2021 Fantasy Baseball Primer: Third Base
Third base may lack the speed, sizzle, and star power of other positions. It’s also far from a weak spot in 2021 fantasy baseball drafts.
José Ramírez reclaimed the hot corner throne in a bizarre 2020 season, and he’s the uncontested top option with several big names falling down draft boards. Many of those former stars, however, offer immense bargain potential at depreciated costs.
The following tiers are based on NFBC eligibility, but note that Yahoo leagues are keeping 2019 eligibility regardless of games played last year. As a result, all of the following players will remain available to deploy at third: Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Mike Moustakas, Miguel Sanó, Dylan Moore, Ian Happ, Nick Solak, Hunter Dozier, Renato Núñez, Yuli Gurriel, and Tommy La Stella.
Ramírez and Manny Machado rebounded from subpar seasons to post MVP-caliber 2020 campaigns. Outside of those studs, several big names fell short of expectations in a small sample size.
Rafael Devers couldn’t live up to a breakout 2019, batting .263 with a .793 OPS and no steals. While Anthony Rendon recovered from a poor start spurred by a hip injury, enough damage was done in the shortened calendar. Yoán Moncada contracted COVID-19 before the season began and never looked right after returning. Max Muncy, Matt Chapman, Eugenio Suárez, and Moustakas all suffered from poor batting averages.
A few mainstays crashed even harder. Always a reliable stud when healthy, Kris Bryant batted a putrid .206/.293/.351 in an injury-marred season. Alex Bregman followed up a 41-homer campaign with just six long balls and a career-worst .242 batting average. And after five seasons of bankable four-category superstardom, Nolan Arenado batted a dismal .253/.303/.434. Since Colorado followed that down year by shipping him out of town, this is the first time in a while he’s not a lock to go in the first or second round.
2021 at a Glance
This could be a year of redemption at the hot corner.
Some 2020 duds can be explained by small-sample variance. Injuries played a heavy hand in others, so there’s a chance third base bounces back as a star-laden spot in 2021.
Then again, some of them are getting up there in age. Some also has some legitimate warts deflating their ADP. Drafters shouldn’t shy away from high-end value in the early rounds, but there’s no need to panic if still needing to locate a starter beyond the top-100 picks.
A: A no-doubt stud capable of winning you a category
B: A solid, consistent contributor
C: Won’t lose you the category, but won’t win it, either
D: You can do better here
F: You’re getting NOTHING
(*Grades listed are relative to the position and take positional depth into consideration.)
Ramírez gets his own tier as the only third baseman worthy of a first-round selection. After a putrid first half in 2019, he’s batting .307/.377/.664 with 33 homers and 16 steals in 102 contests. Nobody else at the position is a lock to steal 20 bases, but the AL MVP snub could easily swipe 25-30. Although he showed a jarring floor to start 2019, that now stands out as an outlier for the career .281 hitter.
Machado tops this tier, but there’s little urgency to spend a top-20 pick for him when some of the others are often available 20 or more spots later. Rendon stands out as the best bargain of the bunch. He stumbled out of the gate due to a hip injury, but batted .333 with eight home runs from August 10 onward. The 30-year-old doesn’t get his proper due as a four-category stud. The biggest fear for both Devers and Bregman is whether they’re permanently parked on the basepaths. Even stealing seven or eight bases could make either a superb bargain.
It’s a bit unexpected to see how little Arenado has fallen after getting traded from Colorado. Perhaps everyone realized that former Rockies often improve on the road when no longer needing to adjust from high altitudes. Of the five sites included in the consensus ADP, he’s going no lower than pick No. 37. Although he should still tally 30 homers and broach 100 RBIs, the batting average away from Coors could dip enough to prefer everyone else in their grouping at the same — or cheaper — cost.
Biggio has the highest ADP of the trio, but I’d rather snag Suárez or Moncada. Although last year’s low batting average comes with some legitimate contact concerns, there’s no denying Suárez’s ability to produce massive power numbers. Moncada, meanwhile, admitted to feeling sluggish from his July COVID-19 diagnosis all season. One of 2019’s brightest breakout performers still presents massive breakout upside.
While Biggio is a 20/20 candidate who vaults up OBP-league draft boards, his contact risk now comes with a threat of getting pushed down Toronto’s bolstered lineup card. A middling .400 expected slugging (xSLG) in 695 career plate appearances doesn’t inspire much confidence either.
Any of these five are worthy options around their 95-115 ADP range. Your choice should depend on your league and roster construction. Even though he’s a career .319/.383/.501 hitter, some drafters will simply never take McNeil because of his lack of home runs, stolen bases, or eye-popping Statcast metrics. Bohm, who hit .338 with four homers in his 2020 debut, brings a similar contact-first profile to the table.
Chapman and Muncy are the power plays. Note that the latter, who launched 35 homers in back-to-back seasons before batting .192 last year, is also eligible at first and second. That extra versatility could give him a slight edge over Chapman, who underwent hip surgery in September.
Oh, by the way, the “washed-up” Bryant hit .282 with 31 homers and 108 runs in his last full season. Yes, last year’s downfall is scary, especially since Statcast’s .275 expected wOBA suggests he fully deserved his decline. But if everyone’s out on a former MVP because of 34 games, there’s an intriguing buying opportunity.
It’s not the end of the world if your starting third baseman comes from this tier. Hayes is the popular pick because of his stunning debut last September, but don’t overpay for the shiny new toy. You’re better off with a boring old guy. Since joining the Dodgers in 2014, Turner is batting .302/.382/.503 with a higher wRC+ (141) than all qualified third basemen besides Bregman and Donaldson. Speaking of Donaldson, we just saw his smack 37 long balls in a remarkable 2019. Both veterans are better in shallow leagues where you can navigate an IL stint.
Want to go a bit younger? The 29-year-old Urshela is pulling off the rare feat of getting overlooked in pinstripes. His hard-hit rate has exceeded 40.0% in each season with the Bronx Bombers. Urshela could be on the verge of something special if he maintains last year’s walk (10.3%) and strikeout (14.4%) improvements.
These are corner infielders, utility players, or bench depth in most mixed leagues. It’s also not an upside-laden grouping. Riley is most likely to graduate to a higher status for 2022, but don’t forget how he cratered late in 2019. Seager is the more boring power target better suited for a 15-team league. Anderson is a strong depth piece with a more well-rounded plate approach, and Escobar showed up in the Best Shape of His Life. Davis was one of my favorite 2020 breakout picks, but one can only see so many rumors about the Mets and third basemen before taking the hint.
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