Third base has become surprisingly thin in recent seasons.
While the elite players (Wright, Longoria and perhaps even Rodriguez, Youkilis and Zimmerman) offer fantastic production, the rest of the group offers nothing but questions.
Kevin Youkilis doesn’t have third-base eligibility yet, but he’s worth the wait. After a week or two (depending on what site you play on), he’s the fourth-best player at the position.
1. David Wright (3B - NYM): Despite the strikeouts, he still has the same 30/100/100/.300 potential that Longoria has, yet Wright is also capable of adding 30 steals to the mix.
2. Evan Longoria (3B - TB): Career averages of 88 runs, 27 HRs, 101 RBI, 10 steals, .283 batting average at a surprisingly thin position—and he’s still only 25.
3. Alex Rodriguez (3B - NYY): Batting average and slugging percentage (and therefore, his isolated power) have declined progressively over the last four years. Despite this, he’s managed to post 30 HRs and 100 RBI in 13 consecutive seasons.
4. Kevin Youkilis (1B/3B - Bos): Increased OPS in each of his seven seasons. Better three-year batting average than Wright, Longoria, Rodriguez and Zimmerman. Three-year averages across the board top that of Zimmerman.
5. Ryan Zimmerman (3B - Was): Missed 20 games last season and 56 games in 2008; Jayson Werth and Adam LaRoche will struggle to replace Dunn’s presence. However, the 26-year-old remains capable of 25 HRs and .300 at the thin position.
6. Martin Prado (2B/3B - Atl): Highest batting average among second basemen since 2008 (.309). Fifteen HRs, 100 runs in 2010 despite playing only 140 games thanks to a finger injury in August. He is entering his age-27 season as the Braves’ leadoff man with second base, third base and outfield eligibility.
7. Adrian Beltre (3B - Tex): Improving strikeout, contact and swinging-strike rate suggest progression at the plate. His 2010 BABIP (.331) is likely to drop, but 25/90/.280 remains within reach in the middle of the Rangers’ lineup.
8. Jose Bautista (3B/OF - Tor): His 54 HRs in 2010 were 17 more than that of Joey Votto, and five more than Albert Pujols’ career high. Third-highest fly-ball rate (54.5 percent) led to alarmingly-low .233 BABIP. Assuming a regression in his home-run total, a lower fly-ball rate will follow. This will aid his BABIP, but further dent his actual batting average.
9. Michael Young (3B - Tex): Versatility should allow him enough playing time to obtain 650 plate appearances in 2011. Assuming he stays in Texas, 100 runs, 20 HRs, .290 batting average is within reach, batting between Ian Kinsler and Josh Hamilton.
10. Casey McGehee (3B - Mil): His 2010 totals (23 HRs, 104 RBI, .285 BA) were nearly identical to that of Evan Longoria. Age (28), lineup position (fifth behind Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder) and advanced stats suggest a repeat performance in 2011.
11. Aramis Ramirez (3B - ChC): Has averaged 28 HRs, 96 RBI, .295 batting average per season since 2004, despite missing 118 games over the last two. Low BABIP (.245) in 2010 was likely the effect of a league-high 56.8 percent fly-ball rate, which led to career-worst .241 batting average. Expect a bounce back performance in 2011.
12. Mark Reynolds (3B - Bal): One of eight players to hit more than 100 home runs over the last three seasons, but an embarrassing strikeout rate (39.5 percent since 2008) and paltry batting average (.198 in ‘10, .234 since ‘08) limit his fantasy value. However, power/speed combo at the hot corner cannot be ignored. In a loaded Baltimore lineup at the hitter-friendly Camden Yards, 35/100/10/.245 is likely.
13. Pedro Alvarez (3B - Pit): He hit 16 HRs in just 347 at-bats last season. Strikeout rate (34.3 percent) and contact rate (69.7 percent) are concerning. Still, the overweight and under-conditioned 24-year-old is capable of 30 HRs and a .260 average as the Pirates cleanup hitter.
14. Pablo Sandoval (1B/3B - SF): A 25-HR, .330-average season from a 23-year-old isn’t typically a fluke. But when they’re followed up with just 13 HRs and a .268 average in the following season, the past becomes easy to forget. Split the difference and call it a bargain for the now 24-year-old who lost 40 pounds this offseason.
15. Michael Cuddyer (1B/3B/OF - Min): More runs (186), HRs (46) and RBI (175) than David Wright over the last two seasons. His ‘09 power surge, however, is an outlier. Multi-position eligibility enhances his expected 80/15/80/5/.270 line.
The best of the rest: Ian Stewart has legitimate 25 HR, .260 potential but is likely to start the season on the DL. Neil Walker should offer solid production, but he’s more valuable as a second basemen. David Freese is a potential breakout candidate assuming his two surgically-repaired ankles will allow it. Chase Headley’s ceiling appears limited to 15/15/.260 thanks to Petco Park. If the Braves can squeeze 130 games out of Chipper Jones, 15-20 HRs and .280 would be extremely useful given his price tag.
Rookie to watch: Royals’ third-base prospect Mike Moustakas dominated Double-A and Triple-A last season to the tune of 94 runs, 36 HRs, 124 RBI, .322/.369/.630 in just 484 at-bats. The 22-year-old left-handed hitter is expected to be a middle-of-the-order presence for years to come. Expect his big-league debut to come at some point early this season.
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