2015 Rankings: 1B | 2B
So to recap, Evan Longoria and David Wright had career-worst seasons, Matt Carpenter regressed, Ryan Zimmerman had more health concerns than ever, Manny Machado didn't get a chance to develop, Pedro Alvarez doesn't have a clear role, Aramis Ramirez is another year older, and Miguel Cabrera is no longer eligible at the position.
Third base is shaping up to be the pits in 2015. The pits, I tell you.
Or is it? See, for all that went wrong at the position in 2014, just about as much went right. Anthony Rendon and Nolan Arenado showed the full extent of their potential, Todd Frazier broke out in a bigger way than anyone could have expected, Carlos Santana got enough starts at the position early in the year to remain eligible there next year, and Josh Harrison ... well, he just came out of nowhere.
And then when you consider that most from that first list, the ones who disappointed this year, haven't actually gone anywhere and could certainly bounce back with the numbers we're used to seeing from them, the position is actually looking more promising than it did at this time a year ago.
Top 10 third basemen for 2015:
1. Anthony Rendon, 2B/3B, Nationals
2. Josh Donaldson, 3B, Athletics
3. Adrian Beltre, 3B, Rangers
4. Nolan Arenado, 3B, Rockies
5. Evan Longoria, 3B, Rays
6. Carlos Santana, 1B/3B, Indians
7. Todd Frazier, 1B/3B, Reds
8. Kyle Seager, 3B, Mariners
9. Matt Carpenter, 3B, Cardinals
10. Josh Harrison, 3B/OF, Pirates
What third base lacks more than anything is a surefire stud -- a first-round type whose track record leaves no room for doubt. Because Cabrera carried that mantle for a couple years, seeing Rendon's name at the top of the rankings may come as a shock to some, but remember, I ranked him as high as third at second base. He has the pedigree to back up his breakthrough performance and should actually hit for more power as he enters in prime, making him less dependent on his supporting cast for his production.
Donaldson mostly validated his 2013 breakthrough with his performance in 2014 but also showed enough volatility in batting average to make him less than the best at the position going forward. The ageless Beltre, who continued to rake even as the Rangers' lineup disintegrated around him, rounds out the top tier.
But after that, things get tricky. Arenado at No. 4 may seem reckless to some, but the strides he made this year were second only to Rendon's at the position. He may not have gotten as much attention because of the six weeks he missed with a broken finger earlier in the year, but on a per-game basis, he ranked behind only Rendon, Donaldson and Beltre in points leagues, averaging 3.01. Striking out about one every eight at-bats, his greatest skill is making contact, which should eventually translate to a .300 batting average playing half his games at Coors Field. And with a higher home run rate than Rendon even, he likely already has the capacity, at age 23, for 25 over a full season.
The bottom line is that even if Longoria bounces back all the way, I'm not sure he tops Arenado. Hey, Longoria hit 32 homers in 2013 and still averaged only 2.99 Fantasy points per game. And because a .269 batting average was to blame, that matters in Rotisserie leagues as well.
Speaking of Rotisserie leagues, they're what keep me from ranking Carpenter as high as sixth. He has a high floor, which I like for an early-rounder, but so much of his value is tied to his walks and doubles. Because those stats only count for something in points leagues, giving them full weight in all-purpose rankings like these is misleading. Drafting Carpenter sixth among third basemen in a Rotisserie league would be a bigger mistake than drafting him ninth in a points league.
So instead of floors, let's talk about ceilings -- specifically for Frazier, who was a hero to many as a surprise breakthrough in a year when so many of the elite underwhelmed. In Rotisserie leagues especially, he shot up the rankings with an uncharacteristic 20 steals.
The power is one thing. He actually had a higher slugging percentage and OPS as a rookie in 2012, so in that respect, I feel like we could have seen this year coming. But when a player does something uncharacteristic, you should automatically question his ability to do it again. Frazier succeeded on only 71.4 percent of his attempts, so it's not like he became a genius at reading pitchers; he was just the beneficiary of his manager's decisions. And a manager's decisions are as whimsical as a 3-year-old's dressing habits.
You know what Frazier's 20 steals remind me of? Mark Reynolds' 24 in 2009. You know the most he had in a season thereafter? Try seven. Drop those 20 down to something more reasonable and take a little off his other numbers to account for his strikeout and fly ball rates, and he's something closer to Seager-level. Which isn't a bad thing, of course, but it makes him more the type of player who'll keep you afloat than set you apart.
I'm all-in on Harrison. The way I see it, he's everything Martin Prado used to be and more given his steals potential. His low strikeout rate gives me hope he can repeat something close to a .300 batting average, and his power breakthrough (hey, 15 home runs, which he would have reached with enough at-bats, is plenty given everything else he offers) was totally feasible for a player in his age-27 season. And as for playing time, I think the man he replaced should be the one concerned about that, but I'll touch on that in this next group ...
Next 10 third basemen for 2015:
11. David Wright, 3B, Mets
12. Manny Machado, 3B, Orioles
13. Ryan Zimmerman, 3B/OF, Nationals
14. Chris Davis, 1B/3B, Orioles
15. Pablo Sandoval, 3B, Giants
16. Kris Bryant, 3B, Cubs
17. Xander Bogaerts, 3B/SS, Red Sox
18. Pedro Alvarez, 3B, Pirates
19. Martin Prado, 2B/3B/OF, Yankees
20. Brett Lawrie, 2B/3B, Blue Jays
Here's where the depth at the position begins to show. Wright and Zimmerman were considered early-round mainstays just a few months ago, yet one bad season is enough to bury them at the position. Zimmerman wasn't even bad, just injured (for the umpteenth time, yes, but still), and Wright's struggles probably had something to do with the rotator cuff issue that forced the Mets to shut him down in early September. Looking beyond them, if you have any hope for Davis or, for that matter, Bryant, who could potentially make the club out of spring training, well then the number of worthy starting options jumps to 16.
Understand that's not just 16 who you could get away with starting, which is usually the standard when assessing a position's depth. Third base has 16 players with the potential to be top-five at the position. That makes up for the lack of a true first-rounder, in my mind.
OK, so maybe Sandoval finishing in the top five is a little bit of a stretch, but while he's a few years removed from his last studly season, he has settled in as one of the more reliable options at third base -- one good for about a .280 batting average and 15-20 home runs (provided good health) each year. Those types of players end with the top 12 at second base. In shallower leagues, Bryant will probably go ahead of Sandoval because of upside, but I'll rank them this way for now, guarding against the possibility of Bryant spending the first two months in the minors.
Unlike at first and second base, the last few in this top 20 were pretty straightforward. There were a couple tough omissions in Maikel Franco, who's only a step behind Bryant as far as prospects go but also has to win a job in spring training, and Aramis Ramirez, who appears to be running out of steam at age 36. And then, I suppose Nick Castellanos will appear on his share of sleepers lists just because, well, his pedigree says he should be good.
But if you're going to pick on blind faith, Bogaerts is the third baseman to take late even if his rookie season was a bust. He's the one eligible at shortstop, which is far and away the weakest position in Fantasy, and he still has crazy, Troy Tulowitzki-like upside. Yeah, maybe he falls on his face again, taking more of a Gary Sheffield-like path to greatness, but you don't have much to lose once Bryant is off the board.
Let's talk Alvarez, who after back-to-back 30-homer seasons, managed to lose his job in the prime of his career. Granted, his defense was the biggest problem (and Harrison provided an easy solution), but a position change would correct that. The Pirates just have to commit to it, something they've seemed reluctant to do even though they don't have much better at first base.
The offseason chatter is probably going to drive his ranking. If he's traded to a team that's gung-ho about playing him every day, maybe he deserves to be just a tick behind Davis. But if he sticks with the Pirates and they stick to their story, a low batting average isn't going to be his only concern.