Third base was once among the deepest positions in fantasy baseball, but with most of the game’s premier sluggers manning first base, designated hitter, or a corner outfield spot, the hot corner looks to be shallower than in years past. With just five elite options and many players looking to rebound from poor 2010 campaigns, third base may be the position that makes or breaks your fantasy team in 2011.
All rankings are based on a standard 5×5 category, 10-team rotisserie league scoring system.
1. Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay Rays
The gold standard for fantasy third baseman, Longoria disappointed some with a low homer total in 2010 but is a true five-category producer. The 25-year-old improved his average, OBP and stolen base totals in each of the past three seasons, and is a solid candidate to post a .300-30-100 line with 15 stolen bases as well. Longoria is a legitimate Top 5 overall selection.
2. David Wright, New York Mets
Wright rebounded from a miserable 2009 campaign to hit .283-29-103 with 19 stolen bases last season, reestablishing himself as one of baseball’s elite players in the process. The Mets have a chance to put together a decent offense in 2011 if health is on their side, and Wright will have a chance to reach 120 RBI and 100 runs. He’s a borderline Top 10 and definite Top 15 pick.
3. Alex Rodriguez, New York Yankees
Rodriguez has seen his numbers fall for three consecutive seasons and is clearly no longer in the prime of his career, but the future Hall-of-Famer is still a Top 20 fantasy player and a modest five-category contributor. A-Rod is likely to top out at 10 stolen bases and 35 homers, but is a good bet for 100 RBI and 80-plus runs, and should see his average rebound to around .285.
4. Ryan Zimmerman, Washington Nationals
One of the most underrated players in baseball, Zimmerman is likely on the verge of stardom as he anchors an improving Nationals team. Similarly to Longoria, Zimmerman has improved his average and OBP for three straight seasons, and should put up a line of around .300-30-90 with 90 runs scored and 5 stolen bases in 2011. Don’t be afraid to take Zimmerman from the early third round on.
5. Kevin Youkilis, Boston Red Sox
Youkilis won’t be eligible at third base to begin the season, but will become a Top 5 player at the position by mid-to-late April depending on your league’s position requirements. As described in the fantasy first baseman rankings, Youkilis is a solid candidate to hit .300-30-100 in a revamped Red Sox lineup, and his positional flexibility gives him added value as well. He should be off the board by round five.
6. Jose Bautista, Toronto Blue Jays
One of the most polarizing figures in fantasy baseball, many will believe Bautista should rank much lower or much higher than this after his explosive 2010 season in which he drove in 124 runs and led the majors with 54 homers. I don’t expect him to repeat those numbers, but believe a .265-35-90 line is within his reach, and would take a gamble on Bautista from the fifth round on.
7. Adrian Beltre, Texas Rangers
Beltre had the second best season of his career in 2010, hitting .321-28-102 while largely anchoring the Red Sox’ injury-depleted line-up. Don’t rely on him to match his batting average from last season, but Beltre is moving to another good lineup and an excellent hitter’s park in Texas, and a .270-30-100 line is realistic. He’s likely to near a double-digit stolen base total as well.
8. Aramis Ramirez, Chicago Cubs
Ramirez is a fairly risky pick heading into the 2011 season thanks to his injury history and relatively poor 2010 campaign, but he comes with a significant amount of upside too. Ramirez suffered from terrible luck last season as evidenced by his .245 BABIP (batting average on balls in play), but was tremendous from July on, suggesting that better number should follow in 2011. Expect a .290-25-90 line if he reaches 500 at-bats.
9. Michael Young, Texas Rangers
Despite changing positions four times over the past seven seasons, Young has managed to be a Top 100 fantasy player for nearly his entire career and that shouldn’t change in 2011. If he’s healthy, Young is a lock to receive at least 500 at-bats and is capable of hitting .300-20-80 next season. That Young should see time at every infield position adds to his value tremendously.
10. Casey McGehee, Milwaukee Brewers
McGehee followed up his breakout 2009 campaign with a very good .285-23-104 line in 2010, and should be viewed as a reliable third base option. McGehee figures to get plenty of RBI opportunities batting behind Prince Fielder and Ryan Bruan, and there’s no reason he can’t repeat last season’s numbers in 2011. In a year in which third base is shallow, he’s shouldn’t make it past round 10.
11. Pedro Alvarez, Pittsburgh Pirates
Alvarez needs to improve his numbers against lefties and stop swinging at everything he sees if he’s to become an elite hitter, but he has so much power that he still warrants a look as a starting third baseman in 12-team leagues. I don’t expect Alvarez to hit much over .250 in 2011, but 30 homeruns are within his reach, and he could approach 90 RBI in an improving Pirates lineup as well.
12. Martin Prado, Atlanta Braves
Prado was listed as a Top 10 fantasy second baseman and just misses out on being included in the Top 10 third baseman here, which should tell you all you need to know about the lack of depth at the hot corner this season. Prado lacks the type of power fantasy owners want from a corner infielder and profiles better as a second baseman, but is a safe bet to hit at least .290 with 15 home runs.
13. Ian Stewart, Colorado Rockies
The Rockies are clearly using 2011 as a make-or-break season for Stewart, as they brought in Jose Lopez and Ty Wigginton to push him for playing time at third base. Stewart has the talent to hit .260-30-90, but will need to increase his selectivity and improve his OBP if he hopes to stay in the line-up every day. Still, he’s a strong gamble from the 12th round on.
14. Pablo Sandoval, San Francisco Giants
Sandoval’s luck finally ran out in 2010, and as his BABIP fell to a near league-average .291 mark, his batting average plummeted from .330 in 2009 to .268 last season. Sandoval will have more offensive support than in years past and his off-season weight loss has been well documented, but don’t expect him to revert to his 2009 form. A more modest .285-20-80 campaign is a safer bet.
15. Chone Figgins, Seattle Mariners
The Mariners plan to move Figgins back to third base this season in the hopes that returning him to his natural position will help his offensive game as well. Figgins is only useful for his speed, but it’s not unreasonable to expect him to hit .280 with 40 swipes in 2011. He fits much better as a middle infielder than as a third baseman, but the position is so shallow this season that he’s a Top 15 option.
16. Mark Reynolds, Baltimore Orioles
Reynolds posted an insane 42.3% strikeout rate last season, and while fantasy owners often sacrifice other categories for power, Reynolds pushes the limit of what is an acceptable loss in batting average. Even if he hits just .240, his 35-homer potential makes him a borderline Top 10 option, but Reynolds’ contact number suggest he’s unlikely to hit that high, and a .220 mark will be tough for fantasy owners to swallow.
17. Scott Rolen, Cincinnati Reds
Rolen had his best season since 2006 a year ago, and was a big reason the Reds were able to win the NL Central for the first time since 1995. Rolen is an enormous health risk and shouldn’t be expected to play in more than 130 games next season, but is capable of repeating his .285-20-83 line from 2010, and is a solid late-round pick.
18. Chase Headley, San Diego Padres
Headley is fantasy-relevant thanks to his potential to post double-digit totals in both homers and steals. His supporting cast and home ballpark will likely limit him to 15 homers, but if Headley hits .280 and swipes 15 bases, he’d be worth owning in most leagues. Headley will turn 27 in 2011 and should be in his prime, so this may be his last chance to prove himself as an everyday player.
19. Jhonny Peralta, Detroit Tigers
Peralta’s 2010 stats don’t look too impressive at first glance, but he was victimized by a low BABIP, and actually improved his OBP and decreased his strikeout rate from 2009. Peralta should rebound to a solid .270-18-80 line, and has a shot at scoring 80 runs too. Add in a decent Tigers lineup and Peralta’s shortstop eligibility, and he suddenly becomes a very useful fantasy option.
20. Edwin Encarnacion, Toronto Blue Jays
There are question marks surrounding his playing time and ability to hit for average, but if there’s one thing Encarnacion can do, it’s hit for power. Encarnacion figures to see time at third base, first base and DH for the Jay’s this season, and if he reaches 450 at-bats, a .240-30-70 line is within his reach. Placido Polanco is a safer play here, but unless you’re playing in an OBP league, Encarnacion’s power potential makes him worth the gamble.
Three Prospects To Watch For 2011
1. Mike Moustakas, Kansas City Royals
The Royal’s No. 4 hitter of the future, Moustakas has big-time power potential and should be able to hit enough to avoid being a liability in terms of batting average as well. Moustakas may only need 150 at-bats to hit 10 bombs, and could be a Top 10 third baseman as soon as next season.
2. Lonnie Chisenhall, Cleveland Indians
Chisenhall is hitting .478/.538/.913 this spring, and with Jason Donald recently suffering a hand injury, fans in Cleveland are clamoring to break camp with their top prospect manning the hot corner. Despite his fast start Chisenhall needs at least a half-season in Triple-A, but could bring his 20-homer power to the majors by July.
3. Brent Morel, Chicago White Sox
Morel has been given every chance to win the White Sox’ starting third base job in spring training, but is hitting just .200 with no homers and an OBP of .286. He’s capable of hitting. 280-12-60 if he wins the job, but will face pressure from Mark Teahen and Dayan Viciedo if he doesn’t start producing.