Rendon, Donaldson, Beltre shine brightest at premium position
By Joey Nowak
The crop of talented Major League third basemen is about as varied as it can be -- with a strong mix of young and old, from the National and American Leagues and spanning from coast to coast.
The hot corner is a premium position across the game, with an emphasis not only on hitting for power and average, but also on standout defense. Here is a breakdown of the top fantasy third basemen in baseball:
Beltre is the elder statesman of this group, with Donaldson breaking out over the last few years and Rendon emerging as one of the top young players in the game.
Rendon has officially taken over the third-base job in Washington, thanks to a strong rookie campaign in 2013 (seven homers, 35 RBIs and a .265/.329/.396 slash line in 98 games) and a full-fledged breakout season in 2014. He won a Silver Slugger Award last year, scoring 111 runs and driving in 83, and he projects once again to be valuable in nearly every offensive category.
Rendon will need a few more Silver Sluggers to catch up to the steady Beltre, who for 17 seasons now has been one of the top third basemen in the game. He certainly hasn't faded as he's gotten older, with four All-Star campaigns in the last five years to go along with three Silver Sluggers and two Gold Glove Awards in that span. After hitting .324 in 148 games last year, expect the Rangers' third baseman to once again hit for power and average in 2015.
Power is what you can expect from Donaldson, who broke onto the scene in 2013, his first full year in the Majors. His average was down last year (from .301 to .255), but his power numbers (24 homers in 2013, 29 in '14; 93 RBIs in '13 and 98 in '14) increased. You can expect more of the same -- big power, mediocre average -- in the heart of the Toronto lineup in 2015.
Wright and Longoria are the most established of this group, with Arenado serving as the up-and-comer. And farther west, the 27-year-old Seager just signed a contract extension in Seattle to last him through 2021 after an All-Star and Gold Glove campaign in 2014.
By then, Seager will be in the Longoria/Wright salary bracket, and those two have certainly earned it. After an injury-plagued 2012, Longoria has been able to show what he's capable of when healthy the last two years. In 2015, that projects to be another season of 25-plus homers, 90 RBIs and an average in the .270s.
The same can be said for Wright and his health, with MLB.com projecting him as roughly a 20-homer, 80-RBI player in 2015 should his body cooperate.
It's remarkable to think of what Arenado has been able to do in just two full Major League seasons and by the age of 23. He's got two Gold Glove Awards and has steadily produced at the plate (.277/.314/.450 in 244 career games). Much like the young Rendon, Arenado will hit for power and average to go along with his exceptional defense.
Frazier, too, has been productive in each of his full seasons. He was elected to his first All-Star team last year, and projects in 2015 to again belt 25 homers and drive in 80 runs.
Carpenter, Headley and Sandoval are all players in this tier who have had MVP-caliber seasons and are more than viable third-base options. Carpenter was nearly unstoppable in 2013, batting .318 with a .392 on-base percentage and a Silver Slugger Award to finish fourth in the NL MVP voting. Headley had his breakout season the year before that, driving in 115 runs -- 51 more than his season high in any other year -- in 2012. And if playoff numbers factored into fantasy, then Sandoval would be near the top of the class. The two-time All-Star will get a change of scenery in Boston -- and try to put his unorthodox hitting style to good use in one of the most quirky stadiums in the game.
Looking to 2015, Sandoval projects to be the most well-rounded (an average at .286 with double-digit homers and high RBI numbers), while Carpenter boasts a stronger overall average and run total and Headley is more power-focused.
After his 2014 season, the sky seems to be the limit for the do-it-all Harrison, who has played a multitude of positions for the Pirates but settled in at third base last year. In an All-Star campaign, he hit .315/.347/.490 with 13 homers and 52 RBIs, supplanting veteran Pedro Alvarez at third. Harrison, like Carpenter, brings a sturdy average to the plate along with flashes of power.
The fourth tier of third basemen has a little bit of everything in the seasoned veteran Prado, the injured Machado, the unproven Bryant, the little-seen Tomas and the oft-injured but frequently productive Lawrie.
For the last three seasons in Toronto, Lawrie has steadily hit for decent average while flashing double-digit home run power. He was on track for a big season last year before injuries struck, so the question is whether he can find that stroke again in Oakland. MLB.com projects him to again hit above .260 with 18 homers and 66 RBIs.
Machado, too, will need to find his stroke again after a knee injury kept him to 82 games last year. If he can replicate his 2013 All-Star season -- 51 doubles to go with a .283/.314/.432 slash line -- then he'll be a steal as a late pick with projections of 18 homers, 68 RBIs and a .281 average.
Bryant, too, could be a steal if he makes the big league club and goes for his projected double-digit home run totals. He made a huge leap from Rookie and Class A ball in 2013 all the way to Triple-A in 2014, and he didn't miss a beat, belting 43 homers between Double-A and Triple-A last year.
Tomas is also new to the Majors, with little in the way of scouting reports on him, but there's enough buzz surrounding the Cuban rookie to project him for a .263 average, 20 homers and 78 RBIs.
Prado, 31, will be with his third team in a calendar year when he opens the season with the Marlins, after playing for the D-backs and Yankees last season. In 143 games between those two clubs, he hit .282 with 12 homers and 58 RBIs. Expect his average to stay about the same in 2015, with a slight bump in power numbers.
Joey Nowak is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @joeynowak. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.