A reminder: These rankings are based on position eligibility. Players who are eligible at multiple positions will be ranked in comparison with others at each relevant position. You will also note asterisks next to the sames of certain players. These players have what I think are health risks. Health concerns have been taken in to consideration for my rankings, which combine expected talent with expected playing time to yield expected production.
Position eligibility and evaluation criteria for these rankings is explained here.
Rank Name Team Oliver Slash (2011)**
1 David Wright Mets .291/.371/.491
2 Evan Longoria Rays .286/.364/.532
3 Ryan Zimmerman Nationals .294/.366/.509
4 Alex Rodriguez* Yankees .267/.357/.479
5 Kevin Youkilis Red Sox .290/.383/.521
6 Adrian Beltre FA .276/.323/.449
7 Jose Bautista Blue Jays .239/.347/.478
8 Aramis Ramirez* Cubs .259/.327/.446
9 Pablo Sandoval Giants .305/.357/.506
10 Mark Reynolds Orioles .222/.323/.479
11 Martin Prado* Braves .290/.341/.437
12 Pedro Alvarez Pirates .245/.330/.460
13 Michael Young Rangers .277/.328/.419
14 Ian Stewart Rockies .234/.321/.441
15 David Freese Cardinals .262/.322/.413
16 Casey McGehee Brewers .273/.325/.426
17 Chipper Jones* Braves .263/.373/.415
18 Scott Rolen* Reds .271/.343/.413
19 Chase Headly Padres .264/.333/.403
20 Jhonny Peralta Tigers .256/.315/.408
*Assuming health (which means assuming the amount of health I expect from them).
**Oliver's 2011 projections have been updated since these. Most of the projections are essentially similar, but for the most up-to-date projections, subscribe to THT Forecasts by clicking here. If you are unsure of whether to subscribe to THT Forecasts, you can read about why I love THT Forecasts by clicking here
In my world, third base is deep. ESPN (well, maybe just Matthew Berry and Nate Ravitz) and other "experts" I guiltily follow, rave about how the modern third base position is annually shallow and a successful fantasy year will require you to reach early and reach often. Fear not, however: Not only is third base deep, but it is so deep that you can sit on the position until quite late and exploit others' need for a third baseman early.
Third basemen, like catchers and closers, are a dime a dozen outside the top tier. If you have the chance to nab David Wright or Evan Longoria in the first round or Alex Rodriguez or Ryan Zimmerman after pick 20, by all means you should jump on that. If you can't get these guys at a reasonable price, however, you might as well wait, because third base offers plenty of value picks.
Take, for instance, the case of Jose Bautista. Here is the "word on the street" about Jose Bautista: He came out of nowhere to hit 54 home runs in 2010 with 109 runs, 124 RBI and nine stolen bases to boot. With 59 career home runs over 2,038 plate appearances entering the 2010 season, Bautista got extremely lucky and is going to be overrated in 2010.
That is the gist of what I hear talking fantasy these days. To some extent, I agree. Bautista is going to regress in 2011. But regression for Bautista in my mind is 30-plus home runs, not 10 or 15. Look at Bautista's spray chart and home run statistics. Bautista is an extreme pull hitter who plays half of his games in a park which greatly favors pull hitters. Toronto and Bautista are a fantasy match for home runs made in heaven.
Now, it is true that Bautista led the AL in "just enough" home runs with 13. However, he also lead the league in "no doubt" home runs with 19. Furthermore, Bautista's average home run distance (402.4 feet) and average ball-of-the-bat speed (106.6 mph) were both above the major league average for hitters (396.5 feet, 103.3 mphH). His power did not entirely come out of nowhere, either. In September 2009, Bautista jacked 10 home runs over 125 plate appearances. Bautista also showed some decent power in the minors for the Pirates, though that never really materialized at the major league level until the end of 2009 (unless you consider his 46 home runs over three years, 1,507 plate appearances, a manifestation).
I doubt that Bautista will touch 40 home runs again, but I am banking on 30-35 with good run/RBI totals. Oliver claims 28, but over only 533 plate appearances (a playing time threshold I expect Bautista to clear). He is likely to be a batting average risk (ignore the favorable BABIP/xBABIP splits, as a decline in home runs is likely to offset the gap), but less so than Mark Reynolds, Adam Dunn or Carlos Pena (two of whom play non-premium positions), and fantasy owners seem to perpetually overdraft them. In my early early mocks, Bautista is going in round seven. If that keeps up, you have 2011 best value sleeper for third base.
Even if Bautista (or Pablo Sandoval, who I like a lot to bounce back in 2011 to hit 20-25 home runs with a .290+ batting average) goes way too early for your liking, there is plenty of late round value to be had at third base. Take Ian Stewart, who I expect to hit .260 with 25 home runs, 80-plus R/RBI and five-10 stolen bases to boot. I have him ranked as my No. 14 third basemen, meaning you will definitely get him in a 10-team league (even one with a corner-infielder-requirement) and that you will likely get him in a 12-team league if you do not wait for the bench-drafting period.
Did you miss out on Ian Stewart too? Try David Freese, capable of a .290+ batting average, 20 home runs and some good run/RBI totals if slotted in the middle of the Cardinals lineup. He is sitting pretty at No. 14. The moral of this story is that even in a 14-team league, the worst third baseman will likely produce 20-plus home runs with good run/RBI totals. Compare that to second base or shortstop rankings, where the only guys outside the top eight who are so capable are Danny Espinosa, Rickie Weeks, Aaron Hill, and maybe Kelly Johnson.
It should also be noted that Chipper Jones has decided that he is not retiring. Jones is a sleeper play in deeper leagues (especially those which value OBP), capable of hitting above .280 with 20 home run power and quality run/RBI numbers. Jones is not a primary option due to his advanced age and perpetual health problems, but he could make a solid fill-out-the-roster player, platoon partner or bench warmer.
Now, of the controversial rankings, I expect people to scratch their heads over Alex Rodriguez and Mark Reynolds. With respect to A-Rod, his lingering hip issues and advanced age preclude me from banking on double digit steals and a robust batting average. Compared to Zimmerman, you sacrifice a few homers for a much safer, productive expected batting average. I expect A-Rod and Zimmerman to swipe a relatively equal number of bases. Reynolds is either too low or too high, depending on which camp you are in. To those who put a premium on power in "era of the pitcher," aka the era of better steroid test, Reynolds combination of 30 home runs with double digit stolen base potential is undeniably arousing, but Reynolds is also undeniably one of the five biggest, if not the biggest, batting average risks in baseball. If Reynolds were to sacrifice a goat this offseason, his batting average ceiling would be around .260. He's really just Carlos Pena, with steals, at third base. To those who hate Mark Reynolds, I remind you that 30 home run power is a premium these days; especially when it comes paired with stolen bases.
The rest of the list should be pretty self-explanatory. Martin Prado is still a valuable corner-middle infield option, but his light contributions all around give him a limited ceiling at third base that precludes him from being ranked higher. Chase Headley offers 15/15 upside and could make a solid $1 CI buy for deeper leagues, but he's not done much of much so far in his career and he is now three years removed from being a "top prospect", though he is just 26...Headly is not worth a starting third base job outside of NL-only fantasy rosters, however.
As always, leave the love/hate in the comments. You can also follow me on twitter.
Jeffrey Gross is a 23-year old law student (and Cubs fan) who currently resides in Madison, WI. In addition to writing for The Hardball Times, he currently writes baseball analysis for the Game Of Inches blog under the pseudonym David "MVP" Eckstein and has previously worked for The Daily Illini and Northern Star newspapers as a film critic and sportswriter (respectively). You can reach him by email at email@example.com
or by comment at http://www.gameofinches.blogspot.com
Read more great baseball stuff at The Hardball Times.