Top 15 Keeper Rankings: Third Base

Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Evan Longoria stands in the on deck circle during the game against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore on July 20, 2010.  UPI/Mark Goldman Photo via Newscom
Third Base has been a thinning fantasy position for a few years now. Is that about to change with the next group of hot corner prospects?
 

Note: These are NOT rankings for 2010. The focus is on long-term keeper values, looking first toward the next 4-5 years and then some prospects that could be moving up this charts during those seasons.

 
1. Evan Longoria l Age: 24
The drop in power this season may have fantasy owners a bit concerned, but given his age and progression as a hitter overall, I’m not worried about it becoming a trend in 2011 and beyond (Perhaps it’s the start of the MLB2K cover jinx!…maybe not). Longoria has made great improvements in his raw hitting skills such as BB/K rate and line drive rate. He is hitting fly balls at a slightly higher rate than he did last season, yet his HR/FB rate has dropped 6.5 percent. There is a very good chance that his HR/FB numbers jump back up in 2011 and the 35-plus home run potential returns.
 
2. David Wright l Age: 27
After a horrific power outage in 2009, Wright has put the psyche of Citi Field behind him and is coming up on a 20/20 season. The regression in BB/K rate over the past few seasons is a bit unsettling, but even while struggling with his strikeout rate Wright is still posting a .290-plus AVG and .360-plus OBP. At a thin fantasy position, Wright’s 20/20 (and more) potential for the next several years makes him a huge asset in keeper formats.
 
3. Ryan Zimmerman l Age: 25
When I wrote down Zimmerman’s name and age I thought to myself, “He’s only 25!?” Then I though about how Zimmerman is closing in on his second .290 AVG/30 home run season with an improving walk rate. 
He’s only 25! Well, 26 in September, but still!
 
4. Mike Moustakas l Age: 21
In 2007, the Kansas City Royals made Mike Moustakas the second overall pick in the draft. While the results weren’t there in his first couple of minor league seasons, Moustakas has had a breakout season in 2010 hitting .316/.368/.606 with 26 home runs between double-A and triple-A (mostly double-A). His improvement in plate discipline has made all the difference and he is now on the fast track to the big leagues. The Royals recently moved Alex Gordon to left field, which clears up a spot for Moustakas to take over third once he is ready. Before the disappointing start to his minor league career, many projected Moustakas as a future all-star level third baseman. After his breakout 2010, those projections might be back in place.
 
5. Pedro Alvarez l Age: 23
Alvarez has done exactly what I though he would in his first taste of big league action. He has hit for power (17 AB/HR), struck out a ton (over 35 percent) and struggled against left-handed pitching (.211/.288/.338, .127 ISO vs LHP). Those last two points will be his biggest challenges going forward. As he adjusts to big league pitching these stats will improve, but it may not be a 2011 or even 2012 across the board breakout. Even if he doesn’t hit for AVG, his power numbers will be enough to hold his value high at a thin fantasy position. One thing that may hold back his is his ability, or lack thereof, to stick at the hot corner.

 

6. Pablo Sandoval l Age: 23
Last season, Kung Fu Panda swung at pitches outside the strike-zone almost 42 percent of the time. That is an astonishingly high chase rate, but this season Sandoval is going after even more bad pitches (44 percent). Clearly, as the results continued to turn out negative, Sandoval lost some of his confidence. As a result Sandoval has been less aggressive on pitches in the strike-zone.
 
Swinging at fewer good pitches and more bad pitches is never a good thing.
 
(O-Sw = Swings at pitches outside the strike-zone, Z-Sw = Swings at pitches inside the strike-zone)

Season

O-Sw %

Z-Sw %

2009

41.7%

83.0%

2010

44.1%

77.1%

 
It had looked like Sandoval could hit for AVG despite a high chase rate because of good contact skills (i.e. Vlad Guerrero). However, this season givens that hope some pause. Still, Sandoval is only 23 with a spectacular 2009 season on his track record so there is upside remaining in his future as long as he can find his confidence once again.
 
7. Mark Reynolds l Age: 27
I said it all offseason, Mark Reynolds is and will be a risky player going forward. There is just no way of counting on him hitting for much AVG, at all, in the future. Just when I thought his strikeout rate couldn’t get any higher, it has, to over 40 percent! Reynolds literally tries to hit a home run every time up. While there is no doubting that he has 40-plus home run potential, the risk in his AVG will always be too much for me to ever want him on a fantasy team. That being said, for keeper league owners, his power upside is worth a roster spot.
 
8. Alex Rodriguez l Age: 35
I wrote about A-Rod and the possibility that his contact may end up as the worst in baseball history. In that article were a few nuggets about the change in A-Rod’s approach from a slugger to a more contact oriented hitter since his hip surgery.
 
K% = Strikeout rate, CT% = Contact rate, O-CT% = Contact on pitches outside the strike-zone, ISO = Isolated power (SLG-AVG)
 

Season

K%

CT %

O-CT %

ISO

2008

22.9

75.8

51.6

0.271

2009

21.8

78

58.8

0.245

2010

17.7

81.5

65.4

0.209

 
Strikeouts down, contact up and power numbers down. Also, A-Rod only has three stolen bases on the year. That’s not a good combo for a 35-year-old whose fantasy value–and contract–are based mostly on power numbers.
 
9. Aramis Ramirez l Age: 32
A-Ram hit .207 with 10 home runs and a 0.37 BB/K rate in 237 at-bats before the all-star break. Since then, A-Ram has hit .289 with six home runs and a 0.46 BB/K rate in 87 at-bats. You can basically throw out the first two months of Ramirez’s season as playing through a thumb injury clearly affected his approach at the plate. While the injury has lingered from time to time since then, A-Ram has been more like his old self from mid-June and on. 2011 should be a bounce back season, but his long term keeper value is hampered by a laundry list of injuries throughout his career and the fact that he is entering his mid-30′s.
 
10. Adrian Beltre l Age: 31
Who wants a big fat contract? Beltre does! Beltre does! Scouring through the numbers, it’s funny how Beltre is basically the exact same hitter he was in Seattle. The difference? Health and getting out of Seattle. Where Beltre signs will have an impact on his value going forward, but we shouldn’t expect a repeat performance anyway. His current .354 BABIP would represent the highest of his career (career .294 BABIP) and the highest since 2004, when his BABIP was .325. Oh yeah, 2004 also happened to be the last time Beltre was heading into free agency after the season. We all know the rest.
 
11. Ian Stewart l Age: 25
It’s hard to figure Ian Stewart out. Last season he showed big-time power potential (17 AB/HR = ~32 HR per 550 at-bats), but little potential to hit for AVG (14 percent line drive rate, 28 percent whiff rate). This season, Stewart is still not hitting for AVG, but he has lowered his whiff rate while holding a line drive rate of about 23 percent. Maybe someday, as he heads into his late 20′s, we’ll find out exactly who he is as a hitter. No matter what, his struggles against left-handed pitching may continue to hold his AVG down in the long run.
 
12. Michael Young l Age: 33
I keep trying to write Michael Young off, but he simply continues to hit for AVG while providing good power. The only negative I can add here is that Young is not so young anymore. He’ll enter 2011 at the age of 34, which can’t help but hold back his long-term keeper value.
 
13. Chase Headley l Age: 26
With 1471 plate appearances to-date, we have a pretty good grasp on what type of hitter Chase Headly is. He’s good, a valuable real life third baseman, but his fantasy relevance has been limited to deep mixed or NL-only leagues. His home park has really hindered his potential. Headley has hit .268 with a .100 ISO at home and .282 with a .132 ISO on the road. There is still upside for a 20/15 season, but it’s not as if Headley is even a doubles machine like say, Billy Butler.
 
14. Josh Bell l Age: 23
Bell has taken over as the Orioles everyday third baseman and so far the results have not been good. However, his major league experience has been limited to only 48 plate appearances. Being a switch hitter can have it’s advantages, but not if you can’t find success from one side. That is and will likely be Bell’s problem going forward. Though he is a switch hitter, he has always struggled against left-handed pitching. According to minorleaguesplits.com, Bell’s minor league career AVG against lefties is .244. While hitting consistently for AVG may be an issue, the power grades out as a plus skill for Bell. 20-25 home runs annually is not out of the question.
Is he a switch hitting version of Ian Stewart?
 
15. Jose Bautista l Age: 29
When I wrote about Bautista’s power upside this preseason, I never thought he’d be capable of approaching a 40 home run season. Muck like Mark Reynolds, Bautista has been an all-or-nothing hitter this season with a low 15 percent line drive rate and a very high 52 percent fly ball rate. Unlike Reynolds, however, Bautista does not strike out too much and has a league average whiff rate. It’s hard to endorse these “out-of-nowhere” performances from players who have been around for a while. Banking on such a high fly ball rate to be maintained or result in this many home runs again is very risky. Who knows how long he’ll stick at third?
Others of note
 
Dayan Viciedo l Age: 21
So far, in 74 major league plate appearances, Viciedo has yet to draw a walk. This season at triple-A, he only walked eight times in 255 plate appearances. Calling him a stereotypical Cuban hitter would be an understatement. Small sample size noted, Viciedo has swung at pitches outside the strike-zone at a rate of 38.6 percent. To swing at so many bad pitches and not have good contact skills is a recipe for future struggles. He’s only 21, but Viciedo has a long way to go with his plate discipline before fantasy owners can count on him as a consistent value at third base.
 
Danny Valencia l Age: 25
Valencia has made quite a splash since his call-up this season hitting .331/.383/.419 (.386 BABIP) in 149 plate appearances. However, the small sample size tells us very little about his future projection. He’s not going to be much of a power hitter, but could consistently crack 15 or so home runs annually as he has done in the minors. His swing is very contact oriented, which could lead to some solid AVG’s in his prime. All-in-all, Valencia is a decent prospect and one that should have a major league career, but outside of AL-only leagues, his value will probably be minimal.