Time for some underrated and overrated third basemen. I’ll be posting the shortstops tomorrow and then seeing if I can squeeze in one more column before the last-minute notes column on Tuesday night.
Manny Machado (Orioles): Machado was a top-10 pick everywhere a year ago, but after his first disappointing season, he’s sporting an ADP of 22 in Yahoo leagues. I think that’s way too low for one of the game’s top talents. Machado has yet to have an outrageous offensive year, but at age 25, there’s still plenty of time for that (he’s actually a few months younger than Aaron Judge). He’s hit 30 homers three straight years, and he was an asset in batting average in 2015 and 2016. The Orioles appear to be leaning towards batting him third this year, putting him in great position for his first 100-RBI season. And, of course, he’ll get shortstop eligibility a week into the season in most formats. That’s not as valuable in 2018 as it would have been a few years ago -- I actually have the top-10 shortstops producing stronger stats than the top-10 third basemen -- but it’s a fine bonus. I have Machado ninth in my top 300.
Joey Gallo (Rangers): Obviously, Gallo is going to be a big negative in batting average. Still, it seems reasonable to expect him to improve on last year’s .209 mark. He had just a .250 BABIP last year. As an extreme flyball hitter, one might expect him to be below the league average there, but given that he still has good exit velocity on his non-homers and he’s playing in a great park for average, he seems to be due for an increase. I think that Gallo will hit .220-.230 this year, and he’s a safe bet to make a run at 40 homers again. Heck, he could well make a run at 50. I have him projected at .223-40-97, which, combined with a handful of steals, is enough to make him my No. 7 third baseman and No. 76 player overall. His Yahoo ADP is 124.
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Nicholas Castellanos (Tigers): Castellanos didn’t really break through in hitting 26 homers and driving 101 runs last year; he actually had a higher average, OBP and slugging in 2016. He had previously disappointed for fantasy purposes in part because he was hitting low in a very top-heavy Tigers lineup (in 2015, he managed to score just 42 runs despite getting 549 at-bats and hitting 15 homers). Now it looks like he’ll be the team’s cleanup hitter, and while that’s not as nice of a situation as it was in previous years, it at least means he’ll get to hit right behind Miguel Cabrera. I don’t expect greatness, but while he has the lowest OPS projection of my first nine third basemen, he’s third in RBI and fourth in average. Overall, I have him 84th in the top 300, 55 spots ahead of his Yahoo ADP.
Eugenio Suarez (Reds): Suarez isn’t underrated by the Reds, who just gave him a $66 million extension even though he plays the same position as their top prospect, Nick Senzel. He’s not getting much respect from the fantasy community, though, as he’s going off the board in the 21st round of Yahoo mixed leagues. That’s cheap for a guy who seems like a good bet to repeat last year’s .260-26-82 line. Suarez wouldn’t seem to have a whole lot of upside beyond that, though he could drive in more runs if he secures the cleanup spot behind Joey Votto in the Reds lineup. I see him as almost a perfect match for Kyle Seager, who is going 100 spots earlier in leagues. He’s not a No. 1 third baseman in a shallow mixed, but he should provide solid value in anything deeper.
Kris Bryant (Cubs): I’m very fond of Bryant the player, and I’d say he is about as good of a bet as anyone to lead the NL in WAR this year. In fantasy leagues, though, I’d much rather take my chances with Machado. Batting second for an NL team is not a recipe for maximizing fantasy value, and the Cubs seem likely to leave him there for the foreseeable future. If Bryant had hit as well with RISP as with the bases empty last year, he would have added a few more RBI to his total of 73, but he still would have come up way short of the 102 RBI he amassed in 2016, and there isn’t enough of a gain in runs scored to make up for it. It’s impressive how Bryant has lowered his strikeout numbers since entering the league, but given his averagish contact numbers, I don’t think one can count on continued improvement there. Also, it’s questionable whether he should continue attempting steals given his lack of success the last two years (8-for-13 in 2016, 7-for-12 last year). I don’t see Bryant excelling enough in any category to justify a pick in the late first or early second rounds.
Anthony Rendon (Nationals): Usually one of my favorite picks, Rendon was just too good over the final five months of last season. When I placed him in the underrated list last year, he was 72nd in my top 300 and had a Yahoo ADP of 98. Right now, I have him 73rd in my top 300 and he has a Yahoo ADP of 52. It makes Rendon somewhat of a better bet that he no longer has Dusty Baker determined to bat him sixth in the Nationals’ lineup. Still, he’s not much of a threat for 30 homers and he does have the injury history, even if he’s stayed quite healthy these last two years. I like him, but not at his current price tag.
Rafael Devers (Red Sox): Devers is going to be a monster, but it’s expecting a lot for it to happen at age 21. Right now, he’s going 88th overall in Yahoo, which is earlier than Miguel Sano, Gallo and even last year’s fourth-ranked fantasy third baseman, Travis Shaw. Devers will get there, but for now, he’s likely to fall a little short of 30 homers (only 17 players ever have hit 30 homers at age 21 or younger) and strike out too much to maintain his .284 average from his rookie season. I put him 11th at third base and 131st overall.
Adrian Beltre (Rangers): In 2016, Beltre became just the ninth different player ever to go .300-25-100 at age 37 or higher. In 2017, he might well have done it again had he stayed healthy, coming in at .312-17-71 in 94 games. Still, the good times have to come to an end at some point. Health is likely to remain an issue for Beltre at 39, and while he was great last year, it should be noted that his contact rate was down some and his strikeout rate was his worst since 2009. Also, with the Rangers declining to bring in outside help, Beltre’s supporting cast should be one of the weakest during his eight years with the team. There are just too many quality alternatives right now to make Beltre worth drafting as a No. 1 third baseman, but he’s still being treated like one in Yahoo leagues, where he’s going 106th overall.
Wilmer Flores (Mets): It’s too bad the glove is so abysmal, because Flores still has some breakout potential offensively. Each of the last two years, he’s had isolated slugging percentages over .200 while also striking out just under 15 percent of the time. Because his BABIPs have been right around .270, he hasn’t hit for a high average at any point, but he’s still improved slightly every year. Unfortunately, the only position where Flores has proven capable is first base, and his offensive numbers haven’t been so strong as to make him a certainty as a capable regular there. Still, there’s some upside here; if Adrian Gonzalez flames out (likely) and Dominic Smith doesn’t get off to a great start in Triple-A (possible), Flores could get a chance to seize the job and run away with it.
Nick Senzel (Reds): In extending Suarez, the Reds made it clear that they have no intention of turning third base over to Senzel. So, he was given time at shortstop this spring and he’s expected to be used at second in Triple-A. The Reds may eventually find themselves in need of an upgrade at either spot, opening the door for Senzel to bring his line-drive producing swing to Great American Ballpark. Senzel isn’t likely to turn into a fantasy terror right away, but he should be plenty solid in both average and the power categories. He could steal a few bases, too (14-for-20 last year).
Ryan Schimpf (Braves): It’s a bold move putting a 29-year-old journeyman who happened to go 0-for-30 this spring in a sleeper list, but this is shoot-for-the-moon territory and that’s exactly what Schimpf happens to be good at; he’s hit .195 with 34 homers in 441 at-bats for the Padres the last two seasons. My reason for optimism here is that Schimpf has gone from Petco Park, which is still very tough on left-handed power hitters, to SunTrust, which was great for left-handed power last year. If Schimpf were to win a job starting against righties and get 450 at-bats, he’d probably top 30 homers. He’d be a strikeout machine in the process, but he’s not necessarily locked into a sub-.200 average; his whiff percentage is just half of Gallo’s. I’m going so far as to project him to hit .212 this year. Of course, first he needs a job, and the awful spring means he’s Triple-A bound initially. However, he only has Johan Camargo and Rio Ruiz standing in his way at third base, and Camargo, a switch-hitter, had a .636 OPS against righties last year, compared to 1.129 versus lefties.