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Maybe because it’s called the hot corner (and I riff on that in my column name) – or maybe because I grew up knowing Brooks Robinson was a wizard – I simply love the third base position. This year is no different as it is staffed by some young bucks, consistent performers, and is considerably deep compared to the middle infield slots.
The ranks and files:
The Greek God of Walks, Kevin Youkilis comes in as my #3 third baseman and 17th overall – ahead of the likes of Alex Rodriguez (5, 23) and Ryan Zimmerman (4, 18). I see this as a real strong ranking and statement about the value Youkilis brings. Over the last three seasons, he has averaged 25 HRs a year, 90 RBI, 89 runs, a .308 AVG and .404 OBP. That includes last season in which he appeared in only 102 games – that’s crazy poppycock talk numbers. Inserted in an ever-improving line-up, he should be a lock for 100 runs/RBIs, 25 – 30 HRs and a near .300 AVG. Given his consistency, he is an easy late second rounder in my book.
Zimmerman is only 24, yet he has played four full seasons in the majors. In those seasons (including just 106 games in 2008), Zimmerman has averaged 86 runs, 23 HRs, 90 RBIs, a .282 AVE and a .345 OBP. The more I look at it, the more I think Zimmerman is the second coming of Aramis Ramirez. Look at the obvious comparisons: Ramirez starred for a crappy team (the Pirates) and played four full seasons by his 25th birthday in which he averaged 77 runs, 29 HRs, 98 RBIs, a .282 AVE and a .332 OBP. I think Zimmerman has a tad more upside than 2004 Aramis, and could be in for a great year.
At age 26, Aramis Ramirez hit 36 HRs, while I don’t think Zimmerman will do that, I think he has a chance. Conservatively, Zimmerman is almost identical to Youkilis, but with slightly less run/RBIs potential. Given his career trajectory, Zimmerman should be a top 20 batter for years to come.
I wanted to put Alex Rodriguez lower (a decent amount lower, say the 40s) but I didn’t. While I am a Yankee hater, I have written glowingly about Derek Jeter, Curtis Granderson, Nick Swisher and Brett Gardner in the past – so this is not subjective blind hatred. Over the last three seasons, AROD has averaged just 133 games a season (that’s about what you get from a starting catcher). Of course, he has been productive in that time: .286 AVG, 32 HRs, 109 RBIs and 85 runs. One of the most disconcerting things I see with AROD is that his steals have fallen from 24 in 2007 to 18, then 14, then just four last year. In addition, last year he walked just 9.9% of the time compared to a career mark near 12%. I’m simply concerned that he doesn’t have the run or SB upside that he use to have. Without that he becomes a somewhat pedestrian third base option. You pair that with a slight injury risk and I’ll take the batting averages of Youkilis and Zimmerman (spread over 25 more games) over him.
Time to get to one of my favorite players (although I don’t know how that happened), Aramis Ramirez (8, 70). While he had a down year last season (batting just .241) he did manage 25 HRs in just 124 games. He has also only averaged 118 games played over the last three seasons and has been striking out more over that span. That said, he did have a .245 BABip last year compared to .287 for his career. While some of that is due to a decline in LD% (15.8% in 2010; 21.3% in 2009; 19.6% for his career), he should see some bounce back in the average category – potentially to somewhere in the .270s. If you pair that with 25+ HRs and 90 or so RBIs, you have a third baseman who will have slightly worse numbers than the top tier. In all, he should represent a decent value on draft day.
If Michael Young (9, 75) gets traded, please disregard the rest of this paragraph. Young is a .322/.372/.487 hitter at home and just a .279/.322/.411 hitter on the road. In the same amount of games, he has hit 22 more HRs at home than on the road. That said, if he stays in Arlington and gets ABs, he has been a steady performer. Over the past three seasons, he has averaged 18 HRs, 92 runs, 80 RBIs and a .295 AVG. I like him as a decent third base option in 2011 if he remains a Ranger.
You may have missed it, but Rolen played in more games last year (128) than in any season since 2006 (142). In that 2006 season, Rolen scored 94 runs, hit 22 HRs, knocked in 95 and posted a .296/.369 AVE/OBP. Last year, Rolen split time between Toronto and Cincinnati , but posted respectable ratios (.305/.368). Sure he only managed 76 runs, 11 HRs and 67 RBIs. However his numbers are bound to improve this year, as he will be playing full time in one of the league’s most hitter-friendly parks. And, when Rolen is healthy, he hits – it’s that simple. If he avoids the injury bug, Rolen could have a mini-renaissance and approach 90 runs/RBIs, 20 HRs and a respectable AVE/OBP. That’s not bad for a guy likely to be an afterthought on most draft boards.
All Rolen did in 2010 was hit .285 with 20 HRs and 83 RBIs – but that’s the past. Will he earn my 2011 ranking? I think so. If he gets 130+ games, he’ll hit .280, add 17 HRs, and be a decent source of runs/RBIs parked in a very nice Reds line-up. Basically, I think 2010 Rolen is who he is – draft accordingly.
Be careful, because after Rolen the position gets a tad sketchy.
Pedro Alvarez (16, 149): In just 386 PAs (a little more than half a season), Alvarez socked 16 HRs. Sure he posted an astronomical strike-out rate (34.3%) but he put up massive minor league power numbers while posting similarly poor K-rates. Alvarez is really a power pick – if he hits above .250 you should be stoked. Still, the power is clearly real, and he is a legitimate 30+ HR threat. He could be one of the sneakier 25/100 guys at third base and a definite mid- to late-round selection.
David Freese (25, 196): Freese appeared in just 70 games last year, yet sort of held his own: .296/.361/.404. While he struck-out a decent amount (24.6%) and had an inflated BABip (.376), the youngster has shown the ability to get on base in the minors. If La Russa lets him play, Freese should hit 15 or so HRs and, depending on where he hits in the line-up, score a decent amount of runs or knock in a bunch. He should also bat north of .290. He seems to have some decent promise for someone not getting a lot of pub.
Jose Lopez (30, 235): Certainly, the Rockies infield is a crowded one, but I think Jose Lopez bounces back in a decent way: he’s switched from a crappy hitter’s park to a hitter’s haven and he’s moved from the hard league to the easier league. While he has never walked, his .254 BABip last season is partly the culprit for his miserable average. In addition, his HR/FB% last year was just 4.9% compared to his career average of 7.2%. I think he can get back to a .260+ AVG and 15+ HRs. That’s not at all sexy, but there is some upside – who knows what the Coors effect will have on him. I wouldn’t mind gambling on Lopez at the end of my draft.