Third base is going to be a fun position this year. The MVP will be off the board at the top of the first round. The Kid will probably follow pretty quickly after moving to a high-powered Tiger offense. The other New Yorker and the Rookie of the Year will be selected soon after. But even as the position seems top-heavy, there are a lot of great values to be had at the end of the draft by the manager willing to take the chance. Young guys looking to be this year’s ROY, injury-prone veterans looking to rebound, and steady-as-she-goes players destined for your bench are all waiting in the waning moments of your draft. Who’s worth the gamble? Who should be scratched off the cheat sheets?
Edwin Encarnacion, Cincinnati
It’s time to channel my inner-Bigken. Encarnacion was featured in last year’s article in this same spot, and his performance in 2007 made Mr. Kesterson look wise indeed. The Reds third-baseman had a .289/.356/.438 line, with 16 HRs, 8 SBs, 76 RBI, and 66 runs. Looking inside those numbers, I found a very strong finish to the season, with ten home runs in 249 post-All Star at-bats in addition to a .309/.360/.488 line. These numbers are punctuated even further if we look only at Encarnacion’s last two months, where he hit .350 with a .534 SLG in August and .322 with a .575 SLG in September. Those are the sort of numbers David Wright puts up over an entire season.
Encarnacion fared much better in the bottom of the lineup in 2007, seemingly more comfortable hitting sixth or lower. This is good news; the Reds will use 2008 to start integrating some of their top young players into the lineup, with highly-touted bats Joey Votto and Jay Bruce likely to be in the starting lineup by midseason. As a result, I expect Encarnacion to settle into the sixth or seventh spot in the lineup and continue to develop into a great young hitter. Expect a .285 average with 20 HRs, 85 RBI, 70 runs, and a handful of steals, but don’t be surprised if he comes through with 25+ HRs and 100 RBI. I would start to look for him in the middle rounds after eight-to-ten third basemen come off the board.
Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay
If you’re one of those owners that likes to own the shiny, new toy of the fantasy baseball world each year, make sure to grab Longoria in this year’s draft to stash on your bench. The jewel of the Rays’ (neé Devil) system, Longoria had a great debut in 2006, with a .327/.402/.618 line in Hi-A ball, before moving up to Double-A, where he struggled and possibly succumbed to the wear-and-tear of a long season (he had played college, Low-A, and Hi-A ball earlier in the year). Longoria made his second crack at Double-A count, amassing a .307/.403/.528 line in 381 at-bats with Montgomery in 2007 before moving up to Triple-A for 104 at-bats. With Durham, his average slipped while the OBP and SLG remained about the same.
Will he be ready for the majors at the start of the year? He might be, but it’ll probably take a good month or two in Triple-A to get him in the majors. The Rays will be keeping his spot warm for sure. Realistically, he should hit around .290 for the year with a .370 OBP and a .490 SLG. This could get him 15 home runs in a shortened season. His upside could place him with Ryan Braun numbers and the Rookie of the Year in 2008. Look to add him in the late rounds of your draft and keep him benched until he’s in the Tampa starting lineup.
Ryan Braun, Milwaukee
Speaking of Mr. Braun, the young Milwaukee slugger had one of the best offensive rookie seasons in recent memory, exploding onto the scene by hitting .324 with 34 HRs, 15 SBs, 97 RBI, and 91 runs in 2007. He was one of three third basemen (and nine players overall) with an OPS over 1.000. Braun secured the NL Rookie of the Year and the hearts of millions of title-winning fantasy owners in the process. What do these numbers add up to? To a spot in the second round of the 2008 draft, that’s what. Don’t be the guy that takes him that early. For starters, he’ll need to have the same type of year he did in 2007 to justify the pick, and only a few elite hitters can sustain those types of numbers year in and year out. Basically, you don’t want to gamble your second round pick on a guy without a major league track record of success. Braun is a lefty killer, and wise managers will definitely be looking to bring a right-handed reliever in to face him toward the end of games. He hit .282/.319/.526 against RHPs.
Secondly, he slowed down in the second half of 2007. His numbers through July were fantastic; his numbers in August and September were just great. Don’t pay for the latter expecting the former. One more thing to consider: he’s seen as a liability at the corner and is destined for a move to left field. That move could happen at the start or the middle of 2008. Adjusting to a new position is never easy, and his offensive numbers could easily suffer as a result. I would draft Ryan Braun, but not in the second round. I might start thinking about it in the fourth. I probably wouldn’t pull the trigger untill the fifth or sixth at least. Conclusion: I will not own Ryan Braun in 2008.
Ryan Zimmerman, Washington
I like Zimmerman, I really do. I hope he’s a great player for a long time. But I think 2008 is going to be a year to forget for the third baseman from Washington. For starters, he’s played an unbelievable amount of games, coming to the plate close to 1,400 times in the past two years. He doesn’t get a day off, shown by the fact he played in all 162 games last year, and that kind of thing takes its toll on players. His numbers were down from 2006, with Zimmerman compiling a .266/.330/.458 line in 2007. He only stole four bags after stealing eleven in 2006. All of these things I could live with, but the main factor that causes Zimmerman to appear here is injury.
He broke the hamate bone in his left wrist in November and had to have surgery to remove the broken piece of bone. He then had to have another operation to remove the blood that had built up near where the bone had broken. The reason that I’m telling you all of this is that Zimmerman’s main contribution to your team is power. He hit 24 home runs in 2007, the second consecutive year he reached the 20-HR plateau. But this injury kills the power in a player’s swing for an extended period of time, and it could very well be 2009 before Zimmerman is fully healed and back to his normal self. Unfortunately for his fantasy owners, his 2008 numbers could get ugly, even if he’s able to stay in the lineup all year. I’m talking .260/.320/.390 ugly. He’ll be drafted in the middle rounds by a manager looking to round out his starting infield, but he won’t be starter-worthy next year. If he falls to the end of the draft, I would consider gambling on him in the hopes he can overcome these circumstances. But honestly, I probably wouldn’t touch him in 2008.
I hope this little article has been of some help as you prepare for your drafts. Be sure to check back for the next edition of Two Up, Two Down for more great insight into the 2008 fantasy season.
R.J. White (a.k.a daullaz) has been actively involved in fantasy sports for over 13 years. He wants to write professionally and would like you to keep his name in the back of your mind for future reference.
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