Third Basemen


Draft Round Battles: Alvarez Vs. Seager

Go big or go home.  This is my mantra every time I go to an all-you-can-eat pasta buffet, and it's the mantra many fantasy managers take when putting together a team.  Everyone has one or two managers in their league (or you're one yourself) who load up their rosters with players who are injury risks, coming off poor seasons, youngsters looking to break out into stardom, etc.  For managers like these, Go Bold Or Go Home isn't just a feature column, it's a way of life.

These types of managers love Pedro Alvarez.  "Look at that raw power!  He hit 36 homers last year!  With 100 RBI!  I don't care if he strikes out more often Mark did at finding a senior year prom date, Alvarez is my guy!  If he gets his average up even just a bit, look out!"  First of all, I didn't appreciate the cheap shot, fictional straw man fantasy manager.  Secondly, while said managers can cut right to the bone by bringing up painful high school memories, they may have a point.

Alvarez hit .233/.296/.473 in 614 PA last season, and it's of no small concern to the Pirates and their fans that Alvarez's walk rate dropped to a career-low (7.8%) after, ahem, "peaking" with a career-high 9.7% in 2012.  The slugger still hasn't surpassed the .326 OBP he posted over 95 games in his 2010 rookie season so forget about Alvarez inheriting Adam Dunn's title as the Three True Outcomes King; Alvarez's only two outcomes seem to be "hit a dinger" or "strike out."

That said, walks don't account for much in a 5x5 fantasy league.   Sure, a guy who gets on base less often will score fewer runs (Alvarez only crossed the plate 70 times last year) but by and large, if a guy is able to give you 36 HR/100 RBI from the third base position, you don't mind if he underachieves a little bit in the run category.  And, like Dunn, you also don't mind trading off lower batting average for that kind of extra pop.

Alvarez currently holds a 73.06 average draft position in Mock Draft Central's latest ADP report, putting him just in front of his 77.5 ADP doppelganger.  This third baseman is also a left-handed hitter who can't hit southpaws at all, plays in a pitcher-friendly ballpark and yet enjoyed a pretty solid power season in 2013.  This player also topped Alvarez in rWAR, fWAR, wRC+ and OPS+, and I can probably stop being coy with his name since it's right there in the post title --- it's Kyle Seager

The Silver Bullet Man hit .260/.338/.426 with 22 homers, 69 RBI, 79 runs and even nine steals over 695 PA last season.  If Alvarez is the new Dunn, maybe Seager can take over from Chase Headley as the player whose value is most limited by his home ballpark.  Over his three-year career, Seager has an .836 OPS in road games and only a .645 OPS at Safeco Field, so it's quite possible that Seager would be a top-five fantasy third baseman if he played anywhere but Seattle.  (Alvarez, for the record, also enjoyed a big edge in away games in 2013 but his home/away splits are almost identical for his career.)

Both players definitely aren't the kind you can just stick in your 3B slot and happily forget about for the rest of the year.  Neither Alvarez or Seager can hit left-handed pitching, and in Seager's case, he's a poor play for the home half of the schedule.  From a 5x5 perspective, however, Seager may have the edge....

  • Runs.  Seager gets on base a bit more and thus will score more.  Also, since the Mariners actually have some quality Major League hitters in the lineup this year, Seager should theoretically score more often.
  • RBI.  Alvarez had the big edge last season but Seager had 86 steaks in 2012.  The improved Seattle lineup should also lead to more opportunities for Seager to drive in runs, so I'll still give this one to Alvarez, but only slightly.
  • Steals.  Seager stole 13 bags in 2012 and nine last year, so he can at least hit the double-digits in the category.  Alvarez has four career steals in four seasons so he's nada in this category.
  • Average.  While Seager's .260 career average is nothing to write home about, it's still better than Alvarez's .235 mark.  Even when Alvarez was ripping up the minors with an .888 OPS, he only had a .278 average (and a .270 in Triple-A).  His contact rates have dipped in each of the last three seasons, so it's hard to see where the "he just needs to get his average up a bit!" argument holds much sway aside from a BABIP spike.
  • Home runs.  While 22 homers counts as a major power surge for a Mariner, there's no question Alvarez holds the edge here.

I've got to confess, I'm not much of a "go big or go home" kind of fantasy manager.  I always hesitate to have players who are utter sinks in a category (besides steals) since adds a bit more pressure to find another player who excels in that category to balance things out.  It's for this reason that I prefer Seager to Alvarez, because while I think Seager also has a better chance of breaking out in 2014,  at the end of the day he's just a less-frustrating pick. 

If you're in a league that goes beyond the 5x5 numbers, Seager becomes even a better pick.  If you track OBP or walks, Seager has the edge (though not by a wide margin, given his career .325 OBP).  Tracking doubles again favors Seager, since doubles aren't a True Outcome.  And if you're in a league that counts negative stats like strikeouts, then Alvarez becomes a burden.

As opposed to when I'm deciding on a fourth plate of spaghetti as a pasta buffet, I'm going to show restraint here and recommend Seager over Alvarez.  While power is an increasingly rare commodity, Alvarez is just too streaky for my liking.



RotoAuthority Rankings 2014: Third Base

The RA Rankings roll on over to the hot corner today, an exceptionally top-heavy position. You'll see some true stars go in the first couple rounds, a strong but question-marked middle class, and difficult-to-roster back end. In deep leagues, get your CI elsewhere!

We started this series with the Outfield, continued to Catcher, and hit First Base on Tuesday. Next week, we'll finish the infield and move, finally, on to pitchers. Sorry DH's, no article for three names (spoiler: David Ortiz would be first).

These rankings are the product of the whole expert team at RotoAuthority. Tiers and round suggestions are meant to be relative--where you value third basemen in general will depend on your league settings and personal strategy.

Tier 1: Captain Obvious (First or Second Pick)

1. Miguel Cabrera

Duh.

Tier 2: The Stars (First or Second Round)

2. Adrian Beltre

2.5 Edwin Encarnacion

3. Evan Longoria

4. David Wright

The only question mark with Beltre is his age--otherwise he's a nearly-flawless four-category stud. If you have loose enough eligibility requirements (read: play in a Yahoo! league), Encarnacion can play third and belongs here. He's elite at either corner. Longoria and Wright have health concerns in the recent past, but play at an extremely high level. Give Longoria the edge because he spent all of last season healthy and Wright did not.

Tier 3: Question Marks Already? Yup. (Fifth to Seventh)

5. Ryan Zimmerman

6. Matt Carpenter

7. Pedro Alvarez

8. Josh Donaldson

Zimmerman didn't do much for most of the season, then broke out like crazy in September. Too bad, that's more consistency than anyone else in this tier can brag about. He has, perhaps, the lowest ceiling and highest floor of the group. Carpenter BABIP'd his way to greatness last year, but has the lineup and profile of someone who can continue to produce--but don't expect him to repeat last year's value. Alvarez probably will repeat, though: lots of homers, a horrible batting average, and roller coaster up and down weeks. Donaldson is a big-time regression candidate, but even the chance of a repeat is growing tantalizing here, given the talent that remains.

Tier 4: I Told You We Should Have Drafted Someone Already (Eighth to Tenth)

9. Pablo Sandoval

10. Manny Machado

11. Brett Lawrie

12. Kyle Seager

13. Aramis Ramirez

13.5 Jedd Gyorko

If Sandoval really is in shape in camp and playing well, he could be great value here, but he's just too inconsistent to rank higher. A lot of industry people are down on Machado--he might be one of those "so overrated he's underrated" types. Zig where others are zagging, because he could grow into his upside, even partially, and return a ton of value. It's make-or-break for Lawrie, but, like Machado, he could bust into another tier. Seager is steady and decent. Yes, it's boring, but it's a lot less risky than everyone else in this tier. Ramirez has faced recent injuries and is pretty old; many are assuming the Big Decline is coming. But he's kept hitting so far.... Gyorko is more interesting at second, but he can play third in Yahoo! style leagues.

Tier 5: It's Worth a Shot (Eleventh-Fifteenth)

14. Chris Johnson

15. Martin Prado

16. Chase Headley

17. Xander Bogaerts

18. Todd Frazier

18.5 Jurickson Profar

Johnson is a BABIP product, true...but his track record suggests that high BABIP's (albeit not quite as high as last year's) are something he can do. Expect him to be very overlooked on draft day, so if you're scared off by the risks in Tiers 3 and 4, wait for him. If you want dependability, Prado is the guy for you. He may go earlier, thanks to 2B eligibility, and if your league makes position flexibility extra useful, go ahead and bump him up a tier. Headley still has a lot to prove, but the very fact that his 2012 happened means he's got to be fantasy relevant. Bogaerts is well worth the flyer (especially if he can play SS in your league), but he's as unpredictable as any other prospect. Frazier was one of my favorite targets going into last year, but a lousy BABIP and disappointing power took some of the shine off. A BABIP rebound could make him a useful player if expectations stay in check. It seems too early to give up on Profar as an impact player.

Tier 6: How Do We Not Have a Third Baseman Already? (after the Fifteenth)

19. Will Middlebrooks

20. Matt Dominguez

21. Mike Moustakas

22. Nolan Arenado

23. Anthony Rendon

24. David Freese

25. Mark Reynolds

26. Matt Davidson

Middlebrooks was pretty horrid last year, and the Red Sox aren't exactly excited to keep him in the lineup. Never a good sign when a young player's team is already disenchanted. Dominguez has some power. I guess. Moustakas showed life for a brief moment last year. Maybe it'll just take a little longer for George Brett's teachings to take hold? Arenado plays for Colorado. That's enough for me. Rendon was a prospecty type before. Freese is a warm body in a good lineup, which could be good for some runs and RBI. Reynolds has a lot of power, but nothing else at this point. Milwaukee could be good for him. Davidson may win the 3B job with the White Sox and ZiPS projects him for 21 homers. Worth a shot, I suppose....

My strategy has been to target a player from the top tiers as often as possible. Especially in auctions, where I have more control over who ends up on my team, I've found them worth the extra dollars. What I really don't want is to spend high picks or dollars on Tier 3 question marks. I'd rather hope that a Tier 4 player drops far enough to be valuable, or just wait on a Tier 5 guy. Don't mess with Tier 6 if you can help it.

In an odd sense, third base actually might be more scarce in shallow leagues, relative to other positions. If you need a MI, then 2B and SS get a lot more scarce, but the CI position just means you roster another 1B. Without those positions, the bar gets set higher...high enough that a lot of third sackers can't meet it. 



Draft Round Battles: Machado Vs. Lawrie

Let's get this out of the way right now --- if you play in one of the rare fantasy leagues that includes defensive statistics, then Manny Machado is your guy, end of story.  Brett Lawrie was a pretty strong defender himself in 2011-12 before posting a -0.1 UZR/150 in 2013, but yeah, Machado ran streets ahead with the glove last season thanks to a whopping 31.8 UZR/150 and a record 35 runs saved, earning himself both a Gold Glove and a Fielding Bible Award.

But, that's fielding.  Odds are your league won't be decided by runs saved or RZR but rather by the standard 5x5 stats.  That makes this matchup of AL East third basemen all the more interesting.

Lawrie has the early lead in average draft position, according to the good folks at Mock Draft Central.  Lawrie's 151.71 ADP tops Machado's 167.67 ADP, which is perhaps surprising given how much hype Machado received for both his bat and his glove last season, while Lawrie was alternately injured, in the minors or terrible for almost the entire season.  I'd suspect that some early drafters are worried about Machado's offseason knee surgery, which could keep him sidelined until late April.  I'm not counting Machado's knee as a major factor in this draft battle, as while he is likely to miss at least a bit of time, Lawrie has been prone to injury himself over his first two full Major League seasons.  Call the health question a wash for now, at least until we know more about Machado's rehab process.

Durability obviously wasn't a question for Machado in 2013, when he made 710 plate appearances (and a league-high 667 at-bats) and finished the campaign with 14 homers, 71 RBI, 88 runs and a league-best 51 doubles.  Good counting stats to be sure, except for the fact that almost all of Machado's damage came in the first two months.  Machado had an .892 OPS going into May 31, but over the Orioles' final 102 games, he managed just a .666 OPS (yikes, there's a bad omen).  He hit .283/.314/.432 overall, a line that his 99 OPS+ would indicate as slightly below even league average at the plate.

Of course, I note these stats with the giant caveat that Machado only turned 21 last July, so even slightly below-average offensive numbers are pretty impressive for a guy that young.  We may not have even scratched the surface of what Machado can do at the plate, so I expect an improved performance in 2014.  The question is, how much improvement will we see, given that even in his (albeit brief) minor league career, Machado only hit .263/.344/.432 with 23 homers and 114 RBI over 928 PA.  Those numbers are perfectly fine for a shortstop and they're not even bad for a third baseman, though they pale next to some of the big boppers available at the hot corner. 

While much of Machado's prospect hype came from his glove, his offensive prowess in early 2013 (especially in hitting doubles) showed a new dimension to his game.  Ironically, Lawrie's career has begun in the opposite way --- he was a ballyhooed minor league hitter who has instead drawn notice for his glove in the bigs.  After bursting onto the scene with a .953 OPS over 171 PA in 2011, Lawrie has hit a much more modest .265/.320/.401 over 978 PA in 2012-13.  Injuries certainly played a part, as did some maturity issues that Lawrie reportedly put behind him after his terrible first half forced him to overhaul his swing.  Those swing changes led to an .892 OPS in August but another fade in September.

Lawrie finished his year with 11 homers and a .254/.315/.397 slash line, one of many disappointing campaigns amidst the epic fail that was the 2013 Blue Jays season.  Still, as bad as Lawrie's season was perceived to be, he still finished only 34 OPS points and three homers behind Machado, despite the Baltimore phenom's 268 extra PA.  Lawrie also had a higher walk rate and lower strikeout rate, so if you factor in the BABIP gap (Lawrie had a .280 BABIP, Machado had a .322), you can make the case that Lawrie was actually the better hitter last season.

The age question also factors in Lawrie's evaluation, as he's only entering his age-24 season.  There's still plenty of time for him to display the prodigious hitting stroke he showed in his minor league career.  A healthy and focused Lawrie should, on paper, dwarf Machado at the plate.  Provided both men play roughly the same number of games, I'd expect Lawrie to comfortably top Machado in homers and steals, probably top him in RBIs and the runs/average categories are up in the air.

Assuming that Lawrie can avoid the injury bug and general malaise that has plagued the Jays franchise over the last two seasons, he stands as a strong fantasy breakout candidate for 2014.  While I hope Machado returns from his surgery at 100 percent and we get to fully enjoy his eye-popping talent, I tend to agree with my RA colleague Andrew Gephardt that even a fully fit Machado might still not be due for his proper breakout.  Let's take Lawrie in this draft round battle and let's hope that both guys reach their potential so we can revisit this matchup for several years down the road.



The Market Report: Third Basemen

The Market Report is a weekly analysis of player valuations in the fantasy marketplace in an effort to find undervalued commodities.

As we continue to look at the market for each position, let's analyze third basemen this week. Once again, ADP values are provided in parentheses.

Tier One

1. Miguel Cabrera (2)

Tier Two

2. Adrian Beltre (15)

3. David Wright (18)

4. Evan Longoria (19)

Tier Three

5. Matt Carpenter (41)

6. Manny Machado (44)

7. Josh Donaldson (51)

8. Ryan Zimmerman (52)

9. Pedro Alvarez (62)

Tier Four

10. Kyle Seager (80)

11. Martin Prado (100)

12. Xander Bogaerts (106)

13. Pablo Sandoval (118)

Tier Five

14. Aramis Ramirez (134)

15. Chase Headley (136)

16. Brett Lawrie (136)

Undervalued

Pablo Sandoval (ADP 118)

I try to be as agnostic as possible in playing this game,  but you'll have to excuse me here, as this is more of a hunch. As we all know by now, Sandoval reportedly lost the equivalent of a kindergartener in weight over the offseason. I'm not sure what that says about Kung Fu Panda: should we praise him for getting into shape or criticize him for being that overweight in the first place? At any rate, the incredibly talented Wendy Thurm has previously pointed out that there seems to be a link between Pablo's weight and his performance on the field. Sure, it may just be a coincidence, but some evidence is there. Again, this is far from scientific, but I still believe in this bat barring injury. Unfortunately, that's asking a lot of Sandoval, who's always a good bet to land on the DL, as Eno Sarris notes. Given that his ADP lies outside the top 100, however, I think the third baseman's risk of injury has been built into his market price and then some. My general approach for this position will be to target an elite option like Miggy or Beltre with one of my first couple picks, but I view Sandoval as a volatile stock capable of significantly outproducing his current pricetag.

Aramis Ramirez (ADP 134)

Another fallback option available in the middle rounds, Ramirez has long been a personal favorite of mine. After missing a large chunk of 2013, Aramis has witnessed a dramatic decline in market value this offseason. Yes, he's up there in age, but I still think there's another good year or two in that bat. Albeit in a limited sample size, Ramirez still had an average flyball distance within a few feet of elite options at the position like Longoria and Beltre. He's always displayed good contact rates for a power hitter, and he even boosted his walk rate last year. While the Brewers are likely to be .500 at best, their offense should be strong with fantasy stars all over the place, helping his counting categories. It really all comes down to health with Ramirez, but this is a risk worth embracing given the current ADP.

Overvalued

Manny Machado (ADP 44)

It seems like we've been comparing Machado to a young A-Rod forever now, but the Orioles third baseman will be just 21 on Opening Day this year. There's no denying that Machado is a future superstar. In fact, he's probably already reached that level in real baseball, which is plain scary given his age. From a fantasy perspective, though, this is far from a finished product. I think fantasy owners are getting ahead of themselves by taking him inside the top 50 overall already. Let's keep in mind he had just 14 HR and 6 SB last year. He also had significant offseason surgery, although he should be fine for Spring Training. I think it's safe to say that one of these years Machado will make the leap to fantasy superstar status and be a perennial first round pick. I just don't think 2014 is that year.



2013 Position Rankings: Third Basemen

After what seems like forever of ranking thin positions, namely Second Base and, oddly enough, First Base, we come to a relatively deep position. Not super deep, like Outfield or, unbelievably, Catcher, but deeper than it has been in years past, and deeper when compared to other infielders. It isn't often that I would consider getting my CI from third base, but I could this year. 

After a team discussion, featuring Tim Dierkes and the entire RotoAuthority staff, this round of rankings goes 30 players deep; they're divided into groups of similar value, and tiered by where they deserve to be drafted in a standard league. If you're bidding in an auction, consider players in the same tier to be of similar price. If a player has other positions in parentheses, that means you can draft and start him there. With third base squarely in the middle of the position scarcity spectrum, some of these players you'll want at third, but for others you'll have to pay middle infield prices. On this list, they're ranked where you should get them as a third baseman.

Early 1st Round

1. Miguel Cabrera, DET

He's the only infielder among the plausible top three players; if your league discounts steals at all, he's a slam-dunk first choice.

2nd Round

2. Adrian Beltre, TEX

I can still hear Giants fans at a Mariner game chanting "Bellllll-troids! Belllll-troids!" Not that I think he's on the juice or anything, but playing in Texas instead of Seattle is even better than chemical enhancement. Also, Beltre is quite a bit better than any third baseman below him on this list.

3rd Round

3. Evan Longoria, TAM
4. David Wright, NYM
5. Hanley Ramirez, LAD (SS)

Longoria came back strong at the end of last year, and before his injury, he was an easy choice for the late first round. I think he's a great risk here. I think it's time to admit that Wright isn't the player he used to be. That said, he's still among the class at his position. As a shortstop, I'd consider Ramirez in the second--that's how short that group is. If he's your third baseman, I'd reach for him in the third, but be happy to get him in the fourth.

4th Round

5. Ryan Zimmerman, WAS
6. Aramis Ramirez, MIL

Zimmerman isn't developing into one of the game's premier players, and he won't be the Face of the Nationals with Bryce Harper on the team, but that's good news for fantasy drafters, because Zim's brand of low-key excellence should play very well in a quality lineup. Ramirez is just a hair behind in my mind, mostly because his age brings a slight risk of sudden decline. That said, he's been one of baseball's best sluggers for the last two years.

5th Round 

7. Chase Headley, SDP

This choice was a tough one for me, and I know some at RotoAuthority would put him at the top of the previous tier. I just can't, though. His year came from out of nowhere, and even Petco's moving fences can't convince me that he'll sustain last year's production level. I don't think he'll drop to where he was before, but any chance that he does makes him hard to take before the fifth. I'll settle for possible lower production for the relative safety of those above him.

7th-8th Rounds

8. Brett Lawrie, TOR
9. Pablo Sandoval, SFG

Lawrie disappointed in his first full season, but he's got the talent and the lineup to take a big step forward. He's at least as big a risk as Headley two or three rounds earlier, but he probably doesn't have as high of an upside. (Not that anyone but Chase Headley's parents thought he had that kind of upside.) Pablo could be a huge bargain, in this range, as the main risk with him is his health. Fortunately for you, his World Series production doesn't seem to be inflating his ADP. After these guys, I would wait a nice long time before taking a third baseman from the position's middle class.

12th-13th Rounds

10. Will Middlebrooks, BOS
11. Todd Frazier, CIN
12. Martin Prado, ARI (OF)  

Middlebrooks and Frazier both killed the ball in a partial season and displaced fragile veterans. Both play in friendly home parks,  have good or amazing lineups around them, and are young enough to have real hope for the future. Actually, they were both so good in 2012 that it's all I can do to keep them this low. Small sample size, I remind myself, small sample size. Still, I wouldn't be shocked if either or both were among the top at the hot corner going into next year. Prado is way less exciting, but he is much safer and should be very helpful in batting average and runs scored. Sometimes very different players have very similar value.

14th-15th Rounds

13. Pedro Alvarez, PIT
14. David Freese, STL
15. Kyle Seager, SEA
16. Mike Moustakas, KCR 

Here is where you really get the chance to pick your poison. With Alvarez you get all-power, horrible-average. He's on the top of these players thanks to the fact that 30 bombs and the chance to improve are pretty good, even for the CI spot. Freese isn't exciting or durable, but he helps in average. Seager was a pleasant surprise out of Seattle, and perhaps he will be able to put a few more balls over the shortening fences in Safeco Field. Moustakas...well, he was a big prospect going into last year, and even the chance that he puts it all together makes him worth grabbing around here.

17th-18th Rounds

17. Manny Machado, BAL
18. Kevin Youkilis, NYY (1B)

By this time, you're hopefully filling out your CI and Utility spots, which means any third baseman you take should be a better hitter straight-up than any possible first baseman. That means that our round recommendations can really break down. Save these guys for later if there are useful first basemen. If not, maybe you should be jumping on them earlier, because, to me, this is the last group of full-timers who could be described to have a moderately high upside.

Machado's prospect status was through the roof going into last year, and he held his own at just 20 years old. He'll take his lumps, but some power and a little speed seem like reasonable possibilities. Youk is sort of the opposite of Machado, with the Yankees and fantasy teams trying to squeeze the last drops out of his career. The chance that there's even a little left in the tank makes him worth taking a flier on.

20th-22nd Rounds

19. Chris Nelson, COL (2B)
20. Michael Young, TEX (1B)
21. Chris Johnson, ATL
22. Jeff Keppinger, CHW (2B)
23. Mike Olt, TEX 
24. Lonnie Chisenhall, CLE

Anyone who plays in Colorado is interesting, all the more so if he's got multi-position eligibility like Nelson does. If he's assured a spot, you could even bump him up a round or so. Young doesn't have much left but a chance to start, which is what you can say about Johnson and Keppinger too. Olt and Chisenhall don't have starting jobs at the moment, but they've got more upside than those above them. Olt, in particular, makes a better bench stash than anyone else in this tier, because if he has a hot streak you can expect the Rangers to find him at bats at first base and DH.

23rd Round and Beyond

25. Matt Carpenter, STL (1B, OF)
26. Nolan Arenado, COL
27. Jordan Pacheco, COL (1B)
28. Trevor Plouffe, MIN
29. Josh Donaldson, OAK
30. Pedro Ciriaco, BOS

At this point, we're looking strictly at bench bats and those not expected to win job fights. Carpenter will probably be super-subbing for St. Louis again, and he could spot-start for a fantasy team too if his playing time develops into a pattern. Either Arenado or Pacheco could win the third base job in Colorado over Nelson. Or Nelson could end up playing second base. Regardless, any starting infielder in Colorado is worth taking a flier on. Plouffe spent half a season hitting the tar out of the ball for Minnesota...and the second half flailing helplessly. I guess it's better than a full season of helplessness. Donaldson might get most of the playing time at third for Oakland, or he might not. Ciriaco is only a choice if Middlebrooks flames out badly.

Some Guys who Can Play 3B for a Yahoo! Team

a. Mark Trumbo, LAA -- 5th Round 
b. Mark Reynolds, CLE -- 14th-15th Rounds
c. Jedd Gyorko, SDP -- 16th-17th Rounds
c. Marco Scutaro, SFG --  18th-19th Rounds

Trumbo's high-power, low-average profile looks better compared to third basemen than it does outfielders, but not by a huge amount. I wouldn't take him until Headley is gone. Reynolds is a borderline starter at third, but he gets a little extra CI value because he can actually back up both positions that can play there. Gyroko is assumed by many to be starting at second, since he won't be chasing Headley off third (sorry, I couldn't help it). He and Scutaro get a bunch of extra value as bench players if they have 3B eligibility, because you can slide them in and out of your MI and CI spots, giving you a free backup outfielder, extra reliever, or whatever else strikes your fancy.

The group of players at third base isn't elite by any means, but it has a stronger middle class than the rest of the infield, relative to what you expect of them. Lately, third had been a lot more like second base and shortstop, but this year a lot more of the players can compete with a thinned out first base. The bottom still drops off, though, so I suggest locking up third and CI quickly.



Draft Round Battles: Headley Vs. Zimmerman

Washington D.C. is about 2700 miles from San Diego but the two cities' star third basemen could hardly be closer.  In Mock Draft Central's most recent average draft position report, Chase Headley's 50.84 ADP narrowly edges out Ryan Zimmerman's 51.55 ADP and the duo are ranked 48th and 49th overall among all players.  It's basically about as close as it gets between the two third baseman heading into 2013 and when you hit that late third round/early fourth round, you'll probably still have both of them on the board.  Who do you take if you're looking for a big bat at the hot corner?

Let's take a look at both players' 2012 numbers.  As we see, Headley had the clear edge...

Headley: 699 PA, .286/.376/.498, 31 HR, 115 RBI, 95 runs, 17 steals, 144 OPS+, 145 wRC+

Zimmerman: 641 PA, .282/.346/.478, 25 HR, 95 RBI, 93 runs, 5 steals, 121 OPS+, 121 wRC+

You really struck paydirt if you were a Headley owner in 2012.  The Padres third sacker took the big step from underrated fantasy option to superstar, providing consistent production all year long and taking it to another level in the second half.  Headley posted a .984 OPS over his last 74 games and no doubt swung many a fantasy playoff race.  

Going into 2012, the line on Headley was that he was a Petco Park victim, putting up big numbers on the road but mediocre stats in his very pitcher-friendly home ballpark.  Headley still had significant home/away splits last season but he definitely turned a corner at Petco, posting an .812 OPS at home and a whopping .975 OPS on the road.  He can hit, he can steal you some bases and he's just going into his age-29 season, so Headley should be right in the middle of his prime.

Headley's big 2012 bore quite a resemblance to Zimmerman's big 2009-10 campaigns, when Invader Zim averaged a .299/.375/.518 slash line, 29 HR, 96 RBI and a 137 OPS+ over those two seasons, no small feat considering that Nationals Park is also pretty pitcher-friendly.  Zimmerman was hampered by injuries in 2011 (yet still posted a .798 OPS in 440 PA) and was also bothered by a shoulder injury at the start of 2012, spending some time on the DL and owning a measly .590 OPS and three homers through his first 55 games.  Like Headley, however, Zimmerman caught fire in the second half, hitting .321/.383/.584 over his last 90 games.  Zimmerman has undergone surgery this offseason in an attempt to fix his shoulder issue once and for all, and he is on pace to be ready to go on Opening Day.

A healthy Zimmerman and a "new normal" Headley are basically the same player, so fantasy owners have to ask themselves what's more likely to happen --- Zimmerman going back on the DL or Headley coming back to earth.  All things considered, I'll consider Zimmerman to be the slightly better fantasy option.  Here's my reasoning...

* Past history.  Put me in the camp that believes Headley is probably due to produce something closer to his .773 OPS performance from 2011 than repeat his 2012 performance.  Fangraphs' Chris Cwik recently noted that most players who had similar jumps in production (as measured by wOBA) over a single season regressed the following year, in some cases drastically.  An explainable dip in production can be more comforting to a fantasy owner than an unexplainable surge in production, and I put more faith in Zimmerman getting over his shoulder than I do in Headley suddenly putting up Adrian Gonzalez numbers on a consistent basis.

* Surroundings.  I actually think the Padres lineup could be underrated next season, especially since they're moving the fences in at Petco Park.  Headley has some talent around him and his ballpark will be at least slightly more hitter-friendly, and yet that said, Zimmerman clearly benefits more from hitting in that stacked Nats lineup and playing in Washington.

* Luck.  This is kind of a minor thing since Zimmerman owns a career .313 BABIP himself, but Headley's career BABIP is an eyebrow-raising .339.  Unless Headley was given a lifetime blessing by the BABIP fairy (or maybe just really knows how to hit 'em where they ain't in his spacious home stadium), surely you have to figure that sooner or later, Headley's luck will turn.  Also, Headley is due some bad karma for not adopting this classic as his walkup music.  C'mon, he actually plays in San Diego and his first name is actually Chase!  It's a no-brainer!  If a member of Petco Park stadium operations staff happens to be reading this, at least start using the "ooooo, the Chaaaaaase" sound clip after Headley's base hits.

I reserve the right to change my opinion if Headley is dealt before the trade deadline, though it seems the Padres are eager to work out a contract extension with him even if talks aren't taking place at the moment.  As it stands now, however, I see Zimmerman carrying a minor edge over his fellow third baseman.  While Headley is still a strong option and I'd be happy to have him on my fantasy roster, I just think Zimmerman's track record makes him the safer option. 



Cubs Turn The Reigns Over To Jackson & Vitters

The Chicago Cubs started a new era in franchise history when the Theo Epstein-led regime took over this past offseason, and they've systematically started a rebuilding process by trading veterans and acquiring young talent. Players like Sean Marshall, Carlos Zambrano, and Ryan Dempster were traded for prospects and/or salary relief in recent months, and youngsters like Anthony Rizzo and Darwin Barney were eased into the starting lineup. Following the trade deadline, the Cubs recalled two of their highest profile prospects and have handed them regular playing time. Let's look at their fantasy value.

Brett Jackson | OF

Jackson, 24, was the 31st overall pick in the 2009 draft and steadily climbed the minor league ladder before making his debut. He's only hit .188/.257/.281 in 35 big league plate appearances so far, but he's a .282/.379/.488 career hitter in the minors with 10+ homers and 20+ steals in each of the last three seasons. Jackson also provides a lot of value with his center field defense, but that's irrelevant in fantasy.

The biggest problem with the outfielder is, by far, his knack for the swing and miss. Jackson has whiffed on 24 of the 159 pitches he's seen in the big leagues, a tidy 15.1%. The league average is slightly more than half that at 9.0%. He's struck out 18 times with the Cubs already, and in the minor leagues more than one-quarter (26.4%, to be exact) of his plate appearances ended with strike three. That's astromical for a top prospect and a massive hole in his game that could be his ultimate downfall. Jackson will get a chance to play for the rest of the season, but outside of a handful of steals and maybe a few homers, his fantasy value is nil until he can put the ball in play consistently.

Josh Vitters | 3B

The third overall pick in the 2007 draft, the 22-year-old Vitters took a little longer to get to the show than first overall pick David Price and second overall pick Mike Moustakas. The third baseman has produced just a .103/.100/.138 batting line in 30 plate appearances since being recalled, though he put together a .304/.356/.513 performance in Triple-A earlier this year. He's a .283/.327/.455 career hitter in over 2,100 minor league plate appearances.

While Jackson is prone to swings and misses, Vitters is the polar opposite. His problem is that he makes contact a little too easily, and often puts pitches in play that he shouldn't be swinging at in the first place. The ability to get the bat on the ball is why he was drafted so high, but the lack of plate discipline has kept Vitters from realizing his full potential during his climb up the minor league ladder. That doesn't mean things won't click in the future, but for 2012 we have another guy with little to no fantasy value. The Cubs are headed in the right direction and have done a smart thing by giving Jackson and Vitters an extended look at the end of the season, but unfortunately neither player is worth a fantasy roster spot at this point of their careers.



Orioles Make Manny Machado A Surprise Call-Up

Despite having the fourth worst run differential in the American League (-47), the surprising Orioles remain right in the thick of the AL East race thanks to their insane 22-6 record in one-run games and 12-2 record in extra-inning games. They're 4.5 games back of the Yankees in the division and tied for one of the two Wild Card spots because their dynamite bullpen (3.04 ERA) keeps them in every tight game.

The Orioles are not without their faults though, and through yesterday's game they had received some of the worst third base production in the league at .246/.319/.406. Wilson Betemit has seen the majority of the action at the hot corner, but Mark Reynolds, Robert Andino, Ryan Flaherty, and Steven Tolleson have also gotten some reps at third. With their first winning record since 1997 staring them in the face, Baltimore decided to recall top shortstop prospect Manny Machado from Double-A after last night's game with the idea of installing him at third. He's expected to be in today's lineup.

Machado, 20, was ranked as the 11th best prospect in the game by Baseball America this spring before placing ninth in their recent midseason update. The third overall pick in the 2010 draft has played exactly two games at third base in his minor league career, both this year at Double-A. The rest have been at shortstop with a few DH starts sprinkled in. The kid's going to be learning the position on the fly in the big leagues, which isn't an easy thing to do.

Furthermore, this isn't exactly a case of a player forcing the team's hand. Machado was having a very strong season in Double-A for a kid his age - .266/.352/.438 with 11 homers - but it's hardly a performance that screams "call me up, I'm big league ready!" That's why the move is very aggressive on the part of the Orioles, but they do deserve some credit for being gutsy enough to do it. New GM Dan Duquette seems intent on winning this year.

Machado is already shortstop-eligible in most fantasy leagues and will pick up third base eligibility soon enough. He's a legitimate power bat with some stolen base ability, but he's more of a middle of the order guy than a tablesetter, or at least he's expected to be in time. Dan Syzmborski's ZiPS projection system considered Machado a true talent .248/.303/.389 hitter (with 13 homers) at the big league level coming into the season, which is just a snapshot in time. That's the expectation for the 20-year-old kid jumping right into the show, not the 27-year-old future version in the peak of his career.

As excellent as Machado is as a prospect, he's not Mike Trout (or even Bryce Harper) and expecting that kind of immediate impact would be a setup for disappointment. He could always smash his way to a .300 average with eight or ten homers the rest of the way, but that would be the best case scenario in a relatively small sample. Expecting even a repeat of his Double-A effort might be asking too much. Shortstop is a pretty thin fantasy position however, and if you're willing to gamble on upside there are few better players to do it with. Unless you're in a long-term keeper league, I can't advise dropping an established producer for Machado this season, especially if you're in contention. It's easy to overlook the risk part of the high-risk/high-reward moves.



Rangers Turn To Mike Olt To Help Offense

The Rangers have been one of the two or three best teams in baseball basically since Opening Day, but they only went 9-14 and scored an MLB-low 81 runs in July. As a team they hit .192/.310/.271 with runners in scoring position last month, which is pretty hard to fathom. Michael Young is having his worst season since his rookie year, Josh Hamilton's slump is now two months long, and others like Elvis Andrus, Adrian Beltre, and Ian Kinsler simply didn't carry their weight in July. Scoring the fewest runs in baseball over an extended period of time takes a total team effort.

In an effort to spice up the offense, the Rangers announced after last night's come-from-behind win over the Angels that they were purchasing the contract of third baseman Mike Olt from Double-A Frisco. Both Baseball America and Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus (subs. req'd) ranked the 23-year-old Olt as the 11th best prospect in the game in their midseason top 50 prospect lists while ESPN's Keith Law (Insider req'd) was a little more bearish, ranking him 46th overall. We can quibble with the individual rankings all day, but the bottom line is that Texas just skipped one of baseball's top offensive prospects over Triple-A to help the big league team.

Olt, the 49th overall selection in 2010, hit .288/.398/.579 with 28 homers in 421 plate appearances for Frisco this season after hitting to the tune of .264/.381/.500 with 15 homers in his first full professional season last year. He's a right-handed hitter and took the place of fellow righty Brandon Snyder, who pinch-hit and made spot starts at first base and in both corner outfield spots before being sent down last night. Part of the reason why Olt is such a great prospect is his defense -- he's worked hard to become an above-average gloveman at the hot corner since being drafted. The problem is that Beltre is entrenched at third base for the next few years.

The Rangers have worked to increase Olt's versatility this season, having him start 13 games at first base and three in right field. They have not yet indicated how they will use him in the big leagues, so right now we can only speculate about his playing time. He could spot start at either corner infielder position, perhaps start a few games in right, maybe even taking some DH at-bats away from a franchise icon in Young. I don't think Texas recalled Olt just to have him fill Snyder's role - Snyder only has 68 plate appearances this season - they're going to play him somewhere. That could work to the advantage of fantasy owners since multi-position eligibility is always a benefit.

Projecting Olt's production for the rest of the season is a tough task because of the playing time question. He annihilated left-handed hitters in Double-A, I'm talking a .272/.422/.598 batting line with eight homes in 92 at-bats, and that's how he figures to into the lineup. I wouldn't expect anything more a decent .250-.260-ish batting average, though strange things can happen in small samples, especially when platooned. The power is real and with two months left to go in the season, Olt could run into eight or nine dingers the rest of the way. If he gets enough playing time, he could offer you similar production to someone like Mike Moustakas or Will Middlebrooks. It's easy to fall in love with the hype surrounding top prospects, but I tend to always bet the under.

In traditional 12-team, 5x5 scoring mixed leagues, Olt is probably best used as an extra guy on the roster you can use at various positions (assuming he picks up 1B and OF eligibility in short order) whenever Texas is scheduled to face a left-handed pitcher. They get former teammate C.J. Wilson tonight and Olt is expected to be in the lineup. We can't get an accurate read on his fantasy value until we get an idea of how he'll be used and how much playing time he'll receive, but expect to get some power and RBI production if you can't help yourself and grab him off the waiver.



Four Prospects To Watch In The Second Half

As we come out of the All-Star break, we're going to see a number of top prospects join their big league club down the stretch as they push for a playoff spot. Some may have a huge impact like Mike Trout has already had for the Angels while others may just be complementary pieces shoring up the bench or bullpen. Here's a look at four high-end prospects who could assume important roles in the second half and have real fantasy value. I've including their ranking among Baseball America's Top 50 Prospects midseason update for reference.

Matt Harvey | SP | Mets | Baseball America: #34

The Mets got some unfortunate news earlier this week when right-hander Dillon Gee had to be placed on the disabled list after feeling numbness in his fingers. He was diagnosed with a blood clot in his shoulder and may still need surgery. The team has yet to announce his rotation replacement, but right now it seems like the immortal Miguel Batista will be a temporary solution. With Harvey tearing up Triple-A, he becomes the prohibitve favorite to fill Gee's spot if he misses an extended period of time.

Harvey, 23, has pitched to a 3.39 ERA in 18 starts and 98.1 innings for the club's Triple-A affiliate this season. His strikeout (9.3 K/9) and walk (3.8 BB/9) rates are very good, though they're better measured in terms of percent of batters faced -- he's struck out 24.2% while walking 10.0% of the hitters to step in the box against him this year. The walks are a bit of a concern because they will boost his WHIP, but Harvey can miss bats and that will cure a lot of ills. Throw in a pitcher friendly ballpark and you're looking at a potential fantasy weapon down the stretch.

Wil Myers | OF | Royals | Baseball America: #3

The 21-year-old Myers has had a busy week, first starring in the Futures Game before winning the Triple-A All-Star Game MVP Award last night. He's hit a combined .327/.403/.676 with 27 homers in 363 plate appearances split between Double and Triple-A this season, and in reality he probably should have been up a few weeks ago. Lorenzo Cain is just coming back from a groin strain and Jeff Francoeur has been unable to replicate last season's success, so the Royals can make room for Myers if they really want to get him in the lineup. Either way, expect him to rake and become an instant fantasy starter as soon as he's recalled and given an everyday job.

Mike Olt | 3B | Rangers | Baseball America: #11

Olt, 23, has had a huge year - .292/.403/.574 with 22 homers in 348 Double-A plate appearances this summer - and he doesn't figure to need much Triple-A time before being big league ready. The problem is that there's no obvious opening for him in Texas with Adrian Beltre manning the hot corner, though they've had him work out at both first base and right field this season. Of course that also makes Olt one of the very best pieces of trade bait in the game. The Rangers could go big game hunting - Zack Greinke? Cole Hamels? Justin Upton? - with their top third base prospect going the other way. That could land Olt in the big leagues down the stretch and third base is a sneaky shallow position. Keep an eye on Texas and their trade deadline dealings, because they could have big fantasy implications for more than the obvious reasons.

Tyler Skaggs | SP | Diamondbacks | Baseball America: #7

The arrival of Trevor Bauer has been a little underwhelming so far, but he's not the only high-end pitching prospect the D'Backs have on the cusp of the show. Skaggs, a 21-year-old southpaw, pitching to a 2.84 ERA in 13 Double-A starts before jumping to Triple-A and making two starts. His strikeout (8.7 K/9 and 23.2% of batters faced) and walk (2.6 BB/9 and 7.0%) rates are excellent, it's just a matter of making room for him in the rotation. Daniel Hudson's injured elbow opens a starting job that will likely be filled when Joe Saunders comes off the DL (Josh Collmenter is filling in for the time being), but the veteran southpaw always seems to be involved in trade rumors. Skaggs probably has the most to overcome to reach the show in the second half, but he has fantasy impact potential once he does arrive.





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