If you’ve got the top pick in your draft, you can go ahead and draft Miguel Cabrera and skip this. That’s reasonable and fine. Miggy’s a fantasy god who swings a trident instead and wears a laurel wreath helmet. He’s a smiling, beneficent creature that only works his true wrath on baseballs that displease him.
If you’re still here then you either don’t have the first pick in the draft or realize fantasy baseball requires depth or you just want to be. Those are all fine reasons. The players listed here aren’t world beaters, they’re depth. And third base has more depth than it’s had in years. It’s not just Miggy, Evan Longoria, and Adrian Beltre setting the pace, you’ve got Manny Machado, Kyle Seager, and Pedro Alvarez providing solid fantasy production from later rounds. Because of that, the guys below will be available in most standard leagues.
Before we get to the rankings, a friendly reminder that this list for fantasy baseball in 2014. No other years.
1. Nick Castellanos, 3B/LF — Detroit Tigers (AAA: .276/.343/.450 in 595 PAs | MLB: .278/.278/.278 in 18 PAs)
I’m blown away that Miguel Cabrera has played third the past two years. He’s the best hitter in the world but he moves like scientists replaced his bones with mercury. The best Tigers lineup has a healthy Miggy, and a healthy Miggy is a first basemen or a DH. The Tigers have finally realized this, and dealt Prince Fielder to the Rangers for Ian Kinsler, creating an opening at third. Enter young Mr. Castellanos, who just had his third straight year where his strikeouts went down and his homers went up. The 18 dingers in 2013 are more than he hit the previous two years combined, and his home park in Toledo was the worst hitting environment in the International League. Just turning 21, Catellanos is living up to the hype completely, yet is somewhat under the radar still. Given how well he handled the transition to Triple-A at 20, I think he’ll be fine in the bigs next year.
Draft Advice: His bat will play immediately, though you can wait to get him due to the depth at third. He’s a good option after the 20th round in standard 12 team, 5X5 formats.
2. Mike Olt — Chicago Cubs (AA/AAA: .201/.303/.381 in 432 PAs)
Mike Olt was bad last year. I wrote those numbers next to his name up there, so if you didn’t read them yet you should go back and look at them. They’re all bad. Jose Iglesias or Andrelton Simmons could post that line and be playable. That’s about it. But there was a reason why — Olt was hit in the head by a pitch in the Domincan Winter League last November, and suffered through vision problems all season long. Though he’s confident he’s sorted out his vision, we still need to see him hit again before we can say he’s fine. The good news for Olt is there’s no one penciled in as the Cubs third baseman now, and he has the inside track at the starting job. He’s a starter in twelve team leagues if the player who hit .298/.398/.579 with 28 home runs for Double-A Frisco in 2012 is back. I don’t know exactly what to expect from Olt next year. Frankly, no one can say they do. He could hit .270 with 20 home runs in the bigs or .195 in Triple-A. I think that, outside of Castellanos, he’s got the highest 2014 fantasy ceiling and the best opportunity to reach it.
Draft Advice: Again, the range here is huge. If his vision is 100 percent and he wins the Cubs’ job then try to grab him late — similar to where you’d take Castellanos.
3. Matt Davidson — Arizona Diamondbacks (AAA: .280/.350/.481 in 500 PAs | MLB: .237/.333/.434 in 87 PAs)
You can argue the order for players three and four. Arguing would be a bit unnecessary, though. We’re all adults here, and can discuss this civilly. But the point is that these two players are similarly ranked, because neither of them have definite roles in 2014 just yet. Davidson is ready for an extended MLB look, but the issue will be finding him a position. Martin Prado and Aaron Hill are on long term deals and are productive, but I think Arizona will find a way to get Davidson 400 PAs next year. And in those 400 PAs he’ll probably hit 12-15 home runs, drive in 50ish and strike out 110 times while hitting in the .230s. Those aren’t starter numbers, but he’s useful in deep leagues.
Draft Advice: Davidson’s waiver wire fodder in standard leagues.
4. Maikel Franco — Philadelphia Phillies (A+/AA: .320/.356/.569 in 581 PAs)
The Phillies don’t usually start rookies. They like their players old and veterany. Cody Asche displacing Michael Young at third last year was nuts. Michael Young is off the charts veterany, but it happened. So will Franco displace Asche this year? It doesn’t seem likely to me, but a platoon between the two of them with Asche playing some outfield and Franco playing some first does. That scenario would give a slight bump to Franco’s value, as he wouldn’t have to face lefties nearly as often. There’s also a good chance he starts the year in Triple-A and doesn’t get called up until after the All Star Break. Franco broke out completely last year, crushing 31 homers and not missing a beat after his promotion to Double-A. Though he doesn’t walk much, he keeps his strikeouts in check, so he should be able to hit for average at the major league level, if not immediately.
Draft Advice: Franco has a higher ceiling than Davidson but is less likely to get at bats this year. If, during spring training, their are rumblings from Philadelphia that Franco’s breaking camp with the big league club, use a late round pick on him.
5. Miguel Sano — Minnesota Twins (A+/AA: .280/.382/.610 in 519 PAs)
When Sano has a full time job in Minnesota he’ll be a top five fantasy third basemen. He hit 35 homers in 123 games last year, and handled the transition to Double-A marvelously. His strikeout rate shot up and his average fell nearly 100 points after his promotion, but the power came along. I don’t think he’ll get enough playing time to be terribly relevant fantasy-wise this year, but Trevor Plouffe isn’t blocking anyone. If the perfect storm of the Twins being playoff contenders and Sano destroys Double-A for two months and Trevor Plouffe continues Plouffing along, then he could be up around the All-Star Break. That’s unlikely, but possible. And if Sano’s in the show you’re gonna want those taters.
Draft Advice: Sano shouldn’t be drafted, but monitored closely.
The Last Cut: Garin Cecchini — Boston Red Sox
Cecchini had a huge breakout last year, hitting for average, stealing 23 bags and walking more than he struck out. If Will Middlebrooks is hitting around the Mendoza Line in June, Garin could get the call to take over at third. He has an approach at the plate that the Red Sox value, and the jump to Double-A wasn’t a problem for him. He’ll probably only hit 15 home runs at his peak, but his other fantasy skills are there, especially if you’re in an OBP league.