Opening Day is quickly approaching, and we’ve got some updated fantasy baseball rankings here at Rotoballer. The 2020 season will be unusually uncertain, with even minor injuries potentially forcing players to miss significant portions of the season and a short season creating small samples of key stats.
Certainty should be a little easier to find at third base than other positions, though, as the hot corner is exceptionally strong this year. Even the third tier of third basemen are projected to hit .273 with 27 home runs on average, underscoring the depth of the position.
The top end of the position isn’t anything to scoff at, either, with multiple players having the potential to post an OPS near 1.000 this year. With that in mind, here’s a detailed look at third base this year.Editor's Note: Love the strategy of season-long fantasy sports? Live for the short term gratification of DFS? Try Weekly Fantasy Sports on OwnersBox - a new weekly DFS platform. Sign up today for a FREE $50 Deposit Match. Offer expires Thursday night! Sign Up Now!
Updated Third Base (3B) Rankings - 5x5 Mixed Leagues
|9||3||Vladimir Guerrero Jr.||3B||99||57||35||52||73|
|32||6||Tommy La Stella||2B/3B||250||302||277||265||258|
Tier one for third base is mostly populated by clear-cut superstars with multiple seasons of sustained elite production, with Rafael Devers being the lone exception. That’s not to say that Devers doesn’t belong, though; career-highs in his o-contact rate (71.9%) and average exit velocity (92.4 mph) helped fuel a breakout 2019 season for Devers that saw him post a .916 OPS and lead the league in total bases. Devers’s .339 BABIP gives me some pause, as does banking on him to replicate all of his gains from last season. But Devers certainly has achievable tier-one upside, and he should be able to replicate most of last season’s performance at least.
Alex Bregman may scare some fantasy owners off with his .040 wOBA - xwOBA and largely unsupported 3.4 point bump in his HR/FB ratio from last season, but he’s still an elite option at third base. Bregman boasts arguably the best plate approach in baseball, with his K:BB sitting at a minuscule 0.70 last season -- by far the best mark in the league. Combined with Bregman’s solid contact quality (27% line drive rate, 89.3 mph average exit velocity), Bregman’s elite plate approach allows him to post an OPS north of .920 in each of the past two seasons, and he’s a relatively safe bet to do so again this year.
Ramirez, Arenado, and Rendon are all highly productive every year. Ramirez is the only one of the group to have posted an OPS below .900 since 2016, but even in his relative down year last season he had a 20 home run, 20 steal season while posting a .806 OPS. Redon is questionable for Opening Day with an oblique strain that could hit his value this season, but as long as he’s healthy he’s a clean fit in tier one.
Tier two third basemen are generally good players who mostly have tier one ceilings but lower floors and higher performance uncertainty. Manny Machado had a down year last season with a .796 OPS, but he had a red-hot summer that saw him slash .293/.357/.568 from May through July. Plus, Macahdo still managed to post a 91.2 mph average exit velocity and saw his strikeout rate jump five points to 19.4% last season despite no significant increase in his swinging-strike rate (though his called-strike rate was unusually high). Machado is likely to see his OPS bounce back up over .800 this season, and he’s only a season removed from a .905 OPS, giving him a solid floor and a high ceiling.
Eugenio Suarez enjoyed a breakout season last year with a .930 OPS, but it wasn’t all great. Suarez’s strikeout rate jumped up to 28.6% with a career-worst 73.1% contact rate, and although his strikeout rate is likely to fall somewhat this year, his 11.9% swinging-strike rate isn’t particularly encouraging. Still, what Suarez lost in strikeouts he more than gained in contact quality, posting a career-high 14% barrel rate and .465 xwOBA on contact that ranked 15th in the MLB. Suarez probably won’t post an OPS above .900 again this season, but it’s unlikely to dip below .830.
Kris Bryant has the highest floor among tier two third basemen, as an injury-marred 2018 season is the only time that Bryant’s OPS has fallen below .900 since 2015. That being said, Bryant posted an unusually high .032 wOBA - xwOBA last season, and his .397 xwOBA on contact was the worst mark of his career. Bryant is likely to post an OPS somewhere between .850 and .900 this year, giving him tier-one certainty with less upside.
The third tier of third basemen has two of my favorite draft values in Josh Donaldson and Justin Turner. Both players have an OPS above .900 for the past three seasons, neither are high strikeout risks, and both are batting in what should be top-five lineups this season. Injuries are a risk for Turner as he’s missed at least 25 games in each of the past three seasons, but the short season and Turner’s potential play at DH help mitigate those concerns this year.
The rest of tier three isn’t bad either. Vladimir Guerrero Jr and Yoan Moncada each have tier one potential, and although Moncada has the higher floor after posting a .915 OPS last season thanks in part to a career-best 27.6% strikeout rate, Guerrero may ultimately have a higher ceiling. Not to be forgotten, Jeff McNeil also boasts impressive upside after hitting .318 with a .916 OPS last season.
Matt Chapman, Max Muncy, DJ LeMahieu, and Mike Moustakas are all varying degrees of consistently productive, but all are safe bets for an OPS above .800 this year, and all of them have a shot at .900. As a result, tier three as a whole is dominant from a value perspective. Take a look at the average projections of each third base tier for this season:
Fantasy owners are likely better off skipping tier two third baseman in favor of other positions at those draft picks and should wait to draft a third baseman in tier three, even if tier-three players tend to be slightly riskier or have slightly lower ceilings.
Eduardo Escobar headlines what is still a decent fourth tier for third base. Escobar has posted a .828 OPS over the past two seasons, and he posted career-highs in average exit velocity (87.7 mph) and home runs (35) last year. For fantasy owners looking for more all-around power in tier four, Miguel Sano has only posted a home run rate below 5% once since joining the Twins in 2015, and his 7.7% mark from last season had him on pace for 52 home runs over a full season. Sano is almost a caricature of a power hitter, combining elite power metrics with poor plate discipline and contact skills.
Sano’s contact quality is strong enough to keep his OPS above .800, so he’s a solid fantasy option for fantasy owners looking for power despite his high strikeout rate that consistently tops 35%. More contact-focused fantasy owners could opt for Yuli Gurriel in tier four.
Gurriel hasn’t posted a strikeout rate above 11% since joining the Astros in 2016, and although last season’s .884 OPS probably isn’t sustainable given that his HR/FB ratio doubled from 2018 to 2019 without any apparent underlying changes in his batted ball quality, Gurriel should post an OPS comfortably over .750 this year. I’m a little lower on Danny Santana than the rankings, but his power breakout seems real and sustainable, making an OPS above .800 is within reach this season.
Hunter Dozier was a popular breakout candidate last season, and despite actually breaking out with a .870 OPS, he’s down in the fifth tier of third basemen, highlighting the position’s extraordinary depth. Similarly, JD Davis slashed an impressive .307/.369/.527 last year, and although his and Dozier’s performance may dip somewhat with OPSes closer to .800 this season, they represent additional reasons to wait on third basemen in drafts this year.
Ryan McMahon is a popular breakout candidate this year after seeing a power surge last year with a 91.2 mph average exit velocity and a 47.4% hard-hit rate. McMahon’s 30% strikeout rate and similarly high 14.7% swinging-strike rate are far from ideal, but impressive power at Coors Field should allow McMahon to post an OPS above .750 this year.
Tiers Six And Below
Gio Urshela has fended off Miguel Andujar for the starting third base job with the Yankees so far, and he’s an excellent late-round value pick as long as he holds onto the position. Urshela erupted last year with a 90.5 mph average exit velocity, a 40.9% hard-hit rate, and a .408 xwOBA on contact, all of which were career highs by far. Even if Urshela can’t maintain all of his gains from last season, he’s likely to be a solid fantasy option at third base this year, and his OPS shouldn’t fall below .750 for the year.
Yandy Diaz is another of my favorite value picks this season. Diaz has the power (91.7 mph average exit velocity, 97 mph on fly balls and line drives last year), plate discipline (25.3% o-swing rate, 72.6% z-swing rate), and contact skills (9.3% swinging-strike rate) to post an OPS around .850, and his floor also likely sits somewhere around .750. Diaz may never hit enough fly balls to get his OPS above .900, but he doesn’t have to at his 241 ADP.