This post is the latest in Ryan’s fantasy baseball position primer series. To view his primers for all other positions, click here.
3B Stock Watch: Rising
Brett Lawrie, Toronto Blue Jays
Lawrie had a phenomenal debut last season for the Jays last season hitting .293 with nine home runs in just 43 games. There are questions about how he will respond to the adjustments pitchers will make over a full season in the American League — Lawrie did have a relatively high strikeout rate, but he countered that with a solid walk rate (around 10%) for a rookie getting his first taste of major league pitching.
One of the more shocking stats from his debut was that his BABIP was only a little above league average at .318. Even without an incredible amount of luck, the stud rookie still put up great numbers in his small sample size. Expect Lawrie to continue improving this season.
David Freese, St. Louis Cardinals
Freese has gained popularity for his unbelievable postseason performance, but casual fans tend to ignore his solid regular season. The World Series MVP had a.397 postseason average to go along with five home runs and 21 RBIs. However, his 10 home runs and .297 average in the regular season are nothing to overlook.
Despite injury problems limiting him to 97 games last season, Freese upped his line drive and ground ball rates while decreasing his strikeout rate. The Cardinals’ third baseman’s role will be expanded this season. With the departure of Albert Pujols, he will need to pick up some of the slack left by the greatest slugger of the past decade. Watch for Freese this season.
3B Stock Watch: Falling
Pedro Alvarez, Pittsburgh Pirates
While it is hard to judge players as young as Alvarez, the former top prospect of the Pirates organization is in danger of being labeled a bust completely. El Toro had the majors worst batting average against curveballs, with just a .072 average. Despite his solid numbers against fastballs (.296 average/.386 OBP), problems with lefties (.211 average) and off-speed pitches led to a 30.5% strikeout rate and an overall .191 average over 74 games.
Alvarez has always been a pure power hitter, with suspect strikeout totals. However, last season he saw his slugging percentage drop from .461 to an anemic .289. To go along with that drop, his flyball rate fell from 39.6% to 25.3%, which is bad news for any slugger. Let Alvarez pass by this season in the draft, but keep an eye on him over waiver wire in case he starts to figure out his problems.
Two Big Third Base Questions
Who will actually be eligible to play third base, and what impact will it have on the position?
It looks like there will be a new breadth of depth at the third base spot after an offseason filled with big deals and major moves. Miguel Cabrera will trade his first baseman’s mitt for a regular glove. Hanley Ramirez will see if his shaky defense can improve at the hot corner. Mark Trumbo will move over to third in order to make room for Prince Albert in Anaheim. These moves actually give a once weak position some major star power.
These three players are locks for 20 home runs this season and play major parts in the offense. While Cabrera and Ramirez are clear-cut stars, Trumbo is still a slight question mark. His rookie campaign seemed to slip under the radar despite his 29 homers and 87 RBIs. The Angels are putting him up to be something special, but this season may see a fall backwards as he learns his new position.
Who is the top third baseman?
Evan Longoria and Jose Bautista can each lay claim to this spot, but I still believe Longoria is the top player at this position. Bautista clearly is for real, and will get his numbers. However, Longoria puts up solid power numbers and looks prime for a return to the high averages he had before last season.
Longoria’s case is actually very similar to Bautista’s last season. Bad luck led to a poor average last season. Longoria’s BABIP last season was a .239, way below the league average of .300, much like Bautista’s woeful .233 BABIP in 2010. The Rays’ star had a walk rate that almost equaled his strikeout rate. All of these are signs of an even bigger breakout from Longoria, which pushes him past Bautista.
Top 3B Sleepers
Juan Francisco, Cincinnati Reds
Francisco should take over for an aging Scott Rolen at some point this season, and when he does, expect some huge power and strikeout numbers. Throughout his minor league career and brief stint in the majors, home runs and RBIs have come easily for the slugger. Despite his free-swinging mentality, Francisco’s batting averages are solid, typically in the .270s. Look for him in the last few rounds if you are looking for a deep sleeper.
Third Base Strategy Tips
As mentioned before, there is a new depth to the position of third base. Many top third basemen also have availability at other positions, which is a great bonus. This year, the top tier of third basemen, Bautista and Longoria, should be considered first round talent followed shortly after by very solid players like Adrian Beltre, David Wright, and Ryan Zimmerman.
Third base can be a cornerstone for your team this season. Even if you choose to wait to pick your third baseman, players like Kevin Youkilis, Michael Young, and Ryan Roberts should be available in the middle rounds. Overall, this is a very solid year at the hot corner, so take advantage of it.