Monday, March 23, 2009

Through the Wardrobe—A Fantasty Look at the Third Basemen

I've been saying all along that third base is incredibly thin heading into the 2009 fantasy season. Upon closer inspection, maybe thin isn't exactly the right description. Extremely top heavy would be a better choice because there is a decent amount of depth at the very top.

In fairness, some of them won't actually play the hot corner. However, they're legit for fantasy purposes...


Again, I've been hinting all along that third base is the most important position as far as I'm concerned. When you see the roster of players, you'll understand why—it's got six or seven guys who are absolute monsters and perform like clockwork.

The rest are a bunch of guys who could tank your entire team depending on where you draft them. It's not a knock on their talent because the talent is thick top to bottom. The issue is that, outside the top couple of tiers, there are red flags popping up left and right.

And they're enormous.

But mine is obviously not the only way to skin the third base cat. If you're a gambler, then this is your position because guys are going all over the place. Melvin Mora was a top 10 third baseman in 2008 and, on average, he's being taken with the 238th pick in Yahoo drafts. Meanwhile, Garret Atkins is going ahead of Chipper Jones.

And Alex Rodriguez has belly-flopped into the third round of most drafts. Holy lord:


1. David Wright, New York Mets—115 runs, 33 HRs, 124 RBI, 15 SBs, .302 average

This is another guy I'd consider taking with the top draft pick overall.

Wright is a true five category contributor because he has plus everything—plate discipline, power, and speed. He's not gonna dominate the swipes column like he once did because he's become too important to the Mets to imperil regularly on the basepaths, but he'll contribute there on a regular basis while doing the same with his average.

The real bonanza comes in a one-two of power and consistency.

Wright will get you 30+ bombs, 100+ runs, and 100+ RBI every year he sees 150 games. Write that in ink—better yet, etch it in stone. Considering my man is only 26 and is the definition of old school, David's usually a good bet to see 160 games a year if history is to be trusted—it's gonna take something serious to keep him off the diamond.

He's a walking defensive gem, he seems to thrive under the microscope in the Big Apple, he hits in a formidable lineup, he's gotten better each year so far, and he's still in the beginning stages of that period in a player's career where experience/maturity catches up with his talent (and he enters another tier of excellence).

I don't see a downside.

2. Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers—85 runs, 37 HRs, 127 RBI, 1 SB, .292 average

This is the second time we've seen Cabrera in the second spot for a position. Nipping at the heels of Albert Pujols and David Wright should tell you all you need to know.

You can see more effusive praise of Miguel with the first basemen, but I'll add he's essentially David Wright sans the defensive prowess (irrelevant), speed (very relevant), and probably with some extra power.

It would take quite a bit of a jump in the other stats to make up for the edge Wright has in stolen bases, but Cabrera's got the talent to hop over Gotham's favorite son.

3. Alex Rodriguez, New York Yankees—104 runs, 35 HRs, 103 RBI, 18 SBs, .302 average

Look, I don't like the guy and you probably don't like him—we all have very good reason.

But A-Rod in the third round? Jesus, what are these people blazing and where can I get my hands on it?

Yes, he's rehabbing from hip surgery. Yes, that is cause for concern. Yes, he's struggled to perform under the most intense spotlight in Major League Baseball (playoffs in New York). Yes, his entire regular season could closely approximate that pressure due to the performance-enhancing drug fallout.

The injury doesn't worry me too much. First, who's to say it was really that serious anyway. I say there's a decent chance it was something he could've played with, but decided to get fixed up as a convenient way to duck out of the spotlight for a bit.

Second, those 2008 numbers came in 138 games. If the need for surgery wasn't as urgent as we think and he's already rehabbing, Rodriguez should be totally healthy for at least that many in 2009.

As for the scrutiny, if a veritable lock for top 10 fantasy production is available in the second round, I'll take my chances. Even on a douche bag like A-Rod.

4. Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay Rays—67 runs, 27 HRs, 85 RBI, 7 SBs, .272 average

Um...those are the numbers from the first 448 at-bats of Longoria's Big League career and they came when the kid was 22. He also suffered a fractured wrist in the middle. Chew on that for a bit.

Longo's now 23 and up with the big club for the entirety. Having shown no ill-effects of the break after he came back last year, there's no reason to think it will suddenly become a problem now. Furthermore, it wasn't a muscle injury so there's no indication the guy is a danger to go down frequently.

The news that B.J. Upton will miss some time after Opening Day hurts a bit, but Longoria should still see some extra statistical opportunities with the entire Rays' roster brimming with World Series confidence.

The only reason he has to look up at A-Rod is because he's so damn young. At this point, he could regress for two years, explode at 25 and still become a player the likes of which we've never seen—he has that much time and potential.

But I like potential. I think this kid is (gasp) an eventual upgrade over David Wright. Probably not in 2009, but sooner rather than later.

5. Kevin Youkilis, Boston Red Sox—91 runs, 29 HRs, 115 RBI, 3 SBs, .312 average

This is another repeat offender, having already popped up with Miguel Cabrera with the first sackers. Again, check there for more info on Youk.

But I will say he makes the first tier at the hot corner despite the injury and despite being a second tier first baseman because the high-end talent is better at first. It's great at third as well, but there's more of it at first so Youkilis gets the promotion.

I'll also point out the injury is probably a non-issue at this point. Achilles' tendinitis isn't gonna go away over the course of 162 games, but his game isn't really predicated on speed and the bite should hurt his swing too much.


6. Aramis Ramirez, Chicago Cubs—97 runs, 27 HRs, 111 RBI, 2 SBs, .289 average

Can you feel us picking up speed? You should because we're getting close to the precipitous drop and the slope's getting steeper.

For whatever reason, I had Ram-Ram last year and wasn't impressed. I don't know what to make of that because his numbers were basically consistent with what I should've expected—they just never seemed to help very much.

Even so, those are good enough to get this big dawg into the first tier except he'll turn 31 in June. Aramis is still in his prime, but he's got his boarding pass and he's in line for departure.

That bumps him into the lead-off spot of the second tier because, while his numbers might mimic some of those above, I don't expect them to get better. Frankly, more of the same would be A-OK.

7. Chipper Jones, Atlanta Braves—82 runs, 22 HRs, 75 RBI, 4 SBs, .364 average

Larry Wayne is an odd case—he'll be 37 in April, but he seems to be aging like Barry Bonds.

His normalized production (per at-bat) is off the charts considering those numbers were amassed in only 128 games/439 ABs. Not only that, it's trending better as Chipper piles on the years.

However, Jones hasn't played anything close to a full slate of games since 2003—he's almost certain to miss 30+ games again in 2009. I'd say utterly certain since he's already got an oblique problem going in Spring Training. Those do tend to nag.

The fates are against him hitting .364 again, but Chipper will always hit for high average so something around .320 seems reasonable. With an improved lineup and the possibility of a large seasons from certain teammates (Kelly Johnson, Jeff Francoeur, Yunel Escobar), Jones shouldn't have too much trouble replicating the rest of his '08 tally.

8. Aubrey Huff, Baltimore Orioles—96 runs, 32 HRs, 108 RBI, 4 SBs, .304 average

Well, there was the first big drop.

In truth, Huff probably should be the start of the third tier for most of the reasons mentioned in the first base column. Yep, Aubrey's our third crossover from that position and the weakest of the bunch so I'll be even briefer.

I'll simply add that Huff apparently associates his return to former glory with a mechanical change in his swing. If that's true, maybe Huff does belong here.

9. Chris Davis, Texas Rangers—51 runs, 17 HRs, 55 RBI, 1 SB, .285 average

The young Ranger marks the fourth crossover from first. He jumps a tier when viewed in the third base context because, as mentioned, it's a weaker context.

Therefore, the extrapolation required to compare Davis against his contemporaries doesn't hurt him. He registered those totals in 295 ABs so doubling them gets you in the neighborhood of a full year's production.

Obviously, that assumes he can maintain his productivity for twice as long. That's no small feat in the Texas heat, but it's not impossible or even far-fetched for a talented kid like Davis.

If he can slap together 100+/30+/100+ with a .280 average and keep his hot corner eligibility (the least likely)? At the age of 23? You'd have quite the pair with Davis and Longoria.


10. Garrett Atkins, Colorado Rockies—86 runs, 21 HRs, 99 RBI, 1 SB, .286 average

Now we're in free-fall so it seems appropriate to start with Atkins. Yet another guy who can also slot in at first, but the least exciting of the bunch because his numbers have been in steady decline.

At 29, there doesn't seem to be much reason to think Atkins will reverse the trend suddenly. Worse, his struggles with right-handed pitching are getting more pronounced, his road splits have always suggested a Coors hitter, Matt Holliday is a memory, and a spring hip injury has become a spring hip/groin injury.

Run away and do it fast.

11. Melvin Mora, Baltimore Orioles—77 runs, 23 HRs, 104 RBI, 3 SBs, .285 average

As I mentioned, Mora was a top 100 fantasy producer last year and he's being taken in the very late rounds (early 20s). That seems weird to me because, while his numbers spiked a bit in '08, it's not like they erupted through the roof.

In fact, Mora's '08 campaign is almost identical to those of '04 and '05. In the interest of full disclosure, there was a modest dip in '06 and '07, but I don't see why that's dropping Melvin so low.

He's got a hamstring issue at the moment, but it doesn't sound serious and Baltimore's lineup may surprise some people. He looks like a good bargain to me if you are in trouble at third.

12. Ryan Zimmerman, Washington Nationals—51 runs, 14 HRs, 51 RBI, 1 SB, .283 average

Zimmerman is 24 and coming of a season during which he lost about 60 games to injury. Big things were expected from the Nats' corner infielder after he whomped 44 taters in his first two full MLB seasons, but a shoulder tear threw a wrench in the works.

Of course, Ryan looked just dandy after coming back from the ding, but there are still some big question marks on this youngster. He might pick up where he left off or he could be starting from scratch.

13. Alex Gordon, Kansas City Royals—72 runs, 16 HRs, 59 RBI, 9 SBs, .260 average

We're in a patch where sheer potential has arrested the rate of descent a bit. The problem, as most fans know, with Gordon is that the 25-year-old has taunted MLB with his raw ability for several years now.

Some of the bloom has come off the rose so expectations/attention have been dialed back a bit. Perhaps this is the year the dude snaps it together with a click and becomes the fury his combination of speed and power promises.

14. Mark Reynolds, Arizona Diamondbacks—87 runs, 28 HRs, 97 RBI, 11 SBs, .239 average

Reynolds will be 26 in August so there's still hope he may cut back on his whiff rate, but the glimmer dies quickly because there's no indication of any effort to that end. In other words, the average is probably about where it will end most years.

But we're in the third tier of players and Mark offers power and increasing speed (he's running in Spring Training as well) at a discounted rate. Plus, there is still a lot of upside left to realize. You could do much worse if you've waited this long to fill the hot grab a guy like Reynolds.

15. Jorge Cantu, Florida Marlins—92 runs, 29 HRs, 95 RBI, 6 SBs, .277 average

I have no idea what to make of these last two guys.

Cantu is only 27 and put up an almost identical season in 2005. On the other hand, '06 and '07 were brutal—if you draft based on '08 and get a year like '06/'07, you're in deep water with cement shoes.

And yet, if Jorge can keep raking to that '08 diddy, his numbers should be even better due to a quietly (and possibly) vicious lineup in Florida.

17. Edwin Encarnacion, Cincinnati Reds—75 runs, 26 HRs, 68 RBI, 1 SB, .251 average

Another total mystery to me. He's 26 and has talent spilling from his ears, but he's regressed as much as progressed in recent years. First, it was a bump in average with a drop in power and increase in Ks.

Last year, it was a bump in power, but a decrease in average and virtually no thefts along with another increase in fans. As part of a promising young lineup, 2009 could see Edwin become the top 10 fantasy third baseman scouts predicted.

Or he could take another step forward while taking two back. Sounds like third tier to me.

Fliers—Mike Lowell (Red Sox), Mark DeRosa (Cleveland Indians), Russell Martin (Los Angeles Dodgers), Adrian Beltre (Seattle Mariners), Troy Glaus (St. Louis Cardinals), Ty Wigginton (Orioles), Pablo Sandoval (San Francisco Giants), Matt Gamel (Milwaukee Brewers)

Ugh, those fliers don't even rate much mention.

Lowell is probably the best bet because he works in one of the best offenses in baseball. But he's 35, has a history of health issues, and is coming off major offseason surgery. Yikes.

DeRosa's versatile, but you better have a lot of power elsewhere if he's manning the hot corner. Beltre's in a contract year so there's that. Martin's a catcher with third base eligibility—you want it the other way around (like Sandoval, but he's unproven).

Gamel is the big name in the Brewer system, but few rookies arrive a la Ryan Braun and Evan Longoria.

Like I said, your options get unappealing early and quickly at the hot corner. Plan accordingly.

Next up...the shortstops.

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