By Scott Barzilla

Third base is a strong position in fantasy terms, but much like some of the other infield positions, the picks get a little shaky at the end of the line. Most fantasy leagues have between ten and twelve teams. Even if your league has 15 teams, you don’t have to necessarily worry about the guys at the bottom of our top twenty. However, you hardly go through a fantasy season without having some injury problems. So, knowing where there is depth is crucial.

1) Miguel Cabrera– +47.2 runs

I went with a more modest projection this year because players that have monster seasons normally take a step back. Even a step back for Cabrera makes him a top three overall fantasy player. Whether he or Mike Trout is the number one overall pick remains to be seen. We have to remember that defense isn’t included in fantasy baseball, so the gap between the two is considerably smaller. Not only that, but the gap between Cabrera and the second best third baseman is huge.

2) Evan Longoria– +27.0 runs

Longoria might be the only guy at the position that can challenge Cabrera in terms of run production. 2011 saw him have a huge second half and when you add in last season’s numbers you have what we would call a benchmark for what Longoria could do in a full season. If Cabrera is off your board before you can get to him then Longoria gives you the best chance at star power for your third baseman.

3) David Wright– +26.6 runs

Wright is the third base version of Joe Mauer. He is a great baseball player overall, but in fantasy terms it can get a bit iffy. Wright’s only weakness is a lack of power and that is huge at a corner position. If he can’t hit .300 or better then his value as a fantasy performer is seriously diminished. So, be careful about how high you throw him up your draft board.

4) Ryan Zimmerman– +20.0 runs

Every player outside of the top two or three have warts. The question is what warts you are willing to accept. Zimmerman can do everything you want a fantasy player to do except guarantee you good health. He gave it to the Nationals last season and was rewarded with a long-term contract. Do you want to bet on him being healthy two years in a row?

5) Adrian Beltre– +19.5 runs

Beltre is going to start going downhill and it might start happening this season. For one, he is another year older instead of being a year better. More importantly, the Rangers lost Mike Napoli and Josh Hamilton, so there will be fewer guys to support him in the lineup. Even with a step back, he will still be better than most.

6) Kevin Youkilis– +18.5 runs

Youkilis was ordinary last season, but there were a lot of circumstances that contributed to his poor play. Bobby Valentine killed a lot of production in Boston and Youkilis was unable to recover even when he was in Chicago. Even if he improves only a little he will still hit 20 or more home runs and give you plenty of walks. You put that in the Yankees’ lineup and you are looking at some solid run production as well.

7) Chase Headley– +18.0 runs

Why is Headley ranked so low after such a monster season? In short, we are working with the aggregate here. On a long enough timeline, the survival rate drops to zero. Most performance returns to the mean and Headley has a long enough track record of being solid, but not great. A smart fantasy player doesn’t jump too far one way or another based on last season’s numbers. Players usually regress to the mean.

8) Aramis Ramirez– +15.0 runs

Ramirez has been a steady fantasy performer for years and I suppose he should be rated higher than this given his consistency. He is usually good for around 30 home runs and 100 RBIs once all is said and done. The problem is the batting average and OBP  has been dwindling slowly over the years. Eventually, it’s going to catch up with him.

9) Pablo Sandoval– +13.8 runs

Sandoval is also better than this, but given the fact that the Giants play in AT&T Park it has a way of zapping his value from a fantasy perspective. TRI is a terrific measure when it comes to calculating a player’s real value, but fantasy baseball doesn’t use real value. Plus, Sandoval has struggled to be healthy in the past, so that also diminishes his fantasy value.

10) David Freese– +9.8 runs

Freese was healthy and productive for the first time in 2012. So, his low value comes from an aggregate where most of his other seasons were limited. So, your 2013 pecking order depends greatly on whether you go with a track record of injury or if you think 2012 was a predictor of things to come.

11) Michael Young– +7.4 runs

Young has a home at third base in Philadelphia and that by itself is reason to include Young amongst the group of guys expected to be starters. He was terrible in terms of value last season, but he hits for a good average and usually is good for at least 10 to 15 stolen bases. Betting on a bounce back season is reasonable enough.

12) Brett Lawrie– +7.3 runs

Lawrie’s defense will keep him in the lineup regardless of whether he is productive or not. The Blue Jay’s lineup should have more opportunities for runs and RBIs with the addition of Melky Cabrera and Jose Reyes.

13) Todd Frazier– +6.4 runs

Scott Rolen hasn’t officially announced his retirement, but he is expected to. With Rolen officially out of the way, Frazier looks to take over at third base and could contribute a sneaky 20 or more home runs to your fantasy team.

14) Will Middlebrooks– +6.0 runs

Middlebrooks played above his head last season in his rookie season, but he didn’t get the call until May. So, if we use his production last season as a guide we can surmise he might produce similar power and run production numbers in a full season.

15) Jeff Keppinger– +2.8 runs

Anything is better than Brent Morel and the White Sox went with that general philosophy. However, Keppinger can also play short, second, and first in a pinch. If Morel figures it out, Keppinger could end up supplanting Beckham or serving as a super utility guy. Either brings good flexibility to your fantasy team.

16) Kyle Seager– +2.4 runs

Like others, Seager came out huge in 2012, but the long-term prognosis might not be as good. He should continually produce around 20 home runs a season and with a couple of additional hitters so far (Kendrys Morales and Jason Bay) there could be more run scoring and RBI opportunities.

17) Alberto Callapso– +2.0 runs

Callapso begins the pedestrian section of third base. At this point, every fantasy player should have a regular third baseman. So, if you want a decent backup for depth you could do worse than Callapso. With Maicer Izturis signing with Toronto he should get the everyday action.

18) Trevor Plouffe– +0.8 runs

Plouffe showed some impressive power last season and he has some positional flexibility, but that is basically all he offers. As a bench player he could bring some decent value, but I wouldn’t count  on him being a stud.

19) Manny Machado– +0.1 runs

Obviously, a September call up is not enough time to really get an idea of where a guy will be as a regular. Machado will be a very good one someday and it might happen as soon as next season. Odds are that when a player skips AAA like Machado did, he will end up struggling some. Even with that, he has enough power and speed to be an intriguing fantasy player immediately.

20) Luis Cruz– -0.9 runs

There are several players that might be more appropriate here. Certainly, guys like Matt Dominguez, Placido Polanco, and Pedro Alvarez ring a bell. Cruz was decent enough last season and hails in a stacked lineup. So, he’s likely to get more cheap runs and RBIs.

 

Scott Barzilla

Scott Barzilla is the editor in chief at hardballchat.com. He is also the author of four books, including The Hall of Fame Index. The Hall of Fame Index was nominated for the Sporting News Award for statistical innovation in 2011.

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