What a turnaround for this position. My goodness.

A year ago at this time, I was dead set on drafting a third baseman by the end of Round 2, even if it meant pulling Nolan Arenado into that range. To miss out meant to have only two more shots at quality production -- Alex Bregman and (hypothetically, at least) Gunnar Henderson -- and you'd probably have to reach for both.

It was the return of position scarcity after years of position equality brought about by a juiced-up baseball. And third base appeared to be the scarcest position of them all.

But then Henderson indeed lived up to his potential. And then Royce Lewis shifted to third base and performed beyond everyone's wildest expectations. And then Elly De La Cruz got called up and split his time between shortstop and third base. And then Spencer Steer, Josh Jung and Jake Burger happened. By the time top prospects Noelvi Marte and Junior Caminero began to integrate themselves, it was almost too much. That scarcity had become an embarassment of riches.

It happened so quickly that it's reasonable to be suspicous, to suspect it's all artificial -- a facelift in the truest sense. And look, it's not hard to imagine what could go wrong for any of the players who helped to reclaim the position. Lewis could get hurt again, and Marte and Caminero could struggle to acclimate. Steer and Jung are both among my bust picks for 2024, as is Ha-seong Kim, while De La Cruz is a bust pick for Chris Towers and Frank Stampfl.

Then again, there's also the possibility Ke'Bryan Hayes and Jeimer Candelario take a step forward. There are exciting rookies beyond just Marte and Caminero, with Michael Busch and Colt Keith both expected to start for their respective clubs. There are options, to put it simply. While last year, a miss at third base seemed like certain doom, this year it's a chance to try out someone else.

And so I find that, unlike last year, it's one of the positions that I'm least compelled to fill early. Its highest-end players aren't quite as high-end as at other positions, and there's upside to be found at all stages of the draft.

The Studs

2024 ADP2023 PPG2023 BA2023 HR

Now, don't get me wrong. If Jose Ramirez lasts beyond Yordan Alvarez and Matt Olson early in Round 2, I'm probably taking him. If Austin Riley and Rafael Devers last beyond Bryce Harper and Francisco Lindor late in Round 2, I'm taking them as well. They may not be quite on the level of the category stuffers that populate Round 1, but they're pretty close. Their production is unquestionably elite, and they're safe bets to deliver on it. Plus, if we're talking about a Rotisserie league, then you also have a corner infielder spot to fill with a third baseman later.

But what if we're talking about a Head-to-Head points league? That's harder to justify, and not just because there's no corner infield spot but also because Riley and Devers aren't best suited for that format. They're not the most disciplined hitters, and you can see how their point-per-game averages lag behind similarly regarded players at other positions, such as Alvarez (3.94), Olson (4.07), Harper (3.40) and Lindor (3.48). Shoot, Alex Bregman was just as good as Riley and Devers in points leagues last year. I'm not sure I'd even count him among The Studs if we were only talking 5x5 categories leagues.

Conversely, Elly De La Cruz is easier to classify as a stud in categories leagues than points leagues since stolen bases are his biggest advantage and strikeouts his biggest disadvantage. His inclusion here is aggressive any way you look at it, though, considering he has 388 career at-bats to his name and hit .191 in the second half. Royce Lewis also doesn't have the track record you'd expect for someone already regarded as a stud, so the fact they're being drafted this high is a testament to their upside. Personally, I'd rather invest in Manny Machado, whose production dipped slightly last year as he played through an elbow injury, but not enough to merit such a significant drop from his usual Round 2 range.

Other Deserving Starters

2024 ADP2023 PPG2023 BA2023 HR

It's more likely my third baseman is coming from this group, particularly in formats where plate discipline isn't a consideration. Where it is, Max Muncy is the obvious standout (as you can see from his point-per-game average). Where it isn't, Jake Burger and Ke'Bryan Hayes are my preferred choices. I'm not suggesting you reach for them, but part of what makes Spencer Steer and Josh Jung bust picks for me is that they're being drafted so much earlier. There's a little more to it for Steer, who I fear could get squeezed in a crowded Reds lineup, but for Jung, it is mostly a matter of him being no better than Burger, Hayes or even Alec Bohm.

Just look at how their numbers stack up. While you could argue that Jung's were dragged down by a fractured thumb (not that Burger or Hayes got a full workload either), I would counter by saying that Burger became a vastly improved contact hitter after joining the Marlins in the second half, giving him room to improve on his .250 batting average and that Hayes finally optimized his launch angle for power in the second half, giving him room to improve on his 15 home runs. Add in the five rounds' difference in cost, and it's no contest who I'd prefer.

I mentioned earlier that Ha-seong Kim is among my bust picks as well, but the novelty of his stolen bases might compel me to draft him anyway, depending on my needs at that point. Note that he's also eligible at second base and shortstop (and probably more useful at both spots). Isaac Paredes is a good enough choice for the cost, but I'm a little wary of his extreme pull side power being a gimmick. Matt Chapman, Eugenio Suarez and Ryan McMahon are listed here more for deeper leagues. They'll get their at-bats, but their production will leave something to be desired.

The Sleepers

2024 ADP2023 PPG2023 BA2023 OPS

*minor-league stats

OK, so I already said my third baseman is likely to come from the last group, but it's just as likely to come from this group. That's how much I value the upside of Junior Caminero and Noelvi Marte. Caminero is a cinch top-five prospect, and if we had more assurances of him making a crowded Rays roster, he'd be getting drafted 75 spots earlier. I acknowledge it's hardly a guarantee, but his getting a late-season look last year certainly helps his case. Marte also got a late-season look and made a bigger splash with it, delivering premium exit velocities while making ample use of his speed. I'd take him over most of the third basemen in the last group, even the ones I mentioned liking. His five-category upside makes him more of an upside play.

Colt Keith and Michael Busch may not have quite the prospect sizzle of Caminero and Marte, but they're in everyone's top 50 still and are all but confirmed to have jobs already, with Keith expected to slot in at second base for the Tigers and Busch at first base for the Cubs. Both were stellar in the minors -- particularly Busch, who combined superlative on-base skills with premium exit velocities -- and I'd be content with either as my corner infielder. I might even settle for Busch as my third baseman in a pinch.

I skipped over one of these players who's not like the others, and that's veteran Jeimer Candelario, whose production last year was adequate that I might have slotted him with the Other Deserving Starters if not for my belief that he has even more in store. He's spent most of his career at the worst venue for home runs, Comerica Park, and is now going to the best venue for home runs, Great American Ball Park. It's not hard to imagine how that could play out for him.

As for the others here -- Jordan Westburg, Yoan Moncada, Brett Baty and Curtis Mead -- they're more like late-round fliers for deeper leagues. Their upside may be high, but my confidence in them is low. If you forced me to pick my favorite, I would say Baty.

The Base-Stealers

2024 ADP2023 SB2024 hopeAlso eligible
813830-402B, SS
951510-151B, OF

It's no longer so rare to find a third baseman who'll chip in a few stolen bases, but fewer offer the potential to carry you in the category. Not even Jose Ramirez does anymore given how much the minimum stolen base threshold increased last year. If steals are a high priority for you, then Elly De La Cruz and Ha-seong Kim are your most likely targets, though they're better fits at shortstop, to be honest. Maikel Garcia, Willi Castro and Jon Berti are players who we haven't covered yet, and it's only their steals potential that makes them worth considering at all. You could maybe get 15 or so from someone like Chris Taylor or Zach McKinstry as well, but that's not enough to make up for what they lack otherwise.