Everyone is looking for an advantage in fantasy baseball drafts. With so many players available, there are plenty of chances to find some diamonds in the rough.
This is all the more important at the third base position because of how shallow the top tier of the position is. There is a steep drop-off in production that makes it essential to find good depth.
Here are five third basemen that you could get at great value as sleepers in 2023.
Matt Chapman is arguably at the end of the top tier of third basemen that includes fellow veterans José Ramírez, Manny Machado, Rafael Devers, Nolan Arenado, Tommy Edman, and Alex Bregman. This tier also includes young rising stars like Gunnar Henderson, Austin Riley, and Bobby Witt Jr.
In 2022, despite posting a lowly .229 AVG, Chapman saw success in other areas. He hit 27 home runs for the second year in a row, which was tied for seventh-most (with Devers) among qualified third baseman. He increased his run and RBI output after moving to a much better offense than his previous stint with the Athletics.
Chapman improved his K%, AVG, HardHit, LD%, chase rate, contact rate, and SwStr% from 2021-2022. This could be due to a change in approach with a new team. It also could have to do with Chapman not having to press as much with a much better offense around him in Toronto. Our PLV app shows some fluctuations in his decision value, but for most of the year, he made good decisions at the plate:
There is reason to believe that Chapman could be even better in 2023 aside from the positive trends in production and plate discipline. He possessed the fifth-highest barrel rate among qualified 3B last season and the third-highest HH% (.2% lower than the leader – Devers). Combine that with some positive regression to an HR/FB% that was slightly below his career average, and you have a 30+ home run hitter. Additionally, the Toronto third baseman’s xBA was .239, showing that with some better luck, he could have done even better. His hitter performance for a solid chunk of the season was through the roof, aside from some dips in performance at the season bookends:
If you miss out on the tippy-top tier of third basemen, Chapman would be an excellent player to target at the position who you could likely find at a discount.
Justin Turner has never been a huge power threat, but possesses a solid floor and could put up some impressive stats in Boston. His single-season career-high home run total is 27, which he has done three times. There is a chance he can match that in Boston if he is able to stay healthy.
While his hard contact metrics are not through the roof, his barrel and HardHit rates were both above league average last year. This should serve him well in Fenway Park, which is the highest-scoring park according to Statcast’s park factors in terms of runs for left-handed hitters. It is also top three for BACON and woBACon (measuring batting average on contact, including homers). Justin Turner is among the best in the league at making contact as shown here:
The downside to Turner is his injury history and the fact that he is entering his age-38 season. In 14 seasons, he has played over 100 games nine times, over 120 games six times, and 130 or more games four times. One positive takeaway is that in every season he played 130+ games, he ended up with 21 or more homers and had a .275 AVG or better each time. Just take a look at his hitter performance from 2021, when he played 151 games and finished with 27 HR and a .278 AVG:
Turner would be a smart choice for those drafters that need batting average after targeting high power/low average players prior to drafting 3B.
Similar to Justin Turner, Evan Longoria has dealt with his fair share of injuries over the last few seasons. The last time he played more than 120 games was in 2019 (129 games), after playing 125 in 2018, but 156 in 2017. These injury concerns are driving down his cost in drafts, which makes him a great late target.
Longoria is a splendid option to fill a corner infield or bench slot. In shallow leagues over the past few years, he has always been one of my first additions from waivers because the floor he provides late in drafts is phenomenal.
Despite his struggles to stay healthy, Longoria has ranged between a .244-.261 AVG since 2018, and from 2018-2022 (not counting 2020) his home run totals are 16, 20, 13, and 14. He is able to stay relevant, especially in regards to power production thanks to elite batted ball data. Since 2021, he’s averaged a 12.9% barrel rate and a 50.7% HardHit rate across 500 PAs. Those rates would have tied Matt Chapman, had all of those PAs come last season. Here’s Longoria’s power PLV chart from last season:
His season average ranked nearly among the 90th percentile of hitters for power. While drafters cannot count on Longoria for a full season, he could add significant depth to fantasy teams as a late pick in deep leagues.
Jeimer Candelario is the definition of a sleeper. He essentially has the third base job in Washington with Carter Kieboom unable to perform at the plate and only Ildemaro Vargas as his other competition. Yet, he is being overlooked in drafts.
In all fantasy sports, opportunity is king. Candelario will have a significant opportunity to start at the hot corner. And he has shown the ability to produce when given the reigns. In 2018 and 2021, he played over 140 games (plus 124 in 2022, but 94 or fewer in all other seasons since 2016) and turned in 19 and 16 home runs respectively. He had a .224 AVG in 2018 and batted .271 in 2021.
Projections expect him to perform similarly in 2022, suggesting he could end up with between 14-19 home runs and an AVG in the range of .237-.245. His .217 AVG in 2022 is ugly, but a .228 xBA should ease some worries, as should a career .240 AVG.
For the last three seasons, Candelario has averaged a 9% barrel rate and a 38.4% HardHit rate, proving that there is above-average power in his bat.
Candelario also improved as the season went on last year. Check out his 2022 PLV swing aggression chart (he was very aggressive at the plate last season), which combined with his strike zone judgment chart, shows a hitter with a lot of potential who could grow into an even better fantasy asset:
Another player who should get the opportunity to start a third base is Spencer Steer of the Reds. Steer had 108 PAs as a rookie in 2022, tallying 2 homers along with a .211 AVG. Yet he is undervalued in fantasy baseball despite playing his home games in the second-best hitters’ park for right-handed power.
Across two levels of the minors in 2021, Steer launched 24 home runs, batting .274 in high-A and .241 in AA in Minnesota’s farm system. In 2022, he totaled 23 home runs, playing in Minnesota’s AA and AAA systems before moving into Cincinnati’s AAA affiliate. He hit.307, .242, and .293 respectively at those levels.
His best projection is from ZiPS, which gives him 540 PAs, 20 home runs, 74 runs, 80 RBI, 3 steals, and a .246 AVG. That projection is nearly identical to ZiPS’ projection for Ryan McMahon, who is typically ranked much higher.
Based on minor league data, Steer has been very good throughout his career at hitting line drives and fly balls and avoiding groundballs, although his GB rate was 43.5% last year in limited time.
The Reds’ third baseman was better than the league average last season in several plate discipline categories including chase rate, O-contact%, Contact%, and SwStr% (and was .3% below league average at Z-contact%). While those may dip with more time for pitchers to adjust to him, he seems to be a disciplined enough hitter from his time in the minors to make his own adjustments (he never had worse than a 26.1% strikeout rate in a single stint in the minors and ranged between 7.1%-16.8% in walk rate).