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State of the Position: Third base in 2021

A survey of the hot corner with a fantasy baseball slant.

Getty Images/Pete Rogers Illustrations

It doesn’t take a genius to know that we are looking for power at this position. Sure, there are some multi-eligible types who have a different skill set. But in general, this is a position we are looking to for power numbers.

The Undisputed: Jose Ramirez

Ramirez is the far and away the top option at third base, and he needs no introduction. Just check out these HR/SB totals since 2016:

2016: 11/22
2017: 29/17
2018: 39/34
2019: 23/24 (only 129 games)
2020: 17/10 (58 games)

Ramirez’s plate discipline in 2020 was nearly identical to 2019, something I always like to see. And one bonus for fantasy baseball is that J-Ram hits a ton of fly balls and line drives. His 30.1% ground ball rate from 2020 was similar to career norms, and it was the fifth-lowest ground ball rate in the majors. Ahead of him were Mike Trout, Joey Gallo, Adam Duvall, and Trevor Story. Gallo (35%) and Duvall (25.8%) are massive batting average liabilities. But Trout, Story, and Ramirez are all first-rounders for a reason. Don’t overthink it. Power AND speed at third base? Take this production to the bank in Round 1 in 2021.

The Super Six: Manny Machado, DJ LeMahieu, Nolan Arenado, Anthony Rendon, Rafael Devers, Alex Bregman

Forgive me my silly monikers. I have to cluster these guys somehow. And anyway, I actually view this as a group of five third basemen, and one second baseman. I know you CAN play DJ LeMahieu at third, but that doesn’t mean you should. Slot that man into the keystone, folks. As for the rest of these guys, they possess fairly similar profiles. Here are the Steamer projections with current NFBC ADPs, whom I have dubbed the “Fantastic Five”:

The Fantastic Five

Manny Machado 24.22 36 96 108 9 0.273
Nolan Arenado 41.17 31 85 97 3 0.261
Rafael Devers 44.13 34 99 103 7 0.287
Anthony Rendon 44.52 27 91 95 3 0.273
Alex Bregman 46.3 31 100 99 5 0.276

Honestly, I have a hard time paying up for Machado. I don’t view him as much more elite in any category compared to his peers here. If anything, you’re paying more for his stability. Arenado now has some questions outside of the cozy confines of Coors field, what with his career .263 road batting average and the obvious park downgrade. Overall, I’m willing to take whatever discount my draft gives me with this grouping—the “faller” of Devers, Rendon, or Bregman. You’re looking at a bunch of No. 3 and No. 4 hitters, with the exception of Bregman (who should bat second for Houston). Devers may chip in a bit more speed, Bregman should score more runs...but overall it’s a similar-looking and solid group.

The Values: Matt Chapman, Gio Urshela, Josh Donaldson

Chapman’s 118 ADP as the 14th third baseman off the board is just silly, and Urshela is a sneaky play in a fearsome New York Yankees lineup. For some reason, Donaldson is a polarizing figure in fantasy baseball circles right now, but I don’t get the hate. He’s a proven hitter in a strong Twins’re basically getting a huge injury discount with him. I’m willing to take that shot on him, as his price is that of a corner infielder. I’d have more trepidation if he were being drafted aggressively, but he isn’t. There will be more on all of these guys to come this week...

The Sleepers: Brian Anderson, Jeimer Candelario, Kyle Seager

I’m a Braves fan, and I can’t give you a valid argument as to why Brian Anderson is being selected two rounds later than a guy like Austin Riley. I must be a sucker for “floor” options. Candelario butchered southpaws last year (200 wRC+, .250 ISO, .466 wOBA) and held his own against right-handed pitchers. The .372 BABIP probably won’t repeat, but the 27-year-old switch hitter has some value as a corner infield option with 1B/3B eligibility. Seager had a bit of a renaissance in 2020, crushing nine homers and swiping five bags over a full 60 games. This is likely the solid veteran’s last year in Seattle, and I’d imagine he hits well enough so that the Mariners can squeeze every last ounce of value out of him. He had a career-best 13.3% strikeout rate in 2020, so it’s not like his bat is in rapid decline.

The One to Avoid: Tommy Edman

Look, I’ll admit that the quadruple-eligibility is tantalizing. Edman is truly a Swiss Army knife, what with the 2B/3B/SS/OF tags after his name. However, the ADP of 120 or so is kinda crazy to me. I’d prefer him the most as a middle infield option, but not as a starter at any of said positions (which is how he’s being drafted). I’m also pretty much guaranteed to pay up for second base this year, and I want power from my third base spot. Shortstop is so deep—do you really want Edman as your starter there? I think we are suffering from a case of the NFBC here—drafters who need to cover for injuries in a long season are coveting his eligibility. But in typical redraft leagues, you don’t need to pay out of the nose for his services. I’d much rather take a shot on Dylan Carlson’s 140 ADP if it’s a potential leadoff man in St. Louis that I’m chasing. Paul DeJong (204 ADP) also holds a lot of value as the potential No. 2 hitter.

The Prospect to Watch: Ke’Bryan Hayes

Typically this is legitimately a “watch” spot. But Hayes has already burst onto the scene, slashing .376/.442/.682 over his 24-game sample last year. There’s no way in you-know-what that his .450 BABIP repeats, but Hayes’ five homers and one steal over said time frame were admirable. The No. 2 prospect for Pittsburgh posted a 79th percentile sprint speed in 2020, a shiny 92.8 MPH average exit velocity, and an above average 9.2% barrel rate. And while the BABIP will drop, he still had a .300 xBA over his limited time in 2020. A 55.4% hard hit rate—as well as the foot speed—give him something of a floor with regard to BABIP and batting average. His worst MiLB strikeout rate was 18.8%, too...which means last year’s 21.1% K-rate in the majors should hold steady, if not improve. He’s a unique profile as your starting third baseman. Not as much power as you’re used to, but if you’re solid on power but light on speed, he’ll make sense for your team at his 150 ADP. I’ve also been in drafts where he’s dropped to right around 170, and I’ve eagerly taken the plunge at that juncture.

Overall, I’d say third base is a strong position with a lot of depth this year. If you don’t do well with your starting man at the hot corner in 2021, you’re probably way behind the curve. There’s more to come on most of these guys as we work our way through the week...but if there’s a name you’re curious about, please drop it in the comments and let us explore alongside you!