he's dropped an indeterminate amount of weight while gearing up for his contract year. If he storms back with a return to the level of production he showed in 2009 or 2011, folks will attribute it to his being in better shape or going all out with money on the line.

    Really, though, the Panda just needs to stay healthy, which should be helped by better fitness. Sandoval's skill set—lots of contact, high average, gap power and then some—is the same as it's always been, which should once again make him a fantasy starter.

No. 6: Manny Machado, 3B, Orioles

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    2013 Fantasy Stats: .283 BA, 88 R, 14 HR, 71 RBI, 6 SB (710 PA)

     

    Ranking Manny Machado this high coming off knee surgery is a risk—and a statement.

    The 21-year-old's first full season came to a premature end when he crumpled to the ground after running through the first base bag last September. His recovery to this point is going well, as Machado has started doing some limited baseball activities in camp, but he might not be cleared to play in spring games until mid-March, according to Eduardo A. Encina of the Baltimore Sun.

    Rostering him to be your starter at the hot corner is taking a chance, but it's taking a chance on a star-in-the-making who has the pedigree, profile, youth and skill set to get better by leaps and bounds, provided he's healthy. Heck, Machado was already pretty darn productive from a fantasy standpoint in 2013, as the numbers above show.

    The injury is a cause for pause, as is Machado's second half (.240 BA, .647 OPS), after he hit .310 with an .807 OPS to begin the year. But if he can be on the field for 140 games this season, Machado is going to benefit not only from his own development but from hitting amid one of baseball's best lineups.

No. 5: Ryan Zimmerman, 3B, Nationals

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    Alex Brandon/Associated Press

    2013 Fantasy Stats: .275 BA, 84 R, 26 HR, 79 RBI, 6 SB (633 PA)

     

    Ryan Zimmerman does it every year. He starts off slow and/or injured before exploding in the second half, which was the story yet again in 2013.

    In fact, it took him even longer than usual last year, as he hit a so-so .275 with 15 homers and 61 RBI from April through August—then went nuts in September.

    Over his final 26 games, Zimmerman smashed 11 homers and drove in 18 runs to pump up his season totals toward more familiar territory.

    The 29-year-old typically loses some time to an ailment or two each year, as he did when he sat out 14 games last April with a hamstring strain, but he's pretty much a lock for something like a .280 average, 25 homers, 80 RBI and 80 runs—with a very good chance for more, given his history and supporting cast.

No. 4: David Wright, 3B, Mets

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    Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

    2013 Fantasy Stats: .307 BA, 63 R, 18 HR, 58 RBI, 17 SB (492 PA)

     

    At 31 and on the heels of a second season out of three in which he missed at least 50 games due to injury, there's enough doubt about David Wright to push him outside the top three among fantasy third basemen.

    A right hamstring strain cost him almost all of the last two months of 2013, so the above digits show just how productive he was outside of that.

    Few at the position are more fantasy friendly when healthy, especially considering Wright remains more than just a contributor in all five categories. Still, his power and speed have started to wane some, as he's merely a 20-20 threat now, as opposed to being the 30-30 threat he was in years past.

    Is Wright a sure thing without any doubt like he once was? No, but if you pick him in the second or third round to be your third baseman, all you have to do is keep your fingers crossed that he can make it through 140 games or so. The production will be there.

No. 3: Evan Longoria, 3B, Rays

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    Brian Blanco/Getty Images

    2013 Fantasy Stats: .269 BA, 91 R, 32 HR, 88 RBI, 1 SB (693 PA)

     

    While you're crossing those fingers for Wright's health, you might as well keep them crossed for Evan Longoria's well-being, too. The 28-year-old set set career highs in games played (160) and plate appearances (693) in 2013, following two years in which he was bogged down by the injury bug.

    There was some expectation that a fully healthy Longo was ready to bust out into a full-fledged fantasy MVP candidate last season, which didn't quite happen. Still, it's hard not to like what he showed in the runs, homers and RBI departments.

    While the homer total is more or less his ceiling, the possibility of a slight uptick in terms of average, runs and RBI for Longoria is conceivable, especially given that the Rays have a solid lineup that will feature Wil Myers all year long instead of merely three-plus months.

    Longoria is firmly a second-round pick, and while he comes in at No. 3 among third basemen, he could muscle his way ahead of the next guy, if everything clicks.

No. 2: Adrian Beltre, 3B, Rangers

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    2013 Fantasy Stats: .315 BA, 88 R, 30 HR, 92 RBI, 1 SB (690 PA)

     

    Adrian Beltre is as consistent as they come, and he could be in the catbird seat this season.

    To the first point, over the past four seasons, the 34-year-old has hit exactly .315 or better three times (as well as a still-great .296 in 2011), smacked between 28 and 36 homers, scored between 82 and 95 runs and driven in exactly 102 or 105 runs (as well as a still-swell 92 RBI last year).

    Money. In. The. Bank.

    To the second point, the Rangers lineup is absolutely loaded for 2014, what with Shin-Soo Choo and his .389 career OBP at the top and Prince Fielder and his .389 career OBP (as well as 285 homers) joining Beltre in the middle.

    Whether Beltre hits third or fourth, with Fielder grabbing the other spot, shouldn't matter all that much, even if manager Ron Washington is leaning toward keeping his third baseman in his usual cleanup position, per Richard Durrett of ESPN Dallas. Either way, Beltre is going to have opportunities galore to score and drive in runs.

    Taking Beltre in Round 1 might seem a little steep since he'd settled in as a super-steady second-rounder, but when you're buying this kind of consistency and upside, the payoff is worth it.

No. 1: Miguel Cabrera, 1B/3B, Tigers

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    2013 Fantasy Stats: .348 BA, 103 R, 44 HR, 137 RBI, 3 SB (652 PA)

     

    When it comes to Miguel Cabrera, the question isn't whether he's the No. 1 fantasy third baseman—it's whether he's still the No. 1 overall pick.

    After repeating as AL MVP—and nearly as the Triple Crown winner!—Cabrera is in a tier by himself at the hot corner. Even better for his fantasy value? He'll once again have dual eligibility at third and first base, now that he's shifting from the former back to the latter in the wake of the Prince Fielder trade.

    Cabrera also appears to be fully recovered from the groin/abdominal ailments that hampered him over the second half of 2013 and eventually required offseason surgery, according to Steve Schrader of the Detroit Free Press.

    As far as taking Cabrera first, it's more a matter of preference between him and Mike Trout. Sure, if you wanted to try really hard to make a case against Miggy, it would look something like this: he's heading into his age-31 season while coming off his first real injury problem and surgery, and he no longer has Fielder hitting behind him.

    Despite all that, an argument could be made just as easily for Cabrera before Trout based upon his incredible and consistent output in four of the five standard categories as well as that comforting little boost provided by eligibility at two infield spots.

    The choice here is Trout for his youth, upside and ability to add value in all five categories, but you're not going to go wrong with Cabrera, either.

     

    Here are the fantasy rankings at other positions:

    Catchers

    First Basemen

    Second Basemen

     

    To talk baseball or fantasy baseball, check in with me on Twitter: @JayCat11

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