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Mike Moustakas: Fantasy's Next Elite Third Baseman?

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Coming into 2012, the Royals Mike Moustakas was a trendy sleeper pick in fantasy drafts. "Moose Tacos," a variation on Moustakas that I can’t get enough of, had all the makings of the next great star as an above average, power-hitting third baseman smack in the middle of a young and talented Kansas City lineup.

As we all know, fantasy doesn’t always become reality, as is the case with the 2012 version of Moustakas. I wouldn’t blame you for not noticing the 23-year old for the better part of the last two months. Since the All-Star break, he’s hitting a pedestrian .217/.266/.350 with just 4 home runs and 16 RBI. Prior to the break, he was hitting .268/.327/.490 with 15 home runs and 47 RBI.

That’s all led to being the 21st ranked third baseman on ESPN’s Player Rater, behind the likes of Chipper Jones, Marco Scutaro, Mike Aviles and Kyle Seager.

The lack of stolen bases, in this case, 3, figures heavily into ESPN’s Player Rater, but seeing Moustakas ranked behind Scutaro and Seager is still disappointing for fantasy owners that counted on him being a permanent fixture at the hot corner.

A closer look at Moustakas after the jump:

Here are Moustakas' numbers, broken down by month:

March/April: .315/.375/.534, 3 HR, 12 RBI

May: .240/.305/.448, 5 HR, 12 RBI

June: .250/.324/.450, 5, 14 RBI

July: .247/.265/.412, 3 HR, 12 RBI

August: .213/.276/.382, 3 HR, 13 RBI

While no single month really jumps out at you, it’s not hard to see what’s going on here. Moustakas’ OPS has slipped each month, all the way from .534 in March and April to .382 in August. At this point, it’s probably safe to say that Moustakas' first full season in the majors is catching up to him.

The main difference between 2011 and 2012 for Moustakas is a 19.0% strikeout rate, up from 14.0% last year. In addition to his overall contact rate going down (79.0% this year, 85.5% last year), he’s also swinging at more pitches outside the strike zone and making contact less often on those pitches (68.2% this year, 76.8% last year).

Still, the good news is that Moustakas’ power seems legit. His .191 ISO ranks 6th among qualifying third baseman, right behind David Wright and Hanley Ramirez, and before David Freese and Ryan Zimmerman. His HR/FB rate has also increased tremendously (10.6% this year, 4.2% last year), which could suggest more power is on the way.

For next year, Moustakas should easily find himself in the top-10 at third base, with the potential for much more. With Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion losing third base eligibility in the majority of fantasy leagues, the only four third baseman I definitively have ranked ahead of Moustakas are Miguel Cabrera, Wright, Adrian Beltre and Hanley Ramirez. After that, there are question marks for players like Alex Rodriguez, Zimmerman, Freese, Pablo Sandoval, Chase Headley, Pedro Alvarez and Brett Lawrie.

Remember it was last September when Moustakas really put things together and caught our attention, hitting .352/.380/.580 down the stretch. While I don’t expect Moustakas to turn a complete 180 in the final month, I’ll be watching closely to see if he makes the proper adjustments at the plate, most notably by cutting down on strikeouts. If he does, Moustakas can provide value similar to the elite third baseman in the game, and that’s the kind of player I expect Moose Tacos to become.