Fantasy Baseball: Early third base rankings for 2017
Third base is in line to be the deepest position of all entering 2017, which leads to some surprising omissions from Scott White's top 20.
I thought second base was deep. I didn't just think it; I wrote it.
But I didn't know what I was saying.
I didn't know because I hadn't yet looked at third base, a position that gives new meaning to depth.
How deep is it? Well, in these earliest position preview columns, I've always gone 20 deep around the infield, figuring it gives a complete enough picture as to what each position has to offer.
But 20 deep at third base doesn't include Maikel Franco, one of the trendiest preseason breakout picks who, for as much as he has disappointed this year, has still managed to hit 25 home runs. It doesn't include Jake Lamb, who was widely regarded as an All-Star snub just two short months ago. It doesn't include Hernan Perez, who has become a Rotisserie darling with his 13-homer, 33-steal season, or Yangervis Solarte, who has averaged nearly as many Fantasy points per game as the 13th-ranked Anthony Rendon.
Their exclusion isn't my showy way of saying they're not so great after all. It's not even a statement on them. They were simply forced out at a position with too much to offer. One such omission would be staggering enough, but four?
Which of these 3B is the most surprising omission from my top 20 (for reference, my 20th 1B is Brad Miller and my 20th 2B is Ryan Schimpf).— Scott White (@CBSScottWhite) September 22, 2016
And again, that's going 20 deep at the position. If you play in a league where every team starts just one third baseman, even if it's a 12-team league, you can just imagine the caliber of players who aren't being drafted -- not as starters anyway.
Or don't and let me show you.
Top 10 third basemen for 2017:
1. Josh Donaldson, 3B, Blue Jays
2. Nolan Arenado, 3B, Rockies
3. Kris Bryant, 3B/OF, Cubs
4. Manny Machado, 3B/SS, Orioles
5. Matt Carpenter, 1B/2B/3B, Cardinals
6. Kyle Seager, 3B, Mariners
7. Alex Bregman, 3B, Astros
8. Jonathan Villar, 3B/SS, Brewers
9. Adrian Beltre, 3B, Rangers
10. Todd Frazier, 3B, White Sox
I should have known there'd be trouble (or whatever else you'd call unparalleled depth) when I made third base the most represented position in my projected first round a couple weeks ago, but at time I was thinking the fifth-best option, Matt Carpenter, was so far back that the position must just be disproportionately loaded at the top -- or top-heavy, to put it simply.
And yeah, there is a gap between the top four and everyone else at third base. But that second tier, at least in shallower leagues, may well last the rest of the draft.
So when does someone jump for that fifth third baseman? Round 5, Round 6 or is even that too early? If you buy the premise that the next nine or 10 third basemen are more or less equivalent, you could wait half the draft to snag yours.
Of course, maybe calling Carpenter the fifth third baseman is misleading. Chances are he'll go much earlier than Round 5 or 6 because he's also eligible at first and second base, which we've now learned are the higher-priority positions. And by the same token, Kris Bryant is liable to drafted as an outfielder and Manny Machado as a shortstop. That would change the complexion of the position slightly, and it's about the only question surrounding the top four other than whether the 31-year-old Josh Donaldson still deserves to go ahead of the 26-year-old Nolan Arenado, especially following a second half in which the former's hip began to reveal his age.
But even if Fantasy owners cooperate and draft all multi-eligible third basemen to fill their weaker positions -- an improbable scenario -- we're still talking a stretch of about 10 players that was a nightmare to rank, which suggests to me I don't really care which one I get.
That's a flippant way of putting it, of course. Where they compare in upside, they differ in security, which is why the ultra reliable and perennially underrated Kyle Seager leads the group. But Adrian Beltre has actually had the better season and has an even stronger track record, so why's he a full three spots behind? Well, he'll be 38 next year, and as with any hitter that age, the decline could be swift and sudden. Granted, he hasn't shown any signs of that, and if David Ortiz has taught us anything this year, it's not to count out the old guys. That's how big of a difference one little variable can make in these rankings, though.
In between, I've ranked Alex Bregman, who has ended up meeting our impossibly high expectations after a brutal 2-for-38 start, batting .310 with eight home runs and a .935 OPS over his last 37 games. The strikeout rate has been a little high, but considering he had only 38 in 314 minor-league at-bats this year, actually walking more than he struck out, I don't expect it to be a long-term issue.
If you think the order of those three -- Seager, Bregman and Beltre -- is backward, I've got news for you: The nameless, faceless masses agree with it.
Let's talk 3B rankings for 2017. Would you rather have the 38-year-old Adrian Beltre or the 23-year-old Alex Bregman?— Scott White (@CBSScottWhite) September 22, 2016
Let's take age out of the equation. Beltre's and Kyle Seager's season stats are similar. Seager or Bregman?— Scott White (@CBSScottWhite) September 22, 2016
Of course, I didn't even solicit a response for the fourth member of that sub-tier, Jonathan Villar, mostly because I think he'll be drafted as a shortstop. I also don't feel like the nameless, faceless masses, with all their different league types, can fairly evaluate stolen bases, which are of course Villar's primary contribution. His 59 this year make him the fourth-best third baseman in standard Rotisserie leagues, which I don't think anyone is prepared to call him, but he's also the eighth-best third baseman in Head-to-Head points leagues, in part because he provides more power and on-base ability than anyone gives him credit for.
His success is built on a .371 BABIP, so it's fair to say regression is coming, but so much that he drops out of the top 10, even in leagues where stolen bases are so valuable? I have a hard time believing that. Again, with as many walks as he takes, he could hit .250 and still make a monster contribution.
Next 10 third basemen for 2017:
11. Evan Longoria, 3B, Rays
12. Justin Turner, 3B, Dodgers
13. Anthony Rendon, 3B, Nationals
14. Jung Ho Kang, 3B, Pirates
15. Jose Ramirez, 3B/OF, Indians
16. Eduardo Nunez, 3B/SS, Giants
17. Miguel Sano, 3B/OF, Twins
18. Yoan Moncada, 3B, Red Sox
19. Jose Reyes, 3B, Mets
20. Yulieski Gurriel, 3B, Astros
The tier takes its scariest turn with Todd Frazier, whose batting average has completely tanked with his move from the Reds to the White Sox. Sort of like Chris Davis, though, it hasn't ruined him in Fantasy, which is a testament to his power hitting. In fact, Frazier has actually averaged more Head-to-Head points per game this year than Evan Longoria and Justin Turner, who no one would claim have played any less than their best this season. So ... how could anyone rank them ahead?
I understand that, to the naked eye, Longoria's numbers probably look better -- he has hit about 50 points higher than Frazier, and with similar home run, RBI and run totals -- but he's a zero in terms of stolen bases and has the worse plate discipline of the two, if you can believe it. And again, that's Longoria in a resurgent season. Frazier has been at his worst this year, and not all by his own doing. His BABIP is only .234, for crying out loud.
Is it wrong of me to still kind of prefer Todd Frazier to Evan Longoria? Thinking next year, of course.— Scott White (@CBSScottWhite) September 22, 2016
Is it possible that, at 31, Frazier bottoms out from here? That's a concern for any player who strikes out upward of 150 times a year, especially one whose skill set is so one-note. So if we're assessing floor rather than ceiling, Justin Turner and Anthony Rendon probably are a little better off than Frazier and Longoria. Then again, neither is competing for a home run title anytime soon, and in a standard-size league, the play-it-safe approach is generally ill-advised during what figures to be the middle stages of the draft.
But that's where approaching this position gets really tricky. It's deep, which encourages you to wait, but the law of averages suggests not all of these top 13 will live up to expectations in 2017. Most will, and maybe the one or two who don't will be among the more predictable, like Beltre, Villar, Frazier or Longoria. Granted, that's a possibility for any player you draft at any position, but if you're the one owner who misses at a position where every other owner has a borderline stud, you're in an even deeper hole.
So there's some merit to playing it safe at a position where you seemingly can't go wrong, but at the same time, Beltre, Villar, Frazier and Longoria could turn out just fine and Turner could be the one who goes down. At the risk of stating the obvious, some things are just beyond our control.
And there is depth beyond the top 13, of course. Whether or not Kang and Ramirez belong in that same tier is a matter of debate. I don't think we've gotten the fairest representation of Kang this year because the Pirates were so careful with his playing time fresh off last year's nightmare injury, but he performed at about a 35-homer pace with a better strikeout rate than both Frazier and Longoria. Ramirez, meanwhile, has been a top-12 third baseman in both Head-to-Head and Rotisserie leagues with his across-the-board production, but he doesn't stand out enough in any one area to approach top-five status.
After those two, your rankings are as good as mine, as far as I'm concerned. I'm not totally comfortable with Eduardo Nunez, especially looking at his second-half numbers, but looking at just his September, he has had a strong finish to a 16-homer, 40-steal season, making him sort of like a poor man's Villar, and has no impediments to his playing time next year. Miguel Sano, though a disappointment, still showed plenty of power as a sophomore and presumably still has top-five potential. Yoan Moncada might seem like a stretch at 18, but he may be the best hitting prospect since Mike Trout and Bryce Harper. If he wins the third base job next spring, he's only moving up the list.
I'm fairly amazed Yulieski Gurriel has struck out only one every 10 at-bats in his first look at major-league pitching and think he deserves the benefit of the doubt because of it, but if you feel more comfortable with Franco or Lamb there, I get it. Frankly, I'd like for all of them to be 16th, but that's not really the way rankings work. Seeing all the upside options late, though -- Ryon Healy, with his .302 batting average and .853 OPS as a rookie, hasn't even gotten a mention yet -- does provide extra incentive to wait at the position. Even in the unlikely event you get burned by your top option, others who simply didn't rank high enough to be drafted are sure emerge off the waiver wire.
Already, I've named 25 players who could realistically finish in next year's top 12.
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