jose-ramirez.jpg

And the winner for what-a-difference-a-year-makes position of the year is ... third base!

A year ago, it seemed loaded, beyond anything I had seen in my time covering Fantasy Baseball. It wasn't just a question of where you could slot a second third baseman. You needed room for a third -- or even a fourth. I marveled at how, thanks to multi-eligibility, you could put together a competitive Head-to-Head lineup using nothing but third base-eligible players.

Position Strategy: C | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS | OF | SP | RP

But it turns out third base was one of the many things 2020 hit hard.

It's not that it's shallow now. In fact, the same potential for depth still exists, with none of last year's underachievers having utterly disqualified themselves. It's just that now all of that depth is wracked with uncertainty.

Even the elites at the position (with a couple notable exceptions) didn't do what we're used to seeing them do. Jose Ramirez and Manny Machado certainly did, which is why they now rank as the top two at the position. DJ LeMahieu and Cavan Biggio did, but they're more likely to serve as second basemen in Fantasy Baseball. And look at Gio Urshela doubling down on his breakthrough 2019. I see you, sir. I do.

But if you're tallying up third basemen who actually performed up to expectations in 2020, that's about it. The success rate at a position where you could purportedly do no wrong was truly abysmal.

So now what? After the way things played out, there's no shortage of potential discounts to be found up and down the position, but how do you separate genuine decline from small-sample noise?

The answer is what it's always been: You make an educated guess. The good news is that enough volume remains for you to hedge your bet by doubling up. Of course, you won't need to if you invest in one of these seven ...

The Studs

2021 ADP2020 PPG2020 BA2020 HR
114.37.29217
203.96.30416
233.97.36410
283.49.2869
302.77.2538
332.93.2426
412.97.26311

Ramirez is the only third baseman deserving of a first-round pick this year -- and he is truly deserving as one of the few reliables for stolen bases at the position. But it wasn't so long ago -- just a year, in fact -- that we valued Nolan Arenado, Alex Bregman and Anthony Rendon at that same level. Given their history as first-round fixtures (or at least Round 2, in Rendon's case), it's bananas that they're so consistently available in Round 3, if not later. It's probably less a condemnation of how they actually performed and more a matter of someone needing to move down to make way for others. The likelihood they were merely victims of a talent crunch, one made all the easier by their off numbers, makes them prime targets in that range.

I'm willing to say so for Bregman and Rendon, at least. It's a little iffier for Arenado now that he's leaving Coors Field for the first time. Adding to the concern is that his disappointing 2020 wasn't just a product of sample size but also a shoulder issue that may or may not be resolved. To feel confident I'm getting him at a discount, which I'm still eager to do, I'll need to see him slip to Round 5, perhaps even behind Rafael Devers.

Other Deserving Starters

2021 ADP2020 PPG2020 BA2020 HR
603.21.2508
692.85.20215
852.35.2256
972.71.19212
1022.84.23210
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Kris Bryant CHC 3B
1122.15.2064
1543.17.2986
1802.54.2226

The upside is still reachable for this group, but I have deeper concerns, particularly for Yoan Moncada, Kris Bryant, Matt Chapman and Josh Donaldson. Moncada maybe deserves a pass for his bottoming out since he was a positive COVID-19 case, but his is a volatile profile to begin with. Bryant, meanwhile, has been trending the wrong direction for several years, battling a myriad of injuries along the way. Maybe his 2020 was just another small-sample fluke, but maybe it was the inevitable conclusion to a derailed career. Chapman is working his way back from a torn labrum in his hip, and Donaldson is a 35-year-old who has seen three of his past four seasons wrecked by injury.

The most elegant solution if you miss out on The Studs at the position is probably just to take Gio Urshela. His 2020 validated his breakthrough 2019, and he profiles as one of the safest sources of batting average in all of baseball. HIs ceiling may not be quite on the level of a Moncada or Bryant, but his risk is far less and his cost much lower.

Of course, there's one from this next group that I'd still feel confident drafting as my starter, perhaps even ahead of someone like Donaldson ...

The Sleepers

2021 ADP2020 PPG2020 BA2020 OPS
1072.84.338.881
1373.67.3771.125
1472.31.250.685
1921.94.263.732
1943.12.3073.12
2162.38.239.716
2292.30.247.761
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Jonathan India CIN 3B
761-----.259*.767*

*2019 minor-league stats

Yes, he third baseman I'm most likely to draft is Ke'Bryan Hayes, who also might be the single player I'm most likely to draft. He followed up a humdrum minor-league career with a flashy debut in which his tools and skills came together in a way that's easy enough to believe -- and was predicted, even, by some prospect evaluators. Judging by his ADP, most people are writing it off as a fluke of sample size, but it's to a point where there's almost no downside to believing in it. 

Other upside plays I like a little later include J.D. Davis, whose 2019 production isn't so far out of reach, or Austin Riley, whose reduced strikeout rate and power pedigree could make for an explosive breakthrough. Tommy Edman and Andres Gimenez make for fine steals sources, and Jonathan India, an on-base specialist with emerging power, could surprise if he wins the Reds' second base job (yes, second base, not third).

I like Alec Bohm's pedigree and profile, too, but at his going rate, the risk is higher than for Hayes, who might have the higher ceiling anyway.

The Base-Stealers

2021 ADP2020 SB2021 hopeAlso eligible
111025-30----
20610-15-----
60615-202B, OF
85010-15-----
137110-15-----
147220-25SS, OF
192820-252B, SS
295815-20SS
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Joey Wendle TB 3B
308815-202B, SS

Third base generally isn't for base-stealers, but you can see there's more than a handful of players who might be of some service in the category. Of course, most are liable to drafted at some other position, with Ramirez representing the one surefire base-stealer who won't be. Other relatively high-end choices like Machado and Moncada have had their ups and downs in the category and aren't projected for a big steals total anyway. If you're having to turn to light hitters like Joey Wendle or Isiah Kiner-Falefa for steals, you may be better off punting the category. 

So which 2021 Fantasy baseball sleepers should you snatch in your draft? And which undervalued first baseman can help you win a championship? Visit SportsLine now to get Fantasy baseball rankings for every single position, all from the model that called Will Smith's huge breakout last season, and find out.