It’s underrated, overrated and sleeper third basemen today in the Strike Zone. I’ll be looking at shortstops on Thursday and then a lengthier outfield column next week.
Anthony Rendon (Nationals): Usually there’s someone in my top five at a position that I can term underrated, but that isn’t the case with third base this year. So, let’s start with my No. 6. Rendon is currently sporting an ADP of 98 at Yahoo, while I have him 72nd in my top 300. Rendon is an injury-prone player coming off a completely healthy season, which is typically a recipe for being overrated. Rendon, though, can improve on his 2016 numbers if he can stay off the DL again. He rarely swings and misses and his average exit velocity was in the 90th percentile of major league regulars last year. I think there’s a good chance he ups his average some this year, and while I’m not projecting a 25- or 28-homer campaign, I wouldn’t rule it out.
Miguel Sano (Twins): The next big thing after coming up in 2015 and hitting 18 homers with a .385 OBP in 279 at-bats, Sano had a 2016 that included a terribly misguided position change, multiple injuries and some ugly slumps. Now he’s back at his natural position and seemingly healthy. As disappointing as his 2016 was, he did finish with 25 homers in 437 at-bats. His exit velocity ranked 13th in the majors among regulars. His strikeout rate remained terrible, but his contact numbers showed improvement from where he was as a rookie. Sano figures to keep striking out too much to hit for average, but he’s going to hit 30 homers and could approach 40. I have him ranked 77th, which is 65 spots higher than his ADP at Yahoo.
Maikel Franco (Phillies): Bigger things were expected from Franco last year after his impressive half-season as a rookie, but a .271 BABIP held him back and he didn’t get much help from his teammates in finishing with just 67 runs scored (25 of which came on his own home runs). Franco is the rare young power hitter who doesn’t strike out overly much (his K rate was 15 percent lower than the league average last year), and he’s bound to get more help from his teammates this year after the Phillies upgraded both corner outfield spots. Last year, he was drafted as a top-seven third baseman after a big spring. This year, he’s 13th off the board in Yahoo leagues, going 160th overall. I give him more credit than that; I think he’ll up his average enough to finish in the top 10 at the position, so I have him 106th overall.
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Josh Donaldson (Blue Jays): I don’t have much of a problem with how any of the top five third basemen are being valued, but I do think Donaldson should go a few spots later than his current ADP of 10; I place him 16th in my top 300. The middle of the Blue Jays lineup just doesn’t look as imposing with Edwin Encarnacion gone and Jose Bautista another year older, and I can’t imagine Donaldson scoring 122 runs for the third year in a row. He also started taking a bunch more walks last year, and while that’s not a bad thing for Toronto, it does cost him some RBI opportunities. I’m not projecting a whole lot of decline for Donaldson the player, but as a fantasy property, he’s most likely peaked.
Adrian Beltre (Rangers): Maybe Beltre is ageless; at 36, he finished with his most homers (32) since 2012 and most RBI (104) since 2011. He’s hit .300 four of the last five years after doing so just twice in his first 14 seasons. Still, there wouldn’t seem to be anywhere to go but down after such a campaign. The strained calf he suffered at the beginning of the spring is one hint of age possibly taking a toll (he’s been on the DL two of the last three seasons after landing there in just two the previous 11 seasons). He’s still a safe enough bet to hit .280+ with 20-25 homers, but that puts him 90th in my top 300. He’s going 62nd at Yahoo.
Evan Longoria (Rays): Longoria had a nice comeback season in 2016, hitting 36 homers after finishing at 22 and 21 the previous two seasons. A conscious decision to become more of a flyball hitter pushed his slugging percentage back over .500 for the first time since a half-season in 2012 (and the first time in a full season since 2010). However, even with those 36 homers, Longoria couldn’t crack the 100-RBI barrier, finishing at 98. He also scored a modest 81 runs. His teammates aren’t great, his ballpark is really tough on right-handed power and he’s swinging and missing more now that he’s going for those flyballs and extra-base hits. I’m skeptical that he’ll finish as a top-10 third baseman again, and I have him 60 spots lower than his ADP of 84 in Yahoo.
Ryon Healy (Athletics): A rather unheralded prospect a year ago, Healy found home run power and bashed his way to the majors last season, finishing up at .305/.337/.524 in 269 at-bats for Oakland. His play at third base was less inspiring, so he’ll mostly be a DH and first baseman this year. He’s expected to be a lineup fixture, though, and he’d seem to be Oakland’s best option to hit third. Granted, that’s still not going to lead to huge run and RBI numbers, but he should be solid enough in both if he keeps driving the ball. I have him at .279 with 23 homers, which makes him my No. 11 third baseman. He’s going off the board 15th in Yahoo.
Nick Castellanos (Tigers): Castellanos got some mixed-league sleeper hype last year and fulfilled it by hitting .302/.342/.534 with 17 homers in the first half of the season. He then slumped some and missed most of the final two months with a fractured hand, but he still finished with an .827 OPS. So, I find it odd that he’s getting no hype at all this time around. In fact, he’s not even among the first 20 third basemen getting drafted in Yahoo, and he’s sporting an ADP of 248 in leagues in which he is picked. I place him 16th at the position, and I might move him up if the Tigers follow through with the idea of batting him second. That’s not where he belongs, considering he’s had just one decent OBP in his career and he’s a not a very good baserunner, but that extra at-bat every other game would give him additional fantasy value. Even if he’s back hitting sixth or seventh, he’ll do enough in average and the power categories to help some in mixed leagues.
Jung-Ho Kang (Pirates): Frankly, I’d rather see Kang serving significant jail time after his third DUI arrest than playing major league baseball for the Pirates this season. That’s not the way the world works, though, and since Kang got a suspended sentence in his native South Korea, it’s possible he’ll be in Pittsburgh’s Opening Day lineup, depending on whether he can get a work visa in time. Kang is a pretty great baseball player, which is why the Pirates haven’t cut ties with him like they would have with someone less talented, and he’s currently available at bargain-basement prices because of his status. He’s being drafted in just 43 percent of Yahoo leagues, but he’s a top-15 and maybe top-10 third baseman while in the lineup.
Danny Valencia (Mariners): The Mariners are hoping that Dan Vogelbach can serve as their first baseman against right-handers this year, but any sort of slow start from him could lead to Valencia, who is currently slated to start against lefties, landing the full-time gig. Valencia has hit .288 with 35 homers in 816 at-bats over the last two years, giving him a 126 OPS+ that’s a match for what Chris Davis, Nolan Arenado and Kyle Seager have posted over the same span. Now, that’s probably an oversell, especially since Valencia didn’t play full-time in 2015 and didn’t hit righties particularly well last year. Still, the bat has to be taken seriously, and while his glove was quite the issue at third base and in the outfield, he might be a better first baseman than Vogelbach. He offers considerable upside for someone who will be cheap due to the playing-time questions.