Rays Evan Longoria: Top-5 Fantasy 3B in 2017?

Evan Longoria is a fantasy mainstay for the Rays, and has been extremely consistent over the last few seasons. Can fantasy owners now confidently make him top-5 3B selection again in 2017?

The “face of the franchise” is a term that is thrown around a lot in sports as it is common to try to link one player with one team. Evan Longoria not only is the face for the Rays, but he will undoubtedly go down as one of the best players that ever wears their uniform.

With that said, Longo has been on the fantasy radar since 2008 when he debuted for the Devil Rays. For a majority of his career he has provided quality fantasy value, but not without his fair share of nicks and bruises along the way. For awhile, that was the only knock on Longo, but he has bucked that label as of late.

He played in 160 games last season, which marked the fourth straight season he has been able to do so. Playing in that sheer number of games will certainly boost his stats, but he still had to show up and produce. He finished the 2016 season with a .273/36 HR/98 RBI/81 R/.840 OPS line.

The HR were a career high, and his 98 RBI is his highest output since 2011. He posted 41 2B, his highest since 2010, and his 173 H were another career high. It was his best all-around season over the last handful of years, and one that fantasy owners were blessed with as Longo is usually a player that falls into owner’s lap.

But, could his tremendous 2016 performance now have him in the top-5 3B consideration again? The short answer is, yes. Third base is a deep position, but there are four elite options. Nolan Arenado, Kris Bryant, Manny Machado, and Josh Donaldson. Those four are locked in, but that fifth spot is interesting. Adrian Beltre, or someone like Kyle Seager could challenge for that spot, but Longo’s 2016 can catapult him there as well.

When owners select Longo they know they are not banking on a breakout performance, but rather another typical season. He has not posted less than 17 HR per season during his entire career, and he will shockingly only be 31-years-old entering next season.

He raised his HR output by 15 in 2016, so owners will clearly have to try to find where that uptick stemmed from. His batted ball data was nearly identical to his 22 HR performance in 2015, except for in two key areas. He raised his FB rate by over 6% to a 46.8% clip, and his 36.3% Hard contact rate was the highest in three years. He simply just hit the ball harder and more in the air than in years prior.

Looking at his home run tracker, the added loft to his swing certainly helped. He averaged over 407 ft. per HR, which is even more impressive knowing he did that while posting a career high mark. The small adjustment in his swing allowed him to get to fastballs better, and he was able to drive the ball again.

In order to stick in the top-5, Longo will have to post close to a 30 HR/100 RBI line in 2017. His AVG has fluctuated, but he should have no issues sitting in the .260-.275 range. The Rays are not an offensive juggernaut, but if Longo bats third, both Logan Forsythe and Kevin Kiermaier should help him reach 100 RBI if they stay healthy.

When it comes to safety and durability at third base, Longo is one the standard bearers over the last handful of seasons. For those owners that want upside, there may be better options at the position. But, with his floor and recent swing adjustment, there is no reason to allow Longoria to fall past being one of the top third basemen taken in 2017.