Welcome back for another edition of 2023 Top Keepers. This week we are going round out the infield as we look at third basemen.
As a whole, this is not an overly deep position. If you have a player who I rank in Tier 1 or 2, be happy. Because after the top 10, the production level drops pretty quickly.
Where is the young talent?
If you are looking for a third baseman to be a long-term anchor on your team, there are only a few players who can really fit that mold. Out of the 30 players ranked in Tiers 1 through 5, 14 of them are 30 or older. I did rank nine players who are 25 or younger, but only four of those players are in my top 10.
The good news is that many of the third basemen listed below do hit for some power. Sixteen players hit more than 20 home runs and another nine hit more than 10. The bad news, however, is that only nine of the ranked players hit better than .270 and only 10 had an OBP above .340.
This all adds up to a group that is largely old and doesn’t hit for a high average or get on base. However, at least they can help with home runs!
A quick note: Ages are as of now and the team is who they finished the season with. A player’s team may change for 2023, ages certainly will. Players who have not spent any time in the majors are also not ranked. Prospect rankings are for another list at another time.
This players in this group are not the most exciting, to be honest. But they all offer something.
Patrick Wisdom, Wilmer Flores, Eduardo Escobar and Max Muncy all can hit for power. Wisdom hit 25 homers for the Cubs this past year while Flores had 19 homers, Escobar 20 and Muncy 21. None of these four players topped a .240 batting average and Muncy’s .329 OBP was the best mark out of this foursome.
Isaac Paredes is one of several multi-positional players in this tier. His batting average (.202) was horrible this past season, but he had a .435 slugging percentage with 20 homers and 45 RBI in 331 at-bats. He may not be the starter at third but will likely see enough time at a host of positions to be worth keeping.
Some OBP and Some Speed
Best of Tier 5
Rengifo slugged .429 with 17 homers and 52 RBI while also hitting .264. Only his .294 OBP was something to be concerned with. Urias is a super utility player for the Brewers, topping 20 starts at third base, shortstop and second base. While playing all over the infield he also hit 16 homers and drove in 47 runs while slugging .404. I like his power, and I love the fact he can play three infield positions.
Justin Turner’s better days are behind him, but he did slash .278/.350/.438 and drive in 81 runs this past season. As of this ranking, he is a free agent, but I’d be surprised if he didn’t sign on with some team in a similar role, if not just the Dodgers again.
Josh Jung was likely to be the Opening Day third baseman for the Rangers in 2022 before a fractured foot ended those hopes. But when he returned to Texas late in the season, he showed off his power, slugging five home runs in 98 at-bats. He needs to cut down his 38.2% strikeout rate and hit better than .204 to become a real threat. Looking at his career minor league numbers, though, I expect he will be knocking on the door as a top 10 third baseman by the end of the season.
Bounce Back Years?
Is this the year Anthony Rendon can finally stay on the field? He has played in only 105 games the last two years, producing 11 home runs and 58 RBI. At 32, Rendon may have a tough time duplicating his numbers from 2017-2019, but I don’t think he has completely forgotten how to hit.
The 2019 season for Yoan Moncada (.315/.367/.548, 25 HR, 79 RBI, 10 SB) is obviously an anomaly. The White Sox third baseman has not come close to duplicating those numbers in any other season. But there has to be something in between that year and what he has done since then, right? I’m betting that as he enters his prime, he will get close to 20 homers and 80 RBI. But I will say this – if Moncada were three years older, he would be in Tier 5.
Who is Ke’Bryan Hayes?
Ke’Bryan Hayes burst onto the scene for the Pirates in 2020 by slashing .376/.442/.682 with five homers and 11 RBI in 24 games. But Hayes has not come close to equaling those numbers since and bottomed out last year with a .244/.314/.345 slash line and seven homers and 41 RBI in 136 games. The one thing Hayes did show last year was his speed as he swiped 20 bases.
Those steals alone give him value. The fact he is only going to be 26 next season makes me believe he will get back to hitting closer to .275 with some extra power.
We are now starting to get to the top talent at this position. That said, there are still some question marks in this group.
DJ LeMahieu being ranked in this tier is more an indictment on the overall depth of this position compared to what I expect out of him. He’s been a .260 hitter the last two seasons and so I predict he will be a .260 hitter this season but with a nice .350 OBP. As for Brandon Drury, I don’t expect 28 homers and 87 RBI again, but I think 20 homers is reasonable expectation and thus would make him one of the better power-hitting third basemen.
Ryan McMahon is a career .244 hitter, but in the last three full MLB seasons, he has hit 20 or more homers and played in 141 or more games. He will likely put up another 20 homer, 75 RBI season.
At Least He Hit Homers
Matt Chapman is a great fielding third baseman with three Gold Gloves to his name, but that fact is useless in most fantasy baseball leagues. So what else does Chapman do well? Hit home runs. He is never going to hit for a high average or put up a great OBP. But he hits the ball over the fence well, topping 24 home runs in each of the last five full seasons. If power is what you need on your team, then Chapman is your man.
Small Sample Size, But…
Gunnar Henderson had an outstanding season in the minors (.946 OPS, 19 homers and 22 steals in 407 at-bats) before joining the Orioles. With Baltimore, Henderson showed why he was such a highly rated prospect, slashing .259/.348/.404 with four home runs and 18 RBI in 116 at-bats. A shortstop by nature, he saw the majority of his playing time at third base with the Orioles. No matter if he sticks at third or not, he is a power/speed threat for Baltimore.
Jose Miranda was ranked 15th in my first baseman rankings. Here he comes in 10th. He’s still the same player, but the position is not as deep as first base. This is what I said about him: Miranda joined the Twins in May and produced a nice .268/.325/.426 slash line with 15 homes and 66 RBI in 125 games with only an 18.8% strikeout rate. As he establishes himself more, I expect to see that power increase.
If you are surprised to see Alec Bohm in this tier, so was I when putting this list together. He didn’t have an eye-popping season at the plate in 2022, slashing .280/.315/.398 with 13 home runs and 72 RBI. But in his final 68 games, he slashed .285/.321/409 with seven dingers and 37 RBI.
His xBA ranked in the 98th percentile while have a K% and Whiff% ranking in the 74th and 72nd percentiles while his career Hard Hit% is seven points higher than the MLB average. At only 26, I expect the power to increase.
Power is His Game
Eugenio Suarez does one thing very well – hit homers. For his career, he is a .250/.334/.465 hitter, but he hasn’t hit better than .236 since 2019. But in the last four full seasons, he has hit 34, 39, 31 and 31 home runs. His 162-game average is 32 homers and 89 RBI. With that kind of power, it is worth giving up average and OBP.
On the Outside Looking In
Alex Bregman and Nolan Arenado just missed being in Tier 1 due mostly to their age. I preferred the upside and ages of Bobby Witt Jr. and Austin Riley over the established production of Bregman and Arenado.
Fully healthy last season, Bregman put up big numbers once again with 23 home runs and 93 RBI while slashing .259/.366/.454. Once Jeremy Pena moved into the No. 2 hole ahead of Bregman, he took off at the plate. Over the final 67 games, Bregman slashed .287/.379/.515 with 12 home runs and 47 RBI.
Arenado just keeps producing, whether it is in Colorado or St. Louis. In his two years with the Cardinals, he has averaged 32 home runs and 104 RBI. He has driven in more than 100 runs in the last seven full seasons and he has finished in the top 10 in MVP voting six times during his career, including finishing third this past season. The only knock against Arenado is he will be 32 for most of next season.
Looking three years down the line, I prefer Witt and Riley. But if you only care about next season, then Arenado is a Tier 1 player.
I ranked Witt second in my shortstop rankings and he comes in fifth here. Witt had a great rookie season, slashing .254/.294/.428 with 20 homers, 80 RBI and 30 steals.
I’m not sure if he is going to see more time at short or third next year and beyond, but no matter where he plays, I expect all of those numbers to only get better and for him to remain a top keeper at any position.
Austin Riley had a breakout season in 2021 when he hit 33 homers, drove in 107 runs and slashed .303/.367/.531. Riley proved 2021 was no fluke, slugging 38 homers, droving in 93 and slashing .273/.349/.528 this past season. He ranked in the 95th percentile or higher in average EV, max EV, hard hit%. xwOBA, xSLG and barrel%.
The Top Three
Manny Machado has been producing at a high level for years. This past season he put together another monster season as he slashed .298/.366/.531 with 32 home runs, 102 RBI and nine steals. Meanwhile, Rafael Devers put up another solid season as well with a .295/.358/.521 slash line to go with 27 homers and 88 RBI. Devers is a career .282 hitter, and his 162/game average is 33 home runs and 107 RBI.
Then we have Jose Ramirez. A switch-hitter, Ramirez has topped 100 RBI in three of the last four full MLB seasons and his 162-game average is .279/.354/.503 with 27 home runs, 95 RBI and 25 steals. Since 2017, he has finished third, third, second, sixth and fourth in the MVP voting.
For me, Machado is ranked third due to being 30-years old compared to Devers, who is 25. In theory, Devers has many more years to produce at the level he does while Machado will see his production decline at some point.
So, then, why is Ramirez my top-ranked third baseman, and not Devers, since Ramirez is also 30. The separator in this case is Ramirez’s speed. As mentioned, his career 162-game average is 25 steals.
After stealing 10 bases in 2014 and 2015 when he played in only 68 and 97 games, he has failed to steal fewer than 17 bases in a full season. Ramirez can basically do it all as a fantasy hitter and thus earns the top spot in the rankings.
The first three people on this list are all young up-and-coming players, or at least expected to be up-and-coming players.
Miguel Vargas (age 23) got some playing time with the Dodgers this past season, slashing .170/.200/.255 in 47 at-bats after putting up a .304/.404/.511 slash line in Triple-A with 17 homers and 82 RBI. His problem is breaking into the Dodgers’ lineup unless the team doesn’t re-sign Justin Turner, then I could see Vargas being a solid gamble.
Brett Baty (23) had a similar season as Vargas. The young Mets third baseman had great success in the minors, slashing .315/.410/.533 with 19 homers and 60 RBI between Double A and Triple A. After being recalled by the Mets, he slashed .184/.244/.342 with two homers and five RBI in 38 at-bats before a torn thumb ligament ended his season. Like Vargas, Baty is currently blocked at third base with Eduardo Escobar in his way, leaving him to scramble for at-bats.
Elehuris Montero (24) was acquired from St. Louis as part of the Nolan Arenado trade, so the Rockies are going to give him every chance to succeed. Montero hit six homers in 176 at-bats with Colorado last season. The Rockies appear set at third as well as first, but Montero will still get time at those positions as well as be a DH.
Well, they aren’t horrible…
Josh Donaldson is on this list because A) third base is not a deep position and B) he still hit 15 homers and drove in 62 runs. If you have to dip this far down for third basemen, he is at least somewhat serviceable. The same goes for Ramon Urias. His slash line of .248/.305/.414 was better than Donaldson’s (.222/.308/.374) while hitting 16 homers with 51 RBI.
If you missed any of the previous Top 2023 Keepers articles, you can find them here: