For a professional baseball player, manning the “hot corner” demands a strong arm, the reflexes of a cat, and – contrary to popular opinion – is about as simple as calculus. However, finding a third bagger capable of contributing to your fantasy team should be easier this season. The position should be deep this year, with bright youngsters coming up and veterans returning to health. As a rule, you look for power numbers out of your third baseman: homers, RBI and runs. But even more importantly, there are a few 3Bs who’ll provide your team with crucial flexibility. Guys like Baltimore’s Melvin Mora and the Angels’ (where are they from these days, anyway?) Chone Figgins, qualify at several positions. Figgins can play most of the infield positions, outfield, and I believe, may even qualify as a gastroenterologist this spring … assuming he gets enough time with the endoscope. Anyway, let’s break down the hot corner. Fifty-four days until baseball commences!
Fantasy Baseball’s Top Ten Third Baseman
Alex Rodriguez (NYA): Even having had an “off year,” A-Rod was a fantasy owner’s dream last season. And quite frankly, A-Rod’s “off year” (he hit .286 and his slugging percentage dropped about 100 points) would qualify as a career year for most ballplayers. He’ll give you power (40 HR last season), RBI (106 in 2004), runs (112), and, rare for a third baseman, speed. Rodriguez thieved 28 bases in ‘04. Not only is he the top third Baseman, A-Rod still ranks as fantasy baseball’s #1 pick overall. Comfortably settled into the Yankees’ stocked lineup, look for A-Rod’s average to bounce back to a more “Rodriguez-ian” figure. I’d look for .290/40/120 … and oh yes, pencil in another 20+ stolen bases.
Scott Rolen (StL): Part of a loaded roster, Rolen receives the kind of protection a big brother offers his hot sister. Alongside studs like Jim Edmonds, Albert Pujols and the other Cards who form a virtual murderer’s row of .290+ power hitters, it’s not like you can pitch around the guy. Fantasy owners should have some concerns about Rolen’s balky back, but despite missing 18 games late last season due to a leg injury, Rolen’s overall health should not deter you from grabbing him. Rolen remains an elite hitter and a top four fantasy third baseman. Look for .297/32/118 in ‘05.
Adrian Beltre (Sea): For a guy who’s had a history – and at age 26 it’s been a brief history – of being a second-half player, Beltre started off like a house afire in 2004 and didn’t cool off until roughly October. The interesting thing about Beltre is that despite huge expectations having been heaped upon him since he was 16 years old, he’d never really lived up to them. That is, until he blew up last season to the tune of .334/48/121. Beltre also notched 104 runs, displayed a keen eye at the plate, and posted a ridiculous slugging percentage of .629. The guy can’t help but come back down to earth a little bit next season, especially since he’ll be adjusting to a new team and stadium. Nevertheless, Beltre is one of baseball’s brightest young players and I don’t think last season was an aberration. And while he probably can’t be expected to sustain the pace he set last season, he’ll still prove to be a top four fantasy third bagger. Look for a more reasonable .320/40/115 and a slugging percentage closer to .550 than .650. But ya know what? I’ll take those “more modest” numbers any day!
Eric Chavez (Oak): Chavez must be wondering why the heck he resigned with a team that held a pitching fire sale. Having dealt aces for possible jokers, namely Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder for lesser lights, Chavez is justifiably angry. For a team that was close to competing for a World Series, they’ve taken a biiiig step backwards. Having missed over a month due to a broken hand, it took Chavez a while to get back on track in ‘04. He still had a very solid season, however, and fell one home run short of a third consecutive 30-HR season. Those 29 Homers were, incidentally, the most any Athletic hit last season. Chavez matured as a hitter last year, learning to hit the ball to all fields. A top ten 3B, look for .279/35/105.
Melvin Mora (Bal): I don’t know if I’m entirely sold on Mora. He’s coming off a career year and has a history of injuries. He was un-conscious last season, though, batting .340/27/104 and recording 11 swiped bags. Owners should still have concerns about injuries, but should look for .325/25/99 and 15 SBs. Mora remains a top 10 third baseman, but I’d “cover my bases,” and draft a guy who offers flexibility at third … just in case.
Chipper Jones (Atl): A bum hammy hobbled Jones all season long and he was never able to get himself right. Even still, Chipper bashed 30 homers and notched 96 RBI, admirable numbers for any player, let alone an injured one. Jones is however, 32 years old, and last season’s nicks and injuries might be indicative of more to come. Still, expect Jones, who also qualifies as an outfielder, to bounce back and record a very good year. Look for .290/30/100.
Aubrey Huff (TB): Arguably Tampa’s best player, Huff is also one of the team’s most versatile, qualifying at third, first, and, depending upon your league’s requirements, OF as well. Huff started last season rather slooowly, but if he hits the basepaths running look for him to improve upon last season’s figures of .297/29/104. Let’s assume he will, and pencil him in for .305/33/105.
Hank Blalock (Tex): A young player with a bright future, the knock on Hammerin’ Hank has been his rather irritating habit of falling off after the All-Star break. His split season stats are seriously stupefying. In just his third season, expect Blalock to put in the necessary batting cage work and improve upon his numbers. Blalock broke the 30/100 mark last season, and that should be the first of many such campaigns. Look for a very productive year out of Blalock … I’d gamble a high pick on him this season, and project him to post .291/35/112.
Mike Lowell (Fla): A doubles machine, Lowell starts each season like a ball of fire … and finishes like a ball of cotton. Having developed a history for falling off significantly during the season’s second half, here’s the plan: trade Lowell for a position of need just before the All-Star break. At age 31, a ballplayer’s a known quantity and won’t be surprising anyone … unless of course that player is Barry Bonds, in which case he’s just getting started. Look for a very respectable .297/31/104 from Lowell this season (and I’m quite serious about that whole trade thing).
Aramis Ramirez (ChN): In his first full season with the Cubbies, Ramirez seemed to gain confidence, posted much better all-around numbers, and recorded a career high in HRs. Hampered by a pulled groin for much of last season, Ramirez still had an excellent fantasy season. The last of the top ten third Baseman, look for Ramirez, who doesn’t strike out very often, to turn in an even better season in ‘05 than in ‘04: .312/38/108.
Sleeper Third Basemen
BJ Upton (TB): Very young and still trying to find a home defensively (13 games at 3B in 2004, 16 at SS, one in left field), the knock on Upton has been his glove work. Nevertheless, Upton’s got a nice upside and is worth taking a flier on. He might even be able to be acquired through your league’s waiver wire.
David Wright (NYN): Having recorded 14 HRs and 40 RBI in 260 ABs, Wright’s impressive ‘04 campaign bodes well for an even better ‘05. This kid has all the tools, especially power, and with six SB offers good speed to boot. While he’s sure to stumble from time to time, it’s quite possible that he could develop into the Mets’ best pure hitter in years.
Comeback Third Baseman
Aaron Boone (Cle): Let’s assume that Boone has learned his lesson about playing pickup basketball. Don’t judge him too harshly, however; having heard fairy tales from athletes that range from the ridiculous “I tripped over my dog” to the inane “I fell washing my truck,” Boone’s honesty was refreshing and should be applauded. He got a raw deal from the Yankees who never should have cut him.
Players to Watch
Chone Figgins (Ana): I flat out like this kid. And, with his speed (34 SB in ‘04) and ability to qualify at 3B, 2B, SS and in the OF, you could learn to like him too! His numbers last season were quite good, and should only improve with another spring training. Look for a very solid season from Figgins: .297/6/62.
Troy Glaus (Ari): Glaus is a fantasy owner’s greatest quandary: a high risk, high reward player. You’ve got to like what the guy can do with the lumber. The last season Glaus was healthy (’02), he bashed 30 HRs and 111 RBIs, and added 10 SB, and 88 walks. The trouble is that in the two seasons since he’s battled injuries. A shoulder injury significantly abbreviated his 2004 campaign; however when Glaus returned, he proved his worth by notching seven HRs in September. If he can stay healthy, and there’s really nothing to indicate that he can, but IF he can stay out off the trainer’s table and out of physical therapy, look for Glaus to post something like .258/35/91.
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