Wednesday February 25th, 2015

Last season was a transformative one for the third base position. Evan Longoria and David Wright, fantasy stalwarts since the middle of last decade, suffered through career-worst seasons, and it’s possible neither will return to his previous heights. After two seasons at his original infield position, Miguel Cabrera shifted back to first base, which is really the least egregious spot for him on the field. The Nationals finally moved Ryan Zimmerman and his unpredictable arm off third and into the outfield, but with Adam LaRoche now on the South Side of Chicago, he'll take over at first. The kings of the position had abdicated their collective throne.

Quick links: Breakout | Sleeper | Bust | Prospect | Early rankings

Meanwhile, a new crop of third basemen picked up the mantle. Anthony Rendon, a 24-year-old who can also play second, hit .287/.351/.473 with 21 homers and 17 steals. Todd Frazier broke out after two years of solid production, belting 29 homers and swiping 20 bags. Defensive whiz Nolan Arenado proved he’s no slouch with the bat, slashing .287/.328/.500 with 18 homers and 34 doubles. Josh Donaldson was one of just four players with at least 25 jacks, 90 RBI and 90 runs—the other three were Cabrera, Mike Trout and Jose Bautista. Kyle Seager swatted 25 homers, drove in 96 runs, and earned himself a seven-year, $100 million extension with the Mariners.

Oh yeah, and Adrian Beltre is still Adrian Beltre.

• Fantasy baseball 2015 draft kit: Everything you need to prep for your draft

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The third-base position went through bit of a lull a few years back, but it has resurged, even with Longoria and Wright falling off last season. Rendon, Donaldson, Beltre and Frazier are all off the board within the first three rounds of a typical 12-team league, with Rendon jumping up into the first round about 50% of the time. Manny Machado will be ready for spring training, Carlos Santana and Chris Davis are now eligible at the position, and the debuts of super-prospect Kris Bryant and Cuban free agent Yasmany Tomas are looming.

Unlike first base where you should strike early, or the middle infield spots where you should do what you can to be one of the first or last to jump in, you can make the third base position fit your needs. From Rendon, Donaldson and Beltre early, to Arenado, Longoria and Seager in the middle, to Bryant, Zimmerman and Matt Carpenter late, fantasy owners can attack the position successfully however they choose.

Auction strategies: Stick to your budget and know how to nominate

That does not, however, mean you can go into a draft or auction without a plan for third base. The players in the top tier will fit any sort of team. In fact, grabbing one of Rendon, Donaldson or Beltre will, in some ways, help shape the way you build the remainder of your team. I believe Arenado is in store for a breakout season, and that makes him my top third-base target this season, given what I believe will be a very cheap price for the production he brings. Last season may represent a ceiling for Longoria, Frazier and Seager, but you probably won’t be hurting if you end up with one these three (depending on Frazier’s price, as we’ll get to in the next section).

If you end up missing out on the top two tiers, you will have to choose wisely among the players in the next two. Quite often, the selection you make will be guided by your existing team construction, rather than best available. For example, Chris Davis would not be a good option for a team that’s already looking down in batting average, while Carpenter would be a bad choice for a team lacking power. If you already have a couple injury risks in your lineup, you’d likely want to stay away from Manny Machado.

Third base should be a fun spot for fantasy owners. It has stars, legitimate breakout candidates, a handful of of players with bounce-back potential and plenty of depth to satisfy any type of strategy.

• ​POSITION PREVIEWS: SP | RP | 1B | 2B | SS | 3B | OF | C

Breakout: Nolan Arenado, Colorado Rockies

We already discussed Arenado’s offensive exploits, and he did that all while winning his second Gold Glove award in as many seasons. The soon-to-be 24-year-old has already established himself as one of the best defenders, at any position, in the majors, and he’s set for a monster offensive season with some of those doubles turning into homers. Last year, Arenado’s average true home-run distance was 408.9 feet, the ninth longest in the league. Some mashers who didn’t quite measure up included Edwin Encarnacion (408.1 feet) and George Springer (405.4 feet). Given his age, there’s reason to believe he’s growing into more power. Arenado missed 51 games due to injury and illness last year. Assuming a season of full or near-full health, .290-25-80-80-5 is well within reason.

Also, defense may not matter in fantasy, but it’s fun to own a player who can do this:

And this:

And this:

Sleeper: Ryan Zimmerman, Washington Nationals

Zimmerman is mercifully flipping to the opposite corner this season, but he’s still eligible at third for fantasy owners this season, and he can provide a major return on investment. Zimmerman's shoulder will be a concern, even though he won’t have to make nearly as many throws this year, and he dealt with a nagging hamstring injury last season. He likely won’t make it through the season unscathed, but he’s going to be productive when on the field. Remember, he hit 25 homers in 2012 and '13, and is surrounded by a very good lineup. He’ll at least hold you steady at batting average and OBP, if not raise whatever rate your league uses. Thanks to the dreadful experiment in left field last year, he carries eligibility at three positions, giving owners a lot of flexibility.

Bust: Todd Frazier, Cincinnati Reds

Frazier isn’t a true bust, because I think he will be productive this season. It’s hard to imagine he'll hit fewer than 20 homers, especially given his age (29) and lack of an injury history. Having said that, his average draft position of 37.93 reflects the market paying for last year’s stats. Another season with 29 homers and 20 steals feels like a stretch, especially when you consider that he had a total of 10 steals in his career heading into 2014. He still struck out more than one-fifth of the time last season, making him a batting average risk. If he comes down to, say, 22 homers and 11 steals, right in the neighborhood of his Steamer projections, he’s not turning a profit for his owners at his draft-day price. I’d like Frazier if he weren’t quite so expensive.

Prospect: Kris Bryant, Chicago Cubs

There wasn’t any controversy here, as Bryant is routinely listed as the best prospect in baseball. You should already know about his minor league exploits, but let’s go over them just for fun. He had exactly 297 plate appearances apiece at Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa last year, his age-22 season. He hit .355/.458/.702 with 22 homers at Tennessee, then slashed .295/.418/.619 with 21 bombs at Iowa. If all goes according to plan, Bryant will be baseball’s next big star and great slugger, and it will start this season.


Steamer projects him to hit 22 homers this season—in 97 games. The Cubs only have to keep him in the minors for about two weeks to delay his free agency a full season, so expect to see him patrolling the hot corner at Wrigley by late April. Yes, strikeouts are a concern here, but he also had a 14.5% walk rate last season and isn’t prone to chasing like fellow Cubs top prospect Javier Baez. There is no ceiling on what Bryant can be this season or in the future. His average draft position lands him in the ninth round of a typical 12-team draft, but you’ll likely have to strike earlier to get him.

Early third baseman rankings

Tier 1

1. Anthony Rendon
2. Adrian Beltre
3. Josh Donaldson

Tier 2

4. Nolan Arenado
5. Evan Longoria
6. Todd Frazier
7. Kyle Seager

Tier 3

8. Chris Davis
9. Matt Carpenter
10. Kris Bryant
11. David Wright
12. Carlos Santana
13. Ryan Zimmerman
14. Manny Machado

Tier 4

15. Pablo Sandoval
16. Aramis Ramirez
17. Daniel Murphy
18. Xander Bogaerts
19. Josh Harrison
20. Yasmany Tomas
21. Chase Headley

Tier 5

22. Brett Lawrie
23. Lonnie Chisenhall
24. Luis Valbuena
25. Martin Prado
26. Nick Castellanos
27. Alex Rodriguez
28. Pedro Alvarez
29. Marcus Semien
30. Aaron Hill

Tier 6

31. Conor Gillaspie
32. Mike Moustakas
33. David Freese
34. Trevor Plouffe
35. Yangervis Solarte
36. Maikel Franco
37. Chris Johnson
38. Will Middlebrooks
39. Brock Holt
40. Juan Uribe

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