A position that once held so much quality depth, the Third Base spot has gotten surprisingly thin. Sure, it’s still better than some other positions, but it definitely isn’t what it used to be. Once you run out of the top two players or so, thing take a drastic, risky turn. Of course, there are still some mashers at the hot corner, but it has been volatile recently and you could get burned. Who’s a sure bet and who’s not?
1. Evan Longoria: likely the safest bet at the position, Longo and the Rays will likely exceed all expectations once again in 2012. Evan will hit third all year long and be between 34-38 homeruns with a shot at 40+. He gets his RBI’s and walks at a very impressive clip. His average was down in ’11 but he was unlucky at the plate and I would expect him to bounce back to the .280+ range. With excellent power and proven record, this potential MVP he should go very quickly.
2. Adrian Beltre: clearly the best pure power at the position, you could make a case for Beltre at #1 here. He’s older, though, and has had his share of run-ins with the DL. Playing in Arlington, he can’t help but mash and should be a lock for 35+ dingers in 2012. The Rangers score a ton of runs so he’ll collect the RBI’s, too, while playing with a nice average. He doesn’t walk at all, but his other characteristics make up for it. This is a big time offensive player.
3. Pablo Sandoval: Kung Fu Panda is back! At least, I hope so. After some serious concerns, Pablo rebounded in a big way last season. The Giants should be marginally better on offense in 2012 and the Panda should benefit. We know he can hit for average, but the best sign was his power coming back. If he maintains, look for something along the lines of .310/28/95. Not bad, all things considered. Health is once again a potential concern, but after you read the rest of this list, you’ll find a way to embrace it.
4. Alex Rodriguez: Ah, A-Rod. What do you make of this guy? Just be happy you’re not paying his actual salary! Fourth is a bit of a gamble here because, at his age, you just don’t know how much A-Rod you’re going to get. The power was down last year and the strikeouts were up, both signs of an aging player with a slowing bat. Where you take him just depends on how much faith you have in the guy, as his track record speaks for itself. Could he hit 35 bombs? Sure. Drive in over 100? You bet. Big emphasis on “could” here, because if he misses a third of the season, you are going to have to seriously tamper your expectations. He could carry your team or be a bust, so be careful.
5. Kevin Youkilis: the “Greek God of Walks” (shout out to my Moneyball brethren), this Red Sox leader experienced a bump in the road in 2012. Injured for a good chunk of the season, the Youker’s power was down but some other stats stayed respectable. He continues to drive runners in and, if he can stay healthy all year, should benefit from another season in a potent lineup. Youkilis is a safe bet but probably doesn’t have the potential that those above him do. Very solid player and a good value, especially if he slides a bit.
6. Aramis Ramirez: things get pretty dicey here. I feel like the next three guys can be arranged any way you want them because they all have serious question marks. Ramirez will be attempting to replace Prince Fielder in the Brewer’s lineup, so he should collect his RBI’s . Coming off a few poor seasons, he rebounded in a big way last year, but the question remains: is he back for good or was last year a fluke for an aging player? He can hit close to 30 homers and drive in 100 without killing you with strikeouts, but his durability is a question mark. Ryan Braun being out of the lineup for the first 50 games will have an impact, too.
7. Ryan Zimmerman: I like his upside and he’s been solid in the past, but Zim had a down year in 2011 after missing over 50 games with injury. The Nats star was decent when he came back and can hit for average but won’t wow you with is power numbers. Sure, he’s capable of 25-30 homeruns, but that’s far from a sure thing. If Jayson Werth can pick things up and the Nationals are as good as advertised, Zimmerman could surprise. I like him, especially this far down the list.
8. Michael Young: the uber-utility Ranger has one of the most steady sticks in the game. He plays everyday, has tons of positional flexibility and won’t kill you with strikeouts because of his contact skills. There’s only one problem: you should celebrate if he hits more than 12 homeruns all season. His bat plays much more like a second baseman, with a high average and lots of runs. He’s been driving in more runs lately, too, so there’s some upside. He’s dependable but won’t get you the much-coveted power stats.
9. David Wright: one of my personal favorites, I long for the days when Wright was drafted in the top 10 fantasy players and the Mets were fun to watch. In the middle of dumping salary and rebuilding (see: Jose Reyes), the Mets are a weak overall lineup and Wright has paid the price. His walks are good, but he strikes out way too often. He’s been injured lately also, so there’s plenty of reasons he’s slipped. He’s a rare 20-20 threat at the position and, if he gets right (no pun intended), he could have some big upside. A rebound would look something like .285/24/90, but that’ far from a sure thing.
10. David Freese: coming off a fantastic World Series, Freese is looking forward to his first full season in the big leagues. He’s a reasonable third base starter, but don’t get caught up in the hype of his postseason performance. His stats aren’t that impressive, but they really aren’t that bad either. He can put together a decent average and should get a good chance to help replace Albert Pujols’ RBI’s. He strikes out a ton and doesn’t walk much at all (signs of a young hitter), plus he only has average raw power. He’s a potential starter, but there’s a reason why he’s at the back of this list.
There aren’t too many guys that I would call sleepers at this position because it’s relatively thin. To find added depth, focus on the younger guys, like Lonnie Chisenhall. An emerging Indian, Chisenhall is finally starting to live up to his billing and should get a full season of time in the bigs in 2012. Mike Moustakas for the Royals is very similar: former top prospect who is getting his first crack at a full season. These two could go undrafted and be worth a waiver claim if they start hot.
Continuing my trend of old, aging players, stay away from Chipper Jones, at least early in the draft. I’m not about to say he isn’t worth a pick, but I wouldn’t put him on my roster and expect him to really contribute for any more than half a season. While he can still hit, he is slowing down at the dish and signs suggest that his value is diminishing. If you can’t help yourself, make sure you use protection (as in, draft a reliable back up).