It’s been a week of hitter rankings with the Top 20 Catchers, Top 20 First Basemen, Top 20 Second Basemen, and Top 20 Shortstops, and we’re finally at the hot corner today. I have little hesitation grabbing a premium 3B in the first round, though there are a few guys I have my eye on if I need to find some value in the middle rounds. Here are the Top 20 Third Basemen for 2016.
TIER 1: The Core Three-and-a-Half
1. Josh Donaldson (Toronto Blue Jays) – No one really knows what Billy Beane was thinking when he sold Josh to the Blue Jays, and Donaldson made the best of his time earning an MVP award as he slashed .297/.371/.568, crushed 41 HRs and exceed 120 in both Runs and RBI. Huey (Dewey? Louie? I guess they all are essentially Donald’s son) separates himself from the rest of the crowd by playing in MLB’s premier lineup, and will continue to produce excellent numbers across the board. Sure, stolen bases will not hit double digits, but when he’s giving this kind of elite production, you’ll let it slide like Josh Hamilton during a rain delay.
2. Nolan Arenado (Colorado Rockies) – I understand arguments for Machado getting the nod over Arenado, and it comes down who I trust to repeat his 2015 season. Arenado has some elements working against him: Tulowitzki and Dickerson are gone, he batted just .258 on the road, and 130 RBI will be very difficult to replicate. At the same time, he held a great 35.8% hard contact rate, raised his FB and HR/FB rates, while striking out just 16.5% of the time. Last season wasn’t a fluke, and adding Gerrado Parra should ease the blow of missing an oft-injured Dickerson, while a non-suspended Jose Reyes will help the RBi flowing. Lastly, Arenado hit two more HRs on the road than at home last season, further reinforcing that his power is #2legit2quit.
3. Manny Machado (Baltimore Orioles) – I really did sit down with a brandy in hand and consider all thoughts about Arenado vs. Machado, and even though the stolen bases are a major plus for Machado owners, I’m taking the higher chance of Arenado’s power over Machado’s speed. Machado had a breakout season that involved 20 SBs from seemingly nowhere, and improved his numbers across the board. It’s certainly possible his stats are here to stay, though a small regression is bit more likely. Oh, and those 102 Runs? Arenado had 97, and with solid hitters behind him, I don’t see much of a Run difference again in 2016.
4. Kris Bryant (Chicago Cubs) – Bryant is one of those guys that you want to draft simply because you want to be a part of the mega hype that surrounds him. Thing is, you probably shouldn’t. The biggest red flag is his whopping 30.% K rate from last season, which greatly limited his chances of hitting the ball out. His FB% and HR/FB numbers are fine, he simply isn’t making enough contact. Bryant also displayed athleticism on the basepaths, and 10+ steals could easily be repeated. His success simply hinges on increasing his discipline at the plate, which sadly didn’t improve in the second half (31.6% K rate!). It could certainly develop in his sophomore year, and even though he’s in the same first tier, Bryant is the clear #4 option.
TIER 2: Backup Plans
5. Todd Frazier (Chicago White Sox) – If you saw Frazier’s 2015 stats compared to the likes of Machado and Bryant, it would be tough to tell the difference, as the former Red slugged 35 dingers, swiped 13 bases and drove in 89 RBI. It was a career year for Todd, though the only significant difference was his ability to increase his flyball rate from 37.1% to a massive 47.7%. Even with a small dip in HR/FB, hitting more balls in the air will result in more longballs. It does come with a sacrifice, however. An increase in flyballs is known to reduce BABIP, thus your batting average, and Frazier dropped nearly 20 points all the way to .255. Frazier is switching roles as he heads to Chicago and Sideshow Bob may be more of the same in HR friendly U.S Cellular Field. Just recognize the dip in average and his current 4th round ADP may be just what you want.
6. Matt Carpenter (St. Louis Cardinals) – It’s too bad he doesn’t have 2B eligibility anymore, since Carp would be near the top of the charts. He changed his approach in 2016, electing to swing more often (32.8% to 38.9%), and dramatically lowering his grounders (41.0% to 29.7%) to elevate balls at a higher rate (35.2% to 41.7%). The result was a huge boom in his HR/FB to 15.8%, helping him produce a whopping 28 dingers after hitting just 8 the year before. The point of telling you all of that is to understand that it wasn’t a pure fluke that Carpenter became a power threat in 2015. I don’t expect him to keep exactly the same pace this season, though 20 HRs is attainable, and he’ll still be an elite source of runs atop the Cardinals’ lineup. Keep in mind, his newly acquired aggressive approach induced a significant rise in his K rate to 22.7%, which may cause for a drop in his average in 2016.
7. Maikel Franco (Philadelphia Phillies) – If you miss the boat on the guys in the first tier, Franco is who I would be aiming for later in the draft. Obvious SSS issues aside, if we simply double Franco’s numbers across his 80 games last season, we’d get 28 HRs, 90 Runs and 100 RBI while slashing .280/.343./.497. Then you realize it comes from a guy who’s K rate is nearly half of Bryant’s at just 15.5% and it’s hard not to get excited. There are a few issues though: He plays in a poor Phillies’ lineup, his IFFB rate was an unsettling 14.8%, and his soft contact clip was a shockingly high 22.1%. Still, Franco is going to be turn 24 in August and could be on the verge of a breakout season. That’s elite value for someone with projected to go around the 10th round.
8a. Kyle Seager (Seattle Mariners) – If you don’t want to chase upside and know what you want like that old time Rock n’ Roll, Seager has you covered. He’s hit 20-26 HRs in four straight years while his average has hovered right around .260. It’s possible he could go towards .270 as he had a low BABIP despite solid batted ball numbers, and his 74 RBI should rise with a better Mariners squad. I don’t blame you for taking Kyle’s floor over Franco, though he’s just not as fun. And isn’t this all about having fun?
8b. Miguel Sano (Minnesota Twins) – Hey Sano, let’s sit down for a second. What’s up Nick? Well man, let’s talk about some of the great stuff you did last year. Hard hit contact was through the roof at 43.2%, and you had a .262 ISO as you hit 18 bombs in just 80 games. Crazy good right? Yes it was. But I didn’t bring you in here to shower you with praise. Uh huh… Seriously man, a 35.5% K rate? A 60.9% contact rate? I know I know…but I had a 15.8% walk rate! 42.0% flyball rate! Yeah, and a gross 26.5% HR/FB that will be tough to keep up. What am I going to do with you Sano? Can I trust you for a full season? Maybe? Maybe is right. (Keep in mind, Sano is not eligible at 3B in ESPN leagues, but his 9 Games Started is good enough for Yahoo, and I really wanted to write a piece on Sano so I added him).
9. Adrian Beltre (Texas Rangers) – It’s one long career for Beltre, and he’s managed each year to put up respectable numbers from 3B, where he doesn’t hurt you across the board. Well, steals, but you know what I mean. 2016 could be the year that father time starts poking him with his wretched cane, though it seems pretty safe to expect about 20 HRs, decent counting stats, and hinting at a .290-.300 average. Keep in mind, though Beltre featured lower HR/FB and ISO numbers last season, he was playing through a nagging thumb injury. Take that as you may, and given the general feel for Beltre pre-season, he could be a discount in your drafts.
10. Evan Longoria (Tampa Bay Rays) – He’s no longer the MVP-caliber option at the hot corner, though 20 HR seasons with good production stats are easily within Longoria’s grasp for 2016. His HR/FB rate has been the main source of his decline, sitting at a disappointing 10.8% for two straight seasons. Longoria could eclipse 25 bombs if he raises the number just a few ticks, but he’s already 30 years-old, and it may be tough to expect a rebound at this point.
11. Mike Moustakas (Kansas City Royals) – After years of failing to reach expectations, Mooooooose finally had his breakout year, hitting 22 Hrs and featuring a great .284 average for the Royals. It came with a new approach at the plate, improving his ability to spread the ball across the field, going against the shift that caused a horrid .220 BABIP in 2014. There’s little reason to expect Moustakas to alter his new approach in 2016, though teams may wise up to their shifts leading to a small regression.
TIER 3: Warming The Bench
14. Justin Turner (Los Angeles Dodgers) – It may be tough to believe his 2015 season, but Turner has a lot of things pointing to a successful 2016 campaign: He’ll be positioned third in the Dodgers lineup with more security in his playing time, he reduced his groundballs in favor of line drives last season, totalling a crazy good 27.7%, and he lowered his K rate to a low 16.2%, which means a near .300 average is possible. His 13.9% HR/FB was a career high though, as well as his 36.2% FB rate (compared to just a 30.5% career mark), and it’ll be tough to expect more than 20 bombs even when given a full season. There’s also the question of his health after his second half waned due to a knee injury that required surgery in November. Keep that in mind as you draft the fire-branded Dodger, and I like him padding my team’s bench or corner infield slot deeper in the draft.
15. David Wright (New York Mets) – When the news broke that Wright would be limited to 130 games to ensure his health through the season, I initially placed Wright a little lower, then realized that I wasn’t expecting Wright to play a full season in the first place. Now that we know he’ll be coddled with a lower chance of playing through an injury, David becomes a more of a stable choice, despite playing on the bench for at least 32 games this year. There’s no guarantee he’ll survive for his full 130, but I like him in my lineup when he’s on the field. He’s crushing the ball (33.5%+ hard contact the past three seasons), his HR/FB hinted his pre-2014 numbers in his short 38 game 2015 season, and his sturdy ~13% walk rate mixed with a .285+ average (.379 OBP last year) will mean he’s on base to accumulate runs while hitting 2nd in the order. Sounds like the perfect bench bat to me.
16. Matt Duffy (San Francisco Giants) – Duffy’s minor league track record had us expecting his 12 steals last year (if not more), but to match the mark in HRs was a bit of a surprise. Don’t expect that number to rise this season as he only hit 26.5% FB, which would mean a major shift of approach at the plate would be in order to eclipse 15 HRs in 2016. And why should he change? He hit .295 and only struck out 15.7% of the time, making him a tough out each time he came to bat. He’s projected to hit third in the Giants’ order, so expect a good amount of Runs/RBI despite the lack of power numbers. I don’t see major upside Duffy’s way, but you can’t argue with his contact skills mixed with his job security and decent speed that could hint at 20 swipes in 2016.
17. Trevor Plouffe (Minnesota Twins) – Here’s the good about Plouffe: He strikes out under 20% of the time, hits a lot of flyballs (40.7%), allowing for a higher expression of his 2015 career high HR/FB of 12.0%, and he’ll have plenty of RBI chances batting fifth for the Twins. Problem is that he pulls a whopping 42.7% of balls, allowing teams to shift against him, while he lowered his line drive rate to just 18.1% in 2015. This is the recipe for a sub .270 average, and without speed, Plouffe’s value hinges on his HR/FB staying high and giving you 20+ dingers with 80-90 RBI. You can certainly do worse, but understand the risk if he starts hitting fewer bombs this season.
18. Nick Castellanos (Detroit Tigers) – I’m not saying Casty will lavish the rewards of a breakout in 2016, but he holds intriguing upside with a batted ball profile consisting of just 11.4% soft contact, a 40.4% flyball rate and the ability to hit the ball to all fields. The biggest hole is the one in his swing, as he has two seasons under his belt striking out near a 25% clip. His minor league numbers suggest he could raise his underwhelming 9.2% HR/FB rate, and if that sits comfortably in the teens, we’re talking 25 HR upside from a guy that’s getting undrafted.
20. Pablo Sandoval (Boston Red Sox) – The Red Sox put a lot of faith in Sandoval last offseason, and that didn’t quite work out for the Boston club. Sandoval has been a disappointment for fantasy owners since 2011, breaking the 15 HR threshold just once in 2014 with a paltry 16 longballs. There isn’t all too much encouragement that he’ll put it all together in his second season at Fenway, and it may have the Red Sox looking elsewhere faster than you’d expect. Still, there is some upside here and you may as well take the chance as one of your final picks in the draft. Just get ready to dump him if he doesn’t look like a changed man early.