Fantasy Preview: Third Base

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There was a time when baseball teams were happy with a third baseman who could reach double digits in homers and pick it with the glove. Those days are long gone. In the modern game, almost every team insists on having a true slugger at third base.

As a result, the position is deeper in talent than arguably at any point in baseball history and might be the deepest position in baseball. Consider that our PECOTA projections predict that no fewer than 12 third basemen will be worth $21 or more this season. By comparison, only 9 first basemen -- traditionally the most hitter-laden position -- are predicted to earn that much.

With that much talent at one position, it's hard to go wrong. So while there's a clear top three at the position, if you don't nab one of them there's nothing wrong with biding your time and seeing if someone falls into your lap in the late rounds.

He's coming off one of the best seasons of his Hall of Fame career, and at 32 he's got plenty left. After a winter of drama he's back with the Yankees for the long-term, but don't worry about complacency -- A-Rod has long been motivated to carve his place among the all-time legends. Even though PECOTA forecasts a return to 2006 levels, he still projects as the best third baseman in the game. And that's his downside.

The reigning NL Rookie of the Year should benefit from moving away from a position he clearly had no business playing in the major leagues, and yet his fantasy owner can keep him at third base for another year. Everybody wins! Braun strikes out too much to sustain last year's .324 average, but otherwise there's no reason he can't repeat last year's showing -- and this year he doesn't have to wait until late May to get a callup.

Wright should have won the NL MVP award last season, and he might very well do so this year. His power is a tick below that of Rodriguez and Braun, though he makes up for it with his speed. You can't go wrong with any of these three guys -- there's a huge falloff from here.

With the bat, Cabrera's the equal of the three guys ahead of him, but he offers no help in the stolen base department. While his runs and RBIs should go up in the middle of a stacked Tigers' lineup, he didn't exactly suffer batting behind Hanley Ramirez last year. And don't forget to factor in that he's moving to the more difficult league.

Zimmerman should benefit more than anyone from the Nationals' new digs, which based on its dimensions should be at least somewhat more homer-friendly than RFK. He's hit 90 doubles over the last two years and he's just 23, so if you're looking for a guy who is poised to increase his home run output, here's your man. PECOTA's projection of 24 homers seems awfully low.

And now for something completely different ... you're trading power for speed when you go for Figgins, but a lot of speed: he's averaged 52 steals a year over the past three years. PECOTA sees the loss of playing time last year and is worried about his hamstrings. We know that Figgins was out for a month with broken fingers and was later hampered by a wrist problem, so bid with confidence that he should outrun that steals projection.

Ramirez has quietly become one of the more consistent hitters in baseball, good for around .300-30-100 every year. He strikes out rarely for a power hitter, making him sort of the Magglio Ordonez of third base. Don't expect him to replicate Ordonez's 2007, but he's a steady and underappreciated player at the hot corner.

After a rocky start to his Mariners tenure, Beltre has started to live up to his big contract in Seattle, as much with his glove as with his bat. He reached the majors at such a young age that, even though he's a 10-year veteran, he doesn't turn 29 until after Opening Day. The combination of a big park and a weak offense limits his offensive upside.

How much tolerance do you have for risk? Chipper is due at least one injury every year -- he hasn't played as many as 140 games in a season since 2003 -- but at-bat for at-bat he's as good a hitter as anyone at the position. If you play in a shallow league and can pick up something decent during his inevitable trip to the DL, Chipper's value goes up accordingly.

You know third base is a deep position when our 10th-place finisher hit .301-25-111 last year ... and it was an off-year. He's more of a line-drive hitter than a guy who launches moonshots, but Coors Field means he's good for at least 20-25 homers anyway. After a horrific start, after June 1 he hit .338/.400/.559, or essentially how he hit in 2006. If he gets back to that, this projection is low.

Gordon was Baseball Prospectus' No. 1 prospect in all the land last season ... and then hit .172 over the season's first two months. But from that point on he hit .284 with 12 homers and even added 10 steals. Betting on a Royals prospect to break through is always risky, but Gordon has serious five-category potential. If everything breaks right, he's the new Chipper Jones.

He's coming off a career year at age 33, and there's likely to be at least one or two Red Sox fans in your draft willing to bid him up. He should have a decent season, but at a position that's as loaded as third base, there are plenty of better options to gamble on.