Fantasy baseball 2014 draft preview: Third base primer
The hot corner has a history of being a powerful position, as every season three or four third basemen are drafted in the early rounds of most fantasy drafts. The fact the position has Miguel Cabrera at the top for at least one more season (he moves back to first base this year) underlines its importance on Draft Day.
Since 2008, the third base position has averaged just over three 30-home run hitters and nearly four 100-RBI guys each season, and we can expect a similar set of players once again this season.
Entering this year, we find the position a bit top-heavy, with guys like Cabrera and Adrian Beltre in the top tier, and Evan Longoria and David Wright leading a thin second tier. Then, you'll notice a handful of players who broke out in 2013 (like Pedro Alvarez, Matt Carpenter and Josh Donaldson), some injury risks (Manny Machado and Ryan Zimmerman) and inconsistent/aging veterans (Chase Headley, Aramis Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval). Finally, there are some promising young bucks with fantasy viability, like Nolan Arenado, Will Middlebrooks and Mike Moustakas.
However, Brett Lawrie, Martin Prado and Kyle Seager stand out.
Lawrie remains an upside gamble in Toronto, and Seager's had back-to-back promising seasons, posting totals close to 21 HR, 75 RBI, and a .260 batting average. But his 2012 season was better than his 2013, and he's not quite in the upper echelon, yet. Meanwhile, Prado is reliable, if not exciting, but he contributes modestly across the board, as opposed to boosting owners in one category. Remember, though, he has second base and outfield eligibility.
Finally, there are three rookies that have great fantasy potential this season, including Boston's Xander Bogaerts, Detroit's Nick Castellanos (also outfield-eligible for now) and the White Sox's Matt Davidson.
The point is that third-base talent is at the top, but there's plenty of interesting players to consider. Owners just need to decide who they want to target.
Is there a debate at No. 1?
Without question, Miguel Cabrera enters 2014 as the No. 1 third baseman. While Beltre certainly has plenty of positive attributes, the only player impacting leagues more than Cabrera is outfielder Mike Trout.
Let's go over some of Cabrera's important bullet points when looking at his three-year averages:
• Health: From 2011-13, Miggy averaged more at-bats than any player at the position (583).
• Power: He averaged about 20-pct more homers (39) than the second-best third basemen (33).
• Production: He averaged 27-pct more RBI (127) than the second-best third basemen (100).
• Touching home plate: His 108 runs scored average since 2011 are 20 more runs than the second-best third baseman (88).
With that said, if you don't have the chance to draft Cabrera, the second-best third baseman in every bullet point above is Adrian Beltre, who can be taken later in the first round.
Comeback Player: Pablo Sandoval
"Kung Fu Panda" lost some weight this offseason, and reports are saying that it's over 40 pounds. (It's interesting, though, how that happens when he's in a contract year.) This should help improve his base running (not steals, though, as he has just 11 career stolen bases.), and should increase the number of single-base hits. Also, we can assume that his workout regimen will help keep him healthier and off the disabled list for strained muscles. His power may drop some, but that's a gamble worth talking on a guy that has only reached 25 homers once in his career anyway.
Considering the weight loss, the contract year and the fact he's 27 years old and in his prime breakout age, Sandoval looks like a great pick in Round 12 or so.
Breakout: Mike Moustakas
In Moustakas' first three seasons, he hit just .245 with an average of 12 home runs, 48 RBI and 46 runs scored. But the Royals improved offensively last season, with Pedro Grifol as the hitting coach (and George Brett helping out). They helped Moustakas drop his strikeout rate to 16.1 percent last season and consider that his .257 BABIP was among the 10-worst in baseball, which could portend to better days ahead in 2014. He turns 26 this season and might follow Eric Hosmer from a middling player into an above-average one at his position.
Potential Bust: Chase Headley
The fact Headley's in a contract year makes me want to consider him as a sleeper, but he had the third-highest strikeout rate (23.7 percent) among qualified third basemen last season. He turns 30 years old in May, yet he has just one 30-home run season and one 100-RBI effort in his six seasons in the majors. Considering he has hit over .270 just twice in his career, and he always seems to be hurt, (thumb injury and torn meniscus last season), leave this headache for another player.
If you can get him later than Round 14, then you can at least minimize your risk on a player that hasn't shown us enough to be a top-10 third baseman in 2014.
Sleeper: Nolan Arenado
Arenado's final numbers in his rookie season were underwhelming, to say the least, especially for a good hitting prospect in Colorado. He played in 133 games, but finished with just 10 homers and a .267 batting average, while getting on base at a .300 OBP clip. That's not good for fantasy owners, but it's also why he's a great value pick late in 2014 drafts (Round 17 ADP).
It's important to note that he started to figure things out in the second half of last season (.298 BA after the All-Star break).
Arenado will turn 23 years old in April, and it might take a couple seasons before his power develops into the 20-HR range (although, Coors Field can speed up that power boost). But for 2014, a .300-plus season, with 150 Runs/RBI combined isn't bad, he makes a nice fantasy corner infielder with promise.
Top Prospect: Nick Castellanos
Castellanos enters 2014 with nine games played in the outfield from last season, and no games anywhere else in the majors, so outfield is now his primary designation. Don't worry, as he'll gain third-base eligibility about one week into the season, as Cabrera moves over to man first base for the Tigers, to replace Prince Fielder.
Castellanos was the 2012 Futures Game MVP, and he has a chance at beating out Cuban free-agent Jose Abreu of the White Sox as the best hitting rookie of 2014. His ceiling might be close to what Ryan Zimmerman does in an average year, but as a rookie, it's not unreasonable to think he could hit 15 homers with 60-plus RBI and a .270 batting average. For a player with multi-position eligibility (infield and outfield), that makes him a good value pick in the late rounds as a utility player or fifth outfielder.
Our rankings only look at players who play third base as their primary position, or played at least 20 games there in their more recent season in the major leagues. Some other players of note with different eligibility requirements are below:
• 10 games: Jeff Baker (10), Edwin Encarnacion (10), Brandon Inge (10), Jedd Gyorko (13), Kelly Johnson (16), Anthony Rendon (15)
• Five games: Emilio Bonifacio (6), Jurickson Profar (10), Brett Wallace (9)
• One game: Yonder Alonso (1), Jose Bautista (3), Brad Miller (3), Brandon Moss (2), Russell Martin (3), Geovany Soto (1), Mark Trumbo (1),
Note that Hanley Ramirez is no longer eligible at third base, considering he didn't play third base once last season.
David Gonos is a fantasy sports veteran of over 20 years and over 100 fantasy leagues. You can follow/mock him @davidgonos on Twitter.