2010 Third Basemen: 10-1

Finally wrapping up my three part series on third basemen with my top 10. As I’ve blasted through several mock drafts already this offseason, one thing was apparent early on: 3B is paper thin. It’s not the thinnest position, I will get to that next week when I unveil my shortstop rankings, but it’s a close second. There is some viable star power at the top, but it dries up in a hurry and then becomes a handful of names in a hat. I don’t even think the top 10 is fully bankable, starting at 10:

10. Chipper Jones, Atlanta Braves – Jones has topped 500 at-bats just once in the last six seasons (513 in 2007) yet he has managed to routinely put up top tier seasons in his limited playing time. Until last year. It was his worst HR (18) and RBI (71) season ever and his second-worst batting average (.264). His .264 was a 100-drop from his excellent 2008 leaving many wondering what to make of the two vastly disparate seasons. He hit .292 in the first half followed by .239 in the second so it’s hard to make much out of 255 poor at-bats. His 2008 power was a significant decline from where he had been all his career and then 2009 was another stair step down suggesting that it is likely for real at age 38. He is likely done with 20-home run seasons, but another .300 season may not be out of the question. Don’t pay for anything more than .285-15-75 while praying for .320-20-90 in one final hurrah.

9. Kevin Youkilis, Boston Red Sox – Youk acquitted himself brilliantly after a 2008 breakout turning in a near carbon copy performance in 33 fewer plate appearances. Though more valuable at third base without question, his dual-eligibility (1B) is a nice bonus. At 31, it looks like he has another 2-3 seasons at this level with a legitimate shot to top 30 home runs. In an OBP-league, Youk goes from solid to truly elite in the rate category. He is well known for his batting eye and after back-to-back .390 OBP seasons, he finally topped .400 last year (.413). If your league penalizes for getting your punkass smoked by 20-year old future aces, you may want to pass on Youkilis.

8. Pablo Sandoval, San Francisco Giants – I was a bit skeptical of Sandoval coming into last season. The hype was massive especially as many salivated over his potential catcher-eligibility. He eventually delivered to the leagues with loosest eligibility rules as he played three games behind the dish, but his stats were so good that it didn’t matter where you put him in your lineup. Like Youkilis, he holds 1B/3B eligibility though his days as a backstop are likely over. I don’t mind admitting I missed the boat on Sandoval, but I refuse to make the same mistake twice. There is nothing in his stat set that suggests he is a fraud and at 24, there is likely more power on the way. He racked up 79 runs and 90 RBIs in that garbage lineup last year which stands to improve in 2010 with newly acquired Mark DeRosa, a full season of Freddy Sanchez, growth in a full time role from Nate Schierholtz and rookie phenom Buster Posey. This could push Sandoval into 90 R/100 RBI territory if things break right. Plenty to like here.

7. Mark Reynolds, Arizona Diamondbacks – This ranking isn’t a complete indictment of Reynolds so much as it is my preference for six others above him. That is to say I don’t think he will be a bum in 2010. He has completely legit middle-of-the-lineup power, but a 26% HR/FB just isn’t sustainable meaning the 44 HR total is coming down. I expect him to be in the low 30s for home runs this year. A lot is made of his batting average going from .239 in 2008 to .260 last year, but you are really looking at about 11-12 hits either way. Over the course of 26 weeks, that isn’t much. The home run dip will definitely drop his value from where it was in 2009, but the real drop will come in the stolen base department. He is much more likely to get the 11 he had in 2008 than the 24 he had last year. I would put him in the mid-teens and go from there. Consider that he had 11 in 1216 minor league at-bats and none during his first 405 major league at-bats. Even a .250-30-90-13 line is extremely valuable despite being a far cry from his 2009 breakout. The problem is that you’re going to pay a premium for 2009 in many leagues.

6. Chone Figgins, Seattle Mariners – Going from fantasy baseball Swiss Army Knife to 3B-only has impacted Figgins’ value. Unfairly in my opinion. Yes it was awesome when you could slot him in so many different spots, especially the middle infield spots, but he’s not worthless as a third baseman. Third base is a power position, but if you draft Figgins there you just adjust your plan to get power elsewhere. It’s not the end of the world. To hear some talk about it, if you draft Figgins you’re destined to last place in home runs before the season even starts. He has slowly added a sharp eye to his arsenal topping 100 walks for the first time ever last year. Though it was a large 39-walk improvement from 2008, it is supported by his gradual improvement since 2005. A great average and high walk total are perfect for improving his primary offerings in fantasy baseball: runs scored and stolen bases. A .290-100-40 line makes Figgins a viable 3-category. It’s not the three you generally you expect out of third base, but that doesn’t mean it is bad, just different.

5. Aramis Ramirez, Chicago Cubs – Ramirez labored through a bum shoulder in 2009 that relegated him to just 306 at-bats, but he still managed .317-46-15-65 in that time. He’s one of the more unheralded corner men as compared to his peers in this top 10, but he is as consistent as they get when on the field. And better yet, he won’t cost as much as some who will rank behind him. He’s had a few other stints on the disabled list during his time, but from 2001-2008 he averaged 146 games played with 30 HR and 100 RBI while hitting .289. The time off this winter gives him time to heal and come into Spring Training at 100%. A 100% Ramirez means another 30/100 season. He appears to have cured his woes against southpaws (.239 in 2008, .350 in ’09) making another .300+ season a near certainty. He should come cheaper than many of the elite 3B making him a great target.

4. Ryan Zimmerman, Washington Nationals – From a pure value as compared to draft position standpoint, there might not have been anyone better than Zimmerman last year. Would you be surprised if I told you it was Zimmerman’s fourth full season in the bigs last year? Or would you more surprised if I told you he is just 25 years old? It should be no surprise that a player who showed excellent promise upon reaching the majors still had room to grow by season four and may still have another level yet. Too often a player is pigeonholed after a season or two when they first come up without much thought given to the fact that young players can get better as they pile up at-bats even if those first two seasons were very good. He has .310+ capability in his bat which take him up another level in the overall rankings when paired with 100-35-100. Don’t back down in a bidding war for his services.

3. David Wright, New York Mets – I originally had Wright second ahead of Longoria, but upon further review I made the switch but I don’t hate Wright in 2010 as many do. He had a bad season in 2009, there are no two ways around it. But he was positively brilliant for four straight seasons before that so why should one down season erase that body of work? That answer is it shouldn’t but in the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately culture we live in, his value will be depressed (severely in some instances) on the heels of last year. Make no mistake, Citi Field WAS NOT the reason for his power outage. I don’t care how many magazines or how many times ESPN tells you as much, it’s simply not true. Trying to make heads or tails of his 2009 is fruitless endeavor. You can try and tailor excuses to fit his struggles and talk about how his stolen base bump alleviated some of the pain of the power outage, but it’s all futile at this point. He had a poor season. They happen. Even to superstars. He is going to be 27 in 2010 and if early mock drafts are any indication, he is going to be a huge value. He went 11th in an NL-Only I did and 15th (to me) in a 15 team mixed league that I was in. A good spring will restore the faith back in him and level set his value where it belongs, but anything mediocre or worse will leave him in the bargain zone.

2. Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay Rays – An amazing pair of seasons already for Longoria who turned 24 in the offseason and has an even brighter future ahead of him. I think both 40-HR and .300+ AVG capability are within his skillset, though the latter may take another two to three years to develop as he works on his ability to make contact more consistently while the former could happen as soon as 2010. He may even sneak into the low teens in stolen bases after notching seven and nine in his first two seasons. There isn’t much more to say about this budding superstar except that I like him as a late first/early second round pick in mixed drafts and as high as third overall (behind A-Rod and Miguel Cabrera) in AL-Only leagues.

1. Alex Rodriguez, New York Yankees – In 444 at-bats, he nearly matched the 2008 totals he accumulated in 510 at-bats. And that was coming off of hip surgery and a remarkably tumultuous offseason during which he confessed to taking PEDs. At 34, he remains one of baseball’s absolute best players and he has another 2-3 MVP-caliber seasons in him starting with a healthy 2010. The mock drafters are very cognizant of this fact as he has an ADP of 3 at both CouchManagers.com and MockDraftCentral.com. Even with the hip surgery, he came back and stole 14 bases when many believed that element of his game would be almost completely cut out. He remains a bona fide 5-category superstar worthy of that ADP. In AL-Only leagues, he’s still my first pick overall. I’m so very glad I went against my initial instinct and bought into the hype about the injury and missed time during the preseason last year. As you may recall (since I’ve told the story ~ 4.7 million times), I had to turn in a 2-keeper list for my AL-Only league. I had Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and BJ Upton. I figured those were three of the top five in the AL at their best so I went with the two who would be playing from Opening Day and threw A-Rod back. It was the first time in 13 years that A-Rod wasn’t on my team and it cursed my season from the start. He was drafted second overall (behind Matt Holliday) and likely won’t be available to draft in the league ever again unless he hangs around too long and has a few flameout seasons at the end. For the record, I’m keeping Joe Mauer with Teixiera this year.

Next up: Shortstops

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