Now that Thanksgiving is in the rearview mirror, here are some sleepers and busts for your to feast on at the third base position. Go ahead and procrastinate one more week on Christmas shopping and focus on Fantasy Baseball. Free agents are starting to sign; however, many of the big names are still out there. News on the trade front should also start to ramp up with the Winter Meetings set to kick off next week in Nashville.
The third base horizon is littered with great, young talent, especially at the top. Josh Donaldson is the elder statesman of the top tier, consisting of himself, Manny Machado, Nolan Arenado, and Kris Bryant, and he hasn’t even turned 30 yet. The next tier, consensus ranks six through 10, is filled by more of the stable vets.
After the Top 10, things start to drop off for a number of reasons. The remaining players fall into a variety of categories: unconfirmed breakouts, aging vets still trying to hang on, and inexperienced major leaguers trying to make their mark.
Previously, we have gone over sleepers and busts at first base and second base. In this week’s edition, we have a little bit of everything as we dig into some intriguing and potentially polarizing players at third base. Who are the 2016 sleepers and busts at third base? Let’s find out!
2016 Third Base Preview: Sleepers and Busts
Jake Lamb, Arizona Diamondbacks
Jake Lamb entered the 2015 season as Arizona’s starting third baseman, but he didn’t have a chance to get very comfortable as he suffered a foot injury that sidelined him for nearly two months. His minor league numbers suggest 20-plus homer upside along with a solid batting average. Last year, Lamb had a strong batted ball profile that is consistent with an elevated BABIP, as he made plenty of hard contact and used the entire field. He also improved his BB/K ratio every month as the season went on.
Heading into 2016, Lamb is penciled in as the everyday third baseman and he will once again be hitting in one of the league’s better lineups and playing half his games at hitter friendly Chase Field. With a full season, Lamb has a great shot to turn his potential and upside into production. Given where he will be drafted, there is a huge profit opportunity next year for this Diamondback slugger.
Nick Castellanos, Detroit Tigers
Nick Castellanos has now had back-to-back seasons with an impressive batted ball profile. Over the past two years, Castellanos ranks third in line drive percentage, 12th in hard hit rate, and has the lowest soft hit rate among all third baseman. He uses the entire field and he has a popup rate that hovers around 1-percent. The fact that Castellanos has been striking out roughly a quarter of the time has been the biggest drag on his batting average.
There is hope given he has yet to turn 24, plus he posted a strikeout rate of 20-percent over his minor league career and a Triple-A rate of under 17-percent. If he can improve his plate discipline, while maintaining his penchant for solid contact, he will outperform his draft ranking by a decent amount.
Justin Turner, Los Angeles Dodgers
Justin Turner heads into 2016 as the starter at third base and should crack the 500 plate appearance mark for the first time in his career. The former utility man does a little bit of everything at the plate. He hits a ton of line drives, has some pop, and will steal a few bases. Given what he did last year, a 20 home run campaign along with a .300 average is not out of the question.
His counting stats should be supported by the likelihood of Turner hitting near the top of one of the best lineups in baseball. I like Turner more than most and I recognize the greatest risks are his age and the potential for Alex Guerrero to steal some at-bats. That being said, most seem to rank Turner outside of the Top 20 third baseman, which sets up a great value play.
Matt Carpenter, St. Louis Cardinals
It is fairly unusual for a near 30 year old hitter to reinvent themselves after nearly 2,000 at-bats at the major league level, but Matt Carpenter did just that this past season. He used to be known as a line drive hitter who would hit for a high average and score plenty of runs. He experienced a massive power increase accompanied by a large jump in his strikeout rate, fly ball rate, and his pull rate. Heading into last year, he had a career HR/FB ratio close to 6-percent and then he posted an eye popping 15.8-percent mark in 2015.
The major change in his peripherals occurred after the All-Star Break, as his first half figures were essentially in line with his career marks. His 19 home runs in the second half ranked 10th in all of baseball and was only one behind third base leader Josh Donaldson’s 20.
Given his career track record, I would assume a regression in the power department and he will go back to being the Matt Carpenter that we all thought we knew. He will still be a solid Fantasy contributor, just not a Top 5 third baseman like he was in 2015.
Matt Duffy, San Francisco Giants
Matt Duffy came out of nowhere last year. He had not been near the top of many prospect lists and he flew under the radar as most 18th round drafts picks do. His minor league stats demonstrate the profile of a high average hitter with limited power and the ability to steal a few bases.
I would not be shocked to see a fall in his home run total in 2016. Also, his .366 batting average and .424 BABIP with runners in scoring position does not seem repeatable either. Duffy was a nice story in 2015 as he posted strong numbers that many were not expecting; however, now that he has everyone’s attention, I think Fantasy owners might be expecting too much.
Mike Moustakas, Kansas City Royals
Mike Moustakas had a breakout of sorts last year. When you look at his numbers for the year, you see he achieved career highs in a number of categories including home runs, runs, and RBIs. However, these totals were not drastically different than his 2012 campaign, so it is hard to claim a huge victory on that front. The biggest change we saw with Moustakas had to do with his approach at the plate.
He clearly made a conscious effort to use the entire field and stopped trying to pull everything. He also posted a career low strikeout rate. These changes resulted in a greatly improved BABIP and batting average. The story had a great beginning, but it didn’t end as well as he seemed to revert to his old self in the second half.
Since the Midsummer Classic, Moustakas saw his pull rate increase, strikeout rate increase, and his batting average and BABIP fall. He did see a decent increase in his hard hit rate and his power numbers looked great in the second half.
Given his deteriorating rate stats as the season went on and his career history, I am not confident that Moustakas has changed for the good. He may again approach the 20 home run mark, but I would assume a regression in his batting average back to his sub .250 career mark. I think too many Fantasy owners will be betting on continued growth, but take a pass and let someone else deal with that frustration.
Third base is extremely top heavy, with the first four players likely to go in the first round in a lot of drafts. Things do get thin relatively quickly and I think most Fantasy owners will look to first base to fill their corner infield slot. We will be taking a one week hiatus due to the Winter Meetings, but we will be back in two weeks to look at sleepers and busts at shortstop.
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