Every year, it's kind of a tossup which of second and third base is weaker, and once again this year, the distribution of talent within the positions isn't too dissimilar.
But one difference that the tiers help bring to light: Third base is deeper in the middle.
It makes it easier to wait at the position if you don't happen to pick in a spot where you can land one of The Elite -- so basically, the first half of the first round -- and it encourages you not to reach for Anthony Rendon or Josh Donaldson any earlier than that since you have so many quality options to fall back on.
The Elite: Anthony Rendon, Josh Donaldson
The Near-Elite: Adrian Beltre, Nolan Arenado, Evan Longoria, Todd Frazier, Carlos Santana
The Next-Best Things: Matt Carpenter, Kyle Seager, David Wright, Josh Harrison, Manny Machado, Ryan Zimmerman, Chris Davis
The Fallback Options: Xander Bogaerts, Pablo Sandoval, Kris Bryant
The Last Resorts: Pedro Alvarez, Marcus Semien, Brett Lawrie, Martin Prado, Trevor Plouffe, Nick Castellanos, Aramis Ramirez
The Leftovers: Mike Moustakas, Chase Headley, Alex Rodriguez, Lonnie Chisenhall, Will Middlebrooks, Maikel Franco, Luis Valbuena, Yangervis Solarte, Conor Gillaspie, Casey McGehee, Brock Holt, David Freese
Like at second base, the first tier should be a priority at the appropriate point in the draft since it's certainly not getting back to you an entire round later. And it's even thinner than it looks when you consider Rendon is pulling double duty, representing one of just three elite options at second base and one of two here.
So then, if the window to draft elite talent is so small at both positions, why not draft, say, Jose Altuve in Round 1 and Donaldson in Round 2? You could be the only team in the league with elite players at both positions!
It's an appealing thought, but it's not as obvious as you might think. Because remember, by the end of the first round, the top tier at first base will also be close to completion, and while one goal of tiering positions is to reveal where you can gain advantage over your competition, another is to make sure you don't fall behind. If you don't get an elite second or third baseman, you're one of the many, but if you don't get an elite first baseman, you have some catching up to do.
Besides, turning our attention back to this position, the distinction between the tiers isn't so clear-cut. It wasn't too long ago we were calling Beltre, Longoria and Wright elite -- just last year, in fact -- but coming off the years they had, we have reason for doubt now. Then again, Beltre wasn't bad overall -- it's just that a steep drop in home runs at an advanced age (35) raises an eyebrow -- and Longoria and Wright don't really have any warning signs apart from the numbers themselves. Both are young enough (29 and 32, respectively) to bounce back in a big way.
Of course, it's Longoria who I tier with The Near-Elite since last year is the one blemish on his record. You could make a case to drop Frazier a tier in Head-to-Head points leagues and Santana a tier in Rotisserie since their particular skill sets (Frazier with the stolen bases and Santana with the walks) make them best suited for one format or the other, and I wouldn't quibble about. It would just makes for an even bigger third tier, which I'll go ahead and say is where I'm most likely to draft my third baseman.
Now ideally, as the draft is unfolding, you wouldn't worry so much about preconceived plans. You'd just target the position whose active tier is closest to completion and let the chips fall where they may. But because it's not always so straightforward -- two positions may have just as little remaining in their active tiers, or the clear position to target is one you don't need -- it helps to have some concept of what your draft may look like going in.
One way to tell is to find an especially large tier at the position (focusing, of course, on the top three tiers since anything beyond that is a Fallback Option or worse). More likely than not, that tier will be your tier because it'll probably offer the best bang for the buck.
Generally speaking, the larger the tier, the longer you can wait at a position without losing any ground at that position. If you can draft Manny Machado in Round 12 and be just as well off as somebody who drafted Kyle Seager in Round 8, what's your incentive to draft Longoria in Round 5?
Naturally, if Longoria is the obvious pick in Round 5 with the way every other position is looking, you take him, but the optimal draft that would ensure the best distribution of talent across all positions would include one of The Next-Best Things at third base. And frankly, you have a reason to get excited about most of them, from Wright's bounce-back potential to Machado's breakout potential to Davis' sky-is-the-limit potential.
And that's not just where the depth begins to show at third base. We could have a stud on our hands in Bryant if he gets called up early enough and takes the majors right away, and nobody who winds up with Sandoval as his starting third baseman is having too bad of a day.