If there is one thing I wish could happen this season, it would be this: for the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Texas Rangers to play in the same league this season so that Matt Kemp and Josh Hamilton could battle for the MVP award all summer long.
Major League Baseball has already opened up voting for the All-Star game, which has whipped me into a frothy dander. Listen in if you want to listen to me tear down everything about the All-Star Game.
That’s only the beginning though as we reflect on the first month of the season and talk the following:
When organizing each position into tiers, it enables owners to see which players should produce relatively the same statistics, and easily spot under/overvalued players in each tier.
To refresh, let’s define the tiers that we will classify each position by:
- Elite: These players can be the foundation for your fantasy team and are the best players at their positions.
- Valuable: Cannot go wrong with this group. These solid players, who will produce for your team, are dependable and can help win a fantasy title for you.
- Solid: These players will put up numbers and can even lead in certain categories. However, inconsistency and poor performance in other categories will hurt your fantasy team at times.
- At Your Own Risk: Limited production at this level, this group either struggles to get at bats on a regular basis or are the least producing players at their position. Proceed with caution and do your research. This group also includes younger players with potential.
Here is a breakdown of the 3B position for both AL and NL Leagues.
Elite Third Basemen
- Jose Bautista
- Evan Longoria
A quick drop off at the 3B position places added importance to drafting a top-notch player for your team at the hot corner. Bautista (43 HR, 103 RBI, .302 average, and 9 SB) and Longoria (31 HR, 99 RBI in 483 AB) are clearly the elite class of the 3B position. Both are top 15 picks and will provide your team with the anchor needed in a scarce position.
Best Bet: Evan Longoria
Valuable Third Basemen
- David Wright
- Adrian Beltre
- Ryan Zimmerman
- Pablo Sandoval
- Aramis Ramirez
- Michael Young
- Alex Rodriguez
- Brett Lawrie
- Kevin Youkilis
- Mark Reynolds
This group will net you very productive numbers and some may return to elite level.
Wright needs to avoid injuries this season, and if he can, he will produce a line close to 25 HR, 90+ RBI, and close to 20 SB. Beltre, in the Rangers stacked lineup, will continue to pound the ball and finish in his customary 30 HR, 100 RBI, 290+ average line.
Zimmerman battled a torn abdominal muscle in 2011 but is healthy this year, as evidenced by his quick spring start of 7-11 with 2 HR and three doubles. At 27 and with his new six-year, $100 million extension completed in February, look for Zimmerman to focus on baseball with an improving Nationals team.
Sandoval is entering his prime at age 25 and may be primed for a big year. Ramirez should continue to put up his consistent numbers with the Brewers along the lines of 25 HR, 100 RBI, and a .300 batting average.
Thirty-six-year-old A-Rod has missed at least 20 games in the past four seasons. Still, he can produce and get close to 25 HR and 90 RBI in a powerful Yankee lineup.
Young is an RBI machine with Texas and hit .338 last year. Look for more of the same with the Rangers. Youkilis is a .300 hitter with pop when healthy and should be productive again in 2012.
Lawrie is the up-and-comer of this group and has the potential to be a special player, with .275, 20+ HR, 75-80 RBI, and 20+ SB. With Reynolds you get 35-40 HR power but must sacrifice batting average (.211 in 2011) to get it.
Best Bet: Pablo Sandoval
Solid Third Basemen
- Martin Prado
- Ryan Roberts
- David Freese
- Emilio Bonifacio
- Edwin Encarnacion
- Mike Moustakas
- Chase Headley
There is potential with this group to achieve bigger numbers, but there is also the potential risk to end up on your bench all season long.
Prado missed 31 games last year with a staph infection and looks to rebound with the Braves in 2012. Posting 15 HR, 75+ RBI, and hitting in the .280-.290 range is possible. Freese looks to continue his World Series success with a consistent regular season. With Pujols now out of the Cardinals lineup, expect Freese to become a key contributor for the Redbirds.
At 23, Moustakas should see increased numbers as the Royals starting 3B. He has to improve his plate discipline and if he can, expect close to 20 HR and 80+ RBI. Roberts, Encarnacion and Headley should hit in the range of 15 HR, 75 RBI, along with 10-15 SB. Bonifacio offers top speed and SB but not much else.
Best Bet: Mike Moustakas
At Your Own Risk Third Basemen
- Chipper Jones
- Chris Davis
- Daniel Murphy
- Mat Gamel
- Chone Figgins
- Lonnie Chisenhall
- Alberto Callaspo
- Ty Wigginton
- Placido Polanco
- Ian Stewart
- Wilson Betemit
- Casey McGehee
- Scott Rolen
- Danny Valencia
- Pedro Alvarez
- Sean Rodriguez
- Scott Sizemore
- Juan Uribe
- Juan Francisco
- Casey Blake
- Jed Lowrie
- Mike Aviles
- Brent Morel
- Matt Dominguez
- Kyle Seager
- Alex Liddi
- James Darnell
- Greg Dobbs
- Jayson Nix
- Chris Johnson
- Robert Andino
- Kevin Kouzmanoff
- Brandon Inge
- Jack Hanahan
- Daniel Descalso
- Eric Chavez
- Zack Cox
If only Chipper could be good for one more year. He leads this group that may or may not contribute in 2012. Jones, 40 in April, still has 15 HR and 70 RBI potential with the Braves, but his knees and nagging injuries may him a risky pick up.
Davis strikes out too much, but with 400+ AB, he could hit 25 HRs. Murphy is eligible at 2B, 3B, and 1B, and hit .320 last season in 391 AB. Gamel will replace Aramis Ramirez as the Brewers starting 3B and has the potential to hit 20 HR.
Valencia keeps hitting in Minnesota, and Ian Stewart gets a new start with the Cubs, although his sore wrist continues to bother him. Morel starts at 3B with the White Sox and could be in the 12-14 HR and 50-60 RBI range. Rodriguez and his position eligibility and new starting position could be a valuable late pick up too. Look for Wigginton, now with the Phillies, to get the lions share of the at bats in the absence of injured 1B Ryan Howard.
Best Bet: Matt Gamel
Continuing the series that examines lucky and unlucky hitters and pitchers from last season, as well as looking at the potential impact on the fantasy baseball landscape it 2012, we arrive at our third stop: the unlucky hitters.
But for today, let’s dive into the hitters who were unlucky last year.
After a season that left many a fantasy owners up in arms over his performance, he has started to catch the labels of “injury prone,” “overhyped,” and “bust.” Let’s take a step back here.
The kid is 22 years old, 6’5″, and 240 pounds. Last season was only his second full one in the MLB. Sure, he battled a couple of shoulder injuries, but it is far too early to be considered injury prone.
Second, his .227 BA from last season leaves many owners with doubts. This will easily be corrected in 2012, as Heyward battled through one of the unluckiest BABIP in the league last season. Have patience with the youngster, look for signs of continued growth, and expect a BA bounce back, along with 20 HRs and 10 SBs.
To the chagrin of White Sox fans everywhere, the automatic 40 HR machine came to a screeching halt last season. Many have left him for dead, but I say: he’s not dunn just yet. An anemic career low of a 10% HR/FB% will rebound to his normal 20+%. Followed by a BABIP correction, and you are again looking at a .250 hitter who should hit 25+ bombs.
Oh how fickle fantasy owners are when it comes to Alex Rios. They love him at first sight (see 2007, 2008), then hate him for a year (2009). The love-fest renews (2010), and then they remember all the reasons they used to hate him in 2011. Unfortunately, Rios just happens to have some of the luckiest and unluckiest seasons in alternating years.
If trends tell us anything, what should we look for in 2012? Yes, a rebound. Perhaps this will be the year when Rios can simply play regular baseball–without a heavy dose of luck influencing his skill set in either direction. If so, look for something along the lines of .275-80-18-80-22.
What has the perennial All-Star and 35 HR hitter undervalued this season? Simply his poor batting average from a year ago (.248). Teixeira has been on an unlucky two-year run in BABIP, and I expect a full rebound this year. Look for a final stat line somewhere close to his numbers from 2009.
Nagging shoulder and back injuries sapped a chunk of his power and speed in 2011. When that is added to a career low in BABIP (by more than 60 points), the end result is fantasy owners vowing never to draft him again. Use this to your advantage. A fully-healthy season from Han-Ram, with a luck rebound, will have fantasy owners anointing him as the No. 1-rated fantasy player heading into 2013.
It’s amazing to me that Longoria made this list despite hammering 31 HR in a mere 481 ABs last season. It’s his .244 BA that will have fantasy owners worried headed into 2012, but you will know better.
The batting average was driven by an extremely unlucky .240 BABIP, so expect a full rebound in 2012. This season might be the cheapest you can get Longoria for the next 5-10 years. I’m talking about a .295 hitter who can smash 45 HRs and steal 10 bases with ease. Draft accordingly.
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.