Will World Series hero David Freese actually stay healthy this season?
By Tim McLeod and RotoRob
We’re kicking the 2012 RotoRob MLB Draft Kit into high gear with yet another cheat sheet hitting the streets today. So while you Rays’ fans get ready for another three years of Joe Maddon, let’s peruse the top 66 Fantasy baseball options at the hot corner for 2012.
When you look up wasteland in the dictionary it immediately flips over to third base. Jose Bautista, Evan Longoria, Adrian Beltre and Ryan Zimmerman will be gone in the first two rounds to be joined shortly thereafter by the likes of David Wright, Pablo Sandoval and former perennial first rounder Alex Rodriguez. But once you get past Michael Young in the pecking order the falloff is rather dramatic.
The young guns are few and far between with the old guard simply getting… old. Can David Freese stay healthy? Is Mike Moustakas on the verge of a breakout campaign for the Royals? Is Brett Lawrie ready to give us a full season’s worth of that incredible potential we saw in 2011? Filling that corner-infield slot from the first base pool is a strategy that many will employ this season, and for good reason. Get your hot corner option while you can, because after the Top 10 are off the board the choices are simply not all that good. Go early or go home is the mantra when drafting third basemen in 2012.
Last year’s rankings are in parentheses.
1. Jose Bautista, Toronto Blue Jays (5): Bautista took home a Silver Slugger at outfield last year, and you can make the argument he deserved the one at third as well! Anyone expecting him to flop after his out of nowhere brilliant 2010 must have been sadly disappointed as he put up an even better season, percentage wise anyways. Bautista scored at least 105 runs for the second straight season, set new career highs in hits and walks, while tying his personal best in steals. He also hit over .300 for the first time and had a Barry Bonds-esque OPS of 1055. Yikes. We’re expecting slight regressions across the board (especially in BA) this year, but no one is doubting that he is now the man at third, and should go in the top five picks of your draft, perhaps as high as fourth overall. Bautista is also listed in our Outfield Rankings, to be released shortly.
2. Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay Rays (3): Despite missing a month, Longoria drew more walks last year than ever, yet it didn’t stop his BA from plummeting a whopping 50 points. Of course, there’s no way he hits just .239 on balls in play again, so don’t think of last year’s BA performance as anything more than a fluke. Longoria’s power bounced back and all things considering, it was a very fine season for him. The reduction in his line drive rate is a tad worrisome, but he remains a top tier option at a position that lacks depth, meaning Longoria is Fantasy gold.
3. Adrian Beltre, Texas Rangers (6): Beltre was unable to stay healthy in his first season in Texas, missing five weeks with a hamstring injury, yet he still put up some sweet numbers, including ranking in the top five in the AL in homers and slugging and ranking sixth with 105 RBI. His walk rate dropped substantially, but he made up for that with his best isolated power since his monster 2004 season with the Dodgers. Beltre enjoyed the lowest strikeout rate of his career, while the Gold Glover continued to cement his reputation as one of the best fielding third basemen in the game.
4. Ryan Zimmerman, Washington Nationals (4): Washington is already a team on rise, but getting Zimmerman back healthy after his injury-plagued 2011 will be huge. One of several big-name third basemen to miss significant time last year, Zimmerman managed just 395 at-bats and his on-base percentage dropped big-time after a career-best performance in 2010. He had enjoyed back-to-back season with a WAR over 7.0, but managed just 2.5 last year, meaning he could add four or five wins to the Nats’ total if he stays healthy and bounces back to his previous levels. In fact, his 29.2 WAR over the past half-dozen seasons combined ranks 11th in all of baseball. Ya, Zimmerman’s good, and you’re probably never going to get a chance to get him as cheaply as he may go this spring.
5. David Wright, New York Mets (1): Wright was another of the typically stud third basemen that missed a crapload of time last year – 60 games in all. Obviously, his counting categories suffered as a result, and the lowest BA of his career pulled down his normally stellar OBP. More worrisome is the fact that Wright’s line drive rate has now declined in each of the past two seasons. Rumoured to have been on the trade block this winter, Wright remains with the Mets for now, but with the team’s financial situation still a mess, don’t be shocked if he’s moved at some point in 2012. And that may be a great thing for his Fantasy value as his slugging percentage was 50 points higher away from pitcher-friendly Citi Field.
6. Alex Rodriguez, New York Yankees (2): One of the 10 most disliked athletes in the U.S. according to Forbes, Rodriguez is clearly on his way down – and fast. The Yankees are going to need a cessation plan soon, because it’s clear that A-Rod is incapable of playing a full season anymore. Last year, his extra-base pop plummeted to its worst level since he was a rookie with the Mariners way back in 1995, yet his strikeout rate was up. Not a good combo. Hey, at least Rodriguez’s walk rate was up, but there weren’t many positives to take from his 2011 season as his HR/FB ratio continued to decline. In fact, we might be being a tad generous ranking him in the top six; if you took a couple of players below him on the list first, we wouldn’t blame you.
7. Pablo Sandoval, San Francisco Giants (13): Thanks to The Franchise, everyone got to see how Sandoval worked his ass off last winter to shed pounds (about a large beagle’s worth of weight) by running up hills (and cutting Shamrock shakes out of his daily diet). Unfortunately, he could have used the extra padding as a busted hand cost him several weeks early in the season. Just 25, he recently became a rich youngster, signing a three-year, $17.15-million deal, which would buy a hell of a lot of Doritos (if Kung-Fu Panda ate that stuff anymore; but of course, he doesn’t, right?). Last year, most of Sandoval’s counting stats were crushed by his injury, yet he still managed to drive in more runs than he had in 2010 – when he played 35 more games. His BA bounced back and he homered with much greater frequency than ever before – an exciting prospect given that Panda’s power prime won’t happen for another two years. Sandoval’s strikeout rate rose slightly last year, but considering the major uptick in power, it was nothing to worry about. I could see him going in the fifth round of your draft.
8. Brett Lawrie, Toronto Blue Jays (NR): Lawrie’s arrival as a full-timer this year will likely mean the end of Bautista’s third base eligibility. Even with his finger injury, Lawrie lost his rookie eligibility last year, which is a shame, because he’d be a top candidate to take home some hardware otherwise. He was tremendously productive in his first taste of the majors, flashing phenomenal power, speed, batting average and patience. I loved his walk rate – very impressive for someone that just turned 22 last month. And given that Lawrie put up – are you ready for this? — a .415 OBP at Triple-A last year, it’s clear that his on-base skills are the real deal. Lawrie could be a 25-25 man this year, so it’s small wonder he’s going as high as the fifth hot corner dude off the board in some drafts. We’re reserving judgment a tad, but Lawrie is easily a top 10 – with a bullet!
9. Aramis Ramirez, Milwaukee Brewers (8): The NL Silver Slugger last year, Ramirez is a risky player because of his shoulder woes, but he stayed moderately healthy in 2011 and enjoyed a fine comeback effort, earning a nice payday ($36 million over three years) from Milwaukee as a free agent. His extra-base sock was down slightly, but his overall slugging rose thanks to a bounce back in BA. Obviously, A-Ram’s counting stats were much better last year, but he’ll turn 34 this year so he’s on the downward trajectory of his career.
10. Kevin Youkilis, Boston Red Sox (10 at 1B): Youkilis dealt with plenty of health woes last year, including a back issue that sent him to the DL in August. After playing just 120 games last year, he says he’s good to go now, which he better be, because a return to health from Youkilis will go a long way towards allowing the BoSox to rebound this season. Over the last three seasons, he’s now missed almost a full year’s worth of action, and while he was quite productive when he was in the lineup last year, a reduction in his walk rate, his BA and his pop sent his OPS plummeting by almost 150 points. The spike in Youkilis’ strikeout rate was particularly concerning. While some consider him a slightly better player, ranking wise, we think he’s a low-end No. 1 third baseman now simply because of his inability to shake off the injury bug. A lot of minor ailments can add up and in Youkilis’ case, as you can see from the number of games he’s missed, that’s happening here.
11. Michael Young, Texas Rangers (9): For Young’s profile, see our First Base Rankings.
12. Mark Reynolds, Baltimore Orioles (11): For Reynolds’ profile, see our First Base Rankings.
13. David Freese, St. Louis Cardinals (17): In mid-June, we recommended Freese as a waiver wire add and he more or less justified our faith by playing solid ball in two of the final three months. It’s too bad his postseason performance didn’t count for Fantasy purposes, because for about four weeks, Freese was simply out of his mind good. Overall last year, he made some strides in the power department, as the injury-prone third baseman finally reached double digit homers for the first time and enjoyed solid productivity while he was active. Freese still strikes out too much, but he made progress in that department last year; unfortunately, his on-base percentage headed in the opposite direction. Freese hit a lot less flyballs than usual last year, and if he can reverse that, he could be in line for a nice power spike. No one will ever forget his walk-off dinger in Game Six of the World Series, but let’s see him stay healthy and be productive all season before completely jumping on his train as a potential No. 1 third baseman.
14. Mike Moustakas, Kansas City Royals (40): Unlike his equally hyped teammate Eric Hosmer, Moustakas didn’t set the majors on fire in his first look. The Moose was a waiver wire recommendation when he first arrived in mid-June, but that didn’t pan out as he struggled in his first two and a half months as a big leaguer. However, Moustakas started to show what he was made of in September (.352, four homers, 10 runs, 960 OPS) and that finish buoys hopes that he can build on that this season. He’s an important part of the winning team KC is trying to assemble and the fact that Moustakas mostly flopped in his rookie season means that he’s a prime candidate to fall into what we like to call the category of post-hype bargains. Five homers in 365 plate appearances? This is a dude that mashed 25 dingers in 486 PAs in Triple-A. The power is real, and it will come, meaning that you may never get a chance to get Moustakas this cheaply again.
15. Emilio Bonifacio, Miami Marlins (NR): For Bonifacio’s profile, see our Shortstop Rankings. He is also listed in our Outfield Rankings.
16. Martin Prado, Atlanta Braves (12): Prado will again act as the strong side of the Braves’ left field platoon, but he’s highly likely to again qualify at the hot corner as long as the brittle Chipper Jones is with Atlanta. Prado had a horrendous season last year, yet still earned a raise through an arbitration settlement from $3.1 million to $4.7 million. Ah yes… you gotta love the arbitration system. After hitting at least .307 three years running, he sunk to a career worst .260 – a crushing blow to the Fantasy value of a player that has only decent pop and very little speed. The fact that Prado’s extra-base sock dipped for the second straight season only amplified the issue that he simply wasn’t extremely useful in 2011. On the plus side, his batting eye was better. Prado dealt with a lot of injuries last season, so we’re willing to give him a bit of a mulligan, but if he’s not hitting for a high average, he’s just not a great Fantasy option. Prado is also listed in our Outfield Rankings.
17. Ryan Roberts, Arizona Diamondbacks (NR): For Roberts’ profile, see our Second Base Rankings.
18. Edwin Encarnacion, Toronto Blue Jays (22): As a third baseman, Encarnacion is a hell of a DH. But hey, he qualifies here, so that’s a bonus for his Fantasy value, especially since if he only qualified at first base, he’d be a pretty low-end Fantasy asset. With Lawrie a full-timer this year, third base is no longer an option for Encarnacion, so the Jays plan on making him a super sub, which will include back-up duty in left field. Whether this translates into enough PT to have serious value remains a question, but plenty of superb subs (Chone Figgins and Ben Zobrist earlier in their careers, Michael Young last year) have been very useful Fantasy assets. Encarnacion’s 2011 season was remarkably similar to his 2010 effort, except he stayed healthier and spent the entire season in the majors. He scored plenty of runs in a solid Toronto offense, was fairly productive and managed to cut his strikeout rate. His bat is clearly his best tool, as even as a first baseman he leaves something wanting defensively. It will be fascinating to see him try to adapt to the outfield, but the fact is, he’s got a solid stick that can provide some value near the end of your draft. Encarnacion is also listed in our First Base Rankings.
19. Chase Headley, San Diego Padres (20): Last year was a real mixed bag for Headley. He enjoyed the finest percentages of his career, improved his walk rate significantly, and continued to be a decent source of steals at a position that isn’t known for its speedsters. That’s the good news. The bad news is that that his counting cats sucked (mostly a product of San Diego’s anemic offense, and his home run power evaporated (just four dingers in 113 games? Really?). Gee, I wonder if Headley is a Petco casualty? Let’s see… a 674 OPS at home and 864 on the road. Um, ya. Just a wee bit. Headley hit .330 on the road last year – talk about a dude who desperately needs a trade to improve his Fantasy value. Of course, Petco had nothing to do with a rising strikeout rate, and that trend worries me. If you get stuck with Headley, you may want to only use him when the Padres are on the road.
20. Chipper Jones, Atlanta Braves (16): Jones looked like he was done when he suffered another devastating knee injury to end what had been a miserable 2010 season. But to his credit, he worked hard to return, and enjoyed an impressive bounce back campaign last year, staying healthy enough to get 455 at-bats and putting up solid offensive numbers. Jones was productive, but a decline in his walk rate and a spike in his strikeout rate suggest he’s slowing down, which is obvious under any circumstances. It was nice to see his power recover and while he’s well removed from his MVP days, Jones is still a decent backup Fantasy option as he enters his 18th season. Health has been an issue for years and will continue to be a factor, so if he plays 120 games this season, you should consider yourself pretty fortunate. Jones is a major risk, so that’s why he’s best employed as backup plan.
21. Danny Valencia, Minnesota Twins (18): As we discussed in September, Valencia’s season was all over the map last year, but was mostly a letdown for Fantasy owners. After showing such promise as a rookie in 2010, the Jewish third baseman had a disappointing sophomore effort, failing to improve his power even though he’s smack dab right in his power prime. Valencia’s walk rate rose a tad, but not enough for him to even reach a .300 OBP, dragged down by a substandard BA. The hot corner is his in Minnesota, and given his low BABIP last year, it’s reasonable to expect his average this season to be closer to the .311 he hit as a rookie, maybe around .280 this season. Valencia’s one of those players that doesn’t really bring one key skill to the table; he’ll provide some help across the board, but is best employed as either a reserve in mixed leagues or a low-end No. 1 man in AL-only leagues.
22. Scott Sizemore, Oakland Athletics (52 at 2B): In June, Sizemore earned a waiver wire recommendation from us, and for the most part, he was a solid choice, hitting very well in June, struggling in July but then finishing well in August and especially September. After spending last season bouncing around the A’s lineup (mostly hitting ninth), he’ll likely bat fifth in the A’s lineup this year, meaning plenty of RBI opportunities. Last year, Sizemore was awful with the Tigers, showing no sock at all, but he turned things around after arriving in the Bay area, getting regular PT for the first time in his career and doing a better job of getting on base. All told, Sizemore’s first full season (more or less) showed promise in the counting cats and he took an overall step forward as a hitter. He’s pretty much guaranteed to be the starting third baseman in Oakland, but mostly because the A’s don’t have a better option. Right in his power prime, Sizemore’s emerging pop is intriguing, especially in those leagues in which he’ll qualify at second base (he played 18 games there last year).
23. Lonnie Chisenhall, Cleveland Indians (NR): In mid-September, we recommended Chisenhall as a waiver wire pluck, and we hope you listened as the youngster enjoyed a solid finish (hitting .279 with four homers and 14 RBI in September). With Jack Hannahan as his main competition this spring, we like Chisenhall’s chances of holding value in AL-only leagues, at the very least. Chisenhall put up some solid numbers at Triple-A, flashing respectable extra-base sock and for the most part he held his own in Cleveland, although he’ll really need to cut down on the strikeouts if he’s going to develop into a potential No. 1 third baseman and perhaps one of the brightest young players at this position in the AL.
24. Jed Lowrie, Houston Astros (24 at 2B): For Lowrie’s profile, see our Shortstop Rankings.
25. Ian Stewart, Chicago Cubs (14): Stewart struggled right from the get-go last year, was farmed out in April and really spent the rest of the season riding the Colorado-Colorado Springs express. Things were so bad that he actually accepted a $50,000 pay cut for this season. Stewart looked poised for a run of excellent ball based on his 2008 through 2010 performance, but it all fell apart last season as his extra-base power went AWOL and everything trended downward – down the toilet, that is. The Cubs did well by getting him from the Rox for next to nothing, a very shrewd buy-low scenario if it pans out. He’s only 26, so don’t you dare give up on Stewart just yet; but don’t you dare put yourself in a position where you have to count on him this season, either.
Others to Consider
26. Casey McGehee, Pittsburgh Pirates (7)
27. Pedro Alvarez, Pittsburgh Pirates (10)
28. Daniel Murphy, New York Mets (NR): For Murphy’s profile, see our Second Base Rankings. He is also listed in our First Base Rankings.
29. Brent Morel, Chicago White Sox (36)
30. Placido Polanco, Philadelphia Phillies (29)
31. Scott Rolen, Cincinnati Reds (15)
32. Sean Rodriguez, Tampa Bay Rays (NR): For Rodriguez’s profile, see our Second Base Rankings. He is also listed in our Shortstop Rankings.
33. Kyle Seager, Seattle Mariners (NR)
34. Ty Wigginton, Philadelphia Phillies (26): Wigginton is also listed in our First Base and Outfield Rankings.
35. Alberto Callaspo, Los Angeles Angels (34)
36. Wilson Betemit, Baltimore Orioles (37)
37. Jimmy Paredes, Houston Astros (NR)
38. Chris Johnson, Houston Astros (21)
39. Juan Uribe, Los Angeles Dodgers (24)
40. Chone Figgins, Seattle Mariners (8 at 2B)
41. Chris Nelson, Colorado Rockies (NR): For Nelson’s profile, see our Second Base Rankings.
42. Brandon Inge, Detroit Tigers (28)
43. Chris Davis, Baltimore Orioles (NR): Davis is also listed in our First Base Rankings.
44. Casey Blake, Colorado Rockies (31)
45. Jack Hannahan, Cleveland Indians (NR)
46. Jordan Pacheco, Colorado Rockies (NR): Note that Pacheco didn’t qualify anywhere in the bigs last year, and actually played more first base than any other position in Colorado, while spending most of his time in the minors catching. However, he’s expected to play primarily at third this year, hence his inclusion here.
47. Daniel Descalso, St. Louis Cardinals (NR)
48. Jerry Hairston Jr., Los Angeles Dodgers (NR): Hairston is also listed in our Second Base and Outfield Rankings.
49. Geoff Blum, Arizona Diamondbacks (NR): Note that he didn’t qualify here last year because of injuries, but his previous 3B eligibility should carry over for 2012.
50. Eduardo Nunez, New York Yankees (NR): Nunez is also listed in our Shortstop Rankings.
51. Mike Aviles, Boston Red Sox (NR): Aviles is also listed in our Second Base Rankings.
52. Wilson Valdez, Cincinnati Reds (NR): Valdez is also listed in our Second Base and Shortstop Rankings.
53. Kevin Kouzmanoff, Kansas City Royals (25)
54. Robert Andino, Baltimore Orioles (NR): Andino is also listed in our Second Base and Shortstop Rankings.
55. Don Kelly, Detroit Tigers (NR): Kelly is also listed in our Outfield Rankings.
56. Eric Chavez, Free Agent (NR)
57. Miguel Cairo, Cincinnati Reds
58. Jose Lopez, Cleveland (30): Lopez is also listed in our Second Base Rankings.
59. Greg Dobbs, Miami Marlins
60. Maicer Izturis, Los Angeles Angels (44): Izturis is also listed in our Second Base Ranking.
61. Justin Turner, New York Mets (NR): Turner is also listed in our Second Base Ranking.
62. Miguel Tejada, Free Agent (19): Tejada is also listed in our Shortstop Rankings.
63. John McDonald, Arizona Diamondbacks (NR): McDonald is also listed in our Second Base and Shortstop Rankings.
64. Logan Forsythe, San Diego Padres (NR): Forsythe is also listed in our Second Base Rankings.
65. Josh Bell, Baltimore Orioles (41)
66. Sean Burroughs, Minnesota Twins (NR)
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