The third base position provides a few elite blue-chippers at the top, some rebound candidates a little later, and plenty of potential sleepers in 2012. Our goal, as we have in the last few weeks, is to identify some of the better sleeper candidates at the position.
Edwin Encarnacion, Blue Jays. Some people probably cast their lots with Encarnacion in 2011 drafts, but as EE struggled early, he found himself on the wire in many leagues. That means there weren’t as many owners that enjoyed his excellent post-break numbers, when he hit 11 HRs and stole seven bases in 234 at-bats while hitting .291 along the way. Brett Lawrie is now entrenched at the hot corner, leaving Encarnacion to stick to DHing. In his career, he’s performed markedly better in that role, hitting .299/.362/.506 with 12 HRs in 271 at-bats as the DH versus .255/.333/.448 with 101 HRs in 2,344 at-bats as a 3B. Twenty homers seems likely with 500-plus at-bats as the DH, and 30 seems within reach. If he can do it with a quality batting average, you’ll have the steal of the draft.
David Freese, Cardinals. The Cardinals third baseman posted a good-not-great .297/.350/.441 slash line with 10 HRs in 333 at-bats, but what really makes him stand out is his incredible postseason run, where a .397/.465/.794 slash line became the catalyst for a Cardinals championship. He broke postseason records for total bases and RBIs along the way. Does he have something like that in store for 2012? The power is there, but he’ll have to hit a lot more fly balls to become a HR threat. His average is good, and while a .356 BABIP screams regression, Freese regularly puts up similar lofty totals. If you can get him outside the top 10 rounds, he’s worth the gamble.
Chipper Jones, Braves. Many of the owners in your leagues are frothing at the mouth to pass over quality veterans for The Next Big Thing, but Chipper has proven reliable when healthy, which is unreliably not often unfortunately. However, he strung together 455 at-bats last year while hitting .275 with 18 HRs, putting him on the low-end of starting third basemen in mixed leagues. Does he have another 125 games in him this year? He’ll be financially motivated, as a $9 million option in his contract for 2013 vests if he can reach 123 games played. With 400-500 relatively pain-free at-bats, you can rest assured that Chipper will outperform several of the young guns drafted ahead of him. Pay the low price in March and ride him for as long as he’s healthy (bonus value in leagues with large DLs).
Mat Gamel, Brewers. The two Princes of the NL Central have fled for the American League, and for the Brewers, that could mean a regular gig for Mat Gamel. He hasn’t impressed in previous chances, but the former top prospect certainly had an explosive 2011 season in the PCL, hitting .310 with 28 HRs in 493 at-bats. He’s rightly drawn the Quad-A label, but this may be the year he shakes it if the team commits to him at 1B for the long haul. He should be eligible at third in your league, and if so, he possesses upside that’s very hard to find at the position. One has to think that with enough ABs, Gamel could deliver at least the value of Mark Reynolds (with a higher average and a few less HRs). That’s certainly nothing to scoff at at the end of a draft.
Brent Morel, White Sox. There’s been some discussion here at the Cafe about which player could turn in a 2012 season akin to something Jose Bautista did in 2010 or Mike Morse in 2011, two players that returned enormous value based on their draft slots. For me, Morel could be one of those guys, although I certainly don’t see him rising to elite levels. However, when a youngster hits eight HRs in September, as Morel did last year, you should take notice heading into the next season. The only players that could top that eight-HR total in September were Adrian Beltre, Ian Kinsler and Prince Fielder. The beautiful part about picking him up is that he’ll cost you virtually nothing. You can grab him with your last pick and, if the HR binge was a mirage, cut him loose a few weeks into the season. What’s there to lose?
R.J. White is the head editor at the Cafe, writes for FanDuel and Razzball and has previously written for FanHouse. Catch up with him in the forums under the name daullaz. Follow him on Twitter; don't follow him in real life.
Want to write for the Cafe? Check out the Cafe's Pencil & Paper section!