(Photo by Gerry Angus/Icon Sportswire)
Welcome back to the 2018 Pitcher List positional rankings. We conclude our infield analysis today with a look at third base. Ben Palmer takes over next week with outfield and DH rankings. In the meantime, the hot corner boasts both a wealth of elite options and intriguing players in the lower tiers. Let’s hit it.
Tier 1: The Superheroes
1. Nolan Arenado (Colorado Rockies) – Here is Arenado’s average line over the last three seasons: 159 games, .297 AVG, 40 HR, 104 R, 131 RBI. Of course, he’s just 8-for-18 in stolen base attempts during that time. Pobody’s nerfect! Seriously, Arenado is amazing and offers a combination of elite production and durability that makes him one of the best players in the game. What more needs to be said?
2. Kris Bryant (Chicago Cubs) – Bryant has been a 7-win player on average through his first three seasons per FanGraphs WAR, and that’s still not enough to make him the top option at third base. He simply lags slightly behind Arenado in all of the standard cats besides stolen bases, and the 8 – 10 swipes you’re likely to get from the Cubs’ superstar can’t make up those gaps. Nobody’s going to be upset to land Bryant’s services in the second round, though. He’s cut his strikeout rate by double digits since his rookie year, played in at least 150 games every season, and just turned 26 last month. He ain’t goin’ anywhere.
3. Manny Machado (Baltimore Orioles) – Machado’s struggles in the first half of last season led to a career-low .259 batting average and his worst runs total over a full season so far, but he still hit 33 home runs, tallied 95 RBI, and chipped in nine steals. Projection systems seem unconcerned with his brief 2017 stumbles, pegging him for a return to the elite production of the prior two seasons. There’s a possibility that Machado having developed an extreme pull tendency on ground balls might keep his BABIP from bouncing back above .300, but even if that’s more than a mere blip, he’ll still provide plenty of help in counting stats. Machado will also be returning to his original shortstop position this year, giving him dual eligibility on all platforms after the first couple weeks of action.
4. Jose Ramirez (Cleveland Indians) – We covered Jose Ramirez in the Top 25 Second Basemen in Fantasy Baseball for 2018.
5. Freddie Freeman (Atlanta Braves) – We covered Freddie Freeman in the Top 25 First Basemen in Fantasy Baseball for 2018.
6. Josh Donaldson (Toronto Blue Jays) – A combination of an early-season injury, a mid-season swoon, and the frankly stupid excellence of the aforementioned names has conspired to push Donaldson’s ADP into the third round in standard leagues. That’s simultaneously understandable and ridiculous. Donaldson was a stone-cold stud in the two seasons prior to 2017, and even last year he hit 33 HR in only 113 games. Donaldson’s run production pace did fall off a bit (into merely excellent territory as opposed to transcendent), while his strikeout rate spiked from the high teens to low 20s. He’s still a preternaturally gifted hitter and a fantastic choice for your primary 3B.
Tier 2: The All-Arounds
7. Anthony Rendon (Washington Nationals) – Rendon has managed to stay healthy in three of the last four seasons, largely allaying fears about his injury proneness. There was never much question about his ability, as evidenced by his excellent work in those healthy seasons. Throwing out the injury-truncated 2015 campaign, Rendon has produced a .286-22-94-89-12 average line since breaking out in 2014. While his stolen base totals (both successes and attempts) have fallen during that time and he may be tapped out in terms of power, the Nationals’ overlooked star is still one of the better all-around contributors in fantasy. Rendon’s always been a high-quality hitter, but last season he was just one of five qualified batters to walk more often than he struck out. The others: Joey Votto, Mike Trout, Anthony Rizzo, and…
8. Justin Turner (Los Angeles Dodgers) – For as easy as power is to come by these days, Turner belongs to another rather exclusive group; he’s one of just 13 players who’s hit 40 homers or more while also batting at least .295 over the last two seasons. Turner’s run production has been a bit underwhelming considering his status as the primary #3 hitter for one of the best teams in baseball, but that combination of talent and role is never a bad bet. You’ll also get five or six steals out of the deal. Health is a concern.
10. Travis Shaw (Milwaukee Brewers) – I liked Shaw coming into last season as a value play, and he exceeded those expectations. In his first year with Milwaukee, Shaw was one of just 11 players to produce a 30 HR/10 SB season. He also finished 17th in baseball with 101 RBI, while providing respectable numbers in batting average (.273) and runs scored (84). The projection systems expect some pullback across the board, but we like him enough to place him in the top 10.
Tier 3: Long Journey to the Middle
11. Adrian Beltre (Texas Rangers) – Adrian Beltre is the best and I’m going to be super sad when he retires. He’ll be 39 in April and just keeps chugging along anyway. Of course, he only suited up for 94 games last season thanks to multiple leg injuries, but was excellent as usual when healthy: .312/.383/.532 with 17 HR and 71 RBI. He also stole exactly one base for the seventh consecutive year, which is definitely my new favorite random stat.
12. Rafael Devers (Boston Red Sox) – We pivot from discussing the league’s oldest third baseman to its youngest. Devers hit .284/.338/.482 as a 20-year-old rookie who hadn’t had a single at-bat above A-ball coming into 2017. That’s mighty impressive. Of course, we all know progression isn’t linear and there’s no guarantee Devers gets any better (for a recent cautionary tale, consider Maikel Franco and his place on this list), but it’s tough not to dream on that kind of debut.
13. Nick Castellanos (Detroit Tigers) – I used to think I liked Castellanos, but then I heard our fearless leader Nick Pollack talk about him. Nicks stick together, I guess. The profile features a lot to like, but this ranks feels just a tad high to me. The Tigers lost a lot of firepower in their lineup over the last six months, and run production could be even tougher for Castellanos to come by if Miguel Cabrera doesn’t rebound.
14. Jake Lamb (Arizona Diamondbacks) – These rankings were compiled before the Diamondbacks confirmed that a humidor will be used for games at Chase Field in 2018. That news dings Lamb’s value a bit and makes me a bit less inclined to argue hard for him. I would have pointed out that despite second-half swoons each year and an inability to hit lefties, Lamb averaged 30 HR, 85 R, and 98 RBI over the past two seasons. He also added three percentage points to his walk rate last year and chopped two points off of his strikeout rate. Middle of the pack still smells about right, even if the humidor costs him a few bombs.
15. Mike Moustakas (Free Agent) – Moustakas remains unsigned, and the list of likely landing spots isn’t all that long. He’d benefit from a favorable home park in any of those three scenarios, but those teams all have cogent arguments for not signing him. He could end up back in Kansas City, and the lineup and park contexts there are, to put it lightly, not awesome. It’s kind of wild to see a 29-year-old coming off a 38 HR season languishing in free agency and barely inside the top 15 fantasy options at his positions, but 2018 is one wacky game show.
16. Joey Gallo (Texas Rangers) – We covered Joey Gallo in the Top 25 First Basemen in Fantasy Baseball for 2018.
17. Eugenio Suarez (Cincinnati Reds) – Suarez quietly put together a solid season in 2017, hitting .260 with 26 HR, 87 R, 82 RBI, and 4 SB. That wasn’t far behind Lamb (whose ADP is 75 picks earlier) and was better than Kyle Seager (55 picks earlier). Suarez isn’t flashy, but he can turn a nice little profit for you in the middle rounds. He may also pick up shortstop eligibility depending on how the Reds end up making room for Nick Senzel.
18. Miguel Sano (Minnesota Twins) – Sano would rank significantly higher here if not for his impeding suspension. It’s anyone’s guess as to how many games that suspension will be, but the general consensus from our informal staff polling was 50 games. It’s pretty difficult for almost any player’s value not to take a large hit from missing a third of the season. That wouldn’t be new for Sano, of course, as he’s lost a similar chunk of time to injury in each of the last two years. Sano also strikes out far too much to ever be more than a three-category contributor.
Tier 4: Supporting Players
19. Eduardo Nunez (Free Agent) – We covered Eduardo Nunez in the Top 25 Second Basemen in Fantasy Baseball for 2018.
20. Kyle Seager (Seattle Mariners) – He’s definitely “Corey’s brother” now rather than the other way around, but despite barely cracking the top 20, Seager is still a solid guy to have on your roster. He’s averaged a .265-27-79-89-5 line over the last four seasons while missing just 16 games during that span. While his draft price might be a bit high, there’s something to be said for reliability.
21. Ryon Healy (Seattle Mariners) – We covered Ryon Healy (who is now hurt) in the Top 25 First Basemen in Fantasy Baseball for 2018.
22. Matt Chapman (Oakland Athletics) – The good news: Chapman hit at a 30 HR pace as a rookie, and Steamer expects him to maintain that over a full MLB season, along with a walk rate just below 10 percent. The bad news: Chapman also struck out nearly 30 percent of the time en route to a .234 batting average, and Steamer also expects him to maintain those. At a 284 ADP, though, a bet on improvement doesn’t cost much.
23. Matt Carpenter (St. Louis Cardinals) – We covered Matt Carpenter in the Top 25 First Basemen in Fantasy Baseball for 2018.
24. Evan Longoria (San Francisco Giants) – It’ll be weird to see Longoria playing for a team that isn’t the Rays. Naturally, he ended up getting traded to one of the few parks that could be more unfriendly to him than the Trop. AT&T Park is famously murderous on right-handed power, and Longo was already coming off his third season with a .435 SLG or lower in the last four. He could easily fail to crack the 20 HR plateau for the first time ever. In a pool this deep, that’s enough to relegate him to the bottom of this tier.
25. Todd Frazier (New York Mets) – Frazier was a top-75 pick a year ago, and now he’s barely inside the top 300. It’s not hard to understand why. Frazier’s batting average has dropped in each of the last four seasons, culminating in last year’s putrid .213 mark. He’d averaged 13 steals per year from 2014-16; last year, he swiped just four bags. He went from 40 bombs in 2016 to 27. Everybody hit 27 home runs last year! You can’t hit .213 with lousy run production and no speed and provide any fantasy value in this environment.
26. Maikel Franco (Philadelphia Phillies) – Steamer still kinda likes Franco, but fantasy owners have clearly moved on en masse after back-to-back underwhelming seasons from the Phillies’ third baseman. This is a pivotal year for the 25-year-old, and as a Phils fan, I wish I had more faith in him. The power and contact combo is a profile that seems like it should yield success, but he hits too many pop-ups and not enough fly balls. Also, I have no empirical basis for this claim, but it sure feels like he leads the league in hideous swings.
27. Josh Harrison (Pittsburgh Pirates) – We covered Josh Harrison in the Top 25 Second Basemen in Fantasy Baseball for 2018.
28. Jedd Gyorko (St. Louis Cardinals) – Lots of moving parts in St. Louis + career .245 hitter + 25 homers not going nearly as far as they used to + loss of some positional eligibility = our tepid interest in Gyorko. He’s a decent bench bat in standard leagues, no more.