Although he spent most of 2008 at second base, Emilio Bonifacio will man the hot corner for the Fish this season.
By Herija Green and Tim McLeod
The hot corner is another position that can thin out pretty darned quickly after the top tier players are off the board.
Note that Emilio Bonifacio has won the starting 3B job for the Marlins and is tentatively slotted to bat leadoff. However, he doesn’t qualify as a 3B heading into the season, but he has way more value as a 3B than as a 2B. If he were listed here, Bonifacio would be in the top 20, probably between Melvin Mora and Mark DeRosa.
Also, we’ve listed Michael Young here, but he technically only qualifies at shortstop to start the season. We did not list Young in shortstop rankings, but if he were there, he’d be a Top 10 shortstop.
We listed Pablo Sandoval here, although in 20-game leagues he didn’t qualify at any position as a major leaguer last season, and played mostly catcher in the minors. If you’re in a 10-game qualification league, you can use him at first base and catcher, as well as third base.
Brandon Inge is listed here, but played the majority of 2008 as a catcher. If he were on the catcher list, he’d rank No. 18.
Nomar Garciaparra is listed here even though he didn’t play 20 games at 3B last year; he would rank No. 34 on our list at SS.
Ian Stewart only qualifies at 3B, but is expected to see most of his action in the outfield this season, so we put him on that list. If he was on this list, he’d be No. 19.
Carlos Guillen spent most of his time at 3B last year, but also qualifies at first this season. However, we’ve listed him in our OF rankings as that’s where he’s expected to play. If he was on this he’d be No. 21.
1. David Wright, New York Mets: As scary a thought as it is, the durable Wright still hasn’t achieved his power prime. Could a 40-homer season be in his future over the next year or two? He didn’t get on base quite as often last season, and his stolen base total was more than cut in half, yet he still set a career high in runs. Wright’s strike zone judgment slipped ever so slightly, and he’s expected to slide down to the fifth spot in the batting order, a move that could affect his run and RBI totals. Still, all that’s missing for this dude to become one of the most popular figures in the game is a title.
2. Aramis Ramirez, Chicago Cubs: It appears Ramirez’s 38-homer outburst in ‘06 was a bit of an outlier, but his annual production continues to be rock solid, topping 100 RBI in four of the last five seasons and averaging 31.6 home runs during the same timeframe. On the downside, he has no speed to speak of and is hit or miss scoring runs (90-plus in three of his five seasons in the Windy City, 72 in each of the other two). He lacks the tantalizing upside of the man listed directly below him, but he’s the steadier option of the two.
3. Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay Rays: Perhaps the biggest question mark surrounding Longoria is whether or not I can make it through his blurb without making some lame ass joke about his name resembling a hot celebrity. On the field, Longoria boasts prodigious power (27 bombs in 448 ABs) and even displayed a savvy feel for the base paths (7-for-7 in steals). He struck out too much and fell into some prolonged slumps, but his potential is phenomenal. Unfortunately, other owners are in love with Longoria too and may reach for him too early in drafts – don’t make that mistake.
4. Alex Rodriguez, New York Yankees: The usual No. 1 overall pick could miss six or more weeks to open the season following surgery on his hip (although recent reports suggest he could be back before May). Once he returns, he’ll have a bull’s eye on his back after his off-season steroid revelation, which figures to ratchet up the pressure. All that being said, Rodriguez is the most dominant offensive force in baseball during the regular season, posting a .302-35-103 line with 104 runs and 18 steals while missing 24 games in a “down” year in 2008. There are more concerns surrounding A-Roid (see what I did there?) than usual, but I’m guessing Madonna nurses him back to health and we get production worthy of using a low third- or fourth-round pick in standard leagues.
5. Chipper Jones, Atlanta Braves: There are two basic truths when it comes to Jones: 1. He’ll hit a ton, and 2. he’ll miss 40-to-50 games with an assortment of random maladies. The soon-to-be 37-year-old is no spring chicken to begin with, and his laundry list of injuries makes him a tough sell for an early-round selection. However, his production (.364-22-75 in 439 ABs last year) makes him impossible to ignore once the top names are gone at the hot corner. The best rule of thumb for Jones owners is to try to nab someone with third base eligibility for your utility spot, or failing that at least invest in a quality backup.
6. Chone Figgins, Los Angeles Angels: Figgins is a bit of a one-trick pony, but that trick just happens to be incredible speed. Unfortunately, Figgins’ important numbers have been moving in the wrong direction for four consecutive seasons. His two biggest draws are steals (62 in ‘05, followed by 52, 41 and 34 last year) and runs (113 in ‘05, then 93, 81 and finally 72 in ‘08), while he does little in the power categories – home runs and RBI. That makes his batting average the wild card as he hit .330 in 2007 but only .276 a year ago. Health is also a concern – he missed 93 games combined in the past two years – and if you’re taking Figgins to be your third baseman, then make sure you’ve got guys capable of covering for the hit in power production you’ll be taking.
7. Adrian Beltre, Seattle Mariners: OK, let’s get this out of the way, 2004 was a fluke! Beltre could play another 40 years and not post a .334-48-121 line so let’s omit that from our memories and take his four seasons in Seattle on their own merit. Well, on second thought, let’s go ahead and strike his ‘05 face plant from memory too. What’s left is three years of pretty solid production making mid-20s power, 80-to-90 RBI and 80 or so runs to be expected in 2009. There are certainly more exciting options out there, but those that miss out on the top talent at third base should be able to recoup good value in the later rounds with Beltre, who figures to get selected after several of the names listed below him.
8. Ryan Zimmerman, Washington Nationals: Zimmerman endured an injury-plagued 2008 campaign that cost him roughly two months and robbed him of his power for a full month beyond that – he returned on July 22 and hit his first post-injury dinger on August 27. That was a bitter pill to swallow for the many, including me, that were projecting a breakout year for the Nats’ third sacker. The good news is Zimmerman is still only 24 and should be available much later in drafts than he was last year. I’m not ready to get off the Zimmerman bandwagon just yet, and I think .290-30-115 isn’t out of reach. Look at it this way; it’ll only cost you a mid- or late-round pick to find out.
9. Garrett Atkins, Colorado Rockies: Those that put their faith in Atkins last year were subjected to a steady diet (get it? Atkins + diet = zinger) of mediocrity for much of 2008, including some truly forgettable performances in August and September. His numbers have dropped precipitously since his breakout .329-29-120 season in ‘06, and the loss of Matt Holliday doesn’t figure to do that lineup any favours. It’s also worrisome to see how Atkins’ once disciplined approach (79 walks, 76 Ks in ‘06) has come apart at the seams (40 walks, 100 Ks in ‘08) in pursuit of the long ball. Still, playing in Coors Field makes Atkins a solid bounce back candidate and his multi-position eligibility (he also qualifies at first base) gives him added value.
10. Alex Gordon, Kansas City Royals: Once viewed as an uber prospect, Gordon endured his second consecutive disappointing season in 2008. However, try to remember that “the commish” is only 25, showed improved discipline at the plate (his .314 OBP from 2007 rose to .351 last season) and matched or exceeded his production in most categories despite playing in 17 fewer games. A lot of fantasy owners figure to be down on Gordon after getting burned by him two years in a row, which means he should be available fairly late in drafts.
11. Edwin Encarnacion, Cincinnati Reds: Encarnacion made “the leap” last year when it came to power, but unfortunately everything else treaded water or regressed. The fact that his 26 home runs (up from 16 in ‘07) accounted for only 68 RBI (down from 76 in ‘07) was a result of his terrible work with runners in scoring position. He was also incredibly streaky, hitting above .290 in three of the six months last year and under .240 in each of the other three. If he can make a few adjustments and improve with RISP he could be in line to really post some quality numbers, but if he continues to be as streaky as he was last season you need to make sure you own a solid backup and aren’t hesitant to bench Encarnacion.
12. Michael Young, Texas Rangers: The arrival of prospect Elvis Andrus may have forced Texas’ hand in moving Young to third base, but most fantasy owners will continue deploying Young at shortstop in 2009. His numbers dipped last year, specifically his average, which fell to .284 after five straight seasons of batting over .300, but they’re still more than respectable, particularly for a player with middle infield eligibility. Young has averaged 102 runs and 90 RBI per season since 2003 and remains a viable everyday fantasy shortstop.
13. Jorge Cantu, Florida Marlins: Anything you can do, Jorge Cantu…yeah, it’s a lame joke, but for whatever reason it’s one that I enjoy. The former D-Ray second baseman was plucked off the scrap heap by the Marlins and given new life at the corners. He hit .277 with 29 jacks and looked every bit the emerging stud fantasy owners thought he was following his breakthrough ‘05 campaign. At 27, Cantu should just be entering his prime and is a legitimate three-category contributor. He also qualifies at first base, which is where he will likely spend most of his time in 2009.
14. Kevin Kouzmanoff, San Diego Padres: Entering 2008, the thought was that Kooz’s future might be elsewhere on the diamond given his defensive shortcomings and the presence of top prospect Chase Headley. However, that threat is over for the time being as Kouzmanoff transformed himself into an above average fielder and Headley will open ‘09 in left field. Unfortunately, Kouzmanoff’s work at the plate was less inspiring. His averaged dipped 15 points and despite logging 140 more at bats, he added only five home runs and 10 RBI to his ‘07 numbers while striking out 45 more times – the result of putrid plate discipline, which left his ‘08 OBP at .299. He has a lot of things working against him – terrible hitter’s park, poor talent around him – but he should still post decent totals in home runs and RBI.
15. Pablo Sandoval, San Francisco Giants: There’s a lot to be excited about with Sandoval, who not only is expected to be the team’s everyday third baseman, but also the back-up catcher (at least to start the season). Given the dearth of talent behind the dish for fantasy purposes, Sandoval’s draft stock should skyrocket. He more than held his own at the plate last year as well, hitting at a .345 clip in 41 games. It’s unrealistic to expect anything close to that over a full season, but Sandoval was a .303 career hitter in the minors and went deep 20 times in the minors last year. Most will use him as a fantasy catcher, and even in shallow leagues his ability to provide depth all over the diamond (in 10-game leagues, he qualifies at first as well) should make him a valuable commodity.
16. Casey Blake, Los Angeles Dodgers: At 35 years of age, Blake doesn’t offer much in the way of upside. However, he’s a solid contributor on an offense that should be much improved with a full year of Manny Ramirez, a healthy Rafael Furcal and the development of emerging star Matt Kemp. You can pretty safely pencil in Blake for 20 homers and 80 RBI, making him a solid Plan B for those that invest draft picks in the likes of Jones and A-Rod. The fact that Blake also qualifies at first base is gravy. Mmmm….gravy.
17. Mark Reynolds, Arizona Diamondbacks: An all-or-nothing hitter, Reynolds went yard 28 times in ‘08, but struck out a shocking 204 times. He can’t be pigeonholed as a one-category guy since he also drove in 97 runs, scored 87 times and even swiped 11 bags, but his average is a potential albatross. Still, don’t overlook the fact that he hit .279 as a rookie and won’t turn 26 until August. He’s late-round fodder with some upside.
18. Melvin Mora, Baltimore Orioles: Many had already written Mora’s fantasy obituary before the veteran went on a monumental tear after the All-Star break, putting him back on the map. However, you can’t simply overlook that the 37-year-old looked effectively finished in the first half of 2008 and was below average for all of the two previous years. Take a conservative approach when deciding when (or if) to select him, as for two and a half of the last three years he has been a borderline fantasy option at best.
19. Mike Lowell, Boston Red Sox: Lowell didn’t reward fantasy owners that spent mid-round draft picks on him following his monstrous 2007 campaign, losing a whopping 50 points off his average and driving in 47 fewer runs. A hip injury was to blame for some of his struggles to be sure, but at 35 there’s no reason to dismiss it off hand as a one-time thing. The Sox have good depth, including Mark Kotsay at first base, which would allow them to move Kevin Youkilis over to third to keep Lowell fresh. Anything over a .280-20-75 line has to be considered optimistic – draft accordingly.
20. Joe Crede, Minnesota Twins: First, the good news — in Crede’s last full season he hit .283 with 30 home runs and 94 RBI. Now, the bad news — that was 2006 and Crede has missed much of the last two seasons with back ailments. Joining the Twins after spending his entire career with the ChiSox, Crede has to be viewed as nothing more than a high-risk, moderate-reward option worth drafting exclusively in deep mixed and AL-only leagues.
21. David Freese, St. Louis Cardinals: With Troy Glaus’ injury getting worse by the day it seems (it’s now unlikely he’ll return before the All-Star Game), Freese is the third baseman to own in St. Louis. He hit .306 with 26 homers and 91 RBI at Triple-A Memphis last season and with Joe Mather being farmed out, Freese has little competition for the job. He’s a must for NL-only leagues and should be on the radar in mixed leagues as well. Consider Freese a cheap source of power, but he does strike out plenty, so the BA could suffer. If you’re a Glaus owner, this is the ideal handcuff pickup for you.
22. Pedro Feliz, Philadelphia Phillies: Despite switching to a loaded Phillies lineup, Feliz saw his run of seasons with at least 20 homers snapped at four. Part of that was due to a decrease in playing time, which should continue in 2009 given the presence of Greg Dobbs. Feliz has never hit for average or had much speed, making him at best a late-round value for his power.
23. Josh Fields, Chicago White Sox: A popular sleeper entering last season, Fields lost out to Crede during Spring Training and was brutal the few at bats he got during the season. That was a major disappointment to fantasy owners after he clubbed 23 bombs in 100 games as a rookie in 2007. Don’t be too quick to write Fields off, though, as he’s just 26 and is finally being given a regular role with no strings attached. With the pressure off, he could be a great late-round source of pop. He’s definite flier material.
24. Scott Rolen, Toronto Blue Jays: Rolen has been nearly a non-factor for fantasy purposes in three of his last four seasons, including a disappointing .262-11-50 line in 2008. Injuries have left the former All-Star as little more than a shell of his previous self, making him a late-round option only for the true believers.
25. Russell Branyan, Seattle Mariners: Injuries limited the amount of action he saw with the Brewers last season, but his extra-base pop was impressive and he actually managed to hit his weight for the first time since 2005. Branyan beat out several competitors to win the job on the strong side of the first base platoon for the Mariners this season, but he qualifies at third base based on 2008.
Others to Consider
26. Brandon Inge, Detroit Tigers (who also qualifies at catcher)
27. Troy Glaus, St. Louis Cardinals: Glaus underwent shoulder surgery in March and isn’t expected to play until the All-Star game. When healthy, he boasts elite power, though he contributes little else. His injury ensures he shouldn’t be selected in most mixed leagues – check back with him in June if you’re in the market for a boost in home runs.
28. Andy LaRoche, Pittsburgh Pirates
29. Bill Hall, Milwaukee Brewers
30. Eric Chavez, Oakland Athletics
31. Brandon Wood, Los Angeles Angels (also qualifies at shortstop)
32. Dayan Viciedo, Chicago White Sox
33. Cody Ransom, New York Yankees (he didn’t actually qualify at any position as a major leaguer last season, last qualifying at SS in 2004, but spent most of his minor league season in 2008 at 3B)
34. Casey McGehee, Milwaukee Brewers
35. Jose Bautista, Toronto Blue Jays
36. Geoff Blum, Houston Astros
37. Jack Hannahan, Oakland Athletics
38. Mat Gamel, Milwaukee Brewers
39. Nomar Garciaparra, Oakland Athletics (actually only qualifies at shortstop, but is expected to see the majority of time at 3B this season)
40. Ramon Vazquez, Pittsburgh Pirates (also qualifies at shortstop)
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