2020 Fantasy Baseball Draft Prep: Third base strategies, complete with sleepers and ADP review

You may have heard that the 2020 draft pool is deep everywhere, with no position lacking in quality bats. Well, third base takes it to another level.

I’ve been ranking players for CBS Fantasy for more than a decade now, and I can’t recall a time I saw a position so deep — and not just in terms of players who could keep you afloat, but ones with impact potential. There are enough multi-eligible players here, spaced far enough apart in the draft, for you to form a lineup entirely of third basemen while still leaving enough on the board to meet the third base need of the 11 other teams. OK, so you’d need to draft a catcher separately and might need to reach into the sleeper class to fill out your outfield, but the point is it’s an embarrassment of riches. You should be embarrassed, third base!

To paraphrase a slogan from the Frito-Lay company, betcha can’t draft just one. It’s an honest-to-goodness challenge getting through a draft without doubling or even tripling down at third base, and in fact, my top 150 overall players include the top 21 at the position. So in the middle of Round 13 in a 12-team league, most every team should already have two third basemen, with half a draft still to go. 

Now, obviously, many of those top 21 are eligible at other positions, and I suggest playing them there, wherever there is. But needless to say, third base won’t be a problem for you on Draft Day. It doesn’t necessarily mean you should pass over the stud bats early, but if you don’t, you’re limiting the ways you can take advantage of the depth later.

So who are the studs the position? Well, a more liberal interpretation would include these:

Naturally, Alex Bregman, Nolan Arenado and Anthony Rendon are in a class above the others, and with his strong finish and stolen base prowess, Jose Ramirez is right there, too. All are far enough ahead of the pack, with a strong enough track record supporting it, that they’re worth paying up for, and so it’s fitting they’re all off the board by the middle of Round 2. Rafael Devers managed to hang with them last year and is being drafted similarly as a result, but he doesn’t have that same track record and outperformed his expected stats by enough that a small step back is the most likely outcome for him.

What comes after them is a group of hitters who all compare in terms of upside — that upside being quite high, of course — but don’t offer the same assurances. To put it bluntly, Vladimir Guerrero and Manny Machado need major things to go right in order to perform up to their ADP. Guerrero’s ground-ball tendencies prevented him from reaching his monster potential as a rookie, and Machado’s fly-ball tendencies have thwarted his efforts at every home venue since Camden Yards. Maybe their tendencies change, but given the vast number of quality alternatives at the position, why take the chance?

The other concerning one here is Eugenio Suarez, who had surgery to remove loose cartilage from his right shoulder in late January. It was apparently a minor procedure, but shoulder troubles are always worrisome, especially when there’s incentive to rush the rehabilitation. Still, if he goes toward the back end of this group, as I’ve seen often since the surgery came to light, it’s a nice little discount for the second place finisher in home runs last year.

Any discounts in this next group?

Yoan Moncada, Matt Chapman and Josh Donaldson straddle the divide between the studs and the serviceables, and it’s true their 2019 production compared with some of the worst in that former group. But all three performed at about the full extent of their potential, at least judging by the skills we’ve seen so far. Maybe you can hope for skills improvement from Moncada and Chapman, seeing as they’re still in their mid-20s, but certainly not Josh Donaldson, who, at 33, beat the odds by staying healthy for a full season last year.

But you know what? Even if you want to gamble on him doing it again, you still have ample fallback options. Eduardo Escobar had 35 homers and 118 RBI last year. Miguel Sano performed at a 50-homer pace, demonstrating exit velocities on par with Aaron Judge. Shoot, Justin Turner was a top-10 third baseman at this time a year ago and had pretty close to a typical Turner season. It’s just that somebody has to bring up the rear here, and as a 35-year-old who has had trouble staying healthy for even 140 games, he’s an easy target.

Let’s say you wait forever and make Turner your first option at the position. A little risky, sure, but it should work out fine when he’s healthy. And you’ll still be able to secure an insurance policy in the form of these sleepers: 

*minor-league stats

Honestly, I’m not sure it’s fair to include J.D. Davis and Gio Urshela in this group. Davis hit .307 with 22 homers last year. Urshela hit .314 with 21 homers. Each came close to regular playing time, getting more and more as the season progressed. Each demonstrated an elite batted-ball profile, their expected stats backing up their actual stats. Sure, each has a challenger for the starting job, but it’s … an out-of-position Dominic Smith? It’s … a defensively-challenged and surgically-repaired Miguel Andujar? Naw, dude. They’re good.

Scott Kingery’s poor plate discipline limits his points-league appeal, but seeing as he contributed 19 homers and 15 steals in a super utility role, a 20-20 season seems well within reach as he gets more regular playing time at third base with Maikel Franco out of the picture. And it makes him a possible game-changer in traditional 5×5 leagues, where you’d normally have to reach for that kind of steals total.

Maybe Kingery winds up back in a super utility role, but it’ll only be when Alec Bohm proves capable of claiming the big-league third base job. He may not be far off, having already demonstrated a plus hit tool and excellent plate discipline with playable power at Double-A. The skill set is a little reminiscent of Anthony Rendon, though that’s obviously a high bar to clear.

Third base offers a surprising amount of stolen base help for a position that’s historically been defined by its power hitters. Of course, the one big contributor that’s purely a third baseman is Jose Ramirez, who you can’t hope to get unless you pick in the first half of Round 2. Tommy Edman, though, is a popular mid-round choice, if more likely at second base, who should also help in batting average without completely crippling you in home runs. Jon Berti deserves some love, too, as a player who should get close to full-time at-bats in a super utility role for the Marlins. The 17 steals he contributed last year came in just 20 attempts and only about half a season’s time.

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