Previewing 2019 Fantasy Baseball Rankings: Top 20 third basemen offer plenty of depth if Kris Bryant, Josh Donaldson are healthy
Third base is shaping up to be one of the deepest of all positions in 2019 — that is, if the high-end players do what they're supposed to do. Our Scott White takes a closer look.
You want to know the position to wait on next year? It's shaping up to be third base.
Well ... maybe.
It'd help if more went right than this year, what with Kris Bryant succumbing to shoulder soreness, Josh Donaldson endlessly plagued by a calf issue, Travis Shaw contending with horrendous BABIP luck and Rafael Devers failing to live up to the loftiest of expectations.
But hope springs eternal for those four, as well as up-and-comers like Matt Chapman and Miguel Andujar. And if Manny Machado signs on to be some lucky team's third baseman this offseason (as opposed to shortstop, the position he played almost exclusively in 2018), he'll be rejoining these ranks in no time, stretching the position even further.
Jose Ramirez was a distant first at the deepest of positions in 2018, showing just how far he has come since surprising us all with what now seems like a pedestrian 11-homer, 22-steal season in 2016. The most impressive part of his Trout-like campaign? He accomplished it with some terrible BABIP luck.
While he's no longer the top dog at his position, time has shown you really can't go wrong selecting Nolan Arenado with a top-five pick. He'll likely be the first non-base stealer off the board, the safety net of Coors Field making the 27-year-old one of the most worry-free bats you could draft.
What's most impressive about Alex Bregman's breakthrough 2018, when he established 30-homer power while walking more than he struck out, is that he had people wondering if everything was OK after the first two months. Remember that? Of course you don't. You're still basking in the awesomeness that was the past four months.
All right, here's where I begin to have some concerns — ones I already voiced in the second base rankings. Basically, Javier Baez's studliness depends on him having a high BABIP, which he normally does, but it leaves him with a thinner margin for error. Given the points-league standouts directly behind him, I'd consider bumping him down a couple spots in that format if he and Jose Altuve weren't alone atop the second base rankings.
I'm a little wary of this ranking given Matt Carpenter's history of injuries and willingness to play through them, often to his own detriment, but as with Baez, the multi-eligibility comes into play. A slow finish will rightly discourage us from doing anything too nutty with the perennial disappointment, but the fact remains he has the sort of batted-ball profile that should make him a perennial MVP candidate.
Anthony Rendon didn't get as much attention in 2018 even though a big second half made it nearly as good as his 2017. In fact, he ended up with a higher point-per-game average than the two guys ahead of him here. I'm not saying you should draft him ahead of those two in that format, because I don't think you'll need to, but I'm suspecting he'll be a great value in Round 4 or 5 of a 12-team league.
The 2016 MVP could be great here if his shoulder is right — and I do think the shoulder is mostly to blame for this year's struggles given where his numbers stood when it first popped up in mid-May. But the fact is Kris Bryant will be coming off back-to-back years of disappointing power production and won't have a clean bill of health. His improvement as a contact hitter over the past two years gives reason to hope the best is yet to come for the 26-year-old, but he should come at a discount next year.
Ranking Eugenio Suarez behind Bryant or even Rendon in traditional 5x5 leagues is mostly a matter of track record. He was pretty good in 2017, but 2018 was the year he really distinguished himself with one of the highest home run totals at the position. He's a pretty good on-base guy, too, but he was owed some batting average regression in the second half and got it.
Vladimir Guerrero won't make the opening day roster next year, but he'll be up by the third week of April. That's how long the Blue Jays will need to wait to ensure an extra year of team control, which they deemed important enough to keep him down for all of 2018 even though he had quite obviously earned a promotion. In my time writing about prospects, I can't recall another whose numbers warranted this level of enthusiasm. He was basically Ted Williams of the minors, not only knocking the crap out of the ball but doing so impossibly low strikeout rate. It wouldn't surprise me if he's more like the fifth player drafted at the position.
Justin Turner struggled to regain his power stroke after missing the first six weeks with a fractured wrist, but in the end, his percentages looked virtually identical to the ones he put up in 2017 — and that's saying something given that we're talking a near league-leading batting average and career-high ISO. He'd rank among the elite if he wasn't 34 and struggling to play 125 games a year.
Speaking of injury-prone third basemen on the wrong side of 30, Josh Donaldson spent most of this year trying to shake a calf injury, which incidentally is what also thwarted his 2017. But while last year he still managed to put up MVP-caliber numbers down the stretch, no such bailout came this year. Meanwhile, his strikeout rate was up for a second straight year, which doesn't preclude him from having a bounce-back campaign but may suggest there's genuine skills decline afoot. You'll want to play this one cautiously.
Another example of me ranking a player by what he can do rather than did do, Wil Myers you may recall had back-to-back 20-20 seasons (coming closer to 30 in most of those measures) before getting sidetracked by an oblique injury this year. He didn't offer his usual power production in 2018 but did have career-high line-drive and hard-hit rates, which isn't the worst tradeoff and might make him a better overall hitter if he can bring that strikeout rate back down to size. Mostly, though, it's the novelty of his skill set that earns him a favorable ranking here.
I mentioned Travis Shaw's poor batted-ball luck at the top, and while it's true he had an outrageously low BABIP this year, there was gamesmanship behind it. For the first time in his career, infield shifts were a real problem for him, partly because he started pulling the ball more. But a one-year development does not a trend make, and otherwise, Shaw is equipped to put up Suarez-like numbers.
While his defense will ensure he remains more valuable in real life than Fantasy, Matt Chapman began to make a name for himself in the latter after the All-Star break, helping propel the Athletics into the postseason. But the math behind the performance — in particular the high BABIP despite a so-so line-drive rate — doesn't add up. So while he's a fine Fantasy option just as he is, it'll take another power bump in his age-26 season to move him into the stud class of hitters.
Some will claim Miguel Andujar is in that stud class of hitters after a rookie season that saw him bat right around .300, but having a bottom-10 walk rate among qualifiers sort of negates the benefit there. Still, a good batting average is hard to find, and he's certainly built for one, striking out at a low rate while also making the kind of contact that least often results in outs. I like him more in categories leagues than points, but he's fine in both. He may not get much better from here, though.
Jurickson Profar is more of an upside pick than Andujar, frankly. This year was the closest he had ever come to living up to his former top-prospect-in-baseball standing, so you might think it doesn't get any better from here. But he struck out at an even lower rate than Andujar with an even better batted-ball profile, and yet look at the disparity in batting average. And seeing as he's the more versatile of the two, I'm beginning to question why I rank him lower in the first place. I guess seeing is believing even for me.
Mike Moustakas' midseason move to Milwaukee was supposed to be his chance to demonstrate for interested clubs just what sort of wonders his power stroke offered away from spacious Kauffman Stadium. But he was no better after the trade than before it, and as hard of a time as he had finding a job last offseason when he had just set the Royals single-season record for home runs, I don't suspect he'll have many eager bidders this offseason. A full-time job is no guarantee.
A full-time job is no guarantee for Max Muncy either, though it darn well should be. The guy stopped playing against left-handers in the second half even though his numbers were just as good against them as righties. It only happened because the Dodgers swung deals for Manny Machado and Brian Dozier, who both figure to sign elsewhere this offseason. Assuming they do, Muncy could skyrocket into the top 10 here given his massive OPS potential.
Rafael Devers was everyone's favorite breakout pick prior to this season after flashing intriguing offensive potential as a 20-year-old rookie in 2017. And while you'll find plenty of think pieces speculating where it all went wrong, the fact is he was largely the same hitter from one year to the next, just with a lower BABIP. Granted, he was expected to improve in other facets, like making more contact and further developing as a power hitter, but it may have just been a year too soon. Consider him a post-hype sleeper here.
Infield shifts continued to increase in popularity this year and were a common scapegoat for hitters having career-worst seasons. But for few was the impact more obvious than for Kyle Seager, whose batting average against the shift has dropped nearly 60 points over the past two years. Fact is the upside was always limited for the soon-to-be 31-year-old. He made a name for himself through reliability rather than productivity, and clearly that's out the window now.
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