Position scarcity is an important concept to keep in mind, as getting an elite player at a shallow position can often make or break your season. A few years ago, we were always telling fantasy players to take a catcher or shortstop early in the draft, because after the first few players there was a significant drop off. This year, it’s third base that is one of the weakest positions in the game. Only three third basemen hit 30+ homers, only 2 drove in 100+ RBI and only one stole 15+ bases.
There’s a pretty clear top tier for third basemen – Evan Longoria, Adrian Beltre, and Pablo Sandoval. All three missed significant time last season, but if healthy they should be a lock for 300/30/100 (BA/HR/RBI) with 80-100 runs and a few stolen bases thrown in. After these three, there’s a significant drop off.
Your first bargain should come in the form of Ryan Zimmerman. He’s coming off a down year as well, like the others. The Nationals are an improving team, which should give Zimmerman a pretty clear opportunity to drive in 100+ and score a similar amount. He’ll be able to produce like the first three hitters mentioned (300/30/100), but because of his perceived down year he’ll likely be forgotten come draft time. Keep in mind that in 2011 this was a player who was being drafted in the second round – and you’ll likely be able to draft him a few rounds lower this year. He’ll be an excellent bargain, and he’ll produce like one of the 3-4 best third basemen in the game.
Aramis Ramirez is an intriguing option. After a couple of down years he rebounded to hit 306/26/93, placing him in the must have 3B category. He’s a risky play given that 2009-2010 he was injured and underperformed, but a healthy Ramirez will give you terrific production out of the second tier third basemen. A 290/24/90 line isn’t out of the question.
While Edwin Encarnacion is no longer a third baseman (and fans sitting behind first base can breathe out a collective sigh of relief for that fact), he should have eligibility at the hot corner for fantasy purposes. His overall line isn’t that impressive, but something clicked for him in June as he hit 284/16/45 over 335 at bats. If he was able to keep that up for a full season, Encarnacion would be capable of hitting 26 HR with 74 runs driven in. He’s worth a late round gamble, and as the full time DH in the middle of the Jays lineup he should be capable of putting up some big numbers.
However the biggest value, and arguably one of the top third basemen in the game, may turn out to be Encarnacion’s teammate, Brett Lawrie. He burst onto the scene last year, hitting 293/9/25 with 7 steals in 171 at bats. We can’t expect Lawrie to continue his 30 home run pace, but a 280/20/80 line with 20+ steals wouldn’t be out of the question. With the upside to do significantly better then that, Lawrie’s contributions in every category might make him one of the best options at third base.
Alex Rodriguez leads off the “overrated” tier, and it’s tough to know what to expect from him. He’s suffered from injuries the past few years so having a good IF backup would be key to having A-Rod on the roster. He should do well in runs and RBI, and if he stays healthy should get 20+ HR. While he’s coming off one of the worst seasons of his career, he’s still one of the better 3B in the game. Which says more about the lack of talent at third than anything else. It’s tough to draft him now, as he’s quickly turning into the AL version of Chipper Jones. A fantastic player in his own right, but misses too much time to be of use for fantasy purposes. A-Rod’s Boston rival, Kevin Youkilis, is quite similar in this respect. Youk has been injured the past two years, and his performance has suffered ,but he should put up similar numbers to last year (15-20 HR, 258 BA 80 RBI in 120 games last season).
Another name to avoid is David Freese. He’ll be very overrated thanks to his fantastic performance in the playoffs, but Freese is not one of the top 3B in the game. He’s been injury prone the past two seasons, meaning that like Rodriguez and Youk he’s a safe bet to miss a fair number of games. Even if he was healthy last year, he would have only managed a 296/15/83 line, which isn’t that impressive. He’s worth a gamble in the later rounds in deep leagues.
Last but not least in the overrated tier we have Michael Young, the incorrectly labelled MVP of the Rangers squad (that would be Ian Kinsler and Adrian Beltre for those of you wondering). Young is likely to post good batting averages, and depending on his spot in the lineup he’ll probably drive in 100+. But that’s really all you’ll get out of Young. Don’t expect big HR or SB totals from him, making him virtually worthless from a fantasy perspective.