By my count (which is questionable), we’re now beyond the midway point in our rankings, and so far, they’ve been pretty darn good, if I do say so myself. Today’s was particularly fun to compile and comment on, and if you don’t agree then I can only assume it’s due to a depleted IQ (or you’re socially awkward, or were the smelly kid growing up). Now that you’ve been insulted, don’t forget to check out all of our previous Cafeholic Rankings (C | 1B | 2B | SS). Today we turn our attention to what is widely being called the thinnest position in all of fantasy baseball in 2012, the hot corner (side note: best part of writing this article was using the term “hot corner” six times… seven). How’s third base shaping up this year, eh? (Three different players who play their home games in Canada made the cut here, so I feel the “eh” is appropriate. Go ahead, judge me.) From where I’m standing, not as bad as others would lead you to believe…
Natural Tier 1
If third base is the thinnest position in all of fantasy baseball in 2012, than Bautista and Longoria are the glimmer of hope in the eyes of owners who don’t want to be trolling the waiver wire every two weeks looking for a filler at the hot corner. Last year it was uncertain whether Jose was the “real deal” or not, but he proved in 2011 that he’s a legit elite power threat and premier fantasy player across all formats. Having OF eligibility boosts Jose’s value in the name of flexibility, but 3B is where most of his value lies. There seems to be a divide regarding Longoria, split into two camps: the side that claims he’s too oft injured and not living up to expectations, and the other side maintaining that this is the year he puts together all of the skills he’s strung together in isolation thus far in his career and bats .290 with 30 HRs, 100-plus runs and 100-plus RBIs (not too far off from his ‘09 season, really). I tend to feel that his .244 average from a year ago was a product of some bad luck (.239 BABIP compared to .301 career) and that we should see Longoria’s average skyrocket back into the .280 range. I don’t know that he’ll reach the lofty expectations of some, but he’s certainly where he belongs in these rankings when factoring in the tremendous upside and the fact that he’s already shown he can produce elite fantasy numbers. In short, you certainly won’t be upset if you end up with either of these guys manning the hot corner for your fantasy squad this year.
Natural Tier 2
The nice thing about this tier, as I see it, is that all three of these players have the potential to scrape the lower end production of the Tier 1 third basemen. Beltre had a monstrous season after landing in Arlington a season ago, and while there seems to be no surface reasons to expect decline (we’re not sure if he’s filed his 2011 taxes or not yet, though; stay tuned!), those who have been burned by Trü in the past remain jaded. If Beltre puts together a similar season this year to last, he’s as valuable as Longoria, at a very reasonable price. Wright is another guy who has previously performed at a level placing him in the tip top tier (alliteration for the win) of 3Bs, but an extremely forgettable 2011 has left a sour taste in the mouths of our ranking “specialists.” It is much more likely, however, that Wright returns to his .300, threatening 30/30 self with the fences at Citi Field being brought in and shortened, and the presumed (hopeful?) health of his teammates, including potential sleeper Lucas Duda in 2012. The Kung Fu Panda is appropriately ranked here, in my opinion, because while he does offer some security in a relatively safe high batting average with 25 HR power that he’s already displayed, he unfortunately has never put together a season with really impressive run/RBI totals. Had he been healthy, we likely would have seen it last season, as he drove in 70 in just 117 games, but when you see that Wright and Beltre have both driven in and scored 90 or 100 runs in multiple seasons, while Sandoval hasn’t, the comfort seems to lie within the other two (fairly or unfairly). Still, all three of these guys should provide great value at the hot corner at a much more reasonable price than that of the top tier.
Natural Tier 3
Zim and A-Rod are docked, reasonably, for what people nonchalantly refer to as “injury concerns.” Ryan has drawn the “injury prone” label, probably unfairly, due to two seasons where he barely cracked the century mark in games played (separated by two seasons where he averaged 150 games per season, but some are pretending this didn’t happen). His bottom line, for me at least, is that he’s 27 years old, in an improved and continually improving lineup that should feature the addition of Bryce Harper at some point this season, and should be reliable for at least .280, 25, 80, 80, with upside of 30, 100, 100. I’m comfortable going to battle with that every day. A-Rod, on the other hand, had a special procedure done to him overseas where blood was drawn from him, put in some sort of a centrifuge, spun, and then re-inserted into his body — upon hearing this I came to the quick conclusion that I was done with Alex Rodriguez for 2012; wanted no part of him on my team. Then I read that Kobe Bryant had the same procedure done, and he’s currently leading the entire NBA in points per game, so I’m beginning to reconsider. While I’m confident the days of his stealing bases are over, part of me still wants to believe that Rodriguez can be a .300, 30-HR, 100-RBI, 80-run guy in the heart of a potent Yankee lineup, in a Little League stadium. The problem is that his downside looks much more grim, and expected, than all of those ranked ahead of him. If you’re taking him, your gamble isn’t on producing while he’s in the lineup, it’s on how many games he’ll be able to spend there healthy.
Natural Tier 4
So it was at this point in ranking the 3Bs that I decided that it simply wasn’t the thinnest position in fantasy baseball, and nothing anybody says will convince me otherwise. Because up until the point, at the very least, where you’re drafting Youkilis, and even maybe then, you’ve got to feel at least half-decent with the guy you’ve got at the hot corner. The hype surrounding Brett Lawrie is rivaled this season only by Moore-mania, Hosmer-palooza, and Jenningsanity, and in reality, there’s still probably more for him (Lawrie) than the others (I traded Stephen Strasburg essentially just so I could keep Lawrie, in one league), and he deserves it. When’s the last time people were this hyped for a player in Canada? Quick answer: I can’t recall. He may legitimately challenge a 30/30 season in his first full one in the MLB. Even if he has some sophomore slumping struggles (more alliteration, boom!), he should be a reliable source of steals. And how would you feel if I told you the 11th ranked players at any other position was almost a surefire thing to provide you with an expectations of 30-to-40 HRs with the potential for more? Oh you’d feel good? Well Mark Reynolds says “Hi” (he also asks that you kindly not make any remarks about his batting average). Ramirez, unlike the aforementioned Zimmerman and Rodriguez, is a legitimate health risk, missing solid chunks of time in three of the last five seasons. He’s also under a lot of pressure to fill some of the offensive void in Milwaukee that losing Prince Fielder has left. Good thing FedEx closes early on Saturdays and it looks like he’ll have teammate Ryan Braun to start the season with him.
Natural Tier 5
If you’re relying on one of these players as your 3B in 2012 and your league isn’t all kinds of deep, then you’re essentially just crossing your fingers and praying for the cards to play out in your favor. Is there upside here? Absolutely. Moustakas has massive power potential (though he didn’t show it off too much last year), and Roberts is coming off a near-20/20 season (where he failed to bat .250). In fact, among this group, the guy you probably want to feel the most comfortable having is Bonifacio (every single time I see his name all I can think of is the Butabi brothers yelling ‘Emiliooooo!’). Slated to start every day in center field, he has elite speed that he’s shown off every time he’s had the opportunity to play, which is more than any of his peers here can lay claim to. At any rate, as I said, if you’re settling for one of these as your starting man at the hot corner, good luck to you. It might pan out, but in all likelihood, you’ll spend the year developing trade offers for upgrades or scouring the waiver wire for somebody whose particular flavor of suck is more to your taste buds.
So, for those claiming that 3B is the thinnest spot in all of fantasy this year, I beg you to compare the 9th through 12th members of the shortstop rankings to that of third base and tell me which is preferable. Not on pure production, of course, since that’s not fair, but in comfort in having said player on your team. Do it for second base too. I thought so. What I see here is the potential for a lot of guys to belt 30 homers, and even in the third tier of rankings, some tremendous upside from guys who aren’t purely speculative but have done it before. So cut this position a break, will ya? Brett Lawrie commands it.
Thank you to all those who contributed their personal rankings for this compilation (credit to come at the end of this series), and don’t miss the next installment of Cafeholic Rankings when we take a look at the men patrolling the green grass in the outfield!
Brendan Horton is one of a growing number of fantasy experts who write for the Cafe. You can catch up with Brendan in the Cafe's forums where he posts under the name of bigh0rt.
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