Second look: Top 25 fantasy third basemen for 2012by Jeffrey Gross
March 19, 2012
Over the next week or so, in an attempt to catch up on fantasy season, I am going to do a top 20 or so list by position for the players who will either be eligible at that position under Yahoo! default standards to start the season or who are projected to gain eligibility within the first month of the season (e.g., Miguel Cabrera and Jesus Montero). The rules of eligibility for Yahoo fantasy leagues:
The following conditions apply to a player's position eligibility:
1. A player's position eligibility will not be adjusted prior to the beginning of the season. (If a player in spring training is playing a "new" position, that position will not appear until a player has met the criteria for a change.)
2. Players will not lose eligibility at a previously established position at any time. (For example, if a catcher-eligible player begins to play first base exclusively, he will remain eligible at catcher for the entire season.)
3. It is not possible to customize this setting within Custom Leagues. All leagues are subject to the same constraints.
Gaining eligibility at a new position:
If a position player makes five (5) starts or 10 total appearances at a new position during this season, he will become eligible to play that position in Yahoo! Sports Fantasy Baseball. Pitchers need to make three starts to become eligible as a starter and five relief appearances to qualify as a reliever.
ESPN imposes a more rigorous default position eligibility standard (e.g., 20 games played at the position last season, 10 games played in the present season), so you may have to do additional research if you play ESPN fantasy to verify that players listed in these articles are in fact "position eligible" in your league.
These rankings are based on 5x5 standard Yahoo! Roto leagues. Rankings are not based on real-life value but fantasy value. Hence, players like Juan Pierre tend to have value for you closer to what Kenny Williams is willing to pay him in real life. Projections listed below are courtesy of Brian Cartwright's Oliver projection system. I recommend that you purchase a subscription, as the pre- and in-season updates are an invaluable fantasy tool.
My rankings are not exclusively based on Oliver's projections, however. Rankings are primarily determined based on total production by category, balance in production, and scarcity of production level. Because I am ranking players by position, positional flexibility is not taken into account in my rankings (though you should absolutely consider positional flexibility at the draft board).
Tiers represent groups of relatively fungible players, guys who if you traded me the guy at the bottom of that tier for the top guy would not require you to add "too much" value to pull off a trade. In other words, guys within a tier are relatively easy to trade for one another.
If you have any specific questions about my rankings, please post them in the comments.
Here are my top 20 fantasy third basemen for 2012.
TIER 1 Rank Player Name Team Oliver's Projected Triple-Slash 1 Miguel Cabrera* DET .327/.415/.564 2 Jose Bautista TOR .268/.392/.553 TIER 2 Rank Player Name Team Oliver's Projected Triple-Slash 3 Hanley Ramirez* MIA .295/.369/.457 4 Evan Longoria TBR .269/.357/.501 5 Adrian Beltre TEX .292/.333/.497 TIER 3 6 Ryan Zimmerman WAS .293/.364/.483 7 Brett Lawrie TOR .268/.322/.474 8 Pablo Sandoval SFG .300/.351/.498 9 David Wright** NYM .279/.358/.448 10 Alex Rodriguez NYY .264/.347/.462 11 Aramis Ramirez MIL .276/.333/.466 12 Michael Young TEX .302/.349/.447 13 Kevin Youkilis BOS .278/.382/.488 TIER 4 Rank Player Name Team Oliver's Projected Triple-Slash 14 Mark Reynolds BAL .226/.326/.482 15 Edwin Encarnacion TOR .251/.320/.443 16 Martin Prado ATL .281/.325/.415 TIER 5 Rank Player Name Team Oliver's Projected Triple-Slash 17 Mike Moustakas KCR .264/.308/.434 18 Ian Stewart CHC .226/.308/.422 19 Emilio Bonifacio MIA .272/.330/.351 TIER 6 Rank Player Name Team Oliver's Projected Triple-Slash 20 Ryan Roberts ARI .245/.326/.397 21 David Freese STL .279/.336/.416 22 Chipper Jones ATL .258/.347/.410 23 Ty Wigginton PHI .239/.300/.382 23 Lonnie Chisenhall CLE .242/.300/.404 TIER 7 Rank Player Name Team Oliver's Projected Triple-Slash 24 Chris Davis BAL .271/.325/.479 25 Pedro Alvarez PIT .243/.320/.435
Tier one is pretty non-controversial. Once he obtains third-base eligibility, Miguel Cabrera projects as the No. 1 overall fantasy third baseman because, despite a dearth of speed, he is a four-category monster. He annually appears atop the league leaderboard for batting average and runs batted in and has elite 30-plus home run power and plenty of runs contribution out of the middle of the Tigers' fearsome lineup.
The only real "risk" in drafting Miggy as your third baseman is that he never becomes third-base eligible. Now, the Tigers have been adamant about the fact that Miggy will be their Opening Day third baseman, but keep in mind a few things.
First, Cabrera has not played third base in a regular-season game since April 19, 2008. Second, he has a -5 career UZR/150 fielding score. Cabrera is only 29(!) this season, but defense is "the first thing to go," tending to peak in a player's early 20s, per historical aging curves. Considering he was not much of a third baseman to begin with (-6 UZR and -11 total zone in 2007, his last full season as a third baseman), who knows what he's capable now?
Third and finally, considering the first two points, the Tigers have no immediate need to play Cabrera at third base. They moved him off third because of his defense in 2008, and with Victor Martinez out for the year, even if you play Prince Fielder at first, you have an open designated hitter spot to hide Cabrera until 2012 (assuming the Tigers do not trade Martinez next offseason).
At most, the Tigers will only need to slot Cabrera at third base for one season, 2013. They'll certainly want to give him plenty of practice in 2012, which bodes well for leagues with low games-played eligibility thresholds, but how often they'll force play Miggy to play third, with Fielder and Jhonny Peralta taking up two-thirds of the rest of the infield, will likely depend on how often the opposing team decides to bunt the first week of the season.
That isn't to say Miggy will not get third-base eligibility for even the deepest of eligibility threshold leagues by the end of April, but it is a calculated risk that you need to be aware of, and potentially plan for, on draft day.
Jose Bautista legitimately offers monster power, but hitting for average is not really one of his tools. He rewarded his believers in a big way last year, even with a "down" second half (if you call a second-half pro-rated pace of batting .257 (.419 OBP) with 28 home runs, 88 RBI, nine stolen bases and 74 runs scored disappointing).
However, anyone expecting him to repeat a .290-plus batting average is downright foolish. A .270/35/10 performance with 200 runs-plus-RBI is certainly in the cards, but Bautista does carry some batting average risk. Pay accordingly, hold him confidently—just do not do so delusionally expecting a five-category guy.
Tier two is comprised of fantasy superstars who should easily contribute in four-plus fantasy categories in 2012. These are players who are arguably as valuable as the guys in tier one but carry some questionable risk that will necessitate some degree of relative discount in their services in comparison to tier one players.
I expect my Hanley Ramirez at No. 3 pick to be a bit controversial. He is coming off a career-worst season and two consecutive seasons of decline following several seasons of dwindling stolen base totals. Still, he is arguably the only true five-category player likely to have third-base eligibility in 2012. Ramirez's back allegedly is healed, and he's reported to camp ripped.
A 20/20 campaign should be no problem for Ramirez, who still put up a 10/20 in under 100 games last season, and if his back and shoulder are truly healed, there is reason to expect a major uptick in the batting average (.275 BABIP in 2011, career .339 mark).
The Marlins also seriously upgraded their team for 2012, and MLB Depth Charts is forecasting Ramirez to bat out of the No. 3 hole. That makes a .300/20/30/100/100 campaign entirely plausible. Health and questions of what portion of his two-year decline can be attributed solely to injury (that is no longer a worry) are the lingering question marks that keeps Ramirez outside of tier one.
Next comes the most volatile stud of the third-base group. Evan Longoria has the potential to do it all and has shown flashes of five-category production. He stole 15 bases in 2010, and nine bases in 2009. He also batted .294 in 2010 and has hit 113 home runs in 563 career games played (which averages out to just over 30 home runs per 150 games played). He also has elite on-base skills out of the middle of the Rays lineup, producing a combined 326 RBI over the past three years combined.
Still, Longoria has not been a five-category player in any of his first four seasons. In all honesty, he is likely to be a three-category monster this season (HR/R/RBI) with modest contributions in a fourth category (SB) without really hurting you in the fifth (AVG), but he has that four-/five-category upside and is still plenty youthful. (He turns 27 in October).
Expect Longoria to hit in the .270s with 10 stolen bases to boot, give or take a few of bags. You can already rely on him for home runs and RBI, and the Rays offense still looks potent enough to drive Longoria in 90-plus times over the course of a full and healthy season. Inconsistency is what keeps Longoria out of the first tier, along with modest health questions that a productive spring training should set aside.
Adrian Beltre is arguably the "safest" pick of the elite third baseman, and he is arguably a touch more valuable than Longoria because of this. He offers minimal stolen bases, but he should hit for a relatively high batting average (high .280s) with 25-30 home run power out of the middle of a deep offensive lineup that should easily net him 80-plus runs scored and 90-plus RBI.
It's hard to believe this is the player, just a few seasons ago, many people were so foolishly writing off as a washed up, "contract year only" guy, perpetuating the myth that Beltre was overpaid on the Mariners. The reason I ranked Beltre lower than Longoria is that he is an older health risk and because Longoria offers four-/five-category upside, all else being equal. Hamstring concerns and multiple injuries in 2011 that limited Beltre to 124 (very productive) games are what keep him outside tier one.
Tier three is deep, consisting of guys with lots of upside but serious question marks (talent, injury, etc.) surrounding their ability to reach their potential. If you could get any two of these three guys to mitigate the risk, you'd be golden, but doing so would cost way too much.
The Nationals belong on that TV show Hoarders for having Ryan Zimmerman locked up at third base long term with Anthony Rendon in their system. (They're also apparently hoarding players with the last name of Zimmerman(n)). That is such a nice problem to have. Zimmerman is not immune to injury—see 2012 and 2008 as examples—but when he's healthy, Z-pack is a consistent force.
Zimmerman offers batting average upside (.290-plus) with 25-30 home run power and moderate stolen base contributions. He also bats out of the middle of a Washington Nationals' lineup I expect bigger things from in 2012 with a rebound from Jayson Werth and more playing time for Michael Morse. Bryce Harper might even make an appearance by the end of the year. That means the potential for 200 R+RBI is not off the table, with the reasonable expectation of 180.
Few third basemen can tout 25-plus homer upside and batting average upside, which is what makes Z-pack so valuable. Let's just hope he can stay healthy this year!
Brett Lawrie is overrated and being overdrafted for what he is. Still, given the state of third base, he merits ranking as the seventh overall player at the hot corner. Just be aware that his current value takes all the profit out of the pick, leaving you totally exposed to the downside risk. Lawrie was never a "can't-miss" prospect until his explosion in the minors last season. As I noted a little over a month ago:
Lawrie was the Blue Jays' big prize for trading away talented starting pitcher Shaun Marcum. Heading into 2011, Lawrie was ranked the No. 40 overall prospect in the minors. His 2009 and 2010 seasons in Single-A and Double-A ball had been solid (composite .777 OPS in 2009 and a .797 OPS in 2010) but nothing special. He projected as a major league-capable player with a relatively modest, but appealing, ceiling...
...Lawrie's 2011 power breakout could be legit, but how legit is it? After posting a .180 ISO in Single-A and .154 ISO in Double-A, you have to wonder how much of his .308 Triple-A ISO and .287 major league ISO Lawrie can repeat in 2012, especially given his two hand injuries last season. I am not saying that he is not healthy by now; I am just noting the things you need to be aware of.
Oliver projects a solid .180+ ISO from Lawrie this year, with 20 home run potential if he stays healthy enough to accumulate 600-plus plate appearances. Oliver also forecasts a .280 batting average and 10-15 stolen bases. Those are undoubtedly strong numbers, and Lawrie, of course, has the potential to top them. I think Oliver's forecast is pretty spot on, though I would project Lawrie for a slightly higher batting average. You find me another .285/20/15-capable third baseman for 2012 not named David Wright, and I will call you a liar.
My thoughts and opinions on Lawrie have not changed since drafting that article, though it is worth noting that Hanley Ramirez is certainly " another .285/20/15-capable third baseman."
In that same article I quoted on Lawrie from, you might notice that Pablo Sandoval is ranked higher than Lawrie. So why is he ranked lower here? The answer has to do with reports that Sandoval showed up to camp out of shape. The haunting memories of 2010 are still too fresh in my mind. I was big on Kung Fu Panda last year, but worries about his weight have my expectations slightly tempered in 2012. But hey, I am not counting on him to prove me right.
David Wright has an abdomen tear. With Citi Field's dimensions being overhauled, I was projecting a solid bounce-back year for Wright. But with lingering health issues such as back problems, and now this abdominal tear, in tandem with a post-concussion-inflated strikeout rate that has eroded his once-bankable .300 batting average production, I'm not sure just how high I can be on Wright without looking too insane.
Third base is pretty shallow this year, which automatically makes Wright pretty mixed-league relevant regardless. Once you consider his 20/20 upside, even with a .270 batting average (I do not expect him to produce, at worst, a batting average much lower than that) and injury risk, Wright is a player that needs to be owned. Wright is certainly not worth spending "top money" on, and he's been drafted entirely too soon in most leagues (as a top-four third baseman) this offseason, but hopefully, for you late-drafting leagues, Wright's injury will seriously discount his services.
I am not taking the risk on Wright in 2012, but then again, I'm the same guy who refused to take the risk on Albert Pujols in 2009, Beltre in 2010, or Lance Berkman in 2011 even though I liked them a lot (despite injury and decline) in their respective preseasons.
Alex Rodriguez's slotting logic is pretty similar to Wrights, but he is older, potentially more injury-prone, and no longer offers the stolen base upside he used to. Does .280/25/8/100/100 seem like a reasonable ceiling? The floor has to at least be last year's .276/16/4/67/62 line, if even that high. Volatile injury risk is what keep Rodriguez's rank so low despite his upside.
Which Aramis Ramirez is going to show up in 2012? The 2011 version? The 2010 version? Will he be injured? And will he finally be able to stay productive when the team needs him most and when he is in the limelight—say, when Ryan Braun goes through an offensive slump?
These are the questions that qualify Ramirez's .280 batting average (without much OBP or speed to boot), 25 home run, and 90-100 RBI upside. That and a Brewers offense counting on Rickie Weeks to stay healthy and Mat Gamel to prove he can hit the ball.
Plenty has been written by me about Michael Young, who might qualify at pitcher next season at this rate. You can read my thoughts on him here and here.
As I also noted in my first baseman rankings, "[t]his might seem like a low ranking for Kevin Youkilis, but I just don't trust him to stay healthy." He's still plenty valuable to own in order to have a cool fantasy baseball team name like "We Kill You Before Youkilis."
By tier four, the players no longer just lack three-category upside, but they also have negative value in one or more fantasy categories (or, in the case of Prado, a lack of much positive value all around).
Mark Reynolds has 35-home run and 100-RBI upside. Why is he ranked so low? Because he has Adam Dunn-like batting average upside. You'll have to plan to offset his batting average drain in a big way to roster his otherwise cheap power.
Little known fact: Edwin Encarnacion is an anagram for "Adam Lind clone with OBP upside." A .260/25/100 season is quite plausible, but so is a lot less production. Encarnacion's dip in ISO might be a little worrisome considering that pop is his flashiest tool, but at age 29, given his June through August production, there's plenty reason to believe the power will uptick again in 2012. Oh, and he steals the occasional base.
Encarnacion is a great insurance policy for those who draft a Wright/A-Rod/Youkilis-type, and he could make a really solid showing as a corner infielder for your fantasy team this season.
Martin Prado offers the least downside in any single fantasy category, but he also offers minimal upside. Prado does a little bit of everything. He'll hit for a respectable, above-average fantasy batting average, struggle to put up a home run total in the teens, swipe five or so bases, and add maybe 140 very balanced runs-plus-RBI contribution to your bottom line. Losing a lot of his positional flexibility has drained much of his fantasy value, and he's no Ben Zobrist.
First and foremost, let's get this out of the way. I am not an Emilio Bonifacio believer. I just don't think he is bona fide. He might possess .270/30 upside, but as I explained last week:
He's always had a knack for speed, but his 2009 and 2010 combined output, over 200 games played, is still a less-than-enthralling 33 stolen bases (nine caught stealing), one home run, 100 runs scored and 37 RBI with a sub-.260 batting average. So color me skeptical when that player hits .296 with 40 stolen bases and five home runs over 152 games.
I view Mike Moustakas and Ian Stewart as flip sides of a coin for 2012. Oliver, ZiPS and other services project the two players for near identical OPS marks and similar home run, stolen base and RBI production rates. Moustakas will likely have an edge on Stewart in batting average (though I expect Stewart to hit in the low-to-mid .240s this year), but Stewart has more power and patience. Even with a high strikeout clip, 10-plus percent walk rates do not exactly grow on trees.
Stewart essentially has two full seasons worth of at-bats to his name, and that's entirely too few to write off a former first-round, top-10 overall pick whose minor league numbers have previously shown plenty of promise. The Cubs took a low-risk, medium-reward approach when they acquired Stewart this summer.
For the one dollar it will cost you to acquire him, Stewart is worth the low risk at a shallow position when he could return fantasy relevant production—potentially top-12 at third base if all were to go right. Think of him as Carlos Pena but with positional scarcity on his side. A .240/22/5 performance is in the cards.
Moustakas gets the edge, however, because he is younger and has a more recent track record of productive minor league productivity. I think he's very overrated, and he has an atrocious walk rate. I think what you saw last year is what you'll see this year, but with closer to a .180 ISO and a handful more strikeouts. Moose likely will cost you much more than Stewart at draft day on brand name alone, but my production expectations for the two are practically identical in leagues that use OBP or OPS in place of batting average.
No one in this tier really has the potential to light the world on fire, but each players offers enough modest upside or 1-2 category production to make a solid late-round flier. Ryan Roberts and Ty Wigginton have extra value out of their mutli-positional flexibility, but neither really does too much.
Roberts could get you double-digit home runs and stolen bases, and maybe even 140 runs-plus-RBI, but his batting average is likely going to stink. Wigginton offers solid pop and arguably 15-20 home run upside with enough playing time (though if he couldn't do it in Coors...), but his batting average will be even worse than Roberts, and his only "other" category of contribution, if any, is likely to be RBI.
David Freese is an overated guy with 15-17 home run power. Maybe it's because people always expect the injury-prone third baseman to break out, or maybe it's just because of the post-World Series hype, but I feel Freese is getting more love than his upside—maybe .280/15/70/60/2?—deserves.
Chipper Jones is Chipper Jones. OBP leagues should keep an eye on him. He's pretty likely to repeat his 2009-2011 numbers this season, if that sort of thing appeals to the type of league you play in.
Lonnie Chisenhall probably has the most upside of anyone in this group, but I question his ability to reach that potential, at least in 2012. His 2009 MLE was a .236/.287/.443 line, and 2010 wasn't too much better at .246/.308/.398. And last year? A .242/.299/.388 MLE doesn't seem good enough in my mind to warrant getting berated by Indians fans for claiming Cleveland has a long-term hole at third base.
Chisenhall does not project to do much at this point. His 2015 projected line based on career MLB/MiLB performance to date: .243/.302/.405 (.309 wOBA). He's not much better than Wiggington in my eyes, but at least Wiggington has proven himself capable of doing it at the major league level.
Chris Davis arguably belongs much higher than this. I have drafted him in a couple of my leagues, and he's got legitimate 25-home run power with the skills to hit .275 or higher. At the same time, however, I have historically put too much blind stock in Davis' potential. I can only write about him so many times before you reach the point where you just have to say, despite all your faith, that this guy needs to prove something before I actively recommend him again.
Pedro Alvarez rounds out the top 25 because he has legitimate power potential and solid walk stills but a questionable contact/strikeout rate that makes him a high-risk, medium-reward play. The presence of Casey McGehee certain complicates things and shortens Alvarez's leash, but his minor league production to date says he shouldn't be nearly as bad in 2012 and beyond as he was in 2011. Assuming you have faith and can get him for a dollar, now is the time to buy low for keeper leagues.
As always, leave the love/hate in the comments below.
Jeffrey Gross is an attorney (and die-hard Cubs fan) who currently resides in the suburbs of Chicago. In addition to writing for The Hardball Times, he also writes about craft beer as part of a side project blog titled "saBEERmetrics." He previously worked for The Daily Illini and Northern Star newspapers as a film critic and sportswriter (respectively). You can reach him by email at saBEERmetrics AT gmail DOT com.
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