Fantasy Baseball Focus: AL third basemen

Editor’s Note: Fantasy Baseball Focus is a breakdown of each league, position by position. Each team receives a fantasy analysis on the starter, backup and future prospect if there is one. In case you’re wondering, is there a schedule? Why, yes! Thanks for asking. On the right hand side of the page (your other right), look for the Fantasy Baseball Focus headline. Jamie Shoemaker will analyze the National League, while Dan Kirby handles the American League. Good luck in your fantasy leagues!

No matter where Detroit's Miguel Cabrera qualifies, he will deliver for fantasy owners. (Andrew Hancock/Sports Illustrated)

Third base is a power position and the American League has some of the top power fantasy players in the game. Some of them had down seasons last year as injuries took their toll, but superstars rebound. There are also some exciting young prospects who should make a name for themselves in 2012. Here is a breakdown of the position for this upcoming season, as well as a handy guide to help you at your draft.

For-sure pick – It means you’ll get consistency, nothing less, nothing more.
Sleeper – Underrated in drafts; can get in later rounds but might produce above-average stats.
Overrated – Might not produce at the hype he’s supposed to produce at.
Long-term value – Might not be the best bet for this year but excellent for keeper leagues.

Top five American League third basemen

1. Miguel Cabrera, Tigers — 2011 stats: 111 R, 30 HR, 105 RBI, 2 SB, .344/.448/.586

2. Jose Bautista, Blue Jays — 2011 stats: 105 R, 43 HR, 103 RBI, 9 SB, .302/.447/.608

3. Adrian Beltre, Rangers — 2011 stats: 82 R, 32 HR, 105 RBI, 1 SB, .296/.331/.561

4. Evan Longoria, Rays — 2011 stats: 78 R, 31 HR, 99 RBI, 3 SB, .244/.355/.495

5. Alex Rodriguez, Yankees — 2011 stats: 67 R, 16 HR, 62 RBI, 4 SB, .276/.362/.461

Baltimore OriolesMark Reynolds, Wilson Betemit, Josh Bell

Starter: Selecting Reynolds all depends on the type of scoring your league does. If strikeouts count, look somewhere else. He has led the league in strikeouts four straight years, averaging an insane 209 per year. On the plus side, he also has averaged 37.7 home runs, 91 RBI and 12.3 steals, although 24 SB came in 2009. But, of course, there is some more bad news. He is a career .238 hitter over his five-year career. Pick all of your poisons with Reynolds, but the power is top notch.

Backup: Over his first two seasons, Bell has hit .209 with three home runs, 18 RBI and no stolen bases over 79 games. Not a fantasy player at the moment. The 30-year-old Betemit has played for six teams over his nine career. He is a spot starter who can give you the occasional home run and he isn’t a bad hitter. Only use him for deeper leagues as playing time will be inconsistent.

Boston Red SoxKevin Youkilis, Mike Aviles, Will Middlebrooks

Starter: Youkilis has missed over 100 games combined over the last two seasons. When healthy, he is a high-average hitter with power. His 162-game averages of .290, 23 HR, 98 RBI, .883 OPS with 101 runs show the kind of fantasy value he has. If you draft him, be prepared to have a reliable backup for about 40 games this year.

Backup: Aviles would be a nice handcuff for Youkilis in deeper leagues. He hits for a good average and can steal 10-15 bases. Not a lot of power, but can produce some RBIs if he gets playing time in that lineup.

Prospect: Middlebrooks hit .285 with 23 home runs, 94 RBI and 10 stolen bases over 116 games split between three levels last season. He struggled at triple-A, however, hitting just .161 over 16 games. The 23-year-old,  6’-4”, 200 lb righty has power to all fields, hits for a high average and can steal bases. With a good start at triple-A, could get a look from the Red Sox by mid-season. Long-term-potential.

Chicago White SoxBrent Morel, Osvaldo Martinez

Starter: Over 126 games in 2011, Morel hit .246 with 10 home runs, 41 RBI and five stolen bases. Eight of his home runs came in September, along with 19 RBI. At 6’-2”, 220 lbs, the 23-year-old righty has the build to produce 25+ home runs a year. He stole 25 bases in 2009 at class-A ball, so he has some wheels, too. With just 57 strikeouts over 444 plate appearances in 2011, he has a very good understanding of the strike zone, which will only help his average. Considering where he will get drafted, and the potential he has, especially hitting at Cellular Field, I’m labeling him a sleeper pick for 2012.

Backup: Martinez is more of a defensive player as he has 16 home runs, 60 stolen bases and a .682 OPS over 2,099 career minor-league plate appearances. Only use him in the deepest of leagues.

Cleveland IndiansLonnie Chisenhall, Jack Hannahan

Starter: Chisenhall hit .255 with seven home runs, 22 RBI and a stolen base over 66 games for the Tribe last season. The former 2008 first-round pick hasn’t shown the ability to be a high-average hitter and won’t steal many bases. He could be good for around 20 home runs and 75 RBI, but not in 2012. Deeper-league starter.

Backup: Over 400 career games, Hannahan is a .231 hitter with 24 home runs, 130 RBI and six stolen bases. He isn’t that good, and at age 31, isn’t going to be. It’s not looking good for you if he is on your roster.

Detroit TigersMiguel Cabrera, Brandon Inge, Ryan Raburn

Starter: Miggy won’t qualify at third immediately since he didn’t play a game there last season. By all accounts, he is their starting third baseman. Hopefully, your league’s rules allow for less than 20 started before a player is eligible because I don’t think he will last at third longer than that. He is, however, one of the game’s best, and most consistent, all-around hitters. He won his first batting crown last season, hitting .344, and has driven in at least 100 runs in eight straight seasons. His 162 game averages of .317, 101 R, 33 HR, 118 RBI and a .950 OPS make him fantasy gold. Hitting in front of Prince Fielder could earn him his first MVP award much like Ryan Braun last season. It’s hard to imagine him getting any better but 2012 should be a career year for Miggy. For-sure-pick.

Backup: Inge is a .235 hitter over his 11-year career, but he does supply power and RBIs while also being eligible at the catcher spot. A good option in most leagues, mostly due to his versatility. Once Miggy gets pushed to the outfield, and he will, Raburn should see increased playing time. He hits for a good average and can give you 15-20 home runs with good RBI totals in a loaded lineup.

Kansas City RoyalsMike Moustakas, Chris Getz

Starter: The second-overall pick in the 2007 draft, Moustakas hit .322 with 41 doubles, 36 home runs, 124 RBI and a .999 OPS over 118 games in the minors in 2010, making him one of the top prospects in baseball. The 5’-11″, 230 lb monster, is a 23-year-old lefty with ridiculous power. He hit .263 with five home runs, 30 RBI and 18 doubles over 89 games as a rookie in 2011, and got better as the season went on. In 22 September games, he hit .352 with four home runs, 12 RBI and a .960 OPS. Tons of upside and could breakout in 2012 hitting in a lineup filled with talent. Long-term-potential.

Backup: Getz can steal 20+ bases a year but hasn’t hit a home run since 2009. He qualifies all over the infield but should only be taken in deeper leagues. Won’t hurt your average either.

Los Angeles AngelsAlberto Callaspo, Maicer Izturis

Starter: Callaspo hit .288 with six home runs, 46 RBI and eight stolen bases over 141 games in 2011. With third base being a position of power, there are far better options than him. At 5’-9”, he most likely isn’t going to develop any power soon, either. Deeper-league option.

Backup: Izturis is basically the same player as Callaspo. Over 122 games in 2011, he hit .276 with five home runs, 38 RBI and nine stolen bases. He is even shorter than Callaspo, standing just 5’-8”. The Angels have a lot of fantasy talent in their lineup, just not at third base.

Minnesota TwinsDanny Valencia, Luke Hughes

Starter: If your league counts on-base percentage, slugging and OPS as a stat, Valencia is not the guy you want at third. Over 154 games last season, he posted a slash line of .294/.383/.677. He did hit 15 home runs with 72 RBI, so he is decent in a standard 5×5 league. He is, however, just entering his third year in the league, so he could see a spike across the board if he progresses. At age 27, however, he might be as good as he is going to get.

Backup: Hughes is more of a utility infielder who will get spot starts and pinch hits. He doesn’t really offer any fantasy value unless you are in a very deep league.

New York Yankees — Alex Rodriguez, Eduardo Nunez

Starter: A-Rod saw his streak of 13 straight seasons with at least 30 home runs and 100 RBI come to an end in 2011. He hit .276 with 16 home runs, 62 RBI over 99 games, and has averaged just 124.5 games over the last four seasons as the injuries are starting to pile up with age. He still averaged 28 home runs and 98 RBI over that span, so even a shortened season is better than a full season from most players. He will turn 37 in July, but in that lineup, you can still write down another 30/100 season with a good average. His speed, however, is all but gone. I will label him overrated because he isn’t what he used to be, even if people still think he is.

Backup: Nunez is a guy who qualifies at several positions and gives very good fantasy value. He hit .265 with five home runs, 30 RBI and 22 stolen bases over 112 games in 2011, playing all over the infield and outfield. With A-Rod and Derek Jeter being injury-prone at this stage of their careers, Nunez could get around 400 at bats this season, while putting up similar numbers as last year. A solid option in most formats.

Oakland AthleticsScott Sizemore, Adam Rosales

Starter: Sizemore is not a good option in standard leagues as he doesn’t offer a lot of power, speed or average. He hit .249 with 11 home runs, 52 RBI and four stolen bases over 93 games last season. He didn’t show any power at the minor-league level either so what you see is what you are going to get with him at this point.

Backup: Over 209 career games, Rosales hast hit .226 with 13 home runs, 60 RBI, four stolen bases and a .630 OPS. Deeper-league option only.

Seattle MarinersChone Figgins, Alex Liddi

Starter: While everyone was talking about Adam Dunn’s abysmal 2011, Figgins somehow escaped the wrath of the media while having a similar awful season. Over 81 games, he hit .188 with one home run, 15 RBI and 11 stolen bases, while making $9.5MM for his efforts. At 34, his best years are behind him, and he really only had a couple of them anyway. Don’t get fooled by the name at the draft, he won’t be that useful in 2012. Completely overrated.

Expect Evan Longoria to have an even better season in 2012. (Jeff Zelevansky/Icon SMI)

Backup: Liddi is an Italian-born player, and might end being the everyday third baseman by season’s end. The 23-year-old, 6’-4”, 230 lb righty hit .259 with 30 home runs and 104 RBI over 138 games at triple-A last season. He isn’t a high-average hitter, won’t steal many bases, but has legitimate 30-homer potential, even at Safeco. He does strikeout a ton (170 Ks last season), so be aware if your league counts strikeouts. He adjusted well to major-league pitching by hitting three home runs over 15 games in 2011.

Tampa Bay RaysEvan Longoria, Sean Rodriguez

Starter: Aside from hitting arguably the biggest home run of the 2011 season, Longoria had a down year. He hit just .244 over 133 games, missing about a month with a strained oblique. He still hit 31 home runs with 99 RBI, however. With 162-game averages of .274, 98 R, 33 HR, 115 RBI and 10 SB, Longo remains one of the best fantasy players in the game. Still just 26 years of age, expect another big season across the board in 2012. For-sure-pick.

Backup: Rodriguez can give you double-digit steals and home runs if given playing time but should only be considered in deeper leagues, or if Longoria gets injured again. He hit .228 with eight home runs, 36 RBI and 11 stolen bases, playing mostly at shortstop, where he is a decent option.

Texas RangersAdrian Beltre, Michael Young

Starter: Beltre missed almost 40 games in 2011 with a Grade-1 strained hamstring. Still, he hit .296 with 32 home runs, 105 RBI and an .892 OPS over 124 games. He has remained relatively healthy over his 14-year career, and at just 32 years of age, still has some great years ahead of him. Hitting in the Rangers’ lineup will only increase his numbers, as well. Count on another .300, 35 HR and 115 RBI season from him in 2012 as one of the top fantasy producers in baseball. A for-sure-pick.

Backup: Young will be the primary DH in 2012, but he should qualify all over the field because of his totals from last year. He filled in for Beltre during his injury and could do the same this year if it happens again. Young hit .338 with 11 home runs, 106 RBI and six stolen bases in 2011 and only struck out 78 times over 689 plate appearances. Over his last nine seasons, he has averaged 202 hits, 16 home runs, 90 RBI and a .312 average. Expect similar numbers in 2012. A for-sure-pick at any position.

Toronto Blue JaysJose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Brett Lawrie

Starter: You have to do something twice before I will consider it legit. Bautista followed up his incredible 2010, in which he hit .260, with a league-leading 54 home runs and 124 RBI, along with nine stolen bases and a .995 OPS, with an even better 2011 season. He once again lead the league in home runs with 43, and also hit .302 with 103 RBI and nine stolen bases. His 132 walks lead the league, as well as his .608 SLG and 1.056 OPS. At age 30, he is in the prime of his career and should put up another monster year in 2012. He is now a for-sure-pick.

Backup: Encarnacion will get some time at third as Bautista will spend most of his time in the outfield. Over 134 games in 2011, he hit .272 with 17 home runs, 55 RBI and eight stolen bases. He doesn’t strikeout a lot and gives solid numbers across the board, making him a good option in all formats.

Prospect: Lawrie looks to be the everyday third baseman, and a very good one at that. The former first-round pick by the Brewers in 2008, he was part of the Shaun Marcum deal. He is a high-average hitter, with power and speed, and showed his potential over 43 games with the Jays last season, hitting .293 with 8 2B, 4 3B, 9 HR, 25 RBI, 7 SB and a .953 OPS. Those numbers over 162 games project to .293, 30 2B, 15 3B, 34 HR, 94 RBI, 26 SB. It wasn’t fluky either as he hit .347 over 73 minor-league games last season with 18 home runs, 62 RBI and 13 stolen bases. He is just 22 years old, and I am labeling him a sleeper, as well as having long-term-potential.

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