June 19, 2013; Detroit, MI, USA; Baltimore Orioles third baseman Manny Machado (13) hits an RBI single in the fourth inning against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Surveying the Position: Third Base

If you are playing in a league with us and you haven’t begun your fantasy baseball research for 2014, you have fallen behind. Soon fantasy baseball writers will release their ranking lists [How to Choose a Ranking List] for each position, going anywhere from 10 to 25 deep. But before we get to rankings, we need to study the positions as a whole, looking for trends or changes, or anything else that will help us prepare for the upcoming season.

So in the next few weeks we will be surveying each position, pulling back and taking a bird’s eye view of each place on the diamond. We’ve already looked at catcher, first base, and second base. Today we go to the hot corner, third base.

History of the Third Base Position

Talking about the history of the position, at least the more modern history, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention Fernando Tatis, who produced the single best inning in the history of baseball in 1999.

While Tatis was no flash in the pan and Matt Williams might have taken a run at 61 homers in 1994 if it wasn’t for a pesky strike, the conversation about the best fantasy third baseman since the primes of Wade Boggs and George Brett is a quick one that involves two names and two time frames.

We start with Chipper Jones, who was really an effective hitter until his 2012 retirement, but was the top fantasy third baseman from 1998-2004. During that stretch, he averaged 105 runs, 34 homers, 105 RBI, and 11 steals per season, all while hitting .309 and getting on base at a better than .400 clip.

Again, Jones remained productive until his 2012 retirement, but he began to drop off slightly in the mid-2000’s. That drop coincided with Alex Rodriguez moving over from shortstop. Wherever he played, A-Rod was one of the game’s best hitters at any position until recently, when consistent injuries have kept him from being a full force for a full year.

The position has always had some good names at the top. Players like the aforementioned Matt WilliamsRobin Ventura, Scott Rolen, and Eric Chavez all hit well during that time and played excellent defense, but nobody was as good for as long as Chipper and then A-Rod.

In the more recent history, we’ve seen a strong production from Adrian Beltre, Aramis Ramirez, Evan Longoria, Ryan Zimmerman, David Wright, and one other dude who’s name escapes me right now. Oh, yeah, Miguel Cabrera, who has been the clear class of the position since regaining eligibility in 2012 after Prince Fielder was signed by Detroit to play first base. Actually, with the exception of Mike Trout, there hasn’t been a fantasy player anywhere near Miggy’s value over the last two seasons.

The position is similar to first base in that a lot of speed isn’t required, so you’re generally looking at good hitters, especially power hitters. But anything more than a few steals is like found money. In 2013, Wright stole 13 bags for the Mets, but no other third basemen nabbed even 10.

Since there are more right-handed hitters, third base does take a little more range and defensive skill to play than first, so it’s not as deep of a position as first. But historically, your fantasy third basemen will be one of your primary sources of power, and hitting in general.

 

Modern Trends the Third Base Position

Well, in 2011 and 2012, the trend was for David Freese and Pablo Sandoval to become the best hitters in the world for a few games and win the World Series MVP. But what someone does over a week’s worth of games doesn’t really alter someone’s fantasy value a heck of a lot. So, let’s get to what actually does.

First of all, let’s look at some numbers from a couple of third basemen over the last two years.

  R     HR    RBI    SB    AVG    OBP    SLG   
Kyle Seager, 2013 79 22 69 9 .260 .338 .426
David Freese, 2012 70 20 79 3 .293 .372 .467

The seasons aren’t identical, though they aren’t that far off either. But when you’re looking at projections, this is the range you need to be in to not fall way behind the 8-ball at third base. Seager was ESPN’s 12th best third baseman in 2013, while Freese held that mark in 2012. So, if you’re in a 12-team league and you don’t think that your third baseman will produce numbers at least in that range, then you need one of two things to happen.

  1. Be well above average at a few other positions. 
  2. Upgrade, and do it quickly.

As for any modern trends, the position hasn’t changed that much over the last three years. There’s certainly been no influx of talent that the mid-late 90’s saw at shortstop with Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Nomar Garciaparra, and Miguel Tejada. Those guys completely changed the face of the position. Third base was never an offensive black hole like shortstop was, so it’s not likely to ever happen.

But third base has always been a big power position, and it still is. The third baseman on your fantasy team should be one of the best hitters on it.

 

The Future of Third Base

  • Mike Olt, Chicago Cubs: Didn’t have great numbers in the minors in 2012, but Mike Olt can absolutely hit for power. As bad as he hit in 2012, he still hit 15 homers in 373 Minor League at-bats, after hitting 28 the year before in even fewer at-bats in the minors. Olt isn’t old by any means, but he seems to have a relatively clear path to the majors with the Cubs, who have been middle of the pack (at best) in power for quite some time.
  • Nolan Arenado, Colorado Rockies: He’ll turn 23 next August and got some major playing time in 2013. Nolan Arenado has already shown that he can be a solid contributor in just about all categories. It will be fun to see him mature, especially since he has Coors Field working for him.
  • Will Middlebrooks, Boston Red Sox: Definitely finished 2013 better than he started. Average has potential to be a concern, as he was only a .275 career hitter in the minors. But Will Middlebrooks is a right-handed hitter with power. Much like Arenado, he’s in the right home park, as he should be hitting balls over the Green Monster for a long time.
  • Matt Davidson, Arizona Diamondbacks: Good power guy (noticing a theme?), struggled with average (noticing a theme?), but in a great hitter’s park. The path is pretty clear to be the Diamondbacks third baseman. If Matt Davidson has a good Spring Training, don’t be surprised to see Davidson on the Opening Day roster, or soon thereafter If that happens, don’t be surprised if he can get 15-25 homers. He’s also a good OBP guy, so he should score plenty of runs in that lineup, as well.
  • Miguel Sano, Minnesota Twins: One of the top prospects in all of baseball. He’s hit 83 homers over the last three seasons in the minors, his totals have gone up in each of those seasons, and he won’t even turn 21 until next May. Not likely that Trevor Plouffe will keep Miguel Sano from the Major League roster for much longer.
  • Manny Machado, Baltimore Orioles: You know a lot about this guy, already. He suffered a bad injury that ended his 2013 season, but is already a strong player in just about every category fantasy baseball has, even steals. When the top third basemen now start to fade, Manny Machado Machado and Sano will likely be the top third basemen.

Tags: Adrian Beltre Manny Machado Miguel Cabrera Surveying The Position Third Base

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