Compared to their counterparts in the American League, the third basemen in the NL don't do the position a whole lot of justice. David Wright is really the only bona fide early-round selection of the crop, while those who rank just behind the Mets third baseman (Ryan Zimmerman, Matt Carpenter, Pedro Alvarez) hold plenty of question marks heading into 2014.
But that's why we're here to help you out. For those of you in NL-only leagues, let's take a look at the third basemen who could just spark your lineup.
Nolan Arenado, Rockies
Arenado began 2013 in Triple-A, but after he compiled a 1.059 OPS in his first 75 plate appearances there, the Rockies realized that it was time to promote their third base prospect to the show. Arenado put up respectable but unspectacular fantasy numbers in his 133 games with Colorado, with a .267 batting average, 10 home runs and 52 RBI.
Why, then, should you expect him to make an improvement in 2014? For one, Arenado showed solid gap-hitting ability last season, stroking 29 doubles in just 486 at bats. That lends confidence to his power prospects in the future, which look especially bright given the location of his home field. (Coors Field can turn gap hitters into power hitters in a flash.)
Arenado also struck out only 72 times last season, meaning his ability to consistently put the ball in play could morph its way into a higher batting average. The flip side of that is that Arenado drew only 23 walks, though according to mlb.com, he's working on slowing his at bats down and thus improving his eye at the plate.
Because of his fielding prowess (he won the Gold Glove last season), Arenado is all but guaranteed a spot in the Rockies lineup even if he slumps at any given point. Add the fact that he plays half his games at Coors Field and he has a full season in the majors under his belt, and the young third baseman looks set for a big performance in 2014.
Todd Frazier, Reds
After a rough 2013 that included an alarmingly low .234 batting average, Frazier will look to return to the 2012 numbers the posted during his rookie campaign (.273/.331/.498). For a variety of reasons that I'm about to delve into, expect him to do just that.
Of course, that's not to say you should expect Frazier to hit .300, or even .290 for that matter. He'll contend for a .280 average in a best-case scenario, but his real value comes in his power, which remained in 2013 (to a certain degree) despite the concerning dip in average. (Frazier hit 19 homers in 2014, equaling his 2013 total, albeit in nearly 150 more plate appearances.)
Also worth noting is the ever-important BABIP, a category in which only five other players in the National League ranked worse than Frazier, according to Fangraphs. Frazier's .269 number should only increase going forward, and just how much it goes up will essentially determine his fate in 2014.
Perhaps what's most promising about Frazier's prospects this year is that he hits behind Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips and Jay Bruce. (Hopefully in front of Ryan Ludwick...) That's a pretty solid group of guys who'll act as potential RBI opportunities for Frazier, especially if they're all able to maintain (or even improve upon) their 2013-level production; now, if only the Reds third baseman can capitalize.
Cody Asche, Phillies
Part of what makes Asche such a potentially valuable fantasy player is his comprehensive set of skills. He'll hit for average (.300 average in Double-A, .295 average in Triple-A), power (15 HRs in Triple-A in just 446 PAs) and steal bases (double digit totals in each of the past three minor league seasons). He doesn't do any of those things particularly well, but he's solid in all three facets.
Additionally, Asche has solid gap-hitting ability, like Arenado, which means he sets himself up to drive in and score runs. (67 combined doubles and triples in the last two years.) He's also improved his walk rate in each of his last three minor league stops, which puts him on the road to becoming an even more complete player.
Asche didn't impress in his stint with the Phillies last season, and he'll have to compete with Maikel Franco to win the starting role at third. But the threat of Franco taking over his everyday job only means Asche won't grow complacent in his role, which could work to the latter's advantage. Either way, it's unlikely Franco earns his way onto the Opening Day roster, much less grabs the starting role. That's not to say Franco won't make an impact in 2014 as well; he can still earn playing time at first base if he makes it to the big league club.
But Franco hardly has half a season of experience at Double-A, meaning he has plenty of growing left to do. 2015 might be a different story, but for now, third base is Asche's spot to lose from day one.
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