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Fantasy Baseball Draft Rankings, Tiers & Strategy: Third Basemen (2024)

Fantasy Baseball Draft Rankings, Tiers & Strategy: Third Basemen (2024)

I had a wonderful dream last night in which MLB’s third base population was awash in talented, Rawlings-crushing sluggers.

Austin Riley and Rafael Devers were in their early 30s and at the height of their powers. Gunnar Henderson and Junior Caminero were on their way to becoming the George Brett and Mike Schmidt of a new era. Noelvi Marte was blossoming. Ely De La Cruz had found consistency. Royce Lewis was staying healthy. Josh Jung had trimmed his strikeout rate. Isaac Paredes was hitting to all fields.

It was glorious.

Then I woke up and assessed the current realities of the position.

The longtime standard-bearer at third base, Jose Ramirez, will turn 32 before the end of the season. Nolan Arenado, Alex Bregman and Manny Machado are in or approaching the post-peak phase of their careers. There are quite a few third basemen who offer power, but at great risk to your team batting average. A bunch of high-quality 3B prospects are on the verge of becoming big-league regulars but might not be ready to make meaningful contributions to fantasy teams until 2025 or beyond.

We’re in third base purgatory.

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But here’s the good news: This is a purgatory you can buy your way out of.

In my positional overview of first base, I discussed how positional scarcity and the lack of credible midrange options at the position makes it prudent to spend up. The same holds true at third base.

In the outfield and in the middle infield, it’s easier to get quality production from middle-round picks because of the relative depth at those positions. Positional scarcity at the corners is likely to make middle-class corner infielders more expensive than middle-class outfielders or middle infielders. Why? Because fantasy managers need to fill those positions, and if they don’t fill them in the early rounds of a draft (or in the big-money phase of an auction), they’re more likely to overpay for middle-class corner infielders later on. Outfielder and middle infield production is more abundant, so it’s easier to get quality production at those positions without paying up for big stars.

My recommendation is to pay up for two high-quality corner infielders. At third base, get one of the players from the top three tiers.

Go beyond those top three tiers, and you encounter an uncomfortable level of risk. And in many cases, the biggest risk is to your team batting average.

There’s power to be found at third base beyond the top three tiers, but it’s power at a price. This risk/reward proposition is best personified by Tier 4 dweller Max Muncy, who clobbered 36 home runs and had 105 RBI for the Dodgers last year but had a .212 batting average. The power is nice, but it’s hard to reverse that sort of damage to your team BA.

Spend boldly at third base, and at the corner infield positions in general. I think it’s a sound strategy to take a first baseman and a third baseman with two of your first four picks in a snake draft. In an auction where you have a $260 budget, I recommend budgeting $40-$60 on a starting third baseman and starting first baseman.

Invest in quality at the corner infield spots.

Let’s get into the third base tiers. In addition to the rankings and tiers themselves, I’ll offer a few words about some of the players from each tier.

Fantasy Baseball Draft Rankings, Tiers & Strategy: Third Basemen (2024)

(Please note that these rankings are limited to players who appeared in at least 20 games at third base or played more games there than at any other position.)

Tier 1

Jose Ramirez no longer has a tier to himself, but he’s still the top third baseman for fantasy. Run production was down for the Cleveland star last season, but a poor supporting cast factored into that. Even in a down year for his power, Ramirez still delivered strong five-category production. The Statcast data and underlying metrics offer no evidence that Ramirez is in decline as a hitter.

Over the last three years, Austin Riley has averaged 36 home runs, 99 RBI, 99 runs and a .286 batting average. He’s also averaged 169 strikeouts per season over that stretch, but the whiffs aren’t hurting his batting average. About the only thing Riley won’t give you is speed, but with premium production in the other categories, we can forgive Riley for not providing stolen bases.

A Statcast darling, Rafael Devers had a 98th percentile hard-hit rate last season, a 95th percentile average exit velocity and an 84th percentile barrel rate, Devers is only 27, but he’s already had three seasons with more than 30 home runs, three seasons with 100 or more RBI, and two seasons with more than 100 runs. He also brings a .280 career batting average to the table.

Tier 2

There’s a case that Gunnar Henderson belongs on Tier 1. He was 21 years old a year ago when he embarked on his first full MLB season, and he finished with 28 home runs, 82 RBI, 100 runs, 10 stolen bases and a respectable .255 batting average. It’s possible the numbers get even better in Year 2. It’s also possible Henderson takes a small step backward before taking the next step forward. A 47% groundball rate could make it difficult for Henderson to match last season’s HR total, and his RBI potential will be somewhat limited if the Orioles keep him in the leadoff spot all season. But enough of the nitpicking. This is one of the more exciting young players in the game, and the dual 3B/SS position eligibility is a nice bonus.

Like Henderson, Machado could easily be included on Tier 1. The reason Machado is being drafted outside the top 40, according to FantasyPros consensus ADP data, is that he had offseason elbow surgery and isn’t a lock to be ready for Opening Day. But Machado has been pretty durable throughout his career, and even if he isn’t ready to go when the Padres kick of their season in Korea against the Dodgers in late March, he should be available soon after. “He’s in a good spot to be ready for the start of the season,” Padres manager Mike Shildt told the San Diego Union-Tribune. I’ll happily take the discount on a metronome of fantasy production.

Tier 3

A former mega-prospect, Royce Lewis began to realize his vast potential in 2023, batting .309 with 15 home runs and 52 RBI in only 217 at-bats. The 24-year-old could turn into a superstar if he can stay healthy — but that’s an “if” bigger than the state of Minnesota. Lewis tore his right ACL in 2021 and again in 2022. He missed time last season with oblique and hamstring injuries. Lewis is a compelling risk/reward play, and with an ADP outside the top 60, I’m inclined to embrace the risk.

I feel like a killjoy throwing cold water on the Elly De La Cruz enthusiasm, but with an ADP inside the top 40 overall, he’s one of the most overpriced players in fantasy baseball. With his blinding speed and light-tower power, De La Cruz is more fun than a roomful of puppies. He stole 35 bases, scored 67 runs and hit 13 home runs — some of which were absolute moonshots — in his age-21 season. But De La Cruz also struck out 144 times in 388 at-bats and batted .213 from July 1 through the end of the season. It’s intoxicating to think of what De La Cruz might be able to do once he develops a tolerable level of plate discipline. But for now, it would be reckless to spend a top-40 draft pick on a still-developing player who could conceivably give you a batting average below the Mendoza Line.

Alex Bregman has never matched the splendor of his 2019 season, when he hit 41 home runs and batted .298. But he’s settled in as a rock-solid cornerman who’ll give you 20-25 HRs, 90 runs, 90 RBI and a batting average in the .260-.270 range. That’s not bad, and since the market now seems bored with Bregman, you can probably get him at a reasonable price.

Nolan Arenado‘s numbers weren’t bad last season — 26 HRs, 93 RBI, a .266 batting average — but the mammoth numbers he used to put up in Colorado are a thing of the past. Arenado turns 33 in April but should still have a few seasons of above-average offensive production left.

Tier 4

Josh Jung had 23 HRs, 70 RBI and a .266 batting average in his first full MLB season despite missing six weeks late in the season with a thumb injury. He had only one home run and three RBI in 13 games after his return from the injury, so his numbers could have been much better. With his mouth-watering power and a spot in the middle of a loaded Rangers lineup, Jung is an appealing fantasy option — particularly with an ADP outside the top 100. There may be some slight batting average risk, however, as Jung’s respectable 2023 BA was buoyed by a .340 BABIP.

Former first-round draft pick Jake Burger finally arrived in his age-27 season, hitting 34 home runs and posting a respectable .250 batting average in a season split between the White Sox and the Marlins. But beware: Burger struck out in 27.6% of his plate appearances last season, so there’s some batting average risk here.

Speed is Maikel Garcia‘s calling card. He swiped 23 bags as a rookie last season and batted a respectable .272. The speed is nice at a position where it’s in short supply. Just don’t expect much power from a 180-pound third baseman who had a 49% groundball rate last season.

The walking definition of a dead-pull hitter, Isaac Paredes has hit all 53 of his MLB home runs to left field. Statcast gives Paredes a resounding thumbs-down: He had a 13th percentile average exit velocity last season and a sixth percentile hard-hit rate.

Tier 5

Noelvi Marte and Junior Caminero could become the standard-bearers at the 3B position. The 22-year-old Marte has an intriguing blend of speed and power, although it might take some time for the power to show up. He’s expected to open the season as the Reds’ starting third baseman. Caminero probably won’t open the season in the majors but figures to be called up at some point in 2024. He bashed 31 home runs in 460 minor league at-bats last year and batted .324. He’s one of the best prospects in baseball. It’s just hard to tell how many at-bats he’s going to get in 2024.

Don’t let yourself be tempted by the HR potential of Eugenio Suarez. He’s averaged 28 home runs over the past three years, but he’s batted .223 over that span with 581 strikeouts.

D.J. LeMahieu‘s batting average has fallen in each of the last three seasons and slipped to .243 last year. His speed is gone, and he hasn’t hit more than 15 HRs since 2019, so there’s not much reason to for optimism with LeMahieu turning 36 in July.

Tier 6

The Mets would love to see 24-year-old Brett Baty seize their 3B job, but he struck out 109 times in 389 MLB plate appearances last season, and a groundball proclivity casts doubt on his HR potential.

Show your wisdom by not rostering Patrick Wisdom. He’s averaged 25.3 home runs over the last three seasons, but he’s batted .214 over that span while whiffing in 36.9% of his plate appearances.

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