Fantasy Baseball: Third Base Primer
With fantasy baseball draft season beginning to pick up, this is a great time to survey the landscape at each position and figure out how you want to attack them this season. With the exception of the notoriously weak catcher group (yuck), position scarcity isn't something to be concerned with at other positions, but that doesn't mean there isn't value to be found by dissecting each one individually.
All ADP numbers are from National Fantasy Baseball Championship (NFBC) drafts since February 1.
Who Should be the Number Three Pick?
It's safe to say just about everyone agrees Mike Trout and Mookie Betts are the first and second overall picks this season. Case in point, in last week's The Great Fantasy Baseball Invitational (TGFBI) industry drafts -- which include 315 fantasy analysts -- all 21 leagues picked Trout and Betts in the first two picks.
But the number-three pick is a different story. In those 21 TGFBI drafts, seven different players were chosen third, showing just how wide open the field gets following the consensus top two.
Third Baseman Jose Ramirez was the most common choice at the three spot (nine times), and generally speaking, he's been considered the most popular number-three guy this offseason. He has the third-highest ADP in the NFBC, but that figure is right around the fourth pick over the last month, showing the lack of clarity when picking third.
So naturally this begs the question -- should Ramirez be the number-three pick?
His 2018 numbers were out of control -- a .270/.387/.552 line with 110 runs, 39 homers, 105 RBIs, and 34 stolen bases. Sure, if we knew he had another 30/30 season in store for us, it would be a no-brainer.
But there's a good chance both his power and speed dips back down in 2019. Last year, Ramirez boosted his home run total with the highest fly-ball rate (45.9%) and pull rate (50.0%) of his career, a sound recipe for more dingers. However, his Statcast numbers have never jumped off the page, and even with a rise in barrels last year, he still ranked just 89th in barrels per plate appearance and 116th in barrels per batted-ball event on the Statcast leaderboard. It's fair to expect him to take a step back from last season's career-high HR/FB rate (16.9%).
Ramirez also registered just a 61st percentile sprint speed, so he isn't exactly a speed demon like a Billy Hamilton or Mallex Smith. Prior to converting 34-of-40 stolen base attempts last year (85%), he converted just 39-of-51 (76%) over the prior two seasons combined. Obviously, base stealing is as much about opportunity than anything else, but it could be a tall order for Ramirez to match that 30-plus steals output again.
Despite all that, we're still talking about an excellent hitter who maintained his stellar plate skills with an 11.5% strikeout rate and 15.2% walk rate. Even if he gives back some of those homers and stolen bases, he's hit .285 over his career and is likely to improve upon last year's .270 mark and uncharacteristic .252 BABIP. You can also ignore any concerns about his second-half fade -- posting a massive 146 wRC+ in back-to-back seasons should let him off the hook for a rough month or two.
So, should you take Ramirez third overall? The elite speed upside of Trea Turner is tempting, but overall it's hard to find any major holes in Ramirez's resume to suggest he won't come through with another strong all-around effort. Yes, it's fair to expect some regression, but that likely means a stat line more like his 2017 numbers -- which would still amount to an elite five-category star. That's a high floor that few can match, making J-Ram a fantastic choice for your number-three pick. He's a no-brainer if he falls past that in your draft.
It's worth noting Nolan Arenado (ADP 7) has occasionally been plucked as the third pick in drafts, as well. Ramirez may get the slight edge, but when speaking of high floors, it's tough to argue with Arenado's resume. He's been the absolute model of consistency the past four seasons, posting at least 97 runs, 37 home runs, 110 RBIs and a .287 average in every year over that span. And it's not like he hasn't shown immense upside, as well, reaching 130 RBIs three times and 40 home runs twice.
With no fear of Arenado leaving the Rockies in a midseason trade after signing an eight-year extension, there's little reason to think we won't see more of the same in 2019. The lack of stolen bases should give you pause in taking Arenado as high as third, but much like fellow slugger J.D. Martinez, Arenado should be elite in the four other roto categories and is still worthy of an early first round pick.
Bregman is the safer bet of the two, owning elite plate skills in a 12.1% strikeout rate and 13.6% walk rate similar to Jose Ramirez, supporting a high floor. Projected for home runs in the mid-to-high 20s and batting in a strong Houston lineup, the soon to be 25-year-old should put up similar numbers as he did last year, making him an excellent draft-day investment.
On the other hand, there are more concerns around the free-swinging Baez regressing from his monster season, which we noted in last week's second base primer. But drafters have occasionally been overly cautious in drafting him, and if he drops too far past his ADP in the second round, he's worth snagging at a potential value.
Following the top four, Anthony Rendon (42) looks like a great draft-day value, coming off back-to-back seasons batting over .300 with at least a 140 wRC+. Still just 28 years old, it's possible we haven't seen the best of Rendon yet, and his Statcast numbers suggest there could be another level to his home run power.
Coming off an injury-marred 2018 campaign, Kris Bryant (32) should be poised to bounce back this year -- after all, he was a first-round pick as recently as 2017. Owning a career .285/.385/.515 batting line, a healthy Bryant still profiles as a fantastic four-category bat, and there's always the chance he gets back to chipping in stolen bases as he did over his first three seasons. Given the health concerns, Rendon is arguably the safer choice, but we can't overlook the upside Bryant has shown in the past.
Of course, no discussion about rising stars at third base could go without highlighting can't-miss prospect Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (41), who the baseball world is universally excited to see debut. Naturally, that means excited fantasy baseball drafters, too, and the going rate is quite costly if you want Guerrero on your squad, easily surpassing the hoopla that surrounded Ronald Acuna this time last year.
But it's easy to see what all the fuss is about with just a quick glance at Vlad's minor league numbers. Last year, Guerrero hit over .400 in Double-A, and in Triple-A, he slashed .336/.414/.564 with a walk rate (10.2%) that was actually higher than his strikeout rate (7.8%). He hasn't played a single game in the major leagues, yet Steamer has him projected to bat .306, the second-highest projection in the league behind only Daniel Murphy.
So, yes, rostering Guerrero could be really awesome, but keep in mind that he's going right around the same time as Rendon, who's already put up the type of numbers you're hoping Guerrero can post in his first MLB season. That's a tall order for a guy who turns only 20 this month, no matter what kind of uber-prospect he is. He'll almost certainly be very good right away, if not great, but you shouldn't reach much above his current ADP over other already established stars. If forced to choose between Rendon and Guerrero, Rendon is the wiser choice.
Also, while it's hardly a dealbreaker, keep in mind that the Blue Jays sound adamant about keeping Guerrero in Triple-A to start the year for service-time reasons, meaning he'll miss the first couple weeks in April.
The Best of the Rest
Even if you miss out on those big names, worry not, as there are plenty of solid third basemen to go around.
Eugenio Suarez (54) slugged a career-high 35 bombs in 2018, which was backed up by him ranking third among qualified hitters in hard-hit rate (48.6%) while seeing noticeable jumps in average exit velocity and barrels. The evidence suggests he has a good chance of reaching 30 home runs again, although he's unlikely to hit above .280 as a career .264 hitter.
Donaldson carries injury risk after playing in only 113 and 52 games the last two seasons, but he is a former first-round fantasy pick and has remained productive when he's on the field. Chapman hit "only" 24 home runs in 2018 but has the skills for a Suarez-level breakout, ranking fifth overall in average exit velocity to go with a 39.3% fly-ball rate and 43.2% hard-hit rate. Perhaps Moustakas' ADP rises this month after finally re-signed with Milwaukee in late February, but as things stand, he looks like a solid value for a guy capable of 30 bombs in a hitter-friendly home ballpark.
Matt Carpenter (71), Travis Shaw (93), and Max Muncy (112) also fit the power-hitting mold, but considering their multiple-position eligibility, you may find it more beneficial to use them elsewhere. Carpenter and Muncy both qualify at an unusually shallow first base while Shaw is one of the top home run bats at second base.
If he could just stay healthy, late-bloomer Justin Turner (107) could do a pretty darn good Rendon impression, slashing .318/.411/.524 with an 11.4% strikeout rate and 10.9% walk rate across the past two seasons. At age 34, maybe that dream season just isn't going to happen, but if he can put it all together for a full campaign, you'll be ecstatic to have him on board. Up-and-comer Miguel Andujar (77) enjoyed a strong rookie season and projects for fairly similar numbers as Turner. However, Turner should hit for the higher average of the two and is arguably the better value at his draft price -- assuming he can stay on the field.
Third base speed can be found outside the top 100 in Wil Myers (107), who looks like a potential bargain coming off an injury-shortened 2018 campaign. He won't hit for average, but with a healthy season, he shouldn't have trouble reaching 20 homers and 20 stolen bases, a feat he achieved in both 2017 and 2016. Jurickson Profar (119) is harder to project, but he showed some promising power/speed potential last year and can also be slotted at first base and shortstop.
Finally, Rafael Devers (146) is coming off a rather mundane 2018, but let's not forget he's a former top prospect and is still just 22 years old. He ranked in the 84th percentile in average exit velocity, and with fewer ground balls (46.2%) there should be another level to his power. After the sure things are off the board, he's an excellent upside pick to bet on.
Five More to Remember
Some quick thoughts on other notable names...
Miguel Sano (207): Sano is a classic buy-low option, coming off a truly disastrous 2018 campaign in which he batted just .199/.281/.398 over 299 plate appearances. Strikeouts and health have held him back, but he owns a career .233 ISO, and his Statcast numbers can hang with the league's elite power hitters. We've seen the scary floor, but you're not risking much outside the top 200, and the ceiling still looks like 40 bombs. (Update: Sano underwent a debridement procedure on Tuesday and isn't expected to be ready until May. It's a terrible blow to his 2019 outlook, and he can now only be considered a late round draft stash.)
Kyle Seager (263): Batting just .221 with 22 home runs, Seager basically performed like a Joey Gallo with half the power in 2018 -- not exactly ideal. A career-worst 21.9% strikeout rate was partially to blame, and a .251 BABIP didn't do him any favors, either, but as a career .258 hitter, he ought to get the average out of the crippling range at least. At age 31, his best days are probably behind him, but he should remain a serviceable source of power.
Jake Lamb (265): Another potential bounceback candidate, Lamb's disappointing 2018 season can be blamed on a shoulder injury, and he posted back-to-back productive seasons prior to that, including 30 home runs and 105 RBIs in 2017. Due to his issues against lefties, he'll probably find himself in a platoon, but even if he can't reach his previous heights, this is a pretty risk-free ADP. He's still just 28 years old.
Ian Happ (267): After a promising 2017 debut, Happ failed to deliver last season as his strikeout rate rose to 36.1%, and the Cubs' ever-changing lineups left him with only 462 plate appearances. But when he actually did make contact, the power was still there as he sat 30th in barrels per batted-ball event. He's probably not a guy you want to rely on entering the season, but you shouldn't have to at this draft price, and the power/speed potential is just the same as it was last year.
Maikel Franco (295): Most have given up on Franco breaking out at this point, but he's slugged more than 20 home runs three years in a row, which you'll gladly scoop up at nearly pick 300.