December 7, 2023

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2022 Fantasy Baseball Draft Prep: Third base ADP review highlights how far the position has fallen

What happened to you, third basemen of Major League Baseball? You used to be such reliable sources of Fantasy value. Why, I’m old enough to remember back to the halcyon days of June 2020, when our own Scott White had this to say about the position: “I’ve been ranking players for CBS Fantasy for more than a decade now, and I can’t recall a time I saw a position so deep.” Now, it’s being viewed as the scarcest position in the game besides catcher.

What happened? Well, looking at the “studs” tier from that same piece from Scott:, Nolan Arenado left Coors Field; Anthony Rendon’s body broke down; Alex Bregman forgot how to hit (or … stopped getting help?) and then got hurt; DJ LeMahieu and Jeff McNeil turned back into pumpkins without the help of a juiced ball; Max Muncy tore his UCL; Eugenio Suarez’s contact skills collapsed; and Vladimir Guerrero became a 1B-only player. Back in 2020, a whopping 16 third basemen were being drafted inside of the top-100 on average; this season? Eight. It’s ugly.

Of course, you don’t want to make the mistake of overcorrecting based on last year’s results, so it’s possible we’re all overreacting. Maybe Rendon, Muncy, Bregman, and Matt Chapman can bounce back in a healthy season. Maybe Kris Bryant signs with the Rockies and puts together a massive, Coors-fueled season. Maybe LeMahieu and McNeil make some adjustments and get back to being elite batting average sources with the run production to follow. It’s not the most likely outcome – a lot of these players are at the point in their careers where regression is expected – but it’s not impossible.

Still — there’s no question the position isn’t what it once was, and the prices reflect it. That means there are opportunities to buy, but it also means some of the more dependable options may have their prices inflated by positional scarcity. Here’s my breakdown of the players being drafted inside of the top-300 overall in NFBC drafts and how I feel about their price:

Tier 1

Ramirez is a known commodity at this point and a viable option for any pick after No. 1 overall. If you could count on him to hit .290 like he did in 2020 again, he’d be a legitimate contender for the No. 1 overall pick, since he’s a good bet for 30-plus homers, 220-plus combined runs and RBI and has 30-steal upside. There isn’t much separating him from Trea Turner except for that batting average. 

Tier 2

I liked it a lot better when Devers had one bad month in the COVID-shortened 2020 and was going two full rounds later in ADP, but that’s not to say I don’t like this price. He’s a 25-year-old coming off a career year with the underlying metrics to back it up. I can’t say I find myself drafting him a ton here – it’s harder to pay a premium for non-speed guys like Devers who also aren’t necessarily standouts in batting average – but this price is fine.

I probably like Machado a little bit more, actually. The surface numbers were a little worse for Machado, mostly in the power department, but the underlying skills-based numbers suggest a very similar player, but one who will probably steal 10 more bases. According to expected batting average data from StatCast, Machado was more like a .295 hitter in 2021, and he was in that same range in 2020 as well. If he can get back to that point while remaining a double-digit steals threat, first-round value isn’t hard to see at all. If I’m going to pay the premium for a non-Ramirez 3B, Machado is my choice.

Tier 3 

This is the range of the position that I’m a lot more worried about. Riley doesn’t have too many red flags in his 2021 production, to be fair – he won’t hit .300 again, but his .281 expected batting average backs up the idea that he made a leap and is a solidly above-average hitter now. The problem is, his career didn’t begin in 2021, so we can’t just discount the possibility of regression, and he was a pretty lousy Fantasy option prior to last season. He’s probably the safest pick in this tier, but I’m not quite convinced to the point where I want to pay this price, not when guys like Pete Alonso or Byron Buxton are going in the same range with more upside. 

Arenado’s price has fallen enough that I’m less concerned, but I still see serious bottom-out potential in his profile. Without the benefit of Coors Field’s BABIP-inflating effects, he’s pretty much a power-first, power-only bat with pretty middling quality-of-contact metrics – he ranked in the 43rd percentile in average exit velocity, 31st in hard-hit rate, and 32nd in barrel rate. He overcomes that by peppering the first 10 rows of the left field bleachers with fly balls, but if there is any dip in his power production at all, Arenado doesn’t seem to have much to fall back on at this point. That’s worrisome. 

Mondesi also has considerable bottom-out potential himself, but he also has upside that neither Riley nor Arenado has at this point. All you have to do is look back at 2020 to see what that looks like: He missed just one game and had more steals (24) than 13 separate teams in MLB. There is no single player who can potentially help you more in one single category than Mondesi, who is tied for the major-league lead in steals over the past three seasons while missing 49% of his team’s games. And he’s not a total zero in power or batting average – it’s a different question in OBP leagues. If Mondesi stays healthy for 140 games, he probably ends up a top-three player at the position for Roto league, and he probably wouldn’t be third. The problem, of course, is that he’s never played more than even 125 games in a season as a professional, and that was all the way back in 2013. The ultimate risk/reward play in a tier of risk/reward picks.

Tier 4 

  • Alex Bregman – 89.41
  • Kris Bryant – 93.48
  • Anthony Rendon – 108.77
  • DJ LeMahieu – 111.52

Two years ago, the players in this tier numbered among the most valuable players in Fantasy, but there are real reasons to be concerned about any of them ever getting to that level again. I think they’re generally being drafted in the right order of upside, but I will add this caveat: I would move Bryant immediately into the top five at the position and the first five rounds of the overall rankings if he signs with the Rockies, who reportedly have a strong interest in signing him. I think Bryant could legitimately hit .290-.300 with terrific counting stats playing half his games in Coors Field. 

Tier 5

The two standouts in this tier are Turner followed by Urias, in my eyes, with a bit of a gap between them. Turner is not a safe bet for big counting stats due to injury and playing time concerns, but he continues to be one of the better hitters in baseball and is a fine fallback option at the position. Urias is much less of a sure thing, but I’ve always liked the bat-to-ball skills he’s shown in the minors, and he put them into play last season, hitting .261/.355/.473 with a 29-homer, 83-RBI, 99-run pace from June 1 on. It’s a good lineup and a great home park, and his multi-eligibility makes him a solid pickup whether you wait at third base or not.

I haven’t really drafted anyone else from this tier. I still have some hope that Moncada can bounce back/take a step forward, but the elite underlying skills that made me buy into his 2019 breakout just haven’t been there as consistently over the past few seasons. There’s also the oft-overlooked question of whether he’ll ever hit lefties well enough – he’s got a career .701 OPS against them with a strikeout rate north of 30% and little power. 

So, Hayes went out and hit .257/.316/.373 with a nine-homer, 14-steal pace as one of the more popular breakout candidates in the league last season and has seen his ADP drop from 132.2 a year ago all the way to … 139.7. That can’t be right. The bet on Hayes was that his mediocre minor-league production (including in the high-minors) was hiding potential that he flashed in 24 games at the end of 2020, but that’s not what we saw in 2021, and there’s not much in his underlying numbers to suggest it was bad luck. He did suffer a wrist injury early in the season that could help explain his struggles – and he’s still got that recent top prospect pedigree – but there just isn’t much in his track record to support this kind of price. 

McMahon is just a total afterthought. He’ll put up good enough numbers to be relevant as long as he calls Coors Field home, but I just don’t think he’ll ever be much more than a fringe corner infielder. I just don’t have any interest in drafting him. 

Tier 6

There’s some upside here, especially in the power department. Donaldson’s ADP is already on the rise and it wouldn’t surprise me to see him jump at least one tier now that he’s with the Yankees – though I’m not sure he’s actually a more appealing Fantasy option in New York than he was in Minnesota. It’s a better lineup, but the counting stat concerns are still there thanks to his age and injury history. But he’s a perfectly acceptable fallback option.

Suarez is slightly less acceptable now that he’s moving from Cincinnati to Seattle, so I expect he’ll remain in this range, as should Escobar, who just feels undervalued at this point: He hit .253 with 28 homers in 2021, two years after a 35-homer season. I’d rather have him than McMahon as my CI. 

Chapman is the most interesting pick of the bunch, especially if he gets traded away from Oakland. His past two seasons have been pretty disastrous, with strikeouts coming in alarming numbers without enough else to make up for it. I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt that last season was mostly a struggle due to his recovery from hip surgery, and I’m hopeful he’ll be better a full year removed from it; the lag in his defensive production suggests that the hip was, in fact, an issue. If he moves on from Oakland, I could see a return to the .250-plus average and 30-plus homer level we saw from him in 2019. If Chapman is right and ends up in the right place, there might be very little difference between him and Arenado. 

Tier 7

The late-round options aren’t terribly exciting. Urshela has shown he can be a solid all-around player, and his multi-eligibility is a plus, but there’s not a ton of upside here, especially with the negative park shift from New York to Minnesota. Toro’s chances of playing everyday took a hit with the Suarez trade, and I’m not sure his ceiling is much higher than “fringe CI.” 

If I’m picking from this group, Bohm is the most likely option for me. He was a disaster in 2021, as his plate discipline collapsed, but he hit the ball hard enough consistently enough that I still have some hope that he could be a swing change away from having a solid career. But he’s strictly a bench option for me. Candelario is a fine CI option if you wait for a long time. 

I’m not betting on a Biggio bounceback, because his collapse was pretty easy to see coming with a less bouncy ball. However, I don’t want to write him off entirely, because power/speed guys are always going to have value in category-based formats. However, he’s got a lot of work to do to prove last year was a fluke.