Much has been said and written about the dearth of talent at the top of the first base pool in the National League with the exodus of Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder to the American League and the questions surrounding Ryan Howard’s return. This leaves Joey Votto all alone at the top of the first base mountain with a big drop-off after him – a position that fantasy players normally count on for big production.
Third base is another infield position we normally count on for good production. This year, however, it is a little thin at the top with a big group near the middle and an even bigger group at the bottom. To make matters a little more dicey, everyone’s consensus top pick to finish the year with the most value at the hot corner isn’t even third base eligible going into the season. So without further ado, let’s look at third base rankings in the National League.
- Hanley Ramirez – The move to third will obviously help the prospects for third base in the NL but Hanley only has shortstop eligibility entering the year. There was a lot of noise surrounding Ramirez demanding a trade since he didn’t want to switch positions. Somehow, Ozzie Guillen schmoozed him into accepting the position change – at least on the surface. Depending on your league rules, you will need a replacement for him until he gains third base eligibility.
- David Wright – After a dismal 2009 in which he only hit ten home runs, Wright bounced back to smack 29 in 2010 before falling back to 14 in an injury shortened 2011. The Metropolitans shortened the distance to the outfield walls – as much as 12 feet in some places - and lowered the home run line to eight feet in an attempt to produce more offense. Wright should get the biggest benefit from the reduced home run distance.
- Ryan Zimmerman – The Washington Nationals third sacker saw his season shortened by injury to less than 400 AB after consecutive years of at least 525. Zimmerman suffered an abdominal strain which sapped him of his power and managed a measly 12 HR on the year. With the injury behind him, expect Ryan to bounce back to the mid 20’s range in long balls.
- Aramis Ramirez – Ramirez bounced back nicely from a disappointing 2010. In 100 more AB his HR rate decreased (although he still wound up with 26) but his BA increased by 65 points and strikeouts were down. I expect more of the same for 2012 but he will be turning 34 before the All- Star break – just saying.
- Pablo Sandoval – Kung Fu Panda entered 2011 leaner and meaner and it showed in his results – more HR, RBI, and a higher BA despite playing in 35 fewer games because of injuries. The key for Sandoval is to enter 2012 in the same shape he was in going into the 2011 season. If he does, he could hit mid to upper 20’s home runs in a park that is unforgiving for hitters.
We have a bit of a drop off to the next group of hitters.
- Ryan Roberts – Roberts fell short of a 20/20 season by only one homerun and two stolen bases at age 30. This came with an average that was a little hard to take - .249. For most leagues, Ryan has eligibility at 2B, 3B, MI, and CI – wherein lies a good amount of his value. In leagues with liberal rules he may even qualify at SS and OF.
- Chase Headley – Headley can hit for a decent average with low double digit homeruns and stolen bases. Unfortunately, that’s about all you’ll get in Petco.
- Martin Prado – Most of Prado’s value in 2010 (which made him a fantasy darling) was his eligibility at every infield position except shortstop. In 2011 he lost first base eligibility and in 2012 he’ll only have third base and outfield as available positions. He can hit for average but only has low teens power and can only steal a few bases. As such, his value takes a big hit this year.
Another drop, this one a bit steeper.
- David Freese – He was limited in 2011 due to injuries but still got the chance to play more games in the majors than any other year in his career. He can hit for a good average and, given enough plate appearances, can hit mid teens or so homeruns. The caveat is his World Series MVP will likely result in a higher than justified price tag.
- Chipper Jones – The hot corner fixture for most of the past decade for the Atlanta Braves will turn 40 years old before the season starts. He hasn’t seen over 500 at bats since 2007 and the smart money says he won’t in 2012 either as he’s had a myriad of injuries the past few years. Count on mid teens homeruns with a decent batting average but not much more.
- Mat Gamel – Although he will most likely replace Prince Fielder at first base (at least for the start of 2012), Gamel will have third base eligibility in many leagues. Given enough at bats, he could hit 20+ homeruns but if he continues to get on base at just barely a .300 clip, his playing time might be limited.
- Scott Rolen – Just squeaked out 250 at bats in 2011 with only five homeruns and a .242 BA. If you roster him, hold your breath and be prepared to pick up Juan Francisco.
- Jimmy Paredes – With the Houston Astros going nowhere, they are pretty much committed to playing Paredes most days. He can provide a fairly good batting average with low homerun totals. His asset is his legs – he can steal 20+ bases if he gets the playing time.
- Ty Wigginton – With Ryan Howard sidelined for at least the first month of the season, Wigginton will get the start at first base most days. He still retains eligibility at third base and outfield as well – providing good roster flexibility for fantasy owners. Wigginton is still capable of 20 homeruns if he gets enough at bats although the batting average will be lacking.
- Placido Polanco – Polanco is recovering from two sports hernias and this may limit his time early on in the year as the Phillies will try to keep him healthy. The only thing he brings to the table is a batting average north of .280.
- Casey Blake – Blake is coming off a season limited by injury to just over 200 at bats. However, the path for him to be the starting third baseman has been cleared. Mid-teens homeruns and a .250 average is what you should expect. Anything else by way of more plate appearances consider a bonus given his age, health, and Arizona Fall League MVP Nolan Arenado.
- Ian Stewart – Stewart has been limited by injuries and not living up to expectations. He gets a new lease on life with the Chicago Cubs and did hit 25 homeruns in 2009. Mid to upper teens power with a .230 - .240 average sounds about right.
- Daniel Descalso – Enters the year with third base eligibility but the St. Louis Cardinals will give him the second base job until he loses it. See Polanco, Placido for expectations.
- Pedro Alvarez – Once one of the top rated minor leaguers, Alvarez saw his prospects take a major hit in 2011. After hitting 16 homeruns and a .256 clip in 95 games in 2010, Pedro saw that tank to four homeruns and a .191 clip in 74 games last year. He has at least mid teens power, it’s just a matter of where the average will come in.
- Casey McGehee – The backup plan for Alvarez in Pittsburgh. McGehee is just one season removed from 23 homeruns but look for mid teens and be happy if you get it.
- Juan Uribe – He lost his second base eligibility where he was more suited, fantasy-wise and will start at third for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Could hit 15 homeruns but it will come at the expense of a .250 batting average.
Also eligible – Geoff Blum, Miguel Cairo, Mark DeRosa, Greg Dobbs, Juan Francisco, Todd Frazier, Jerry Hairston Jr., Chris Johnson.
The moral of the story? You want to make sure you get one of the guys near the top in NL-only leagues unless you’re feeling really lucky.