Nate Schwartz’s Top Five 3B Sleepers

Five players that can save you at one of the thinnest positions.

If you’ve consumed any fantasy content about the upcoming season, you’ve likely heard that third base is an extremely light position. The stars at the top of the draft are continually getting pushed up draft boards and the panic around third base is rising. While the general consensus is to grab any of the top third basemen (such as José RamírezRafael Devers, Manny Machado, and Austin Riley) and not worry about stability at the position, not everyone can draft those top guys.

Despite the concerns, there are still some fantastic guys to have on your 2022 fantasy teams at third base. I’ll be looking at five players who are getting underrated in drafts and can be considered “sleepers” compared to ADP. In my opinion, a sleeper is a player going after pick 100 at the earliest and can provide significantly higher value than their current draft position.

All draft position data is from the NFBC ADP page ranging from January 15th until date of publication.

 

Ke’Bryan Hayes

ADP: 139th overall, 11th among third basemen

 

Ke’Bryan Hayes was expected to burst onto the scene as the Pirates’ third baseman of the future in 2021. He had a high prospect pedigree going into the year following a strong MLB stint in 2020 and was capable of doing it all. Hayes flashed his potential contact, power, and speed skills with a 1.124 OPS in 2020, and the fantasy community bought into his 15 HR/15 SB potential for 2021.

With an almost identical ADP (132nd overall) to this year’s ADP, Hayes was a massive disappointment for anyone who rostered him last year. Hayes injured his left hand in the second game of the season, injured his left wrist while rehabbing the hand injury, returned in June where he couldn’t quite get back into a rhythm, and then reinjured the hand in the last week of the season. A slash line of .257/.316/.373 in 96 games is an underwhelming display of power for the former top 10 prospect and the hand/wrist injury sapped him of his power throughout the year. Among hitters with a minimum of 350 PA, Hayes’ .116 ISO ranked 201st out of 224 players, an awfully low number indicating both a lack of HRs and extra-base hits.

First and foremost, Hayes’ hand and wrist do not seem to pose any long-term concerns, which is key for success in 2022. Hayes admitted that he was playing through pain in 2021 and is not worried about these injuries lingering through the offseason. The injuries didn’t hamper Hayes’ ability to hit the ball hard, but rather where he was hitting the ball. His groundball rate spiked from 50.0% in 2020 to 59.6% in 2021, but possessed an identical flyball rate of 23%. All of the gained groundballs came from a lack of line drives, and that is reflected in his average launch angle (2.6 degrees) throughout the season.

Even with the launch angle issues, Hayes still hit the ball hard in 2021 and that’s an encouraging sign for 2022. His 90th percentile exit velocity of 105.6 MPH is an above-average value and suggests that he is capable of higher HR power than what we saw in 2021. As Jeremy Siegel wrote here last year, 90th percentile exit velocity is a much better indicator of power than average exit velocity and max exit velocity. THE BAT X projects a .264/.328/.412 slash line with 15 HRs and 10 SBs. As these projections are usually harsher on rookies/players with little major league experience, Hayes has a ceiling with 20 HR/15 SB as a strong possibility in 2022.

 

Justin Turner

ADP: 156th overall, 14th among third basemen

 

I think Justin Turner is the most underrated hitter in drafts right now and it isn’t particularly close. Not only is his 2022 promising, but his past success has not been adequately respected. Turner’s 139 wRC+ ranks 11th out of all hitters with at least 400 PA per season since 2017. That ranks him higher than José Ramírez, Manny Machado, and Nolan Arenado, among others, in the same timeframe. Turner has been able to hit for average and power and thrive in runs and RBI at the heart of the Dodgers lineup.

While there are questions about his health and playing time, all signs point to that not being a problem. Turner played in 151 games last year during the regular season and appears to be healthy after the hamstring strain he suffered in the NLCS. Going into 2022 healthy is essential for Turner as the Dodgers have a club option on him for 2023.

One of the reasons Turner’s 2022 draft stock is low is the struggles in the second half of the season. Looking at first half/second half splits, there is a stark difference in his output:

Turner’s batting average dropped by 60 points in the second half of the season which is the most significant difference, but his OBP and SLG took hits as well. There appears to be a change in approach between the two halves, as both his BB% and K% dropped over time. Turner started chasing more pitches out of the zone while maintaining a level swing percentage throughout the whole season. His chase rate increased from 17.5% in April to 27.3% by September. However, the September chase rate is closer to his career number, so it is something that Turner will likely be able to adjust to in 2022.

Given that Turner has been successful throughout his years, the projections believe that Turner will bounce back from a tough second half and maintain who he is as a top-tier third baseman. According to THE BAT X, Turner is projected to hit for a .288 AVG with 27 HRs in 548 PA. The addition of the National League DH will also provide Turner with at-bats that would otherwise be off-days for the 37-year-old, ensuring more playing time for the veteran. For a guy going around pick 150, I’m buying a projection like that every time I can. Turner can be a steal, albeit not flashy, that can lead to vast success in the mid-rounds of a draft.

 

Ryan McMahon

ADP: 160th overall, 15th among third basemen

 

While I like Turner more at this range, Ryan McMahon is another fantastic find in the mid-rounds if you are still searching for a 3B. As he’s settled into an everyday role with the Rockies, McMahon has been consistent in his .250 AVG, 20+ HR output in his full 2019 and 2021 seasons. McMahon is a direct beneficiary of Coors Field and while that leads to concerns about his actual ability, it gives him the opportunity to be a sleeper.

McMahon is proficient in hard contact at the big league level, posting solid a 44.7% HardHit% compared to the 35.4% MLB average. Being able to hit the ball well in Coors leads to results even if metrics indicate that he is not hitting well in a balanced league environment. McMahon’s 95 wRC+ is technically below average, but playing half of his games at Coors balances out for pure fantasy production.

Not only does McMahon hit the ball hard, he also excels at hitting to all fields. Below is his 2021 spray chart:

By looking at the distribution of the 2Bs and HRs, McMahon exemplifies a balanced power hitter. He hit 8 of 23 HRs and 16 of 32 2Bs to the opposite field. Additionally, he hit a fair amount of singles to left field as well, despite getting shifted in 47% of his plate appearances. McMahon’s .375 wOBA against the shift is ranked 24th among left-handed hitters, suggesting that he can find pockets for more average to complement the 20+ HR power.

From a roster construction standpoint, McMahon can provide immense value as a later pick, especially for leagues that use a CI and MI roster spot. McMahon is eligible at second and third base, allowing him to fill up to four roster (five including a UTIL) spots. The positional flexibility becomes critical over the course of the season as injuries pile up.

 

Jeimer Candelario

ADP: 223rd overall, 20th among third basemen

For a late third baseman, Jeimer Candelario offers breakout potential in both ability and counting stats. I’d argue that Candelario was already underrated in 2021, where he put up dependable numbers in standard fantasy categories outside of steals. A line of .271 AVG/75 R/16 HR/67 RBI/0 SB does not hurt you in average or home runs and is beneficial in runs and RBIs. Putting up a 2021-like season would be a nice grab this late in drafts, but the underlying stats suggest that there is more in the tank for Candelario.

To start, Candelario’s expected wOBA rose steadily across 2021 and was in elite territory by the end of the season. Even though his .357 xwOBA was only four points higher than his previous career-high of .353, Candelario improved his batted ball quality from start to finish.

The rolling graph looks at every segment of 200 plate appearances, starting when he hit 200 plate appearances in late May. By the last week of the season, Candelario’s rolling xwOBA went north of .400. Of qualified hitters in 2021, only 12 had an xwOBA above .400. It might not be a sustainable rate for Candelario going into 2022, but the boosted xwOBA over an extended amount of time indicates that Candelario might have broken through as a hitter.

Candelario is becoming a scary hitter, and there’s help on the way for both protection in the lineup and run-scoring production. Spencer Torkelson and Riley Greene, two consensus top ten prospects, are expected to be called up to the big league squad early in 2022 and the Tigers also signed an impact bat in Javier Báez. Candelario spent most of 2021 batting in the heart of the order and only had 67 RBI. With a handful of new bats in the lineup, he should get plenty more opportunities for RBIs and could even get close to 100 with a strong core around him. Candelario also benefits from the fact that he is going to get playing time regardless of the roster shuffling. The only real threat to his playing time is Issac Paredes, who’s more of a utility player that the Tigers have not given the time of day to while rebuilding.

The projections are not buying a massive Candelario breakout for 2022, but he has all the tools to make it happen. Even at a projected .271/71/17/67/0 by THE BAT X, he can still be an important everyday bat for fantasy teams in 2022.

 

Mike Moustakas

ADP: 368th overall, 30th among third basemen

 

When I originally started drafting this piece, Mike Moustakas was nowhere near the list of guys I would consider as a late-round sleeper, let alone at 3B. However, the all-but-official announcement of the designated hitter in the National League last week propelled Moustakas into the conversation as a potential steal at the end of drafts.

Moustakas, while injured for the majority of last year, currently lines up to be the Reds’ DH coming into 2022 according to RosterResource. He dealt with a variety of injuries, mostly with his foot and heel, sidelining him for months at a time. Assuming Moustakas is healthy coming into 2022, he should fit into the designated hitter role nicely. There are fewer concerns about lost playing time for fielding purposes now, so Moustakas should be seeing frequent plate appearances in one of the most hitter-friendly parks in baseball. According to Statcast’s park factors, Great American Ballpark is the third-most hitter-friendly park overall and first for home runs. Moustakas is in the perfect place to succeed, he can essentially just show up to the ballpark to try and mash HRs.

He only played 32 games in 2021, so the meaningful data from 2020 shows a somewhat more true understanding of Moustakas’ current capabilities. His 104.8 90th percentile exit velocity ranks solidly above-average among all hitters, putting him around José Ramírez and Anthony Rizzo. This places Moustakas in the 25-30 home run range, which is decent production for a last-round flier. In addition, he’s put up strong barrel rates in his healthy seasons (excluding 2016 and 2021).

Moustakas has been consistent in his ability to hit the ball hard and do damage with balls in play. When healthy, he is a seasoned power hitter and should continue to be in 2022.

If you are to draft him late, be sure you have batting average locked down if you plan to play Moustakas frequently. He may get owners an extra 10-15 home runs than a normal late-round hitter, but it may be at a slight cost in other categories.

 

Honorable Mentions

 

Yandy Díaz ADP: 390th overall, 33rd among third basemen: The exit velocity will continue to be great for Diaz and he can provide late batting average off the bench. Maybe this will be the year he finally starts lifting the ball and will become an All-Star. Maybe.

Brian Anderson — ADP: 418th overall, 37th among third basemen: Anderson was out for a chunk of 2021 due to a shoulder injury, but posted a 115 wRC+ from 2018-2020. His xwOBA when healthy has been around .340, ranking in the 60th percentile among qualifying players.

Jon Berti — ADP: 649th overall, 45th among third basemen: Berti can be a potential stolen base gem if injuries plague the Marlins early in the season. He has 2B/3B eligibility and can be plugged in around the infield, so if he gets plate appearances he can be a threat. Berti only stole eight bags in 85 games in 2021 but has flashed the ability with 17 stolen bases in 73 games in 2019.

 

Photo from Icon Sportswire| Adapted by Shawn Palmer (@Palmerguyboston on Twitter)

Nate Schwartz

Nate is currently writing for the Going Deep team at Pitcher List. He is a lifelong St. Louis Cardinals fan and devil magic supporter despite being from the Chicago area. You can follow him on Twitter @_nateschwartz where he may or may not be tweeting. Left-handed pitchers make him happy.

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