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State of the Position: Third Base

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Heath surveys third base with a fantasy baseball slant.

MLB: Chicago Cubs at Arizona Diamondbacks Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

The spring rains and the SLOW warming up of the weather always reminds me that baseball is coming. A cursory search of the hashtag #PitchersAndCatchers on Twitter is enough to make even the hardest baseball heart flutter (it’s Valentine’s day, work with me here).

At first glance, third base looks like it falls off of a cliff pretty soon. The No. 6 guy is a prospect with service-time concerns (albeit an uber-talented one), the No. 9 guy may not start on his own team all year (Andujar), and the No. 12 guy is a major question mark (Donaldson). Of course, we could look back after 2019 and be slapping ourselves at ignoring the depth of the hot corner, especially if Donaldson’s health results in a vintage year and if Andujar gets a season-long leash in Yankee Stadium. Justin Turner and Wil Myers remaining healthy would help this position out as well. And I suppose that is the trend that I see—a surplus of veterans that need only to stay healthy.

Anyway, let’s get into an overview of the position.

BASIC STATS

.251/.324/.425 triple slash

8.9% walk rate, 20.8% strikeout rate, .174 ISO

.323 wOBA, 102 wRC+

First basemen had a .182 ISO and a healthier 9.6% walk rate, as well as a similar .250/.328/.432 slash line. Third basemen struck out less, as first basemen sported a 22.5% K-rate a year ago. In general, though, these two positions look pretty similar. But year’s numbers do read like first base is probably a tad bit better and a tad bit deeper.

There’s more speed to be found at third, as third basemen swiped 245 bags league-wide in 2018, while first basemen only stole 156 (the lowest of the infield spots not named catcher). This makes sense when you consider the additional range that playing third base requires.

So third basemen are more powerful than the two middle infield spots, but a hair below first basemen. But they offered more speed than their first base counterparts a year ago. Let’s scope out some specific players and their NFBC ADPs.

THE ELITES: Jose Ramirez and Nolan Arenado

Jose Ramirez (3.87) and Nolan Arenado (9.49) are both first round picks according to NFBC. There was previously a debate between Ramirez and Francisco Lindor for the No. 3 spot behind Mike Trout and Mookie Betts, but with Lindor’s uncertain recovery time Ramirez is now the clear No. 3 option in most people’s minds (and formats).

In a word, Arenado represents “floor.” He won’t steal bases, but he is as sturdy a four-category contributor as one can find. He’s not been below 38 homers, 110 RBIs, 100 runs, or a .294 batting average during any of his last three seasons. So a safe projection would be .290 with 35 homers, 100 runs and 100 RBIs, with room for more. He is 27 years old and he plays his home games in the thin air of Coors Field. He just signed a one-year, $26 million deal for 2019, so it appears he is safely residing in Colorado all season. Arenado is as safe an investment as you can make after the top three guys are drafted.

THE NEAR ELITES: Alex Bregman and Kris Bryant

Bregman (12.05) has a steep ADP, one I can’t get behind. I view him as a sum-of-all-the-parts sort of guy, and I won’t own him much when I can wait two rounds to draft Kris Bryant (35.26). Bryant battled shoulder ailments in 2018, but is currently 100% healed up for 2019. I can’t get behind the idea that he is no longer an upper-echelon talent simply because of shoulder woes from a year ago. The disparity between Bregman and Bryant surprises me. I listed Bryant as a “near elite,” but that is in accordance with ADP. I will draft this Cub aggressively in 2019.

THE GUY TO AVOID: Miguel Andujar

Andujar might seem like an easy avoid to some. There would be questions about his role for sure in the event of a Manny Machado signing. I’m not saying that’s going to happen. I am not a psychic. However, the recent interest by the Yankees into Nolan Arenado is a bit of a concern, too. Andujar does some things well, as evidenced by last year’s Z-Swing% (74.0%). In a nutshell, Andujar was above-average in terms of his recognition of pitches in the zone. He made plenty of contact overall and in the zone, too. However, he swing a lot (about 9% more than the MLB average) and swings out of the zone a lot (again, about 9% more than average). If pitchers adjust to this tendency, he’ll have to prove he can adjust to the adjustments. It might sound like a thin reason to avoid him—especially when he does some things well—but those reasons coupled with a potential trade to a poor team and/or a poor hitting environment have me skittish at his 70.56 NFBC ADP.

THE SLEEPER: Ian Happ

This one is simply a matter of potential versus a minuscule ADP. Happ’s ADP of 260.67 is basically nothing, as after him there is the solid but uninspiring Asdrubal Cabrera, and then players who are limited in power (Isiah Kiner-Falefa, Brian Anderson). Taking a chance on Happ’s toolsy profile is savvy, as he showed gains in his chase rate last year and offers a nice mix of power and speed. He is also eligible in the outfield, and could potentially add second base to his repertoire. He needs to show improvement in his contact and strikeout rates, something that I could definitely see the 24-year-old doing in his third MLB season.

My honorable mention is Johan Camargo, who is currently slated to serve in a super-utility role for Atlanta. However, it only takes one injury (or perhaps some prolonged ineptitude by Dansby Swanson with the stick) to open up more possibilities. I can’t confidently bank on him, but in shallow leagues Camargo is on my watch list and in large formats I’ll take a shot on him at his pick 311.28 ADP.

THE PROSPECT TO WATCH: Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

I know we have all basically anointed Vladimir Guerrero Jr. as an inner circle Hall-of-Famer, but he is still a prospect. It sounds like Toronto may pull the service-time junk with Vladdy to begin the year, too—meaning we don’t know exactly when or if he will get the call to the Majors. He should, of course, but it’s still something you’ll have to endure if you draft him.

Zack elaborated eloquently on Vlad in his post from this morning, so be sure to check out more on Guerrero and the other prospects at the hot corner.

That’s it for the overview. Who do you guys like at third base? Who am I missing?