2016 Positional Power Rankings: Third Base

It’s that time of year again, everyone. Read the introductory post detailing what this is all about if this is your first rodeo. If this is not your first rodeo, welcome back! Here’s a graph of projected WAR for third basemen this year — you’ll note that there are no teams with negative WAR, which makes me feel like I’ve won some sort of Positional Power Rankings lottery.


Now, onto the ranks of the hot corner, and the listing of a legion of men who field bunts and throw off balance across the diamond. It’s a three-team party at the top, folks, with Toronto, Baltimore, and Chicago (NL) leading the charge. There’s been some talent drain at the position compared to this time last year, as Ryan Zimmerman (now a first baseman) and Evan Longoria have been left off/downgraded due to a pair of rough campaigns. Still, third base remains one of the most exciting positions on the diamond, as a glut of elite, young talent and a 2015 American League Most Valuable Player count themselves among the ranks. Indeed, it is also one of the most talented positions, as four of the top 20 position players by projected 2016 WAR are third basemen. Now, onto the specifics!

#1 Blue Jays

Josh Donaldson 644 .276 .352 .507 .368 24.8 0.5 8.9 6.1
Darwin Barney 35 .238 .286 .334 .272 -1.3 0.0 0.3 0.0
Andy Burns 14 .249 .295 .372 .291 -0.3 0.0 0.0 0.0
Matt Dominguez 7 .239 .279 .383 .286 -0.2 0.0 0.0 0.0
Total 700 .273 .347 .494 .361 23.0 0.5 9.2 6.2

Everyone knew the move to Toronto and the Rogers Centre was going to be a good thing for Josh Donaldson’s offense, but few saw this sort of explosion coming. The 8.7-WAR 2015 MVP campaign cemented what is a truly rare and late ascension for the 30-year-old, as he is one of the latest-blooming MVPs in history — producing just 1.2 WAR through his age-26 season before becoming the player we see today. That ascension was driven in large part by his ability to pull the ball for power, something the entire Jays’ lineup have proven adept at doing.

Expecting Donaldson to match last season’s production might be a stretch given his incredible 21.8% HR/FB rate in 2015 (far above his roughly ~14% rate from his previous two seasons), but he will continue to be one of the best third basemen on both sides of the ball. That will, in turn, also make him one of the best players in baseball: his projected WAR for 2016 is surpassed by only two players, Bryce Harper and Mike Trout. While Donaldson might not challenge either player for best in baseball year in and year out, his 2015 was built on legitimate skills and improvements, and he’s likely to be an MVP candidate for the next few years.

#2 Orioles

Manny Machado 609 .286 .352 .491 .362 20.1 0.4 13.5 6.0
Ryan Flaherty 77 .223 .289 .374 .288 -2.0 0.1 -0.3 0.1
Paul Janish 14 .224 .274 .285 .250 -0.8 0.0 0.1 0.0
Total 700 .278 .344 .473 .352 17.3 0.4 13.3 6.0

Look who’s truly arrived. After a 2013 in which most of his value was derived from his defense, Machado had an injury-riddled 2014 before putting it all together last season. His power exploded, his walk rate almost doubled, and his contributions on the base paths increased as he finally returned to form after his knee injury. Now, entering just his age-24 season, we have to wonder: where’s the ceiling?

Though our projections peg him right around Donaldson’s equal, there’s the potential that there’s a perennial MVP candidate here. The 2016 season will go a long way towards telling us whether Machado can replicate (and possibly build) on 2015’s mega-breakout. We expect him to continue producing at the highest level, with the very real possibility that we’re witnessing the rise of another long-term star in the game. There’s a frightening idea when we look at Machado: he might not be finished improving.

#3 Cubs

Kris Bryant 602 .268 .361 .496 .369 24.2 1.8 2.8 5.3
Javier Baez 42 .250 .301 .450 .322 0.1 0.1 -0.2 0.2
Tommy La Stella   35 .272 .338 .377 .315 -0.1 0.0 -0.2 0.1
Christian Villanueva 14 .241 .288 .396 .296 -0.3 0.0 0.0 0.0
Jeimer Candelario 7 .242 .289 .379 .291 -0.2 0.0 0.0 0.0
Total 700 .266 .354 .484 .361 23.8 1.8 2.4 5.5

Like Machado, Bryant is another elite talent headed into his age-24 season, though we expect the latter to be just outside the very highest tier of third basemen headed into 2016 — his contact issues and a likely batted-ball regression are enough to drop him below the top two. Still, we know Bryant has a great eye at the plate and as much raw power as pretty much anyone in the game, and that combination (along with solid expected defense at third) is enough to place him among the top 10 position players in baseball by expected WAR in 2016.

If, however, Bryant is able to make a jump in the plate-discipline department — certainly a possibility given how discipline statistics usually age — he could cut his strikeout rate and retain his 6.0+ WAR production from 2015. There are myriad reasons to be excited if you’re a Cubs fan, and Bryant is at the very forefront of it all; at such a young age and with the types of raw tools he has, the ceiling is simply unknown at this point in time. Among a top-heavy third base class, Bryant is there, knocking on the door of the elite.

#4 Rockies

Nolan Arenado 651 .288 .329 .523 .358 8.0 -0.8 11.2 4.3
Daniel Descalso   28 .245 .314 .362 .293 -1.1 0.0 -0.4 -0.1
Mark Reynolds 14 .245 .329 .476 .346 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.1
Rafael Ynoa 7 .264 .306 .353 .289 -0.3 0.0 0.0 0.0
Total 700 .285 .328 .514 .355 6.6 -0.9 10.7 4.3

This is likely to be one of the more contentious rankings, given the sheer gaudiness of Arenado’s 42-homer, 130-RBI campaign in 2015 that was also full of highlight reel defensive plays. That gaudiness can’t hide the fact that he walks at just over half the league-average rate, however, and his top-15 swing rate is the main culprit. Entering just his age-25 season, Arenado still has room to improve in the plate discipline department, and if he can show a little more patience while maintaining the increased home run/fly ball rate from 2015 (a rate that was driven by an increase of ~10 feet in average home run/fly ball distance, making a repeat seem more attainable), his bat could truly take the jump.

Still, his ridiculous fielding ability gives him the floor of a top-20 player, and these wonderings about his offensive ability are at some point just that: wonderings. Arenado is one of the best third basemen in the game, and likewise one of the best overall players in baseball. If in fact he improves his walk rate even marginally, he will be a superstar.

#5 Rangers

Adrian Beltre 588 .290 .343 .457 .342 7.4 -0.3 6.7 3.7
Joey Gallo 56 .216 .299 .448 .319 -0.3 0.1 0.2 0.2
Hanser Alberto 35 .261 .284 .357 .278 -1.3 0.0 0.2 0.0
Ian Desmond 14 .244 .300 .408 .308 -0.2 0.0 0.0 0.0
Patrick Kivlehan 7 .243 .290 .382 .292 -0.2 0.0 0.0 0.0
Total 700 .282 .335 .449 .336 5.3 -0.3 7.2 4.0

Only one of the first four players on this list is over 25 years old. Then there’s Adrian Beltre, who was hitting home runs in the major leagues when Manny Machado was six years old. That fact in itself would be indicative of a great career, but then we also should note that Beltre sits fifth on this list, which is even more impressive. Also of note: the soon-to-be 37-year-old played the second half of 2015 with a torn thumb ligament, and he actually played better than he did in the first half of the season. Beltre is like a ’90s action-movie villain that keeps coming back from the dead even though you witnessed a burning building fall on him halfway through the movie. Even so, we have to expect that he might miss some time, given his age. In that event, Joey Gallo is primed to step in and hit as many home runs as possible.

Yet Beltre is here, projected to be the fifth-best third basemen in the majors, even though basically everyone on this list is younger than he is. How about one more fact — between 1923 and 2015, only four other players accrued greater WAR than Beltre between the ages of 30-36: Mike Schmidt, Pete Rose, Brooks Robinson, and Chipper Jones. Two of those players are in the Hall of Fame, one of them has a great shot when he makes the ballot in 2018, and the other is Pete Rose.

#6 Nationals

Anthony Rendon 581 .274 .347 .433 .340 9.7 0.5 3.6 3.6
Daniel Murphy 70 .296 .337 .432 .330 0.6 0.1 -0.9 0.2
Danny Espinosa 28 .226 .289 .369 .285 -0.8 0.0 0.1 0.0
Wilmer Difo 21 .250 .284 .355 .278 -0.7 0.1 0.0 0.0
Total 700 .273 .342 .428 .335 8.8 0.7 2.8 3.9

After moving Ryan Zimmerman across the diamond to first base, the Nationals will go with Anthony Rendon at third in 2016, hoping that he can stay healthy and reclaim some of the elite, mercurial production he flashed in 2014. Can he provide the 20-home-run power he exhibited in that fantastic campaign ever again? Were the steals just a single-season bonus? Will Rendon be able to stay healthy for 150-plus games? These are all pressing questions to ask, given his history.

At his best, Rendon is an elite talent, matching contact skills with the potential for above-average power and base-running ability. However, with the examples of serious injury dating back to his college days, he is also one of the most volatile and difficult players to project — for Rendon, the question is not necessarily whether he can replicate his high ceiling; it’s whether he can stay on the field to have a chance at doing so. If he can’t, Daniel Murphy is likely to assume much of his playing time, though the flexibility between both players could make the second- and third-base situations fluid for the Nats in 2016.

#7 Rays

Evan Longoria   644 .258 .324 .435 .325 6.3 -0.2 5.2 3.7
Tim Beckham 28 .231 .279 .345 .273 -0.9 0.0 -0.2 0.0
Richie Shaffer 14 .215 .283 .388 .292 -0.2 0.0 0.0 0.0
Taylor Motter 14 .248 .302 .380 .297 -0.2 0.0 0.1 0.0
Total 700 .256 .321 .429 .321 5.0 -0.3 5.1 3.8

At 30 years old — and after two full seasons of subprime power numbers — we might have to accept that this is the new normal for Longoria. That normal is still a very good player, but it’s far removed from the 6.0+ WAR player we used to know from 2009 to 2013. If there’s cause for more concern on the offensive side, it’s his eroding walk rate, which has now declined for a second straight year to sit just below league average. Longo is showing many of the hallmarks of a decline, even with his excellent track record of health during the past three years.

Though his walk rate decline seems like a readjustment that can be made, the lack of power has been driven largely by a decrease in average home run and fly ball distance, something that he probably won’t ever get back. Still, Longoria figures to be a mainstay in the middle of the Rays’ order when healthy, providing the solid production on both sides of the ball that we’ve come to expect. Even as a slightly diminished version of his former self, Longoria is still in the upper echelon of major-league third basemen.

#8 Mariners

Kyle Seager 630 .263 .329 .443 .333 10.7 -0.6 1.7 3.7
Luis Sardinas 28 .238 .270 .298 .250 -1.4 0.0 -0.1 0.0
Shawn O’Malley 21 .243 .299 .326 .277 -0.6 0.0 -0.2 0.0
Chris Taylor 21 .254 .316 .344 .293 -0.3 0.0 0.2 0.1
Total 700 .261 .326 .430 .327 8.4 -0.5 1.6 3.7

Kyle Seager is a freakishly consistent player. If we look at traditional statistics in the four full seasons he’s played, he’s had an OBP between .316-.338, hit 20-26 homers, and stolen between 6-13 bases every single season. He might not have the highest ceiling out of the third basemen we’ve gone through so far, but the consistency of his floor is in many ways unrivaled. Furthermore, he actually cut his strikeout rate to a career-low 14.3% in 2015, showing the subtle improvements that could potentially take him to the next level.

With a track record of health, contact and power skills, and above-average defense, Seager is one of the least risky third basemen in the game. There’s a lot to be said for that. While other players might tweak their approach or try to force a change, Seager keeps producing at a high level — something he’s likely to continue doing in 2015.

#9 Cardinals

Matt Carpenter 630 .270 .362 .434 .347 15.7 0.7 -5.1 3.5
Jedd Gyorko 49 .252 .307 .415 .314 -0.1 -0.1 -0.3 0.1
Greg Garcia 21 .245 .324 .336 .295 -0.4 0.0 0.1 0.0
Total 700 .268 .357 .429 .343 15.3 0.6 -5.3 3.7

After three seasons as a patient, contact-driven hitter, Carpenter came into 2015 on a new mission: hit more dingers. It worked, as he mashed 28 homers on the way to career-high ISO marks. That power came at a cost, however, as his strikeout rate ballooned to a professional high of 22.7%. Even so, Carpenter was able to sustain his above-average walk rate with the changes, and his elite contact ability allowed him to increase his power output while not sacrificing line drives.

In fact, he actually increased his line-drive rate along with his fly-ball rate, in turn posting the second-lowest ground-ball rate and ninth-lowest infield-fly-ball rate in the majors during 2015. That’s testament to how good Carpenter’s bat control is, and should give us confidence that no matter which approach he ends up choosing in the long run, the underlying skills are there to allow him to have success.

#10 Dodgers

Justin Turner 525 .284 .348 .439 .342 12.3 -0.3 -0.8 3.1
Chase Utley 105 .240 .306 .370 .293 -1.7 0.2 0.1 0.2
Howie Kendrick   35 .283 .327 .404 .317 0.1 0.0 -0.1 0.1
Enrique Hernandez 28 .253 .300 .388 .300 -0.3 0.0 0.0 0.1
Alex Guerrero 7 .241 .283 .400 .296 -0.1 0.0 0.0 0.0
Total 700 .275 .338 .424 .331 10.4 -0.1 -0.9 3.6

Turner was one of the best stories of 2015, going from a strictly utility infield role to a mashing everyday third baseman mainly because of the tutelage and advice of former Mets teammate Marlon Byrd. A second half tail-off in 2015 might dampen our expectations a little headed into this season, as does the offseason microfracture surgery on his balky left knee that ailed him during last August and September.

Still, should Turner return to health quickly, he seems primed to contribute to the middle of the Dodgers’ order with a solid eye, great contact skills, and the potential for a sneaky power campaign. Counting on Turner to be the Dodgers’ third baseman every single day throughout the season seems a little lofty given the offseason surgery, but Chase Utley waits in the wings to pick up any spare at-bats due to any lingering injury concerns and off days.

#11 Giants

Matt Duffy 595 .276 .323 .399 .314 3.2 1.5 7.1 3.5
Ehire Adrianza 70 .230 .297 .317 .274 -1.9 0.0 0.4 0.1
Conor Gillaspie 35 .250 .301 .374 .292 -0.4 0.0 -0.6 0.0
Total 700 .270 .319 .389 .309 0.9 1.5 6.9 3.6

The third player in a triumvirate of infielders the Giants have developed into above-average hitters, Duffy forced himself into the everyday role last year by tweaking his swing to hit everything in sight early in the season. While his first half of 2015 was certainly better than his second, he provided enough production to eventually finish second in NL Rookie of the Year voting.

He’ll aim to carry that success at the plate into the coming season, though there are a couple of red flags that tell us he might fall short of the 4.9 WAR he posted in 2015. First, there’s the home-run power, which is likely to regress to more expected numbers given his modest power history in the minors; second, his batting eye needs work, as he walked at just over half the league-average rate in 2015. Still, Duffy looks to be a very solid player, and even if the home-run totals aren’t quite there, he remains a great contact hitter with evidence of a good glove at third base.

#12 White Sox

Todd Frazier 595 .253 .318 .448 .330 5.1 0.3 3.5 3.2
Brett Lawrie 49 .256 .309 .414 .314 -0.2 0.1 -0.2 0.1
Tyler Saladino 42 .237 .295 .353 .286 -1.1 0.1 0.2 0.1
Matt Davidson 14 .204 .276 .369 .282 -0.4 0.0 0.1 0.0
Total 700 .251 .315 .439 .326 3.3 0.5 3.5 3.5

The two years of breakout play that Frazier exhibited in 2014 and 2015 were enough to make him the prize of a trade between the Reds and White Sox this past offseason. Not a whole lot is likely to change, however, as he moves from one hitter-friendly park to another, where he’ll assume middle-of-the-order duties for the Southsiders.

What should be noted are the implications of Frazier’s burgeoning second-half issues: he’s shown large splits between halves during the past two seasons, with his bat producing 96 wRC+ during the second half of 2014 (compared to 137 wRC+ in the first) and just 75 wRC+ during the second half of 2015 (vs. 146 wRC+ in the first). That, along with a three-year decline in walk rate and the fact that he’s entering his age-30 season, tells us we perhaps should be conservative on whether Frazier can meet his 4.0+ WAR totals from 2014 and 2015. The power is likely to remain very solid, however, and a glove that has graded above-average in three of the past four years means a healthy floor for Frazier’s production with his new team.

#13 Mets

David Wright   518 .266 .341 .403 .325 6.0 -0.1 -0.1 2.5
Wilmer Flores 112 .263 .300 .416 .308 -0.2 0.0 -0.4 0.3
Neil Walker 35 .259 .330 .434 .330 0.6 0.0 -0.3 0.2
Eric Campbell 21 .242 .331 .359 .307 0.0 0.0 -0.1 0.1
Dilson Herrera 14 .254 .309 .398 .308 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.1
Total 700 .264 .333 .406 .321 6.2 -0.1 -0.9 3.1

We are bound to look at David Wright’s name here and think “he’s going to get injured!” which is hard to argue with, given the fact that he played just 38 regular-season games last season and now has a lingering, chronic back issue. But his reputation for being extremely injury-prone isn’t entirely merited, at least at the level at which that reputation finds itself: before last season, he’d played over 100 games in each of the past four seasons, playing at least 134 games in two of them. There are lengthy DL stints in there, sure, but he had never missed the majority of a season before 2015.

Now, with a degenerative back injury, we’re left to wonder how much (and what kind of) production Wright is capable of. The safe bet is an above-average campaign with caveats, especially related to playing time: he’ll no doubt have regular off-days, with Wilmer Flores assuming the majority of the available playing time and stepping into the role if Wright goes down for an extended period. The days of elite power production and gaudy steals totals look to be in the past for Wright, but there’s still a good player here, despite the health concerns.

#14 Royals

Mike Moustakas 609 .258 .317 .430 .324 2.3 -1.1 3.3 2.8
Christian Colon 56 .266 .317 .351 .295 -1.1 0.0 -0.1 0.1
Cheslor Cuthbert 35 .253 .301 .379 .297 -0.6 0.0 0.1 0.1
Total 700 .259 .316 .421 .320 0.7 -1.1 3.3 3.0

The upcoming season for Mike Moustakas is bound to be an interesting one: after his batting average fell to a career-low of .212 in 2014, there was a big question of whether his first-round pedigree was going to be a bust. Then, in 2015, something interesting happened: he sprayed the ball around more, abandoning some of his heavy pull tendencies. Suddenly, the infield shifts against him weren’t working as well, and his BABIP and average skyrocketed. Great, right?

Well, maybe. That narrative masks the fact that his second-half pull/oppo rates were more or less in line with his career norms, leading us to ask: was his first half a conscious decision to make teams start to abandon the shift against him, or was it just noise? Regardless of the answer, the results of 2015 speak for themselves: a career-high wOBA and wRC+, a career-low and now elite strikeout rate, and steady power production. Whether we choose to accept intentionality related to his spray chart or not, Moustakas did make several improvements last season that should stick headed into 2016. With an above-average glove, the big question that remains is whether we’ve seen the ceiling yet.

#15 Yankees

Chase Headley 595 .255 .331 .400 .321 0.7 -0.6 2.3 2.5
Rob Refsnyder 91 .258 .326 .402 .318 -0.1 0.0 -0.1 0.3
Starlin Castro 7 .271 .309 .401 .306 -0.1 0.0 0.0 0.0
Alex Rodriguez 7 .238 .332 .429 .330 0.1 0.0 0.0 0.0
Total 700 .255 .330 .400 .320 0.6 -0.6 2.1 2.9

Remember the year Headley hit 31 homers and produced 7.5 WAR? That’s becoming a more and more distant memory. Fresh off a woeful campaign in which he accounted for just 1.5 WAR in 156 games, we have to wonder where he goes from here. The markers from 2015 aren’t great: a career-high infield-fly-ball rate, a career-low walk rate, and an almost total abandonment of contributions on the base paths. Based on the past three years, we know Headley is better than this, but he’s now entering his age-32 season — making us wonder whether a return to 4.0+ WAR production might ever happen again. With a history of above-average defense in four of the past six years, the floor for Headley will most likely remain above replacement level in 2016, whether the bat bounces back or not.

#16 Pirates

Jung-ho Kang   490 .257 .324 .418 .324 4.3 0.4 -0.6 2.2
David Freese 140 .256 .323 .389 .313 0.1 -0.5 -0.7 0.4
Josh Harrison 49 .282 .321 .416 .319 0.3 0.1 -0.1 0.2
Sean Rodriguez 21 .236 .281 .374 .285 -0.5 0.0 -0.1 0.0
Total 700 .258 .322 .411 .320 4.2 -0.1 -1.5 2.9

Jung-ho Kang burst onto the scene in 2015, proving that much of the production he showed in the Korean Baseball Organization would translate to the major leagues. Providing 3.9 WAR in just 126 games before going down with a bad knee injury, he was a surprise top option at the shortstop and third base positions through the majority of the 2015 season. Though he won’t be ready for Opening Day, his likely full-time switch to third base should be seamless given his previous experience at the position.

We should expect some regression in his batted-ball outcomes in 2016 — which should in turn bring his average down a bit — but the power is legitimate, and there’s the potential that his ceiling could be even higher given his history of huge home run totals in Korea. The big question marks are how strong (and how quickly) he comes back from his serious knee injury, and how capably David Freese fills in for him during the first weeks of the season.

#17 Phillies

Maikel Franco 595 .271 .314 .467 .334 7.3 0.2 -5.5 2.4
Cesar Hernandez 42 .264 .319 .345 .293 -0.8 0.0 -0.3 0.0
Andres Blanco 35 .248 .303 .378 .298 -0.6 -0.1 -0.4 0.0
Cody Asche   28 .257 .309 .413 .311 -0.2 0.0 -0.3 0.1
Total 700 .269 .313 .454 .329 5.6 0.1 -6.5 2.5

The Phillies are going to be bad this season. We know this. However, the Phillies are also going to be fun, and a big reason for that is their young third baseman. Why? Because of Maikel Franco’s potentially rare skill set. Carson Cistulli said it best on Franco’s player bio:

Consider: among batters who recorded 300-plus plate appearances in 2015, only seven produced an isolated power figure above .200 and a strikeout rate below 16%. Franco was one of them. The other six? Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Manny Machado, David Ortiz, Albert Pujols, and Anthony Rizzo.

Great contact skills and lots of power are usually mutually exclusive, and there are precious few players who can mix both. Franco, despite having played in only 96 major league games, seems like he could be one of them. That’s reason for excitement in a year when the Phillies are sure to be at or near the bottom of the NL East standings. Will Franco grow into one of the aforementioned elite contact/power hitters during 2016? The fun part is the finding out.

Also of note: at the time of this writing, Franco had hit seven home runs in 15 spring-training games.

#18 Indians

Juan Uribe   385 .260 .309 .398 .306 -3.1 -0.5 4.9 1.6
Jose Ramirez 168 .260 .314 .372 .300 -2.2 0.3 1.2 0.6
Giovanny Urshela 147 .244 .284 .375 .286 -3.6 -0.2 0.8 0.2
Total 700 .257 .305 .387 .301 -8.9 -0.4 7.0 2.5

Given the rough campaign at the plate from Giovanny Urshela in 2015 (wRC+ of 68 in 288 PAs), the Indians brought in Juan Uribe to assume most of the third-base duties for 2016. While not a flashy signing, Uribe has actually been a remarkably consistent player over the past few years: his WAR of 10.5 since 2013 is comparable to infielders like Nolan Arenado (9.9 WAR), Jason Kipnis (10.4), and Brandon Crawford (10.0).

Also, as fellow FanGraphs writer and overall Cleveland fan August Fagerstrom pointed out, only three third basemen have stood out defensively on a per-inning basis above the rest over the past three years: Uribe, Arenado, and Manny Machado. While it’s hard to imagine him lighting the world on fire in 2016, Uribe should provide above-replacement value for Cleveland in 2016. He’ll also no doubt cede some time to Jose Ramirez and Urshela, two young players the Indians will provide with at least a few chances for playing time.

#19 Astros

Luis Valbuena 476 .236 .326 .418 .325 2.6 -0.7 -1.6 1.9
Marwin Gonzalez 175 .255 .294 .383 .295 -3.2 -0.4 -0.2 0.3
Matt Duffy 35 .245 .298 .387 .299 -0.5 0.0 0.1 0.1
Nolan Fontana 14 .206 .316 .296 .281 -0.4 0.0 -0.1 0.0
Total 700 .241 .317 .405 .315 -1.5 -1.1 -1.8 2.2

Even though Valbuena had a career power year during 2015, his platoon issues worsened considerably: his career wRC+ of 81 against left-handed pitchers already paints a poor picture, and that cratered to a new annual low of 62 in 2015. Early on in the season, he tried to make up for any deficiencies by mashing home runs, but when his fly-ball rate dried up in the second half, his approach changed to be more contact-oriented. That approach was at least more successful, making his second half a much more productive time period despite the lack of flashy power numbers.

The danger for the Astros in 2016 is that Valbuena might be exposed by full playing time against left-handed pitchers. They’re currently sticking to the narrative of giving him a full-time shot to open the season, but if indeed his struggles against lefties continue into the summer, we could end up seeing a time share: Valbuena handling duties against right-handed pitchers, and Marwin Gonzalez/Matt Duffy stepping in to handle duties versus left-handers. Though Valbuena is likely to provide at least above replacement level value, his vulnerabilities against lefties and inability to hit for power and average at the same time make this situation more fluid than it might appear on the surface.

#20 Marlins

Martin Prado 588 .277 .325 .391 .312 -2.8 -1.2 3.2 2.1
Chris Johnson 56 .266 .300 .376 .294 -1.1 -0.1 -0.6 0.0
Derek Dietrich 42 .244 .318 .417 .320 0.1 0.0 -0.3 0.1
Miguel Rojas 14 .246 .292 .327 .272 -0.5 0.0 0.1 0.0
Total 700 .273 .322 .390 .310 -4.4 -1.3 2.4 2.2

Good but never great outside of a 5.3-WAR season for the Braves in 2012, Martin Prado will fill the high-in-the-lineup, contact-oriented role at third base for the Marlins in 2016. At 32 years old, Prado is a known quantity: a flexibly-positioned player who doesn’t strike out, has a little bit of pop, and handles multiple defensive positions with aptitude. There are many worse types of players to have on a team’s roster — especially with the positional flexibility — but Prado isn’t likely to contribute anything other than the unsexy combination of league-average offense and solid defense.

A potential wrench in the playing time works is Prado’s impending free agency this coming offseason, making a mid-season trade a possibility, especially given Miami’s penchant for such things. If he were to be traded or injured, Chris Johnson would most likely assume the majority of the playing time in his absence. Considering the fact that Johnson has shown little ability to hit major-league pitching over the past two years, he’d likely contribute very little value, possibly forcing a switch to one of the younger infielders on the roster.

#21 Diamondbacks

Jake Lamb 546 .254 .320 .402 .314 -4.6 0.5 3.8 2.0
Brandon Drury 119 .253 .291 .378 .291 -3.1 -0.2 0.3 0.1
Phil Gosselin 35 .266 .304 .380 .298 -0.7 0.0 0.0 0.1
Total 700 .255 .314 .397 .309 -8.5 0.3 4.1 2.1

Like Maikel Franco, Lamb is another potential breakout candidate. He dealt with a foot injury for a large part of 2015, which seemed to sap most of his power — he only hit six home runs en route to a .123 ISO and 92 wRC+ in 107 games. However, there is excitement about him for good reason: he had very good power numbers in the minors, he showed that his great eye at the plate can translate into an above-average walk rate in the majors last season, and despite the injury, he accounted for a solid defensive campaign. The tools seem to be there for Lamb, so a surprising and successful 2016 is decidedly within the realm of possibility.

Given the options behind Lamb, third base is almost certainly his job to lose, too. Brandon Drury is an intriguing player, coming over from the Braves in the Justin Upton trade, but it’s hard to see him taking the job from Lamb except in the case of injury or serious performance issues. Drury, though a promising and successful prospect in the low minors, hasn’t been able to translate that success to the high minors, or the cup of coffee he received with the Diamondbacks in 2015.

#22 Twins

Trevor Plouffe 588 .251 .315 .423 .320 0.6 -0.8 -3.6 1.9
Eduardo Nunez 77 .262 .301 .381 .297 -1.3 0.2 -0.5 0.1
Eduardo Escobar 35 .258 .305 .401 .306 -0.4 0.0 -0.1 0.1
Total 700 .252 .313 .417 .317 -1.1 -0.6 -4.2 2.1

Trevor Plouffe is, and has always been, an under-the-radar player who consistently puts up the type of statistics that go largely unnoticed. That doesn’t mean they’re not worthwhile, though. Like Prado, Plouffe has made his living on an about league average bat and solid defense the past two years: he shows the above-average contact skills and little pop that a middle-of-the-road major-league third baseman needs. Now entering his age-30 season, this is probably all we’re going to see from Plouffe, but he’ll likely continue to put up the healthy, solid production we’ve seen from him the past two seasons — 15-20 home runs with average rate stats.

Should Plouffe get injured or fall off of a cliff production-wise, the Twins would likely fill the void with one of their two Eduardos. While they would likely see some drop-off in value, Eduardo Nunez has shown that he could potentially put up slightly above-average production on both sides of the ball if given full playing time (he accounted for 1.1 WAR in just 72 games during 2015).

#23 Reds

Eugenio Suarez 560 .254 .311 .412 .315 -3.1 -0.6 1.6 1.8
Ivan De Jesus 105 .246 .304 .347 .287 -2.9 -0.1 0.0 0.1
Jose Peraza 35 .269 .295 .368 .286 -1.0 0.1 0.1 0.0
Total 700 .254 .309 .400 .309 -7.0 -0.5 1.7 2.0

Suarez has shown some intriguing power upside with his bat, chipping in 13 homers and a .167 ISO in just 97 games during the 2015 season for the Reds. He also has significant plate discipline problems, however, never providing an average walk rate in his time in the majors and actually showing a terrible 4.3% rate during those same 97 games last season. His .341 BABIP from 2015 is also likely to regress given his batted-ball profile, so unless he works on that walk rate, his on-base skills could be in real jeopardy.

Another issue: Suarez has played just 51 games at third base in the minors and majors, so his ability to man the hot corner is almost a total unknown. Given his background as a serviceable shortstop, we can probably assume he’ll be at least palatable, but we won’t truly know until we see him in action — something the Reds seem intent on giving him. If he falters — a possibility, given what we’ve just gone over — Jose Peraza is likely the most intriguing of the options, as his contact-heavy/speed demon makeup could prove to be a real handful when strategically placed in the Reds’ lineup.

#24 Padres

Yangervis Solarte 469 .261 .315 .386 .307 -1.7 -0.7 -2.9 1.2
Cory Spangenberg 154 .260 .310 .384 .301 -1.2 0.2 0.0 0.5
Brett Wallace 77 .246 .305 .403 .308 -0.2 -0.1 -0.4 0.2
Total 700 .259 .313 .387 .306 -3.2 -0.6 -3.2 1.8

Yangervis Solarte has a sort of antique baseball consistency, providing the now ultra-rare ability to hardly ever strike out: among qualified hitters over the past two seasons, only six players have struck out at a lower rate than he has. That contact ability might save him from extended slumps (raising his floor), but he doesn’t pair it with a great batting eye, limiting his walks and offensive ceiling. His 14 home runs and .168 ISO in 2015 were both professional career-highs, but they came with no appreciable increase in batted-ball distance over the previous year, hinting that they are most likely his best possible single-season tally and possibly due for regression. Given his offensive profile and his glove that has graded negatively over the parts of two seasons, he is an interesting — if not a particularly successful — major-league third baseman.

Partly as a result of this Solarte’s lack of a lot of upside, Cory Spangenberg is likely to at least see a little time at third, despite evidence that he might not be well equipped to succeed long-term against major league pitching. Spangenberg accrued 2.1 WAR in just 108 games at second base last year for the Padres, but a more than cursory look at his profile reveals much of the success was driven by an inflated BABIP. Unlike Solarte, he’s entering just his age-25 season, leaving the possibility that growth is still in store.

#25 Athletics

Danny Valencia 511 .256 .302 .423 .312 -0.6 -1.6 -4.0 1.3
Jed Lowrie 105 .250 .319 .384 .305 -0.7 0.0 -0.5 0.3
Chris Coghlan 35 .241 .319 .378 .305 -0.2 0.0 0.0 0.1
Eric Sogard 35 .246 .300 .320 .275 -1.1 0.0 0.1 0.0
Max Muncy 7 .223 .299 .340 .283 -0.2 0.0 0.0 0.0
Renato Nunez 7 .238 .278 .382 .287 -0.2 0.0 0.0 0.0
Total 700 .254 .305 .409 .308 -2.9 -1.6 -4.5 1.8

After the trade of Brett Lawrie to the White Sox in December, the plan for the Athletics became clear: Danny Valencia would have the full-time job at third base in 2016 after his encouraging 2015 campaign. Valencia has always destroyed lefties (career 136 wRC+), but has never been able to hit righties (76 wRC+); he actually accounted for the widest platoon split in the majors between 2010-2014 (min. 500 PAs). That changed in 2015, as he actually showed a better platoon split versus right-handers than left-handers (140 vs. 128 wRC+, respectively). The outcome from his adjustments wasn’t too surprising: he had the best season of his career, hitting 18 homers over 105 games en route to 2.2 WAR.

Now, facing the prospect of a full-time job, the question becomes: can Valencia replicate those results over the course of an entire season? The projections are not confident, but he represents one of the most volatile and difficult players to project on this list. If he’s able to stay healthy, play passable defense (another question mark), and keep hitting righties like he did during 2015, he could be one of the biggest overachievers at the position. In short, he sounds like a model A’s player.

If Valencia does struggle or get injured, Oakland will employ a revolving door policy, installing their usual platooning strategy amid a bevy of possible options.

#26 Red Sox

Pablo Sandoval 511 .272 .322 .421 .321 -1.3 -1.8 -4.5 1.2
Travis Shaw 98 .249 .314 .409 .314 -0.8 0.0 0.2 0.3
Brock Holt 70 .274 .332 .366 .308 -0.9 0.2 -0.4 0.1
Deven Marrero 14 .241 .293 .332 .276 -0.5 0.0 0.0 0.0
Josh Rutledge   7 .250 .297 .374 .292 -0.2 0.0 -0.1 0.0
Total 700 .268 .321 .411 .318 -3.8 -1.6 -4.8 1.6

Likely to be another contentious ranking, this assumes that much of the current talk surrounding Travis Shaw having a shot at wresting full-time duties at third from Mr. Sandoval is just that: mostly talk. How that shakes out is still something of a mystery, but we’d assume that some of it is acting as fuel to get Sandoval back on track. And, in case you haven’t been paying attention, he needs it: Sandoval’s 2015 was the worst player season in the major leagues, and it was hard to know what to blame more, his hapless defense or non-existent offense. Owning the lowest right-handed OPS vs. left-handed pitching from 2013 to 2015 (min. 3oo PAs), Sandoval finally decided to pull the plug on switch-hitting during the second half of the season, but it did little to right the ship. He heads into 2016 as a total question mark, with all offensive and defensive trends headed in the wrong direction.

Even though Sandoval will likely get some leash early in the season to show that he can still be a productive major leaguer, Shaw has entered his name into the running for the job. We know he has pop — he mashed 13 homers in just 65 games in 2015 — but he still remains a somewhat unproven entity, especially when defensive considerations at third base are concerned. Brock Holt also is likely to find his way to some plate appearances at third base (and possibly as a late-game defensive sub), further complicating the playing time picture if Sandoval slips. This is likely to be one of the more volatile — and controversial — third-base situations in the majors, so it bears watching.

#27 Angels

Yunel Escobar 560 .268 .328 .358 .304 -2.8 -1.7 -2.7 1.4
Cliff Pennington 49 .227 .302 .303 .270 -1.6 0.1 0.2 0.0
Kyle Kubitza 49 .215 .290 .334 .276 -1.3 0.0 0.0 0.0
Kaleb Cowart 42 .215 .274 .315 .260 -1.7 0.0 0.1 0.0
Total 700 .258 .320 .350 .297 -7.4 -1.7 -2.4 1.5

An interesting fact about Yunel Escobar: he has been one of the very “slowest” players by Speed Score over the past two years. In truth, that is only peripherally related to the subject at hand, but it may interest you to note that only one projected full-time third baseman has a lower BaseRunning rating on this list. That man is Pablo Sandoval. Aside from his base-running skills (or lack thereof), Escobar finds some parallels to Yangervis Solarte: elite contact skills (especially in-zone), little pop, and an average ability to draw walks. His successful 2015 at the plate is most likely anomalous, as a .347 BABIP for a player with his speed and batted-ball profile is probably untenable. Given that he hasn’t rated above-average defensively since 2013, we probably shouldn’t expect much over replacement value from him during 2016.

The issue for the Angels is that they don’t have a lot of great options other than Escobar, so a series of stop-gap measures will likely be employed should an injury occur. Utility man Cliff Pennington will be part of that mix, as will the young duo of Kyle Kubitza and former first round pick Kaleb Cowart.

#28 Tigers

Nick Castellanos 574 .267 .318 .430 .323 1.6 -1.5 -10.8 1.1
Mike Aviles 98 .248 .284 .353 .278 -3.2 0.0 -0.3 0.0
Andrew Romine 21 .240 .290 .308 .265 -0.9 0.0 0.2 0.0
Miguel Cabrera 7 .310 .393 .525 .387 0.4 0.0 0.0 0.1
Total 700 .264 .313 .416 .315 -2.1 -1.6 -11.0 1.2

Is this the year Nick Castellanos puts it together? We’ve been asking that question for a few years now, and the answer thus far has always been no. That doesn’t mean this year will yield the same answer, however, and Castellanos is still just 24 years old. In a way, it’s commendable that the Tigers have been willing to stick with him at third base, as he has been one of the worst regular players in the majors over the past two seasons. The second half of 2015 should give us reasons to hope, however: almost no one in baseball improved their plate discipline as much as Castellanos during the second half of last season. From our own Eno Sarris:

For most of his career, Castellanos has been a free-swinger, reaching at pitches around 10-20% worse than league average. In the second half, he was league average. He swung less overall. He made more contact. This is progress.

Are those changes enough to push him into positive WAR territory in 2016, allowing him to reach some of the potential that was lauded throughout his meteoric rise through the minors? Maybe! Take it from Eno: we can dream. One thing that we can be confident of is that Castellanos’ defensive contributions will probably never break even, hinting that his future might not be at third base. If he’s to push his way up this list, it will be by way of his bat.

Utility/journeyman Mike Aviles is likely to see the majority of the reps at third base when the needs arise, though Castellanos has shown a strong track record of health throughout the minors and majors.

#29 Brewers

Aaron Hill 385 .251 .307 .392 .305 -5.7 -0.5 -2.3 0.5
Will Middlebrooks 175 .235 .276 .409 .295 -4.0 -0.1 0.0 0.2
Colin Walsh 49 .228 .319 .347 .296 -1.1 0.0 -0.2 0.1
Jonathan Villar 42 .239 .302 .369 .294 -1.0 0.2 -0.5 0.0
Garin Cecchini 28 .244 .309 .356 .293 -0.7 0.0 0.1 0.0
Hernan Perez 21 .255 .282 .353 .276 -0.8 0.0 0.0 0.0
Total 700 .245 .299 .389 .300 -13.2 -0.4 -2.9 0.8

The Brewers’ third-base situation is among the most tenuous and low-upside of all teams in the majors. We’re likely to see the first full-time work go to veteran Aaron Hill, who has played a total of only 80 games at third base during his 11-year career. Add onto that the fact that the once powerful second baseman has “produced” -0.8 WAR over the past two years and 894 PAs, and we have what might be a very volatile situation. Though his lack of production at the plate in 2015 can be attributed to some poor batted-ball outcomes, Hill has little power and few tools nowadays, and his eroded defensive skills make for an uninspiring first-string option.

Also in the mix is 27-year-old Will Middlebrooks, whose high power/low patience combo still has a glimmer of possibility to work out. While that’s unlikely given the chances he’s received over the past few years, he has the borderline major-league skill set that teams are still willing to take a flier on. After Middlebrooks, the situation becomes muddier, with a smorgasbord of options — none of whom are very intriguing outside of Rule-5 pick Colin Walsh (26 years old in Double-A) and almost busted prospect Garin Cecchini.

#30 Braves

Adonis Garcia 525 .260 .289 .391 .293 -9.7 -0.7 -3.1 0.5
Gordon Beckham 70 .236 .287 .347 .278 -2.1 0.0 0.0 0.0
Kelly Johnson 70 .232 .298 .388 .299 -0.9 0.0 -0.8 0.1
Hector Olivera 35 .259 .319 .392 .310 -0.2 0.0 -0.1 0.1
Total 700 .255 .291 .386 .293 -12.9 -0.7 -4.0 0.7

And, finally, there were the Braves. While Adonis Garcia is primed to assume first-string duties, Kelly Johnson might steal some at bats against right-handed pitchers. Garcia is, at the very least, a great story: after being in and out of the minors/international scene since 2007, he was 30 years old before getting his first major league plate appearance. He then he proceeded to swat 10 home runs in just under 200 PAs. That upside alone should buy him playing time on the woeful Braves, but his abysmal walk rates (2.3% in 198 PAs during 2015) should give us pause in expecting a lot when he’s exposed to a larger sample size. Still, the power seems legitimate, and the state of the team might allow him playing time when a better team might not.

In addition to Johnson, utility man and former uber-prospect Gordon Beckham will likely see time all around the diamond, including third base. Now 29, Beckham is long past the point at which we might expect him to contribute meaningfully on a full-time basis. Should Garcia stumble mightily — not at all outside the realm of possibility — the combined forces of the Braves’ depth chart might be brought to bear upon the unsuspecting third-base position.

Owen Watson writes for FanGraphs and The Hardball Times. Follow him on Twitter @ohwatson.

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