Positional Breakdown Preview – Third Base
As fantasy baseball draft season is now going full bore, let’s go position by position and analyze some of the players we expect to exceed or underperform compared to their draft slots. Rather than writing up one sleepers & busts article, we’re going to give you some sleepers and potential busts at every position. Click here for a full look at our 3b Rankings.
Third Basemen To Watch
The Elite: Jose Bautista, Evan Longoria
- Joey Bats proved last season that his crazy power spike in 2010 wasn't a fluke. In fact, while he lost 11 HR off of his line, he became a bigger all-around offensive force. Bautista boosted his average from .260 to .302 while posting a 20.2% walk rate that few players outside of Barry Bonds have ever achieved. His overall .302/.447/.608 line was actually an improvement. Chalk him up for 100 Runs, 100 RBI, a solid average in the .280 range and 40 HR. He'll even steal a few bases.
- Despite missing much of the first two months last season and starting slow from a batting average standpoint upon his return, Longoria finished incredibly strong with 17 HR in the final two months. As Longoria is entering 2012 healthy and his career average is .274, we should expect a significant bounceback from his .244 average in 2011. He showed last season that he's unlikely to run as he did in the past, but we can live with 30 HR, 100 Runs, and 100 RBI.
New Faces: Miguel Cabrera, Hanley Ramirez
As neither will enter the year with 3b eligibility, we're going to give Cabrera and Hanley a segment of their own. We profiled Cabrera in the 1b article. Here's what I had to say:
Depending upon how things work out for Cabrera over at 3b, he may not be on this list next season. Either way, he's a proven four category stud who has averaged a .332/.421/.583 line with 34 HR, 106 Runs, and 111 RBI the past three years. He's the top player on my board.
Part of the reason that Cabrera is atop my board is because of his shift to 3b. He's a borderline number one if he was still at 1b. Those numbers are just a little too hard to ignore no matter where he's playing.
Hanley is obviously a safer bet to stick at 3b than Cabrera is, as he's moving down the defensive spectrum. However, he's also moving down the fantasy spectrum. Hanley's best position for fantasy owners in 2012 remains at SS. 2011 was incredibly disappointing for Hanley owners, but he's entering the season healthy and with a new manager that might be a better fit. Toss in stronger production in front of him in the order and more experience for his protection in the lineup and there's plenty of hope for him to return to the .300 hitter we know and love who is good for 20+ SB and HR as well as 90+ Runs and RBI. Draft him with confidence whether you're planning on using him at SS or 3b.
Bounceback Candidates: Ryan Zimmerman, David Wright
- We decided that I would do the 3b piece because Jim thought he might have trouble avoiding bias with Zimmerman. Truth be told, I probably like him almost as much for this season. Zimmerman had a miserable season in all areas last year. He missed 61 games due to a stomach injury. When he came back, his trademark defense fell off the table because he had to adjust his throwing motion. As for his bat, the power just wasn't there like we've seen it early on in his career. His .154 ISO represented the lowest total of his career, while he took a slight step back with his batting average and walk rate. Fully healthy entering 2012, Zimmerman is 27 and just entering the prime of his career. Expect a return to his 2009 and 2010 production, when he averaged a .299/.375/.518 line with 29 HR, 98 Runs, and 95 RBI.
- Wright missed nearly two months with a stress fracture in his back last season. His bat saw the effects all-around, as his .254 average was a career worst and his .172 ISO was well below his career norm. The power-speed combo could return this season, but he's already dealing with a tear in the rectus abdominal muscle (rib injury). While he claims that he's going to be ready for opening day, there has to be some concern about this issue moving forward. In fact, Zimmerman above is a scary case study for Mets fans.... The injury that cost him more than two months last season was - wait for it - a torn rectus abdominal muscle that required surgery. Wright could play through the injury and surprise, but I'm just not liking this situation one bit. I'm avoiding him like the plague.
- Youkilis missed time last season as well, playing in just 120 games. Of course, we have to mention that Youk has never played in more than 147, so it's not like he has a track record of playing every day. The bigger problem was that his batting average and ISO dropped significantly when he was in the lineup. A .289/.391/.492 lifetime hitter, Youk hit just .258/.373/.459 last season. He appears to be healthy after getting a late start in spring training. I wouldn't anticipate him batting .300 with 30 HR or anything, but I'd feel comfortable projecting him to bat .280 with 25 HR. He'll bounce back.
On The Rise: Brett Lawrie, David Freese, Emilio Bonifacio
- Lawrie paid plenty of dividends in his rookie year after being acquired from the Brewers for Shaun Marcum last offseason. The 22-year-old demolished the PCL - .353/.415/.661 with 18 HR in 292 AB - before getting the call to Toronto and immediately mashing against big league pitching. Lawrie hit .293/.373/.580 with 9 HR and 7 SB in just 150 big league AB. If he can produce like that over a full season, Lawrie will be a borderline top ten overall fantasy pick next season.
- Freese posted a second straight terrific partial season as he played in just 97 games. As we all know, he was back in time for the playoffs, winning the World Series MVP. While Freese has always shown an ability to hit for high average, his power and durability have always been the question marks. Even though last season's injury was a fluke, it's difficult to project Freese staying healthy all season. The 97 regular season games that he played in last season were the most he's played in since 2009 (including minor league numbers). The power is obviously there, even if it's mainly gap power. I'd take a shot on him after the top ten 3b are gone, but no sooner.
- Bonifacio figures to play CF for the Marlins this season, but he'll maintain SS and 3b eligibility. The 40 steal speed is real, but the .296 average is a bit of a mirage. As he's a burner, Bonifacio's BABIP tends to be a bit high (.339 career), but it was .372 last season. We simply can't expect him to keep that up. Still, with everyday playing time, even if he hits .260, he's capable of swiping 40 bags and scoring 90 runs.
Steady As She Goes: Adrian Beltre, Pablo Sandoval, Aramis Ramirez
- Beltre may be one of the top three to begin the year, but that doesn't mean he's an elite option. We should expect a .285 average with about 30 HR and 100 RBI. He's on the cusp of elite status, but the fact that the average should come down a bit and that he doesn't run keeps him back a peg.
- Sandoval could still be on the rise a bit, but I wouldn't be surprised to see the power go backwards a bit. His .237 ISO last season seemed a bit over the top considering his home ballpark. While he'll hit for a high average and bash 20+ HR, the lack of lineup support buries him behind most of the top options at the position by hurting his Run and RBI totals.
- Save for an outlying .241 average in 2010, Aramis Ramirez has been ridiculous in terms of keeping a consistently high average. Ramirez has hit .289 or better in all but one season since his first full season in Chicago in 2004. A move to Milwaukee may hurt him some in terms of ballpark factors, but he figures to have a stronger lineup around him as well. Chalk him up for a .295 season with 25+ HR and 90+ RBI and take it to the bank.
Sleeper: Mike Moustakas
Moustakas' power from AAA didn't translate to the majors. In fact, after hitting 25 HR in 448 AB in AAA between 2010 and 2011, Moustakas hit just 5 in his 338 big league AB as a rookie with a .104 ISO that's befitting of a solid SS. It may take a couple more months, but the power stroke is going to click at the big league level at some point soon. Don't anticipate a huge average, as .275 is probably the most we can expect from him this season. Still, a 20 HR/75 RBI season isn't out of the question, and that will play in anything but shallow mixed leagues.
Deep Sleeper: Wilson Betemit
Would you like to have a third baseman who has hit .290/.359/.479 over his last 674 plate appearances? How about one who has a solid 76 Runs and 89 RBI in that same time frame? No... It's not easy to get real excited about the Orioles DH, but he should be in for everyday playing time. He'll hit for average and power, and should be a solid option in deeper mixed leagues.
Bust: David Wright
Whether he plans on being ready for opening day or not, that rib injury scares the crap out of me. Expect a lengthy (two months?) DL stint from Wright at some point. Don't expect for his bat to be anywhere near back to where it was in 2010.
Prospect To Watch For: Nolan Arenado
Casey Blake isn't really an obstacle. When Arenado is ready, he'll take over the reins in Colorado. He's got plus power (20 HR in High A last season), a plus contact rate, and average patience to go with an above average glove. Arenado is unlikely to break camp as the Rockies' starter, but he'll be there at some point this season unless he falls apart. Expect him to start in AA and most likely skip AAA and the PCL. If he's off to a strong start, look for him to get the call some time in late June or early July.