We continue the 2019 Pitcher List positional rankings today with third base. According to the children’s rhyme, first is the worst and second is the best, so that would make this position the one with the hairy chest.
Hey, they’re not wrong.
Third base is a deep position this year, thanks in large part to a number of players picking up eligibility last season (Max Muncy, Javier Baez, Wil Myers, Jurickson Profar) and a few fresh faces joining the fray (Miguel Andujar, Vlad Guerrero Jr.). We’ve separated our rankings into tiers, which I have taken the liberty of naming after major fast food establishments (get out of here with your Chick-fil-a) and ranking accordingly based on personal preference. Is there any relationship between fast food and baseball? No, not really. But they say you should write about the things you know and love, so here I am.
A few notes before we jump in: These rankings are for standard category formats that use Avg., R, RBI, SB, and HR. These rankings were determined by consensus during a rankings roundtable with several Pitcher List staff members. The “*” indicates a player who is not currently third base-eligible in non-Yahoo! leagues but likely will be soon after the season starts. The “y” indicates a position at which the player is only eligible in standard Yahoo! leagues. That having been said, let’s jump in.
Tier 1: Taco Bell
These hitters are as dependable as any in the game; if you draft them, you won’t be disappointed. They’ll be there for you morning, noon, night, and at 3 a.m. when you’re really jonesing for a chalupa and nothing else is open. I took the analogy too far, but you get what I mean.
No 1: Jose Ramirez (2B/3B, Cleveland Indians)
The crazy thing about Jose Ramirez’s MVP-caliber 2018 campaign is that it could’ve been even better had his average not been tamped down by an exceptionally unlucky .252 BABIP. The 4.7% whiff rate and 87.7% contact rate point to Ramirez being one of the most elite contact hitters in the game right now, so expect the average to rise significantly in 2019 and probably settle in the .300 range. He’s the total package and worthy of being included in the conversation for best hitter in baseball.
Nolan Arenado is as steady as they come, and though he didn’t put up his customary 130-plus RBI season in 2018 (how dare he!), the rest of the stat line was eerily similar to what he had done the three years prior. Banking at least a .290 average with 35 homers and 100 runs and RBI early in the draft is a luxury and will set you up very nicely to take on more risk in later rounds if you so choose.
No. 3:. Manny Machado (SS/3B(y), Unsigned)
Obviously this ranking is dependent on Manny Machado actually signing with a team and playing baseball this year as opposed to pursuing what’s obviously his true passion of becoming an MMA fighter under the moniker Manny “The Ankle Breaker” Machado. It was nice to see him get to double-digit steals again last year for the first time since 2015, though where he’ll settle in the category in any given year is still a mystery. Still, he’s a safe bet for a .290 average and 35 homers, so don’t let your moral compass get in the way of grabbing him with one of your first picks.
Power. Speed. Contact ability. After giving us just a taste of what he could do in 2017, Alex Bregman broke out big-time in 2018. He made huge strides in hard-contact rate, and the 31 homers were backed by a very reasonable 14.1% HR/FB. He also walked (13.6%) more than he struck out (12.1%) last year, a rare feat that’s worthy of your praise and adoration. The 17 bases he stole in 2017 might be the high-water mark for him considering he never ran a ton in the minors, but there’s still plenty of room for growth here in his age-25 season. Draft him with confidence and enjoy the ride.
Tier 2: Wendy’s
Drafting the guys in this tier should make you feel the way you do when you look at Wendy’s founder Dave Thomas’s smiling face: warm, happy, and, if we’re being totally honest, maybe just the slightest bit uncomfortable. To be clear, everyone in this tier is a high-end talent; they just lack the upside and/or the stability of the guys in the tier above them.
No. 5: Javier Baez (SS/2B/3B, Chicago Cubs)
It might seem crazy for a guy who hit 34 homers, stole 21 bases, batted .290, and both scored and drove in more than 100 runs to not be in the top tier of second basemen. But Baez’s free-swinging ways mean there is a TON of risk baked in if you decide to draft him. He posted a 17.9% whiff rate, 68.5% contact rate, and 45.5% chase rate last season. Those are very scary numbers for those expecting Baez to be anything close to a batting average asset again. To this point, he’s been able to overcome his shortcomings thanks to a .337 career BABIP. And maybe luck will continue to be on his side. But because he hardly walks at all, he’s going to need those hits to continue falling. Otherwise, we could see a domino effect that results in his average, stolen base totals, and run-scoring opportunities all taking a nosedive. On top of that, Baez has always posted mediocre hard-contact rates, so repeating the 24.3% HR/FB he posted in 2018 might prove difficult. The sky’s clearly the limit for the 26-year-old; just don’t be too quick to assume 2018 is his new baseline.
Even if we attribute Kris Bryant’s poor performance this past season solely to his shoulder injury, there are still red flags in his profile that indicate that banking on him to return to superstar status in 2019 might not be prudent. For one thing, he has been overperforming in the batting average department for a while now. His xAVG over the past four years, going back from this past season, were .271, .283, .272, and .252. To add to that, his hard-hit percentages and barrel rates have steadily declined since his rookie campaign. Now, to be fair, he still generally posts solid barrel rates, which should help him continue to post above-average BABIPs. And xStats backs up the fact that he has a 30-homer floor when healthy. The ceiling is sky-high, but know there is some risk here.
Anthony Rendon’s 2018 was shaping up to be a career-best season for him, and if he hadn’t gone down for several weeks after fouling a ball off his toe, he likely would have set new career highs in a number of categories. It was all supported by big jumps in his barrel rate and hard-hit percentage, and Statcast had him pegged for a .305 xAVG and .543 xSLG. It’s a shame the speed element of his game seems to have vanished, as adding double-digit steals to his profile would likely be enough to catapult him into the next tier of third basemen.
No. 8: Eugenio Suarez (3B, Cincinnati Reds)
Not many players ever see the year-to-year jump in hard-hit percentage that Eugenio Suarez experienced this past season. His hard-hit percentage went from 31.9% in 2017 to 45.5% in 2018. His barrel rate also shot up from roughly league average to a healthy 9.7%. Beyond that, though, not much else seemed to change. His spray chart, batted-ball rates, contact rate, and strikeout rate all remained surprisingly steady. He did have more success against offspeed and breaking pitches this past season though, and at 27 years old, perhaps he’s simply getting better at recognizing pitches and putting good swings on them. Expect the average to probably come down a bit from .283, but he’ll rack up runs and RBI in the revamped Reds lineup and give you around 30 homers to boot.
Matt Carpenter was hands down the hottest hitter in baseball from May to July of this past season. In the 331 plate appearances he accumulated during that span, he posted a .314 average with 24 homers, 27 doubles, and an otherworldly 184 wRC+. The argument over how to rank him boils down to this: How repeatable do you think 2018 is? During our rankings roundtable, Ben Palmer argued that Carpenter changed his approach this past year and that as a result you can’t weigh his production pre-2018 as heavily as you might otherwise when projecting what he’ll do in 2019. I personally disagree; I’m less likely to buy into wholesale changes from a 33-year-old who hasn’t hit above .272 since 2013 and had a previous career high of 28 homers. Regardless of who you think the real Matt Carpenter is, he’s a great hitter and a guy you can draft with confidence to fill your third base slot.
Yes, he’s 19 years old. No, he hasn’t taken a single major league at-bat. But all signs point to Vlad Jr. being a once-in-a-generation type of player, and securing talent like that requires taking a leap of faith. We’re not the only ones clambering onto the hype train either; nearly all projection systems have him pegged for at least 20 homers and a .290 average in less than a full season of at-bats. And scouting reports have hung 70-grades on both his future hit and power tools. Questions abound over when exactly he’ll get the call this year, but few doubt that he’ll hit the ground running once he does.
Tier 3: McDonald’s
Once the cream of the crop, recent years have not been kind to many in this tier. For others here, their sudden breakouts mean they don’t have the track record to show that they can be depended on. Everyone here comes with a good bit of risk, but if things break right these third basemen could be absolute steals.
Myers is a pretty divisive player in the fantasy community. Those who love him tend to focus on his 30/30 upside, his incredibly smooth swing, and the fact that he’s just 28 years old. Those who want nothing to do with him point to his high strikeout rates, his checkered health history, and his propensity for hitting grounders. For what it’s worth, xStats loved what Myers did this past year when he was healthy, pegging him for a .284 xAVG and .474 xSLG thanks in part to the fact that he posted the best hard-contact and line-drive rates of his career. Many of those line drives came at the expense of his fly-ball rate though, and his ground-ball rate still hovered around his career rate of 43% — not great signs for a guy from whom you hope to get 30 homers. If these changes stick, we may see Myers hit above .260 for the first time since 2013, but it could come at the cost of his home run totals. And projecting him for a full season of at-bats is, as it always has been, very dangerous. However, if he falls to a place in the draft where you’re comfortable with the risk, the home run and stolen base upside is practically unmatched among third basemen.
Will getting away from the Rogers Centre’s artificial turf help Donaldson put his recurring calf issues in the rearview mirror? And if he stays healthy, can you still depend on him for elite production? His hard-hit percentage, barrel rate, and strikeout rate have all been trending in the wrong direction over the past couple of years. And nearly half his batted balls were hit on the ground last year. Donaldson does have some things going for him in 2019 though. SunTrust Park is a significantly better hitter’s park than Rogers Centre, and the lineup around him will be much stronger. There’s upside here for a top-tier third baseman if you can stomach all the question marks.
Primarily valued for his defensive wizardry, many wondered whether the high strikeout rates he posted in the minors would prevent him from being much of an offensive asset once he got to the majors. The 28.2% strikeout rate and .234 average he posted in 2017 only served to underscore those concerns. However, Chapman made big strides in 2018, cutting his strikeout rate to a much more palatable 23.7% while also posting one of the best hard-contact percentages in baseball at 47.5%. It’s a shame that his 40.3% ground-ball rate didn’t allow him to take better advantage of all that pop. If the contact rate improvements stick and he begins elevating the ball more, he’s a prime candidate for more than 30 homers with a palatable average and triple-digit runs or RBI, depending on where Oakland slots him in its surprisingly potent lineup.
I was alone during our rankings roundtable in pushing for a higher ranking of Turner. It’s OK, though. I didn’t take it personally. It’s not like I printed out photos of all the Pitcher List staff, cut out their eyes, affixed them to plastic dolls, and then threw those dolls into a raging bonfire. That’d be weird. Anyway, I get the case for ranking Turner this low. He’s 34 years old. He’s only eclipsed 130 games played once in his career. But, man, is it rare to find a guy who makes as much contact as Turner does who can also chip in 20-plus homers. If he could stay on the field for a whole season, he’d be a top-10 third baseman. But therein lies the rub.
Muncy’s magical 2018 gave hope to athletes with dad-bods the world over. Many are skeptical for a repeat considering he came seemingly out of nowhere last season, but the xStats back up everything he did, having pegged him for a 33 xHR, a .271 xAVG, and a .591 xSLG over the 481 plate appearances he compiled. He did fall off a bit in the second half of last season, getting benched sporadically against lefties, so there is some risk here. But not as much as you may think.
Andu McClutchin’ had about as amazing a rookie season as a guy can have, and if you fully buy into what he did last year, you probably think he should be ranked higher. There are a few problems though. For one thing, he’s a free swinger. The 39.3% chase rate paints the picture of a guy who will swing at anything even remotely close to being a strike, which may spell trouble for him once pitchers realize they don’t have to throw him anything in the zone. Now, a select handful of guys can make this profile work, but Andujar’s contact rates aren’t necessarily elite so it may prove difficult. The other concern here is his quality of contact. League-average barrel and hard-contact rates as well as a 44% ground-ball rate are not things you like to see from someone from whom you’d like to get another 27 homers . The .279 average and 24 homers that Steamer has him pegged for is probably a little generous but still a fair assessment of what you should expect.
Travis Shaw has now lowered his strikeout rate and boosted his walk rate in three consecutive seasons and has back-to-back 30-plus homer campaigns under his belt. The .241 average this past year was likely suppressed by his exceptionally unlucky .242 BABIP, though considering his fly-ball tendencies, he may be prone to lower BABIPs in general. A .270 average with 30 homers and a handful of steals seems like a realistic outcome for Shaw, and the added eligibility at first base and third base are nice boons to his value as well.
After a tough sophomore campaign, things seemed to click for Rafael Devers in the playoffs this past year, though reading too much into that is probably a fool’s errand. Devers’ 41.4% hard-contact rate was very impressive for a 21-year-old, and the fact that he focuses on hitting the ball up the middle is always a good sign for a left-handed hitter. The 46.2% ground-ball rate is an issue, but if he can learn to elevate the ball more, it should bode well for both his power output and his batting average. A ceiling of .280 with 25-plus homers is what you should dream on, though don’t be surprised if his youth and launch angle prevent him from getting there in 2019.
No. 19: Mike Moustakas (3B, Unsigned)
The shift continued to give Moustakas fits this past season. He was shifted against in 376 of his at-bats, and in those at-bats, he hit .242 with a .548 OPS. In at-bats where he wasn’t shifted, he hit .379 with an .898 OPS. Now, the shift isn’t going away any time soon, and there’s still the question of which team signs him. But Moustakas is probably a better hitter than most give him credit for, and assuming he has a full-time gig and a cushy spot in the lineup, he’s a nice, cheap, power-hitting option you can plug in at third base.
Tier 4: Checkers
These third basemen aren’t super flashy. Their upside is limited, and their floors are pretty low. But sometimes you just have to grab something that will hold you over until something better comes along. Just remember: It could always be worse.
Profar finally broke out in 2018, batting .254 with 20 homers and 10 stolen bases. While he never flashed that kind of power at any point in his career prior to this past year, the 20 homers were supported by a big jump in hard contact and a very reasonable 13.2% HR/FB. Moving to Oakland won’t do him any favors in his attempt to repeat the power outburst, but his batting average should come up a bit with some better luck on his batted balls. You’re likely looking at a guy who will hit .270 with 15 homers and 10 steals and qualifies at several infield positions, which makes him quite an asset.
Aside from making a lot more hard contact this past year and getting a full slate of at-bats, there wasn’t a huge change in Eduardo Escobar’s profile that coincided with his breakout. At 30 years old, there probably isn’t much room for growth, but a solid average with 20-homer power plays in most leagues.
It’s tough to expect much from a 35-year-old who’s coming off a career year, but to Jed Lowrie’s credit he’s still making plenty of hard contact and producing enough line drives to be a useful bat. Moving to Citi Field is a bit of a lateral move power-wise, and it’s not entirely clear where Lowrie will be picking up the majority of his at-bats yet. You can probably expect roughly league-average production across the board, with plenty of runs and/or RBI depending on where the Mets decide to slot him into their lineup.
Against all odds, Maikel Franco actually had a solid year in 2018 with a .270 average and 22 homers over just 465 plate appearances. The 13.3% strikeout rate was also a career best and really impressive. The problem with Franco has always been a lack of hard contact and a penchant for hammering the baseball into the ground, and that didn’t change last year. If he ever learns to elevate the ball though, watch out.
If you’ve neglected batting average late in the draft and you have a chance to snag Gurriel, you should pounce. Though he doesn’t do anything else all that well, he won’t hurt you anywhere either. It’s worth nothing that he hasn’t played more than 139 games in a season to this point in his career, so a full slate of at-bats in that Houston lineup could result in a very, very good overall stat line.
Tier 5: Burger King
If you’re starved for a third baseman and someone from this tier is available, there’s no shame in grabbing him. But this isn’t a group of guys you should be actively seeking out. And more likely than not, they’ll have you sprinting to the bathroom, er, waiver wire in short order.
Blocked at every infield position, the Reds have recently stated that they’re going to give their top prospect a chance to play center field this spring. He’ll have plenty of competition, with Phillip Ervin, Scott Schebler, and Jesse Winker all vying for at-bats there. But Nick Senzel is still a great speculative add, as he’s flashed 20/20 upside with an advanced approach at the plate during his time in the minors. Even if he doesn’t win the job outright, there’s a chance the Reds keep him around in a super utility role, as he played a bit of second base last season. And he’ll always be an injury away from regular playing time. He’s a great upside stash if you have the room.
Considering the depth at third base, Kyle Seager is one of the more boring picks out there. But sometimes boring is good. Like if you’re having heart surgery, for example. Nobody wants an “exciting” heart surgery. You want to know what to expect. With Seager, you’re probably looking at a .270 average and 25 homers as a best-case scenario. But he should continue to be a middle-of-the-order bat for the Mariners, meaning lots of RBI potential from a guy who will likely be free in most drafts.
No. 27: Ian Happ (3B(y)/OF)
Ian Happ’s first half was actually decent last year, as he posted a .253/.379/.453 triple slash with 11 homers and four steals over 79 games. But once he was no longer reaping the benefits of that .398 first-half BABIP, everything came unraveled; he closed out the year with a .196 average and .290 wOBA. So it goes when you strikeout 36.1% of the time. There’s clearly a very talented player in here, but whether he’ll ever be able to make enough contact to make use of his tools remains to be seen.
No. 28: Asdrubal Cabrera (SS/2B/3B, Texas Rangers)
Asdrubal Cabrera has been one of the more underrated utility players in recent years, and he now has a chance to show what he can do in Texas, which was the friendliest hitter’s park in baseball last season (yes, even better than Coors). Lower-body injuries and age have robbed him of his speed, but he’s still a good bet for an average upwards of .270 with around 20 homers.
If you could guarantee that Jake Lamb would never face another lefty again, you’d have a really good hitter on your hands. And if I had a magic umbrella and a sense of wonder, I’d be Mary Poppins. Lamb is a career .160 hitter versus lefties and strikes out too much to be depended on for even a .250 average. But he’s a good source of power and RBI, and he has a full-time job. So what more could you really ask for? Oh, yeah, right, that he learn how to hit lefties.
No. 30: Miguel Sano (1B(y)/3B, Minnesota Twins)
It’s always tempting to roll the dice on young players with good pedigrees coming off terrible, injury-marred seasons. After all, what are we in the fantasy community if not dreamers? But even though Miguel Sano has youth and guaranteed playing time on his side, he’s got a lot of things working against him. For one thing, he’s built up quite an injury history so far despite being just 25 years old. But even ignoring that, it’s nearly impossible to produce at a high level with a strikeout rate in excess of 35%. He still produced tons of hard contact last year, and 35-plus homers certainly seems reasonable if he were to accumulate 600 plate appearances. But the average may be so unbelievably low that it isn’t even worth it. Dream on the ceiling, but know the floor isn’t so much a floor as it is an infinite, yawning chasm.
Photo by David Kirouac/Icon Sportswire