Let me start by pointing out that Hanley Ramirez would be my #2 at this position if he was eligible from the start because he has shortstop eligibility as well, and for a player this talented to be available to you at either of the two shallowest spots on the field, that’s invaluable. But he’s not eligible yet, and neither is Miguel Cabrera, who would be #1 if he was eligible. Both are expected to gain eligibility in April.
Contrary to most of my fantasy writer counterparts, I have Evan Longoria ahead of Jose Bautista at third base this season. Longoria is my #1 and Bautista #2. Bautista has shown his 2010 power eruption was real by posting similar numbers in 2011, but he’s still 31 and while he may get to 35 or even 40 HR, I don’t expect him to hit .300 again. It’s hard to project him for less than 100 runs and 100 RBI when his home runs could give him 40 of each on his own, but if he hits between 30-35 homers, then I doubt he makes it to 100 of either. With 43 HR in 2011, he barely passed 100 of each.
Meanwhile, Longoria is only 26, and has three straight seasons of 99+ RBI. Even more impressive, combine his 2009 and 2010 (when he was just 23 and 24) and Longoria torched the league for .288, 55 HR, 217 RBI, 196 runs scored, and 24 steals. That’d be averages of 27 HR, 108 RBI, 98 runs and 12 steals… at 23 and 24 years old! Even in a down year, average wise, Longo hit 31 HR and had 99 RBI. This is a guy you can draft expecting .280, 30, 100, 100, and maybe even 10 steals and there’s upside for .300/35 HR (or more) and 15 steals (in 2010, he hit .294 with 15 SB).
There’s a significant drop off after the top two. Personally, I like David Wright at #3 and Ryan Zimmerman at #4. At this point, due to injury concerns, I am forced to put Adrian Beltre at #6 because I just don’t see #7 Alex Rodriguez or #8 Kevin Youkilis making it to 145+ games, at which point, both would produce 30 HR, 90 runs and 100 RBI.
Again, I will deviate from others and put Pablo Sandoval at #9, coming off .315 and 23 home runs, Sandoval is still just 25. Aramis Ramirez comes it at #10, but this guy will be in my bust column because of his home/road splits when he was in Chicago. Going to Milwaukee, I’m concerned, and a lineup that once featured two mammoth hitters and would have provided significant run production for Ramirez, now looks barren with one in Detroit and the other facing suspension.
I was close to putting Michael Young ahead of Ramirez because of the safety factor. You’re looking at around .300 average, close to 80 runs, 15 HR and 90+ RBI. This is a guy who knocked in 106 RBI last year with only 11 home runs. He’s automatic with runners in scoring position.
Now, I’m going to remind you of something I said about Mark Reynolds in my first base preview…
“I’m actually going to add one more thing, because I can’t resist. The 28-year-old Mark Reynolds… yes he’s led MLB in strikeouts the last three years… but he got under 200 Ks last year for the first time since 2007… He has 28 home runs and 85+ RBI and 79+ runs in each of the last four seasons. So we’re talking about a guy that’s 30/80/80 in the bank. And with a career batting average of .238, if he could get it to the .250 range… get past the strikeouts for a moment. AND… AND… he’s third base eligible, one of the ugliest positions in fantasy.”
The next three guys will fall in different order depending on your risk-tolerance. If you like to play it very safe, Martin Prado is your guy. The average should get back up to around .280 with 13-16 HR and he might score 80 runs, limited upside but limited downside as well.We’ve talked about Ryan Roberts in the second base rankings, but he’s becoming one of my favorite picks in early mocks because there’s enough risk to scare some people, but I think there’s limited downside. You’re looking at .250-.270, 15-20 HR and 15-20 SB. Finally, for those who take on risk for the biggest upside, I introduce Brett Lawrie. In 43 games last year, Lawrie batted .293 with a .953 OPS, 9 HR, 7 SB, 26 R and 25 RBI. Now, projecting those same numbers over 150 games, you’d end up with 31 HR, 24 SB, 90 R and 87 RBI. He’s not going to do that, but he COULD. You draft this guy hoping for .290, 25 HR, 20 SB, 90 R and 70 RBI. And he’s going to be drafted early because of that upside. Color me skeptical. I wouldn’t pay for more than .280, 15, 15, 70 and 60. Those are respectable numbers, but I probably won’t own him this year because there’s always one owner who wants the upside.
From here on out, there are no safe bets. If we knew David Freese was going to play full-time, then he’d be a candidate to go .280 with 20 home runs and 80 RBI. But we don’t know that. Some people will fall in love with one from the group of youngsters Mike Moustakas, Pedro Alvarez, and Lonnie Chisenhall. If I was drafting tomorrow, I’d probably have them in that exact order, but those are also guys likely to be overdrafted. I’ll probably mention Alvarez as a sleeper because his power potential is immense if he can learn to hit for a respectable average.
Edwin Encarnacion has 20 HR power, with a decent average if you’re looking for a 3B later in drafts. He should have some RBI chances as well, but he’s a streaky player, with batting average downside. The last player I want to touch on, because we know Chipper Jones is 39 and probably won’t survive the year, is Emilio Bonifacio in Miami. Did you notice he hit .296 with 40 steals last year? The Marlins offense has serious talent top to bottom, and if Bonifacio (just 26 years old) can hit .290 again, then 35 steals should lead to 90+ runs scored. Don’t overlook him.
David, New Hampshire: Sean Rodriguez is one of those multi-position power/speed guys you’ve talked about before. Could he break out this year?
David, That depends on your definition of breaking out. Could he become useful? Sure. But he’d have to raise his average 30 points just to earn an everyday spot. He looks like a super-utility guy. Yes, he could hit 15 HR and steal 15, but if he bats .230 or below again, then he won’t play enough to rack up the counting numbers you want.
Laurie, Florida: There’s a lot of older third basemen. Who is the next young guy to pass up the Youkilis/A-Rod/Young/A-Ram/Beltre types?
Well Laurie, There’s a crop of talent like Lawrie/Moustakas/Chisenhall/Alvarez who might someday reach that level, though I doubt its this year. Honestly, Pablo Sandoval might be the closest young guy to that tier, with a +.300 average and the power to reach 30 HR and 100 RBI if he stayed healthy and had ducks on the pond ahead of him.
That’s all for now. Check back for shortstops soon.