Matthew Pouliot

Strike Zone

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2014 Breakdowns: Third Base

Monday, February 24, 2014


Our next stop for position breakdowns is third base. Oddly enough, this is the position where I probably come closest to matching the consensus this year. Usually, I'm pretty far out there at third, gambling on youngsters or rebound candidates. I do have some of that in the second five this year, but my top four is the same as pretty much everyone's: Miguel Cabrera, Adrian Beltre and then David Wright and Evan Longoria in either order (I prefer Wright).

 

For my complete rankings at every position, check out the online draft guide. It includes an overall top 300, top 250s for both AL- and NL-only leagues, 1,000 player profiles, 1,500 player projections, keeper rankings and much more.

 

Underrated

 

Manny Machado - Orioles - That Machado's season-ending knee injury looked so horrific seems to be taking a toll on his draft value so far this year. I can't blame anyone for waiting on encouraging updates before drafting him, but everything is going as well as could be hoped, and while Machado keeps saying he's not looking ahead to Opening Day, he is on pace to be ready. Assuming he's healthy, some of Machado's league-leading 51 doubles from a year ago are going to turn into homers this year. He's still just 21 years old, but he's so far ahead of schedule on his way to becoming a superstar. I think a .290-20 HR season is likely, and with Chris Davis and Adam Jones hitting behind him, 100 runs scored should be within reach.

 

Kyle Seager - Mariners - Seager's emergence in the first half of last year was obscured by a couple of other breakouts from AL third basemen (Machado, Josh Donaldson) as well as the Mariners' terrible play. He then went and collapsed in August, hitting .174/.283/.277 in his final 53 games. I think that will make him a modest bargain this year. Seager finished with 20 homers each of the last two years, and, given his modest strikeout rates, he's still capable of improving on his .260 averages. He now has Robinson Cano hitting third behind him, which should lead to more runs scored, and I also think the Mariners will be stronger in front of him, with Brad Miller hopefully seizing the leadoff spot and an improved Dustin Ackley potentially batting ninth. I have him and Machado as practically equals, and they come in 6th and 7th overall at third base for me.

 

Pablo Sandoval - Giants - And here's No. 8. I don't necessarily believe Sandoval's weight loss will make him a better hitter, but it would seem to make him a better bet to stay healthy. He should be more motivated than ever in his contract season, and we've seen his upside when he's on (.330, 25 HR in 2009, .315, 23 HR in 2011). That he'll probably open the season batting sixth dims his stock a little, but he could always move up to third in the Giants order if he plays to his potential. A run at a batting title is hardly outside the realm of possibility.

 

Overrated

 

Evan Longoria - Rays - Four years in a row, I've projected Longoria to post at least a .900 OPS. He's never quite gotten there, though. This year, he's lower in my rankings that he's been at any point since his rookie season in 2008. It's not that I'm expecting him to disappoint -- I have him at .275-30-100, which isn't bad at all -- but the likelihood of an MVP-type season seems lower than it's been in the past. Last year, his strikeout rate was his highest since his rookie season and his walk rate his lowest. He's also completely stopped running (just one steal attempt all season from a guy who was 15-for-20 in 2010), and his supporting cast doesn't look as strong as it used to be. I don't see him as worthy of a second-round pick in mixed leagues.

 

Josh Donaldson - Athletics - White Donaldson doesn't have the appearance of a one-year wonder, I sincerely doubt he'll ever be quite that good again. I place him ninth at third; I think last year's .301 average will tumble far enough to knock him below the Machado-Seager-Sandoval group. The O.co is a really tough place to hit for average, and losing 10-15 singles and doubles will cost Donaldson in the run and RBI departments as well. I'm expecting something closer to .270-20-80.

 

Pedro Alvarez - Pirates - Alvarez led the NL in homers last year and managed to drive in 100 runs, but I just don't see a player who is improving. Alvarez has struck out 30-31 percent of the time all four of his years in the bigs, and last year, he did it with his worst ever walk rate (41 unintentional BB in 614 plate appearances). He was swinging more than ever and making contact less frequently than ever. That's why he had just a .233 average and 22 doubles to go along with his 36 homers. In 152 games, he scored all of 34 runs, not counting the times he drove himself in. I'm sure Alvarez will get his 30-40 homers again this year, but it could come with an even weaker average. I'd stay far away.

 

Sleepers

 

Nolan Arenado - Rockies - I always believed Arenado was an overrated prospect as he climbed through the Rockies farm system, but with the hype stripped away, what's left isn't bad. Arenado's strong line-drive rate (24 percent) and low strikeout rate (14 percent) could have resulted in something significantly higher than a .267 average last season, particularly with Coors Field providing its usual assist, and I think a big jump is a possibility for this year. Right now, I have him at .290-15-70, which makes him a fringe guy in mixed leagues but a potentially nice asset in NL-only leagues. His stock also got a slight bump with the news that Michael Cuddyer would hit second for the Rockies. If they had gone with D.J. LeMahieu there, as they did for much of last season, Arenado probably would have been stuck batting eighth. Now he seems more likely to hit seventh, which makes a significant difference in the NL.

 

Mark Reynolds - Brewers - Instead of Alvarez, how about taking a chance on Reynolds for a fraction of the cost? The concern here is that Reynolds could hit .160 in April and lose his spot as the Brewers' primary first baseman, whereas Alvarez would get the benefit of the doubt if he hits similarly for a month or two. Reynolds, though, still has his 30-homer power and is in a great park for home run hitters in Milwaukee. No other potential 30-homer guy is going to last as long in drafts.

 

Marcus Semien - White Sox - That the White Sox declined to trade any of their infielders pretty much ensures that Semien will start the season in the minors. Eventually, though, Gordon Beckham or Alexei Ramirez should be moved, opening up a spot for one of 2013's breakout prospects. Semien managed 21 homers and 26 steals between Double-A (105 games), Triple-A (32 games) and the majors (21 games) last year, and he might be the best option in the whole organization to bat second in a major league lineup. Patience will be required, but he'll be a top-notch reserve pick in AL-only leagues.

 

Mike Olt - Cubs - As significant as Olt's eye problems were, it wouldn't be fair at all to evaluate him based on a 2013 season in which he hit .197 with 14 homers in 361 at-bats in Triple-A. Now, he wasn't a perfect prospect before that either -- he's always struck out plenty and his defense at third isn't particularly strong due to a lack of range -- but Olt has power and patience and very little of note in front of him in Chicago; if he can hit .230, he'd be an upgrade in the middle of the Cubs lineup. The plan is likely for him to head back to Triple-A for a spell to regain his confidence, but if he can catch fire this spring, the job could be his on Opening Day.



Matthew Pouliot is the Executive Editor of RotoWorld.com and has been doing the site's baseball projections for the last 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @matthewpouliot.
Email :Matthew Pouliot



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