The pool of third basemen is likely the deepest among the infield positions. The top 10 is loaded with talent and the top five are interchangeable.
There’s no doubt that the third basemen listed here are the best hitters in the game. There were 11 third basemen that finished with at least 20 home runs and four hit at least 30. Two of the top five power hitters are on this list. If you are looking for a 30-40 home run hitter, you are likely looking at this position. I look at my top five and think that any one of them can finish the season as the No. 1 third baseman. There’s a lot of depth at the top, unlike some of the other positions.
I use a couple of different of criteria when developing my rankings. I look at their 2015 performance, where they finished on the Player Rater, their career performance and if this past season was an outlier, their surroundings (lineup support) and where I think they project this season. Some of it may be subjective, especially the projections, but I try to keep it in line with other fantasy sites.
The stats I use for the projections are runs, home runs, RBI, steals and batting average. I know there are leagues that use OBP or OPS instead of average, but they are in the minority. I will keep it for the majority that use ESPN standard five categories. I do factor in hits though because it more or less affects average (or OBP).
Without further ado, here are my top-10 third basemen heading into the 2016 season.
Next: No. 10: Matt Duffy
I wrote about Matt Duffy‘s 2016 projections here. He finished at the No. 7 third baseman on the Player Rater and second in the National League MVP voting. He 169 hits (28 2B, six 3B, 12 HR), 77 RBI and a .295 average with 12 stolen bases.
He had second base eligibility last season, but because he didn’t meet the 20-game minimum, he will be only eligible at third. While that isn’t a bad thing, it does hurt his value a bit. I love having players with multi-position eligibility. It gives you the opportunity to move some players around on the slow days or if you have injuries. It also gives you the chance to have two top-10 players at the same position.
I would have liked him a lot more if I was able to play him at second. But because third base features a better group of players, he drops a little. I do expect a drop in the power performance, but an increase in speed. I see him hitting 10 home runs and stealing 15 bases.
Next: No. 9: Matt Carpenter
Matt Carpenter‘s power numbers exploded last season. In over 1,500 at bats in his first four seasons, he hit 25 home runs. In 574 t bats last season, he hit 28 home runs with 84 RBI and a .272/.365/.505 line. He was the sixth-best third baseman at the end of last year.
Between 2013 and 2014, Carpenter was a high-contact hitter. He had 361 hits and a .296 average. He averaged a 14.7 strikeout percentage and 89.4 contact rate. His power development sacrificed a lot of those stats. Carpenter had a 22.7 strikeout and 80.1 contact rate last season. His 7.7 swinging strike percentage was 4.4 percent more than last season.
He was able to keep his walk rate above 10 percent and ground ball rate decreased by 11.3 percent. He is still a patient hitter, but the results of the batted ball changed a lot from 2014 to 2015.
While I would love to have his power on my team, his low batting average and high strikeout rate drops him in my rankings. However, I don’t think he’ll hit close to 30 home runs again. I predict a 23 HR/.270 season from Carpenter. The St. Louis Cardinals lineup is not what it used to be and any major injuries will make things a lot worse.
Next: No. 8: Daniel Murphy
I feel like I’ve written about Daniel Murphy more than any other player so far this offseason. I wrote about the fallout from his signing with the Washington Nationals. I wrote about him in my second basemen rankings (No. 11) and now he’s here. So, I’m not sure how much more I can write.
He will be the Nationals starting second baseman, but has third base eligibility from his time with the New York Mets. Murphy joins a more solid lineup and will still hit double-digit home runs and .280. He doesn’t strike out a lot, 7.1 strikeout rate. He is still a top-10 third basemen entering his age-31 season.
If you want more analysis, check out this article.
Next: No. 7: Kyle Seager
Kyle Seager has seen an increase in his production with the additions of Nelson Cruz and Robinson Cano. He hit 20 home runs and .259 in 2012 and 22 HR/.260 in 2013. Cruz joined in 2014 and Seager hit 25/.268. Cano joined in 2015 and he hit 26/.266. He played in at least 159 games in each of the last three seasons.
I wrote about Seager as a potential top-five third baseman here. He had career highs in runs, hits, doubles and home runs. He kept his walk rate roughly the same and lowered his strikeout rate by 3.7 percent. His ground ball rate dropped a little, but so did his fly ball rate.
Seager hit behind Cruz and Cano in the first half. He hit 12 homers, 39 RBI and .269 in 88 games. He moved to No. 2 in the batting order, and hit 14 homers, 35 RBI and .264 in 73 games. This proves that Seager can have consistent production in any spot in the lineup.
Seager may not be the star the top five third basemen are, but he is a solid hitter with 30 home run potential. He will help you all across the board, yes even with steals.
Next: No. 6: Adrian Beltre
The ageless wonder, Adrian Beltre continues to be a fantasy star. He’s been in the league since 1998 and will be entering his 19th season. Last year was a bit of a drop off, though. He played 143 games, the fewest since 2011, and hit 18 home runs, 83 RBI and .287. His 18 homers were the fewest since his injury-shortened 2009 season. Beltre finished as the ninth-best third baseman.
Beltre is a power hitter, but he is also a patient hitter. He had a 10.5 strikeout rate and 7.6 swinging strike percentage. He swung at 36.3 percent of the pitches out of the strikeout (O-Swing rate), which is a little above his career average.
Between 2014 and 2015, he lost 37 points in his batting average and one home run in five fewer games. He was, however, able to keep his line drive, ground ball and fly ball rates around the same, give or take a percentage point. He was able to spread the ball all over the field, which I think helps him reach over 160 hits in each of the last four seasons.
Beltre is a part of a dangerous Texas Rangers lineup. Beltre, Prince Fielder, Shin-Soo Choo, Mitch Moreland and others can all hit double-digit home runs. He should get back to 20 home runs with a .285 batting average.
Next: No. 5: Todd Frazier
After spending five years with the Cincinnati Reds, Todd Frazier will be playing with the Chicago White Sox for the 2016 season. I wrote a way-too-early projection for Frazier as a top-10 player this season. It was just six weeks into the 2015 season, when he had 12 home runs, 23 RBI, six stolen bases and only 27 strikeouts with a .250/.346/.564 in just 37 games. At the end of the season, he was the fifth-best third baseman, but not a top-10 pick this season.
He played in 157 (tied for career high) and hit 35 home runs (career high), 89 RBI (career high) and .255 with 13 steals. He had a 0.32 BB/K ratio, down from his 0.37 BB/K ratio in 2014. He did struggle in the second half, hitting 10 home runs, 32 RBI and .220 in 72 games.
My colleague, Brad Kelly wrote about Frazier and his move to Chicago here. He wrote about the decline in the second and what the reason could be. He says it’s either his participation in the Home Run Derby or regression came into play and Frazier was back to being an average power hitter.
The move to U.S. Cellular Field is not a plus or minus to his fantasy value. The stadium offers a short left-field fence that should help his power numbers. He also gets a boost by hitting either in front or behind Jose Abreu. I think he’ll be a top-five third baseman again this season.
Next: No. 4: Kris Bryant
The Chicago Cubs promoted a lot of young stars throughout the 2015 season, with Kris Bryant being one of them. He was called up on April 17 and played in 151 games. He hit 26 home runs, 99 RBI and .275 with 13 steals. He was a 12th-round pick as the 11 third baseman drafted. He finished as the No. 4 third baseman on the Player Rater.
I, along with many other fantasy owners, temper expectations when drafting a rookie. The minor league numbers may be great, but that usually doesn’t translate well to the majors. The power numbers were good, but he needs to improve his plate discipline in his second year. He had a 30.6 strikeout rate, 30.6 O-Swing rate and 75.8 contact percentage. He did have a 45.2 fly ball rate and 15.8 HR/FB rate.
I don’t think he will have a .378 BABIP again, so he will need to make better contact this year in order to maintain his .275 batting average.
The Cubs have one of the best offenses in the league, and the emergence of Bryant is a big part of that. I think his batting average is a little too low for him to finish as the No. 1 guy, but he has the bat to be in the top five for years to come.
Next: No. 3: Nolan Arenado
After two years of mediocre success, Nolan Arenado exploded onto the fantasy baseball scene. He played in 157 games and hit 42 home runs, 130 RBI and .287/.323/.575. He was the No. 3 third baseman, finishing behind the two players left on this list. He hit 28 home runs in his first two seasons combined, so can he maintain this power surge this season?
The simple answer is yes.
While his strikeout rate increased by four percent, normal for hitters with high power numbers, it’s still a reasonable percentage, 16.5 percent. He made good contact with the ball, 80.2 contact rate. He lowered his ground ball rate and rose his fly ball rate. The decrease in infield fly ball rate proved that his batted balls were going further more often.
Hitting as Coors Field, a notorious hitter-friendly park, gives Arenado a boost in his value. He had 98 hits, 20 home runs, 74 RBI and .316 in 78 home games.
Arenado lowered his ground ball rate and, obviously, increased his fly ball and HR/FB rates. He is a four-category hitter, with steals being the stat he lacks. However, in this position and the numbers he provides you elsewhere, you don’t need it. He is a first-round pick in a loaded third baseman pool.
Next: No. 2: Manny Machado
Manny Machado finally broke through as a top-10 hitter after years of average numbers. He entered the league in 2012 as a highly praised prospect. He played in 51 games and hit seven home runs, 26 RBI and .262. He spent 2013 and 2014 as a middle-of-the-road third baseman. Then, last season happened.
He played in all 162 games, hitting 35 home runs, 86 RBI and .286 with 20 steals. We all knew about the power potential, but the steals came out of nowhere. He had 10 in his previous three seasons. He was only one of two batters with 30 homers an 20 steals.
Machado had a 15.6 strikeout and 9.8 walk rate. His patience showed with his 6.8 swinging strike percentage and 25.7 O-Swing rate. His ground ball rate is still over 40 percent, but his fly ball rate went up about eight percent. He does need to work on his infield fly ball rate, up 1.6 percent from 2014. He made great contact with the ball, 83.7 combined medium and hard hit rates.
The Orioles have the second most-dangerous lineup in the American League East. With Adam Jones, the return of Chris Davis and signing of Pedro Alvarez gives Machado great protection in the lineup. I don’t expect a repeat performance in steals, but 28 home runs, 15 steals and .290 average makes Machado a five-category hitter.
Next: No. 1: Josh Donaldson
Josh Donaldson is the clear-cut No. 1 third baseman in 2016. In his first season with the Toronto Blue Jays, Donaldson posted career highs all across the board. I wrote about him being the top third baseman back in November, posted here. He played in 158 games, hitting 41 home runs, 123 RBI and .297.
He was good with the Oakland Athletics, but exploded with Toronto. He kept his strikeout and walk rates around the same, but it was his contact that improved with the move. While his fly ball rate dropped 3.2 percent, his HR/FB rate rose by 7.2 percent to 21.8 percent. The move to the Rogers Centre definitely helped the HR/FB rate.
I think the Blue Jays have the best lineup in the AL East an quite possibly the American League. They led the league in runs, home runs, RBI, and slugging percentage. Donaldson, Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista make a dangerous trio for pitchers to face.
I don’t expect another 40-home run, 120-run, 120-RBI season. However, he will still be the No. 1 first baseman at the end of the season. I project something along the lines of 34 home runs, 96 runs, 108 RBI with a .275 average.
Next: Wrap Up
There are my top-10 third basemen of 2016. While most of the hitters on the list were predictable, it was very difficult to decie where they all go.
The top five, and even top 10, is very deep. Most of the names can be moved around and the list will still look good. The top three are potential first-round picks.
I would love to have any of these third basemen on my team. The third base position features some of the best power hitters in the league. Donaldson, Machado and Arenado have 40-home run potential. Four more can hit 30 and the rest can hit 20.
I am keeping an eye on Bryant in his second season. The Cubs are the National League favorites to make it to the World Series. Most of that rests on the bat of Bryant and others. Another name to keep an eye on is Arenado. Will he post another 40-home run season or what last season a fluke? I don’t think he’ll reach 40, but I also wouldn’t be surprised if it happens again.
How do you feel about my top 10 third basemen? Did I put someone too high? Too low? Let me know in the comments.
The next position I rank will be outfielders, starting with those ranked 21 to 50.