The long promised tour around the diamond is finally beginning! I severely underestimated how busy work would be as the holidays approached. I’m in a different role than I was this time last year so I didn’t really know what to expect. Then a stint on the DL this weekend backed up this piece and the shortstops one. Don’t worry though, there will be plenty of content throughout December, January, February and March. Without further ado, let’s start the 2010 rankings:
I arduously debated how I was going to do this list before finally settling on what you’re about to read. I’m not sure the rest of the infield will be like this or not, but this is how I’m going to run with the hot corner. The goal, for me, is to write about enough players at a position without going overboard. The problem is that I’m not great at writing just a little bit about guys, but at the same time there are a group of players that simply don’t need 1,000 words written about them for the upcoming season. So I’ve put together a list of 47 players eligible for third base. The first group of 13 is what I’ll call the Clearance Bin. They won’t be drafted in a lot of leagues, and they will last deep into the draft of the leagues they will be selected in, but they have some value. The remaining 34 will be split into two groups of 17 with the first group (18-34) holding a level of upside that will merit drafting in most leagues depending on the various structures.
Clearance Bin (listed alphabetically)
Pedro Alvarez, Pittsburgh Pirates – His value in keeper leagues is much different than it is in one-year leagues. He hasn’t hit AAA yet so even if he does come up in 2010, it likely won’t be until after the All-Star Break.
Geoff Blum, Houston Astros – He’s 37 years old with a little pop in his bat, but not much else. The Astros are seeking a better option at third base which will only crush Blum’s miniscule value into complete oblivion.
Emilio Bonifacio, Florida Marlins – Looking at his batting average from Opening Day throughout May looks like the Dow as it steadily dwindles from .800 to .269 by month’s end. He set the fantasy world afire those first few weeks, but many saw him for the fraud he was pretty quickly. He’s cheap speed who will likely be picked up repeatedly throughout the season for those looking to pick up a quick base or two.
Pedro Feliz, Free Agent – He just watched the Phillies sign his replacement in Placido Polanco, but he won’t go unemployed given his strong defense and capable bat. As of right now, the Astros, Orioles and Twins have all been rumored to be interested. (The Astros have since signed Feliz.)
Josh Fields, Kansas City Royals – After a 23 HR debut back in 2007, Fields has disappointed in the two seasons since and now he finds himself with a change of scenery. He’s blocked by Alex Gordon, but Gordon hasn’t exactly been the model of health nor played up to expectations so Fields could get some time. He is still just 27 (on December 14th), but it remains to be seen if he can recapture the power stroke he displayed in 2007.
Mike Fontenot, Chicago Cubs – After a strong 243 at-bat sample in 2008, Fontenot was projected to build on that success in 2009, but instead fell flat on his face barely matching his counting stats in 130 more at-bats while dropping his average from .305 to .236. Now he enters 2010 as a 29-year old utility man, whose playing time is uncertain as the Cubs will no doubt be among the movers & shakers during the offseason.
Jake Fox, Oakland A’s – Fox hit the radar last year by hitting .409 and 17 home runs in 194 minor league at-bats prior to reaching the majors. He didn’t quite bring that kind of average and power to majors hitting .259 with 11 home runs. The playing time will be available in Oakland, but we all know how offense gets sapped in that park, too. As a guy with 20 home run potential, he just missed the cut into the Clearance Bin, but for now here is where he resides.
Mat Gamel, Milwaukee Brewers – Gamel is a big time power prospect who got his first taste in the majors last year, but didn’t do a whole lot. The emergence of Casey McGeehee and return of Rickie Weeks could relegate Gamel to bench duty, especially since he is atrocious in the field.
Troy Glaus, Free Agent – He’s 33, coming off of a lost season, injury prone and jobless. I don’t think he will remain jobless, but betting on a 2008 repeat (.270 AVG, 27 HR, 99 RBI) is a very risky proposition. He could easily make the top 34 once his 2010 destination is known, for now he’s a non-factor in most formats.
Jerry Hairston Jr., New York Yankees – A veritable fantasy baseball Swiss Army Knife, Hairston can play several positions, but that’s about the extent of his value. He’s never going to be an everyday player, but he can be a stopgap capable of running a bit.
Bill Hall, Seattle Mariners – With Chone Figgins aboard, Hall is really going to struggle for at-bats. It doesn’t help that he was completely awful in 2009 hitting just .201 in 334 at-bats with eight home runs. His 35 home run season back in 2006 seems eons away at this point.
Adam Kennedy, Free Agent – A career resurgence at age 33 should get Kennedy signed this offseason, but there is absolutely no reason to bet on a 2009 repeat. Seriously, no reason.
Ty Wigginton, Baltimore Orioles – He snapped his streak of 20 home run seasons in 2009, but it wasn’t because a lack of playing time. He actually had more at-bats than he had in 2008 when he hit 23 home runs. At 32, he’s not old by any stretch and he should get work in Baltimore as they wait for Josh Bell.
Third Basemen 18-34
34. Garrett Atkins, Free Agent – Atkins was, not surprisingly, cut loose by the Rockies after an abysmal 2009 season. He barely made the cut into the rankings because despite how awful he was last year (.226/.308/.342 in 354 AB), he was one RBI short of three straight 20+/100+ seasons from 2006-2008. Of course even that performance is looked at skeptically because of how disparate his home/road splits were for the latter two years of the stretch (OPS in 2007 H-.936/R-.773; 2008 H-.904/R-.661). I think Baltimore would be a nice destination for him where he could be a usable part in AL-Only leagues with a mid-teen home run total and low 60s RBI total. Think Stephen Drew of 2009, but that’s a ceiling at this point so Atkins still has plenty to prove.
33. Brandon Wood, Los Angeles Angels – The Angels hate Brandon Wood. Don’t ask me why, but it is quite clear that they do. Even with Figgins in Seattle, the depth chart shows Maicer Izturis as the starting third baseman. Despite three straight big seasons in AAA, he can’t get a legitimate shot at the big league level. He has posted a .287/.353/.548 line in 313 AAA games with 76 home runs and 233 RBIs while playing strong defense at shortstop and third base, yet the Angels seem entirely disinterested in using him. His best bet would be to get moved to a team that would actually use him, but in the interim he’s potential-laden 25 year old waiting for a break.
32. Edwin Encarnacion, Toronto Blue Jays – An injury-riddled 2009 saw EE shift from the Reds to the Blue Jays at the trading deadline where he was a little better, but still below average. He has shown the skills of a middle (5-6-7) of the lineup run producer at different times from 2006 to 2008. He looks to be capable of hitting for power, taking walks and managing a strong batting average, but can he put it all together for 600 plate appearances, a mark he has yet to reach in his career. He is in the midst of his prime and he will get every opportunity to succeed with the Jays. He sets up as a decent sleeper whether in a mixed league or AL-Only.
31. Juan Uribe, Free Agent –There is a market for third basemen this year so on the heels of a very strong 2009, Uribe will be picked up by some team despite three sub-.300 OBP seasons in row prior to last year. He has got pop in his bat and plays solid defense, which is essentially the prototype for a third baseman once you get past the game-changers.
30. Brett Wallace, Oakland A’s – Wallace earned this ranking because he has the best shot at a full-time job. A strong 32-game stint (.281/.403/.438) at AA Springfield in the Cardinals organization earned him a promotion to AAA Memphis where he was solid, if unspectacular (.293/.346/.423) in 62 games before being the centerpiece return for Oakland in the Matt Holliday deal. His 44 games in Sacramento (.302/.365/.505) proved to be his most complete stop of the season. Combining it all, he notched 600 plate appearances and posted a .293/.367/.455 line with 20 home runs and 63 RBIs in 138 games. Eric Chavez just isn’t a legitimate roadblock keeping Wallace in AAA so as long as GM Billy Beane thinks his 443 plate appearances proved enough, he should start the season at third. I wouldn’t expect anything higher than .293-20-63 across a full season of work as he will have rookie struggles while playing in an atrocious park for hitters.
29. Placido Polanco, Philadelphia Phillies – Technically he won’t qualify here until he plays 20 games at the hot corner to open the season. Regardless of that fact, he will be drafted as a second baseman and likely stay there for his owner’s team for the duration of the season. With 10 home runs last year and a career high of 17 (set back in 2004 with the Phillies), he just doesn’t have enough power to stick at third base in fantasy baseball. However, since the position is so Mary-Kate Olsen thin, I’m still listing him because there will probably be some owners who get in a situation where they need Polanco there or even perhaps at corner infield. You should draft him as a second baseman and then enjoy his flexibility throughout the season as you deal with injuries or engage various trades. If you enter the 2010 season with him as your #1 third base option, you’d better be excellent everywhere else or you did something wrong.
28. Scott Rolen, Cincinnati Reds – You can ask me why the Reds traded a 27-year old injury-prone third baseman for a 35-year old injury-prone third baseman, but that doesn’t mean I have an answer. After a career year in 2004 in which he still only played 142 games and snapped a stretch of three straight seasons over 150 games, he played just 56 in 2005. He bounced back with 142 in 2006 giving him five out of six seasons with 142+ games and 593+ plate appearances. That said, he was past 30 and injuries once again became a big part of who he was. An injury-marred 2007 saw his lowest slugging percentage ever at .398 as he managed just 112 games. Things didn’t get much better in 2008 when he played 115 and posted another uncharacteristically low SLG (.431). He missed 34 games last year, but hit .305 with solid runs scored and driven totals despite another meager power output (11 home runs). He will be 35 right around Opening Day and the injury history is too blatant to ignore despite the potential to be a valuable fantasy asset. He’s nothing more than an NL-Only option on draft day.
27. Andy LaRoche, Pittsburgh Pirates – LaRoche went through an up-and-down 2009 season mixing in two great months with four awful ones leaving him with a .258/.330/.401 line to show for it. With Pedro Alvarez breathing down his neck, the pressure is on to start producing at the level of his minor league tenure: .295/.382/.517 with 95 home runs, 333 RBI and 346 R in 1800 at-bats from 2003-2008. The biggest thing in LaRoche’s favor is that Alvarez has yet to take a swing in AAA, so he will be in Indianapolis for at least two months. But if he tears that league up like he did AA (.333/.419/.590 with 13 HR in 258 PA) and LaRoche struggles, then LaRoche could be in trouble. With Akinori Iwamura brought in to man second base and Garrett Jones and Steven Pearce holding down first base, there aren’t any alternatives for LaRoche right now.
26. Mark Teahen, Chicago White Sox – Teahen is essentially at the ceiling I gave Atkins with additional speed positional flexibility. He is never going to make or break your season unless you play in a 15-team AL Central Only league, then and only then could he become an elite force. Use 2008 and 2009 as a guide and hope he can recapture his 2006-2007 batting average.
25. Brandon Inge, Detroit Tigers – This was virtually a carbon copy of his 2006 breakout except he had a sparkling first half, good enough for an All-Star nod, followed by a putrid second half and 2006 was the reverse. And he played through injuries throughout the second half which really took their toll on his performance at the dish. There was many instances when I was watching him gut it out that I respected the effort, but saw him as a detriment to my Tigers because he just had nothing left in his legs. Assuming full health in 2010, he has high teens power with low 70s RBI capability, but he will always be a drain on the batting average or on-base percentage, depending on league parameters. Don’t bid with 25+ HR power in mind, it takes too much going abnormally right for it to happen consistently for him.
24. Casey McGehee, Milwaukee Brewers – Journeyman minor league castoff latches on with division rival and enjoys a breakout season reaching new heights in many statistical categories. It’s a great story, but it’s incomplete and I have a feeling that Brewers fans might not like the dénouement. At 27, it’s unreasonable to project more growth from McGehee. In fact, projecting anything but regression seems foolish. I think he would be lucky to match his 2009 counting stat totals even with 200 additional PA (from 394 to a round 600). At this point, it remains unclear if he will even be an everyday player with Rickie Weeks back and Mat Gamel looming. Let someone else have this Cinderella story play out on their team because midnight is right around the corner and could hit before Memorial Day of 2010.
23. Mark DeRosa, Free Agent – Though teamless right now, it isn’t because a lack of interest in the veteran utility man. After smashing a career-high 21 home runs in 2008 (previous high was 13 in 2006), DeRosa’s approach went out the window as he seemed set on being a power hitter. Sure, he set a new career high with 23 home runs, but his average plummeted from the 2006-2008 mark of .291 down to .250. I would bet on more of the same in 2010 , but you can do much worse than 75-20-75 with an average around .260-.265 at third base.
22. Martin Prado, Atlanta Braves – Prado is another guy who is eligible at third base, but offers the most value at second base. He will also enter 2010 with first base eligibility making him a daily transaction owner’s dream. He showed signs of his breakout in limited work during 2008 when he posted a .320/.377/.461 line in 254 PA which is nearly identical to his 2009 work of .307/.358/.464 in 503 PA. He’s a great #2 hitter, which is where he saw most of work, but he was a Swiss Army Knife in the lineup too batting everywhere but first throughout the season. The power, though still modest, is a new wrinkle to his game so I wouldn’t bet on a spike even going into his age 26 season, but he can be a very useful player somewhere in the neighborhood of .300-80-10-60 with three position eligibility and a chance to add outfield during the season.
21. Alex Gordon, Kansas City Royals – Fool me once, shame on me. Fool me twice, shame on you. Fool me until you retire because I refuse to give up on you, that is love, not shame. Though he hasn’t progressed as rapidly as many expected or hoped, he is still just 26 years old (or will be in February of 2010) and played just 130 games at AA as his only minor league experience before reaching the majors. He should have been tearing up Omaha for at least a season and a half when he was racking up 1171 big league plate appearances. And he showed marked improvements from years one to two. Last year was a throwaway lost to injury, but it was good that he got two months worth of action to close out the season so that Opening Day 2010 wasn’t his foray back into the mix after hip surgery. This year is definitely put up or shut up, but I think he puts together a fine .275-80-20-80-10 season at a great bargain price as a post-hype sleeper.
20. Mike Lowell, Boston Red Sox (for now) – The word about town is that Lowell is headed to Texas, but he will have to pass a physical first. Anyone who knows anything about Lowell knows that that won’t be easy. I’m willing to be he is in the Opening Day lineup for a team in April (barring a Spring Training injury) and he’s bound to put up season similar to the one he’s up two years in a row: 55 runs, 17 home runs, 75 RBIs, solid to good batting average in fewer than 450 at-bats. Set that as your ceiling and take any at-bats above that mark as pure profit.
19. Chase Headley, San Diego Padres – Headley wasn’t too bad in his first full season of work, but there was a sharp home/road split, just as you might expect from a San Diego Padre. At home, he was a vomit-inducing .208/.300/.351 while sharply improving to .305/.377/.426 on the road. The upshot was that he managed seven home runs at home. If he can match that mark while improving the five from the road, then the high-teens are well within reach.
18. Jhonny Peralta, Cleveland Indians – Poised for his biggest season yet, Peralta fell flat on his face with his worst season yet in terms of runs, home runs and all three triple slash stats (average, on-base and slugging). He became a groundball machine (50%) which led to the power outage, which made his 83 RBIs all the more impressive. His 83 RBI/.691 OPS combo was just the second time since 2000 that a player managed that many RBIs or more while posting a .691 OPS or worse. I loved Peralta coming into 2009, but I’m cautiously optimistic for 2010. The groundball percentage spike seems to be only the big change from 2008 to 2009 so a correction there should bring back the .275-80-20-75 lines we saw in three of four seasons from 2005 to 2008. Don’t be surprised Peralta corrects that GB% malfunction and actually builds on his 2008. From the good people of Hedge City, USA – I’m not saying bet on it, just understand that the possibility is real and wouldn’t take a series of events to occur.