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2015 Third Base Rookies to Watch

Buck Davidson looks at rookies to watch for at third base.

Unlike the 2015 rookie wasteland that is first base, the hot corner features several first-year players that could make a significant Fantasy contribution this season, and at least one of those could become a superstar.

Let’s have a look at a few of these youngsters; these are definitely names you should know, as some could be Fantasy staples for years to come.

2015 Rookies at Third Base

Kris Bryant, Chicago Cubs: Bryant entered Spring Training as arguably the top prospect in baseball, and for good reason: the 23-year-old obliterated minor league pitching last year to the tune of 43 homers, 110 RBI and a slash line of .325/.438/.661 between Double and Triple-A. He hasn’t slowed down a bit so far this spring, batting a cool .480 with eight homers and 14 RBI through his first 10 games, while doing things like this.  The Bryant Hype Express Train is of course running full speed ahead; media everywhere are predicting great things from this young man, and his Fantasy value is skyrocketing as a result. Pump the brakes a bit, folks; Bryant indeed appears to be destined for stardom, but there are some things to consider before you throw down a bid or click the “draft” button.

Bryant indeed put up big numbers last season, but one of the biggest numbers was found in the column marked “SO”: he fanned an absurd 162 times in 138 games last season, and struck out 28.6 percent of the time at Triple-A. By comparison, noted whiffmeister Javier Baez struck out an even 30 percent of the time at the same level. Bryant can do special things when he makes contact, but one has to assume that major league pitchers will be better at exploiting his swing holes than Triple-A hurlers. For this reason, Bryant’s 2015 batting average figures to be a bit problematic for Fantasy owners. Bryant has often been compared to another 6-foot-5 former hot corner slugger in Troy Glaus, whose 40-plus homer power and solid OBP skills were tempered by a high strikeout rate and a batting average that typically finished in the .250-.260 range.

While I think Bryant is a better hitter than .250-something, I would immediately take the “under” option on him hitting .275 this season. Granted, high strikeouts don’t always mean a low batting average – Matt Kemp hit .324 while fanning 159 times back in 2011 – but the odds are stacked against such a performance. Bryant’s power is absolutely real, though, and I believe that 30 home runs could be in play given a full season’s worth of at-bats. Financial implications (specifically the “Super 2” Rule) may mean that Bryant starts the season at Triple-A, but he figures to receive his call to the majors early in the season.

Yasmany Tomas, Arizona Diamondbacks: The stocky, 24-year-old Tomas smacked 37 homers over his final 215 games in Cuba’s Serie Nacional, and he departed with a .290/.345/.504/.849 career slash line in 272 games. Scouting reports depict Tomas as having power to all fields, but how that raw power will translate to the major leagues remains to be seen. He is faster than his burly frame might lead you to believe, say some, but considering he stole just 15 bases during his years in Cuba, he should not be reckoned a threat to pilfer more than about a handful of bags per season. Tomas was mainly an outfielder in Cuba, but the D-backs entered Spring Training with the intention of trying him out at third base. His defense at the hot corner has drawn some public criticism from his manager Chip Hale, and it’s quite possible that the D-backs could move him to a corner outfield spot before the team breaks camp.

So what exactly should we expect from Tomas this season? Not surprisingly, projections for his 2015 season are rather varied, but FantasyPros has arrived at a Zeile consensus of .253-18-60 with six steals, which seems about right to me. I was a huge fan of Jose Abreu prior to last season – I projected something like .280-33-90 as I recall – but I do not see a similar skill set in Tomas. Abreu’s career slash line in Cuba was an otherworldly .341/.456/.622/1.078 and he made his major-league debut at 27 years of age. I don’t envision Tomas posting more than an average OBP split, and I don’t see him as a threat to hit .300 anytime soon. His raw power is undeniable, though, and I could see Tomas reaching 20-plus homers with a full season’s worth of at-bats. I think .260 is a fair expectation insofar as batting average this season, and I think Tomas could hit close to .275  and reach 30 homers someday if he continues to develop. At this point, I think the D-backs will start Tomas in the outfield rather than third base, which brings us to…

Jacob Lamb, Arizona Diamondbacks: If Tomas indeed cannot handle the defensive rigors of third base, the 24-year-old Lamb figures to be next in line for the starting job. The 6-foot-3, 220-pounder slashed .327/.407/.566/.973 with 15 homers, 39 doubles and 84 RBI in 108 games across two minor league levels in 2014, and then batted .230-4-11 in 126 major league at-bats during August and September. Lamb has decent power, but he’s just as much of a split-the-gaps as a clear-the-fence kind of guy – with the result being a hitter whose value as an RBI producer figures to exceed his value as a home-run threat.

On the downside, Lamb swings and misses a lot, as evidenced by his 27.8 percent strikeout rate in the majors last season. His .321 career batting average over five minor league seasons lends some hope that he won’t be a huge batting average drain at the big-league level, but that hope is tempered by his rather lofty BABIP numbers. He could have some Fantasy value in NL-only and very deep mixed leagues, but he’ll have to earn a roster spot first. Keep an eye on the battle between Lamb and Yasmany Tomas this spring for the starting job at third.

Maikel Franco, Philadelphia Phillies: Franco pounded out a .320-31-103 line in 134 games between High-A and Double-A back in 2013, and followed it up with a .257-16-78 showing as a 21-year-old at Triple-A last season. Franco was in a battle with veteran Cody Asche for the starting third base job in Philly, but after batting just .207 with no extra-base hits through 29 Spring Training at-bats, he was reassigned to the Phils’ minor league camp on March 20. The most likely scenario has him starting the year at Triple-A, and possibly returning to the majors if a starter is injured or traded. From a Fantasy standpoint, Franco projects to be a good source of power – but his propensity to swing at just about everything (5.4 percent walk rate at Triple-A last season) limits his batting average and OBP upside.

Despite his demotion, Franco remains one of the Phillies’ top prospects, and his power potential makes him a player worth keeping an eye on as he continues to develop. When he receives the call to the majors, Franco should immediately be added in NL-only leagues and some deeper mixed formats.

That’s our look at a few rookies to watch this spring; good luck with your Fantasy drafts and auctions.

 

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