The sheriff is back in town, and he’ll be eligible at third base in about a week’s time. His name is Miguel Cabrera of the Tigers, and although he may not look pretty while manning the hot corner, he’s in a league by himself and Albert Pujols as a slugger.
Another high-profile player who will be new to third base this season, meaning he’s not eligible at third in your draft but will become eligible after the first five games he plays there, is Hanley Ramirez of the Marlins.
Cabrera, who came up as a third baseman, and Ramirez, a natural shortstop, provide oomph to a lineup of third basemen that has been weakened by defections to first base (Cabrera and Pujols being two prime examples.) But fortunately there’s still plenty of firepower at third base.
Plenty of experts are expecting Jose Bautista of the Blue Jays to fall to Earth this year, but I wouldn’t bet against Bautista, who is also eligible in the outfield. If I can grab Bautista to play third base and pick up two or three solid outfielders as well, my offense will be well set.
Ramirez belongs with the next level of fantasy third basemen, which also includes Evan Longoria of the Rays, Ryan Zimmerman of the Nationals and Adrian Beltre of the Rangers. Top-notch talent all around.
There’s a large gap to the next-best third sackers who close out my Top 10: David Wright of the Mets, Kevin Youkilis of the Red Sox, Michael Young of the Rangers and Alex Rodriguez of the Yankees. Age, injuries or both should be factors on draft day.
The addition of Cabrera and Ramirez effectively knocks Pablo Sandoval of the Giants and Brett Lawrie of the Blue Jays out of the Top 10. And there’s value to be found outside the Top 10.
The following players are my idea of value at third base. I’ve included their preseason ranking by CBSsports.com and stats from the 2011 season:
Brett Lawrie of the Blue Jays, No. 10
9 HRs, 25 RBI, .293 BA, 7 SB, .953 OPS
Lawrie made a good impression in his first 150 at-bats in the big leagues. Big things are expected this season as well, especially after a torrid spring. According to Blue Jays broadcaster Buck Martinez, who once roomed with the great George Brett, Lawrie “runs and plays with the same kind of intensity that George did. And that’s as high a compliment as I can pay any player.” Wow.
David Freese of the Cardinals, No. 17
10 HRs, 55 RBI, .297 BA, 1 SB, .791 OPS
Freese, who played 97 games last season, has had his share of injuries. But I see a star on the horizon who will show everyone that his 2011 postseason was no fluke. He’ll bat fourth or fifth in a Cardinals lineup that is out to prove that they haven’t gone out of business since Pujols left for the West Coast.
Danny Valencia of the Twins, No. 24
15 HRs, 72 RBI .246 BA, 2 SB, .677 OPS
Valencia’s 2011 season was a disappointment considering his outstanding start in 2010, but he’s got plenty of talent for a bounce-back year. He’s been the Twins’ top hitter this spring.
These guys can really help you at second base: Third basemen Ryan Roberts of the Diamond Backs and Daniel Murphy are both eligible at second. While I feel I need to get more everyday production at one of the corner infield positions, I could do a lot worse than having either Roberts or Murphy as my second baseman if that’s the way the draft goes.
Keep an eye on: Mark Trumbo of the Angels and Casey McGehee of the Pirates. The Angels love Trumbo’s bat, and that’s why he’s being given the opportunity to win the third-base job. McGehee is in Pittsburgh this season, penciled in as the right-handed bat in a platoon at first base with Garrett Jones. This is a battle McGehee can win. If he gets the full-time job, he can produce enough offense to contribute as a corner infielder.
I like their upside: Brent Morel of the White Sox and Todd Frazier of the Reds. Morel is a decent all-around hitter who is entering his third season. He’s got to be more selective at the plate and increase his amount of walks. Frazier, who will fill in at third base, first base and the outfield, has pop in his bat, but it’s a question of how many at-bats he gets. Manager Dusty Baker has little patience for players trying to break into the lineup. He prefers to play his veterans until he’s convinced they can’t play anymore.
This is the sixth of eight fantasy baseball reports concerning best market value for each position. Check back for the next edition: shortstops.