Continuing my series of rankings updates, it’s time to look back at my preseason third base rankings and update them for the rest of the season. As he was in the preseason rankings, Alex Rodriguez will be listed with the shortstops. Keep in mind that this is a list of who I think will be the best third basemen for the rest of the season, not who I think have been the best third basemen so far this season. (Preseason ranking in parentheses.)
1. Scott Rolen, Cardinals (2): Rolen is off the charts right now, hitting .339 with 18 homers, 56 runs, 80 RBIs and even a few steals. Even if he slows down in the second half and finishes at, let’s say, .325, 28 homers, 95 runs and 135 RBIs, he would still be among the best fantasy third basemen for the rest of the season.
If he keeps doing what he’s been doing, it won’t even be close. He could set the record for most RBIs ever by a third baseman (Al Rosen had 145 in 1953).
2. Hank Blalock, Rangers (3): Blalock was a disappointment as a rookie in 2002 and then recovered to play the way people thought he could last year. Now, he’s taken his game to another level. If he maintains his current pace, he’ll increase his home run total by 48.3-percent, his RBI total by 42.2-percent and his run total by 22.5-percent.
Those are some pretty big jumps for a guy who was already a top five fantasy third baseman. Blalock’s a great, young hitter playing in a great ballpark for hitters and surrounded by an excellent lineup. There’s not really anything to dislike about what he brings to the fantasy table.
3. Eric Chavez, A’s (1): I thought Chavez was going to break out with a truly great season this year, but he ended up just breaking his hand. Now that he’s back, however, I fully expect him to get right back to being a very good hitter.
The A’s have 76 games left on the schedule. If Chavez plays all of them and produces at the level he’s established over the last 3-4 seasons, then he’ll give you about a .280 average, 15 homers, 45 runs and 50 RBIs the rest of the way. He might fall a little short of that or he could easily exceed it, but that’s a good baseline expectation to have for him.
4. Aramis Ramirez, Cubs (8): Ramirez’s wildly inconsistent last three seasons left a lot of guesswork as to which Ramirez would show up this year. Would it be the fantastic hitter from his first full season in 2001? Would it be the offensive sinkhole from his injury plagued 2002 season? Or would it be the average hitter from his two-team 2003 season?
The answer is turning out to be none of the above, as Ramirez is in the middle of his best season yet. He’s not on pace for as many homers as he hit in 2001, but he’s hitting .326 and is on pace for many more runs and nearly as many RBIs. I don’t think he’ll finish the season hitting .326, but he’s certainly shown that he’s a very good hitter when he’s healthy.
5. Adrian Beltre, Dodgers (18): As the saying goes, it’s better late than never. Beltre was tabbed for greatness when he hit .275 with 15 homers in his first full season and followed that up with a .290 average and 20 homers. However, he was consistently subpar the next three years, leading many people to believe he’d never fulfill his potential. Finally, just 25 years old but in his seventh season in the majors, Beltre is showing what he can do with a baseball bat.
He’s hitting .315 with 22 homers (one shy of his career high), 48 runs and 56 RBIs. He won’t keep up that pace all season, but you shouldn’t expect him to go back to being an enigma with potential either.
6. Mike Lowell, Marlins (5): Lowell was in the midst of a career year when he suffered an injury last year, and he’s picked up right where he left off this year. With 20 homers and 55 RBIs, he’s still got the power and production going strong, but he’s now hitting for a nice .305 average.
Lowell’s tended to fade in the second half of the season, but many people attribute that to the fact that he may have been tiring more easily due to his bout with cancer early in his career. I’ll be surprised if Lowell doesn’t finish the year hitting at least .290 with 32 homers, 90 runs and 95 RBIs.
7. Vinny Castilla, Rockies (12): I’m not a big fan of Castilla as a fantasy option, but he plays in Colorado and he’s been producing, so you can’t ignore him. He’s on pace to hit .272 with 30 homers, 88 runs and 132 RBIs. The RBI part of that, at least, just isn’t going to happen.
I’d expect his final numbers to look something more like .265, 25 homers, 70 runs and 110 RBIs. The thing is, that production (a .258 average, nine homers, 23 runs and 39 RBIs the rest of the way) still wouldn’t make him a bad fantasy third baseman.
8. Shea Hillenbrand, Diamondbacks (10): After almost losing his job earlier this season, Hillenbrand’s been mostly a first baseman for Arizona this year. He’s hitting for average (.312), but not power (eight homers). I’d expect a .290-.300 average, seven or eight home runs, 35-40 runs and 35-40 RBIs the rest of the way. He’s a solid fantasy player since he qualifies at third, but certainly nothing special.
9. Eric Hinske, Blue Jays (9): Hinske continues to show that he’s probably not as good as he showed in his rookie year, but he does things that make him a nice fantasy option. He hits for a decent average (.274), has moderate power (eight homers), good speed for a third baseman (eight steals) and he’s decent at scoring (42) and driving in (40) runs.
Looking forward to the rest of the season, I don’t think he’ll collapse like he did at the start of last year, but neither do I think he has it in him to hit like he did as a rookie. He won’t kill you in any category, but he won’t give you a huge boost in any of them either.
10. Joe Crede, White Sox (11): When talking about players who are hard to get a read on, Crede has to be near the top of the list. He burst onto the scene the second half of 2002 with very nice numbers, struggled to begin last season, turned it on around the All-Star break and then struggled again when this season started.
He’s hitting .242 with 12 homers, 41 runs and 38 RBIs at the moment, but that doesn’t tell you much about what he’ll do the rest of the way. He could hit .200 with no power, or he could hit .290 with 15 homers, 45 runs and 50 RBIs. The potential gets him into the top 10 and the uncertainty keeps him from being ranked higher.
Fell from top 10
Troy Glaus, Angels (4): Out until at least September, and maybe the entire season.
Corey Koskie, Twins (6): Throughout his injury-plagued career, Koskie’s always been a nice combination of average, power and speed when he’s been able to play. This year, not only have injuries limited him to 66 games, he hasn’t produced even when he has played. He’s hitting .245 with 13 homers, five steals, 39 runs and 37 RBIs. Between the injury problems and the poor first half, he just doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence.
Morgan Ensberg, Astros (7): One of the most baffling performances in all of baseball, Ensberg is following up his breakout .291 average, 25 home run 2003 season by hitting just .257 with three homers, four steals, 26 runs and 35 RBIs. He struggled right out of the gate, lost playing time to Mike Lamb, and was just never able to get things going. I suppose he could still get hot, but he’s not somebody you want to be counting on at this point.