Hottest of the Hot Corner: Ranking MLB's Top 16 Third Basemen
Over the past few years, the hot corner has gotten hotter. It is the address of some of Major League Baseball's best talent, featuring players who flash the leather and provide some thunder at the plate.
Many teams throughout the league call on their third sacker to anchor the middle of their lineup. Then when the inning's over, they look to them to turn two on scalding two-hoppers or cover bunts with acrobatic barehanded plays.
The position features some long-established stars, but in recent years it has been augmented by the emergence of new stars. Currently, Cardinals rookie David Freese is making some noise with a .358 batting average and could find himself bumping elbows with other top players at his position.
Because of the low sample size, Freese did not make the list today, but here are baseball's top 16 players at the hot corner.
No. 16: (Tie) Jose Lopez, Seattle Mariners
After the Seattle Mariners lost incumbent third baseman Adrian Beltre to free agency and signed Angels third sacker Chone Figgins over the winter, the team made an unexpected move.
The Mariners made a strategic swap, flip-flopping the positions of second baseman Jose Lopez with Figgins.
Both players had played their new positions previously but had logged far and away more time at their "old locales."
Concentrating on getting comfortable in a less familiar spot may have contributed to slow offensive starts for each player, but the Mariners are confident that it will pay off in the long run.
Lopez banged 25 HRs and drove in 96 runs a year ago, while hitting .272. The club hopes for him to build on that offensive performance in 2010 and beyond.
No. 16: (Tie) Casey Blake, Los Angeles Dodgers
The Los Angeles Dodgers obtained Casey Blake at the trade deadline in the '08 season in a deal with the Cleveland Indians. He has anchored the hot corner in L.A. since then with steady all-around play.
At times looking out of place like a lumberjack walking Rodeo Drive, Blake nevertheless has provided veteran savvy, solid fielding, and held his own at the plate in Chavez Ravine.
In his only full season in L.A., the bearded third baseman batted .280, smacked 18 HRs, and accumulated 79 RBI while committing only 10 errors.
No. 15: Casey McGehee, Milwaukee Brewers
Another young Casey has moved up the ranks to edge ahead of Blake. The Brewers' Casey McGehee has turned heads with a strong rookie campaign in 2009 and then picked right up where he left off this season.
The 27-year-old third baseman jacked 16 HRs and drove in 66 RBI while batting .301 in just 394 plate appearances a year ago. For his efforts, McGehee placed fifth in NL Rookie of the Year voting.
This season he is similarly hitting .299 and on a pace to reach 35 HRs and more than 125 RBI. It's a long season, and fast starts can fade, but McGehee has the look of being the real deal.
No. 14: Placido Polanco, Philadelphia Phillies
Like the Mariners, the Philadelphia Phillies are asking Placido Polanco to make the switch across the diamond to man the hot corner.
Already possessing baseball's best second baseman in Chase Utley, the club asked last year's American League Gold Glove second baseman to slide back to a position he had played sporadically in the past.
Interestingly, the Phillies traded him away in 2005 when they decided to commit to Utley and could not settle on a regular position for Polanco.
This winter, when solid-fielding Pedro Feliz's contract expired, GM Ruben Amaro decided that Polanco's additional offensive production was worth the risk of making the switch.
Over the past five years, the 34-year-old player batted .311 for Detroit, including a .341 mark in 2007. He twice finished in the top 25 of the MVP voting while winning a Silver Slugger and two Gold Gloves for his work at second.
So far this season, Polanco looks comfortable at third, displaying the same sure hands and strong arm. The position change has not affected him at the plate, as he is batting .299 with three HRs and 14 RBI in the early going.
Amaro has to be pleased with the early returns.
No. 13: Jorge Cantu, Florida Marlins
Like many of his teammates, Jorge Cantu tends to fly under the radar. Last season, the Florida Marlins player quietly racked up 100 RBI along with a .289 batting average.
Cantu has spent his three seasons in Florida flip-flopping back and forth between the infield corner positions. In 2010, he has started 22 of 25 games at the hot corner.
The 28-year-old Texan is off to a fast start, looking to improve his power numbers from last year. While hitting .296, the third sacker has already banged out six home runs and driven in 25 runs.
Having clubbed 28 big flies for Tampa Bay in '05 and 29 for the Marlins in '08, this could be the season he breaks the 30 mark.
No. 12: Chipper Jones, Atlanta Braves
Just a couple seasons ago, Chipper Jones would have been near the top of the rankings. Injuries have limited his production and range, though, as he advances in age.
The 38-year-old player is still a feared and dangerous hitter, but it appears the days of seeing him on the batting and home run leader boards are gone. In 2008, Jones hit a career-high .364, but that plummeted 100 points to .264 last year.
The Braves expect him to rebound from this year's slow start that has him near the Mendoza line at .206 with just two HRs and six RBI.
Manager Bobby Cox has not sounded the panic alarm, but he must be watching the fuel tank of his aging slugger very closely these days.
No. 11: Adrian Beltre, Boston Red Sox
Looking to beef up their defense, the Red Sox signed free agent Adrian Beltre to fill the hot corner.
The team figured that the slick-fielding third baseman would be an upgrade over a hobbled Mike Lowell and Kevin Youkilis.
Doing his best Big Papi imitation, Beltre has yet to hit a home run in the friendly confines of Fenway Park—or anywhere, for that matter—but is batting .330 thus far in 2010.
The power drought may not be an aberration, though, as the former slugger managed just eight HRs a year ago.
Over 13 major league seasons, Beltre has clubbed 250 home runs while batting .271. In 2004, he finished second in the NL MVP voting when he batted .334 with 48 HRs and 121 RBI, but he has not come close to replicating those numbers since.
Although his production tailed off, his glove work remained a constant—winning the Gold Glove in back-to-back seasons. Perhaps feeling the pressure in Red Sox Nation, Beltre has been erratic in the early going, amassing five errors in just 24 games.
No. 10: Scott Rolen, Cincinnati Reds
Like Adrian Beltre, Scott Rolen's high-water mark was 2004—and like Chipper Jones, Rolen's play has been limited by injuries in recent years.
The seven-time Gold Glove winner hit for career highs in 2004 with 34 HRs, 124 RBI, and a .314 batting average. Since then, multiple shoulder and back injuries have kept him off the field one out of every three games.
When healthy, Rolen still flashes his trademark fielding range and line-drive bat. In 2009, the 35-year-old third baseman hit .305 and committed just five errors in 127 games.
Over his 15-year career, Rolen has batted .283 and amassed 288 HRs and 1,140 RBI. Besides winning NL Rookie of the Year honors in 1997, he has also been a five-time All-Star selection.
No. 9: Aramis Ramirez, Chicago Cubs
There is a little bit of a theme here. The only thing that stands in the way of Aramis Ramirez and a higher ranking is health.
Injuries have always been a small part of the equation with Aramis, but he missed half the season in 2009 with a dislocated shoulder and has experienced some arm soreness in 2010.
Rust and being less than 100 percent may explain why Ramirez is off to a terrible start this year, hitting just .155 with 25 strikeouts.
The Cubs are hoping for their best hitter to return to the form he displayed over nine years prior to going down last season. In that period, Ramirez averaged 28 HRs, 98 RBI, and a .292 batting average.
No. 8: Mark Reynolds, Arizona Diamondbacks
Mark Reynolds often makes the news for what he doesn't do—namely, make a lot of contact. But when he does connect, Reynolds displays some of the most prodigious power in baseball.
In 2008, the Diamondbacks third baseman set a major league record by fanning 204 times. He followed that up by striking out an incredible 223 times a year ago— destroying his own mark.
But strikeouts were not the only thing he increased. Reynolds lifted his home run total from 28 to 44 and raised his batting average to .260. He also jacked up his stolen base total to 24 and his fielding percentage from a dismal .904 to a respectable .945.
The 26-year-old slugger still has a lot of room to refine his game but has big upside. Imagine what he could do if he cut his whiffs down to, say, 180?
No. 7: Miguel Tejada, Baltimore Orioles
When Miguel Tejada rejoined Baltimore this offseason after spending two seasons in Houston, it came with strings. The plan was to slide the soon to be 36-year-old shortstop over to the hot corner.
Although he had never played the position before, Tejada has a couple of Orioles Hall of Famers backing him and believing that he will do great in the transition.
Brooks Robinson and Cal Ripken, who made a similar shift, both see Tejada having the athleticism and arm to excel in the twilight years of his career.
"The Bus" is coming off a .313 season in 2009 with 86 RBI. Since becoming a regular, Tejada has averaged 25 HRs, 103 RBI, and a .293 average over the past 11 years.
No. 6: Michael Young, Texas Rangers
Michael Young begrudgingly made the switch to third base for the 2009 season to make room for top prospect Elvis Andrus.
After initially wanting out of Texas, Young went on to have a fine season before being sidelined with a hamstring injury.
Young's apprehension is understandable considering that he was coming off five consecutive All-Star Game selections and a Gold Glove at shortstop. Apparently he shook it off enough to hit .322 with 22 HRs before going on the DL for the final five weeks of the season.
Once again, he was rewarded by being selected to the AL All-Star team at his new position. At the age of 33, the move could keep Young an All-Star for years to come.
No. 5: Pablo Sandoval, San Francisco Giants
The Kung Fu Panda has quickly established himself as one of the National League's top hitters and best third sackers despite a body that does not seem to fit the part.
Pablo Sandoval has displayed a potent bat since the time he joined the San Francisco Giants late in the 2008 season and continues to wear out pitchers indiscriminately.
To his credit, the 23-year-old player recognized that he needed to get into better shape if he hoped to withstand the rigors of long Major League Baseball seasons and stay out of the training room. This past winter he engaged in "Operation Panda" to drop 10 pounds.
Regardless of his dimensions, Sandoval can flat-out hit. After batting .345 in his cameo appearance in 2008, he batted .330 with 25 HRs and 90 RBI in his first full season. This season he is hitting .337 with three HRs after 24 games.
No. 4: Ryan Zimmerman, Washington Nationals
It had become clear to the Washington Nationals that Ryan Zimmerman was a keeper, so after three years they elected to sign him to a five-year, $45 million extension before the 2009 season.
He rewarded them with his best season yet and looks to be one of the key players they plan to build around.
Zimmerman recorded career bests in HRs (33) and batting average (.292) while also leading the team with 106 RBI. For his efforts, he earned an NL Silver Slugger trophy.
His exploits went beyond the batter's box, though, as he also impressed in the field—so much so that he was given a Gold Glove to go along with his silver trophy.
The 25-year-old third baseman has battled a hamstring injury in the early going but is currently hitting .370 with four HRs in 59 plate appearances. With the Nationals' improved club around him, Zimmerman has even more upside.
No. 3: David Wright, New York Mets
Just like on their AAU team in Virginia Beach, David Wright is slightly ahead of Ryan Zimmerman.
He's a couple years older and has one more major league season under his belt—and a much more recognized player having played a starring role in the Big Apple.
Wright has been one of baseball's brightest stars since becoming a regular in 2005. Over seven seasons, he has accumulated a .308 BA, .390 OBP, and .519 SLG.
After averaging 29 HRs and 112 RBI in his first four full seasons, Wright's power numbers dropped off drastically when the team moved into cavernous Citi Field in 2009. He managed just 10 homers and 72 RBI, but he appears to have made adjustments in 2010, as he already has five big flies.
Until Zimmerman took it away last year, Wright received the Gold Glove Award in successive seasons. He was the recipient of the Silver Slugger those years as well.
No. 2: Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay Rays
The Tampa Bay Rays' Evan Longoria burst onto the scene in 2008 and helped lead the team on a last place to World Series run.
His remarkable talents allowed him to quickly overcome the relentless Desperate Housewives jokes and become known as one of baseball's top young stars.
After starting the year in the minors, Longoria clubbed 27 homers and drove in 85 runs in just 122 games. The effort earned him AL Rookie of the Year honors.
In 2009, he added to his hardware collection with Gold Glove and Silver Slugger trophies. In his first full season, Longoria hit .281 with 33 HRs and 113 RBI.
The Rays and their slick-fielding third baseman are off to a blistering start. Longoria has led them to an 18-7 record by hitting .347 with six HRs and 19 RBI.
No. 1: Alex Rodriguez, New York Yankees
Baseball's highest paid player continues to accumulate numbers and attention. The 12-time All-Star and three-time MVP is not universally embraced around the baseball world, but Alex Rodriguez keeps turning in eye-popping performances.
"A-Rod" missed substantial time the previous two seasons but still reached the 30-HR and 100-RBI thresholds. In 2007, he amassed otherworldly numbers— 54 HRs, 156 RBI, and a .314 batting average.
2,554 hits, 585 HRs, 1,721 RBI, .304 BA, . 389 OBP, .574 SLG—the numbers border on ridiculous.
Of course, the slugger's statistics are a bit tainted due to his admission of performance-enhancing drugs. Clearly, he has Hall of Fame numbers—but that's another debate for another time.
As long as every player he drives home or every time he crosses the dish himself counts as one run, past "PED" use has little bearing on his current ranking amongst his peers at the hot corner. A-Rod is still hanging on to the top spot, but Longoria and Wright are closing in fast.
The Final Word
As you can see, Major League Baseball boasts a fine array of talent at the hot corner. Some have been long recognized stars, while others are still in the process of establishing themselves as household names.
Although the biggest names such as Alex Rodriguez, Chipper Jones, and Scott Rolen are advancing in age, the position will remain in good hands for many years to come.
A highly talented cast of young players has a chance at gaining similar stature—led by David Wright, Evan Longoria, Ryan Zimmerman, Pablo Sandoval, Mark Reynolds, and Casey McGehee.
How long will it be before David Freese pushes his name into the new wave of stars?