There is a lot of talent sprinkled across all levels of the minors at the hot corner. Third base is home to some elite power, some top flight batting average options, and a few players who offer the potential for both. Not everyone highlighted here is expected to stick at the position, but not all will need to for the position to provide an infusion of talent at the major league level in the next few years.
Will Middlebrooks, Boston Red Sox, 23 years old
A solid year with the bat in 2011 helped Middlebrooks reach Triple-A briefly to finish the season. His glove is a plus, and he’ll stick at the hot corner. He’s an aggressive hitter that could benefit from walking more, and striking out less. He already showed good power ripping 23 home runs across three levels, but more may come in the future. His approach leaves serious questions about his batting average ceiling. Middlebrooks’ play in the Arizona Fall League (AFL) showed the good and the bad. He hit .250/.300/.518 with a 6.7 percent walk rate, 31.7 percent strikeout rate, and four home runs in 60 plate appearances. A full season in Triple-A will do Middlebrooks good. He could press for the starting gig at third base for the Red Sox as soon as 2013.
Dante Bichette Jr, New York Yankees, 19 years old
Senior was a pretty darn good player in his heyday, and Junior will look to do the same. Bichette was selected in the supplemental first round of June’s amateur draft by the Yankees and signed fast enough to jump right into Rookie Level ball, where he obliterated pitching and earned the MVP award for the Gulf Coast League. He showed excellent patience for a high school draftee, and flashed power. His four home runs as a pro don’t tell the whole story as he added 17 doubles and three triples for good measure. He may require a move to the outfield, but his play as a third baseman was enough to convince the Yankees that move isn’t a lock, as was suggested when he was drafted. John Manuel of Baseball America believes he’ll begin the year in Low-A. Starting the year in a full season league will be quite the accomplishment for the youngster. If it all comes together, he should offer power, batting average, and a few stolen bases (he’s not a plodder).
Cheslor Cuthbert, Kansas City Royals, 19 years old
I’m a huge Cuthbert fan. don’t get bogged down by his final slash line. Scouting reports say he looked worn down late in the year, and his numbers support that notion. The product of Big Corn Island showed patience walking in 10.5 percent of his plate appearances, and his 19.5 percent strikeout rate is impressive as well. Cuthbert has an all-field hitting approach that will serve his batting average well. He adds plus raw power. Guys that hit for a plus average, plus power, and have strong walk skills tend to find their way to the middle of lineups. He won’t get there right away, but he’ll be worth waiting on. He’ll start the year in High-A.
Nick Castellanos, Detroit Tigers, 19 years old
Castellanos was able to put a cold April behind him and finish on fire. His .402 BABIP probably helped inflate his batting average, and his 23.1 percent strikeout rate is a bit too high for my taste with his current level of home run production. That said, he is a tremendous hitter, and I’ve yet to read a scouting report that fails to declare anything less. There are questions surrounding his power ceiling. Will he adjust his solid approach to emphasize pulling and lofting the baseball? Perhaps, and if he does, while also physically maturing, he should hit for average to above average home run power. If he doesn’t, he should still have a bright future hitting for high averages and boat loads of doubles. High-A is the next stop on his development path.
Miguel Sano, Minnesota Twins, 18 years old
If 80 grade power gets your wheels spinning, Sano is your guy. He’s struggled defensively at third base, and a move to the corner outfield or first base could come. It won’t matter where he plays, his power will make him a fantasy asset. Hitting 20 home runs in 267 at-bats at any minor league level is astonishing for an 18 year old, and shows that he has an idea of how to turn raw power into game power. He strikes out a lot, 26.3 percent strikeout rate, and is more slugger now than power hitter. As his ability to recognize pitches improves, he should cut back on that rate. If he does, look out. He is amongst the top prospects in all of baseball, and could move quickly. He’ll open the year in Low-A, but if he continues his assault on pitchers, could see an in season promotion to High-A. In many ways, the ball is in Sano’s court. There isn’t much in front of him, so as he shows he’s ready, the Twins should have no problem advancing him up the minor league ladder.
Kaleb Cowart, Los Angeles Angels, 19 years old
Cowart is a high risk, high reward prospect that is all about projection. He was a amateur prospect as a pitcher, and a hitter, giving him plenty arm to stick at third base. He’s a switch hitter that is more comfortable as a righty, than as a lefty according to Matt Eddy of Baseball America. Strangely, he was more effective as a lefty in 2011. He has power from both sides of the plate, and strikes out often (25.4 percent strikeout rate) like most power hitters do. Cowart is raw enough that he’s going to need development time, patience, and will move slowly. The payoff of waiting on Cowart could be an above average offensive third baseman. Though, you’ll have to gamble his development doesn’t stall out.
Vinnie Catricala, Seattle Mariners, 23 years old
Catricala has an innate ability to hit, unfortunately, he’s a guy with a defensive identity problem. He’s a bad defender at third base, lacks outfield range, and is blocked by Justin Smoak at first base. If he keeps hitting, the Mariners will have to find someplace in the lineup for him, even if it means tolerating below average defense. Safeco Field is notorious for sapping home run power to right-handed batters, something that could cap Catricala’s power potential. He should still hit for high averages, and add to his offensive value by working walks at a high clip. He has been an efficient base stealer in his minor league career swiping 30 in 38 chances, further adding to his fantasy appeal. He should begin the year in Triple-A, and there is a chance he’ll see the majors this season.
Mike Olt, Texas Rangers, 23 years old
Olt was putting on a hitting clinic in High-A before suffering a broken collarbone in June. He returned to play in August, and followed up his minor league year with a trip to the AFL. What a special trip to the AFL it was. He scorched pitching there hitting .349/.433/.764 in 127 plate appearances. The most impressive part is his silly 13 home runs and .415 ISO. Those 13 home runs led the AFL, and were nearly double that of Robbie Grossman’s seven, which was the second highest total. He has the defensive chops to be an above average defender at the position, but is blocked by Adrian Beltre. If he remains a Ranger, he’ll be moved to the outfield. It’s possible the organization will decide he has more value to them as a trade chip, in which case, he’ll stay at his current position. He strikes out too much to expect a high average against major league pitching. However, his power and on-base skills will more than make up for that shortcoming. After spending most of last year at High-A, he’ll begin 2012 in Double-A.
Edward Salcedo, Atlanta Braves, 20 years old
Salcedo is yet another shortstop converted to third base. He has the tools to stick there, but not everyone is sold he will, and his 40 errors in 100 games in 2011 was too many. He made monumental strides in his play repeating Low-A. However, his play has yet to live up to his tools. He has the type of bat speed that allows for 20 plus home run projection in the future. His progress in cutting back on strike outs helped him add 51 points to his batting average, but as you can see above, it remains ugly at just .248. He was young for full season ball, so cutting him some slack is probably in order. His ceiling is relatively high, but he remains a work in progress. He should start the year in High-A.
Anthony Rendon, Washington Nationals, 21 years old
If not for concerns about Rendon’s shoulder, it is likely he would have been the top selection in June’s draft. When healthy, he is a polished hitter with major league ready strikezone recognition. He’s especially dreamy in OBP leagues as his high walk rate should help him rank with the best in the game in the category. Not everyone is sold on his power, but those that are peg him as having plus power and being capable of hitting 20 plus bombs a year. He’s earned comps to Ryan Zimmerman. Coincidentally, if the Nationals are able to work out a long term contract with Zimmerman, Rendon will probably be shoved over to second base. Rendon profiles as a heart of the order bat, and he may not need more than one season in the minors.
Taylor Green, Milwaukee Brewers, 25 years old
Green saw his development derailed by injuries, but got back on track in 2011 and reached the majors. The signing of Aramis Ramirez leaves Green as a bench bat that can back up second base and third base. Rickie Weeks and Ramirez haven’t been models of good health throughout their respective careers, and that could open the door to steady playing time for Green. It is also possible that Mat Gamel struggles badly enough at first base that the Brewers are forced to shuffle their lineup in a way that gets Green on the field. He’s not a blue chip prospect, but he should hit for a solid average and add in 15-20 home runs if he sees regular time.
Zack Cox, St. Louis Cardinals, 22 years old
Cox is a polarizing prospect. Some see a pure hitter that will have enough pop for a corner position. Others see a player with a below average glove, and not enough power to make him an impact bat. His .241 batting average against southpaws in 2011 is concerning. Taking everything into consideration, I’m quite bearish on Cox’s stock. He’s currently behind both David Freese, and fellow prospect Matt Carpenter (who you can read a bit about here). His ceiling is a high average hitter with modest pop. He’ll probably start the year in Double-A so that Carpenter can get regular playing time in Triple-A.
Josh Vitters, Chicago Cubs, 22 years old
It probably is starting to feel like the number three pick in the 2007 draft is a bust. He’s close, but not there yet. Vitters is only 22 years old and has taken some baby steps in development. He still has the sweet swing that helped him get picked as high as he did in the draft. He doesn’t strike out much, but he almost never walks. His aggressive approach leads to weak contact and outs. His swing doesn’t produce much loft, and his power output has been held back by that. A little patience could go a long way for Vitters. He has seen time in the corner outfield and at first base, and there is a chance he ends up as a four corners utility type. He’s ready for Triple-A, where he’ll enjoy the friendly confines of the Pacific Coast League.
Matt Davidson, Arizona Diamondbacks, 20 years old
First things first, Davidson has passed fellow prospect Bobby Borchering. Borchering will no longer be cutting into Davidson’s reps at third base, as he’ll be moving to the outfield full time starting this year. That said, this doesn’t mean Davidson is a shoe-in to stick at third base himself. His defense is lousy, and he has work to do if he even hopes to fake it there. His power looks legit, but his 147 strikeouts in 535 at-bats is reason for pause. Bill Mitchell of Baseball America lauds his approach and expects his strikeout rate to go down as he matures. If that’s the case, Davidson could catapult up prospect lists. If not, low average sluggers have value too, the road to reaching the majors for them is just a wee bit more treacherous though.
Jedd Gyorko, San Diego Padres, 23 years old
Gyorko is what Cox wishes he were. The Padres future third baseman tore the cover off the ball at two stops, and took it to a whole new level hitting .437/.500/.704 in 82 plate appearances in the AFL. He’s surprised with his power, belting 25 bombs between High-A and Double-A, and adding five more in the AFL. He’s not fast, but his base running instincts helped him steal 12 bases in 15 chances. Most of those came in High-A, so there is a good chance advanced pitching won’t forget about him on the bases, and his stolen base opportunities will dry up. PETCO Park won’t do his power any favors, but as a righty, he won’t be hurt by the digs as much as his lefty colleagues. He has the pure hitting ability to be an annual .300 or better hitter with approximately 20 home runs give or take a few. That type of production would make him Panda-lite (this works on multiple levels). Most would sign up for that. With only 236 at-bats in Double-A, a return there to start the year is likely.
Nolan Arenado, Colorado Rockies, 20 years old
Arendado had an impressive campaign in High-A. He improved on his already exceptional strikeout rate of 2010 and cut it back to under ten-percent while simultaneously improving his walk rate and bringing it up to a respectable 8.1 percent. Next item on the checklist is further tapping into his home run power.
Like some of the others on the list, he followed up a good year in the minors with a big showing in the AFL hitting six taters and slashing .388/.423/.636 in 130 plate appearances. His AFL play was enough to spur talk of him possibly bypassing Double-A and Triple-A and breaking camp with the Rockies. That’s not likely to happen, but it does speak to how advanced a hitter this 20 year old already is. If he rakes in Double-A, a summer time promotion is possible. He’ll hit his share of bumps in the road, just like every other prospect, but Arenado has star potential.
Josh is a graduate of SUNY Cortland's Sport Management program, and an aspiring fantasy writer. You can catch up with Josh in the Cafe Forums where he posts as B-Chad. You can also follow his work at The Hardball Times and follow him on Twitter (BChad50).
Want to write for the Cafe? Check out the Cafe's Pencil & Paper section!