After a few years as the weaker siblings to the slugging first basemen on the other side of the diamond, third basemen came roaring back into fantasy prominence last season. The 2016 group is full of early-round stalwarts, though fantasy owners who opt to make a smaller investment will likely still have several quality sluggers from which to choose.
Led by the reigning American League MVP Award winner, four third basemen are part of the first-round discussion for upcoming drafts. After joining a club with a stacked lineup and a hitter-friendly home venue, Donaldson slugged 41 homers and led all AL hitters in both RBIs and runs. Even if he experiences a slight regression this season, the Auburn alum could rip 35 roundtrippers and surpass the century mark in runs and RBIs.
Able to succeed at hitter-friendly Coors Field and on the road, Arenado topped Donaldson by one homer last season and led the Majors with 130 RBIs. Because he did not post a 20-homer season in his initial two big league campaigns, the 24-year-old is a candidate for some power regression. But as a virtual lock to exceed the 30-homer mark and drive in 100 runs, Arenado belongs in the first round of all drafts.
With a diverse skill set, Machado will be more appealing than Donaldson or Arenado to some owners. Machado sets himself apart from his peers at the position by being the only third baseman with the wheels to swipe 20 bases. He can certainly be a force at the plate, too, as he proved when he hit .286 with 35 homers in 2015. And having played in all 162 games last season after injury troubles in '14, he has also allayed any durability concerns.
Though Bryant will slip to the second round in some 2016 drafts, he proved during his debut season that he has first-round potential. One of the most highly touted power prospects of his generation, the third baseman followed up a 43-homer '14 season in the Minors by ripping 26 roundtrippers as a Major League rookie. Expected to hit in the cleanup spot in a recently upgraded Cubs lineup, the righty slugger should top the 30-homer and 100-RBI marks in his sophomore year.
Those who eschew selecting a third baseman in the initial two rounds will still have several appealing options in the second tier. Having totaled 64 homers and 33 steals since the outset of 2014, Frazier highlights this group. While he may miss hitter-friendly Great American Ball Park following an offseason trade from the Reds to the White Sox, the New Jersey native should fare well at U.S. Cellular Field. Frazier may be closer to the top tier if not for his proclivity to struggle after the All-Star break (lifetime .714 second-half OPS), which has put a damper on his end-of-year numbers during each of the past two seasons.
Beltre was in the top tier at this position two years ago, but a poor first half plagued by a thumb injury led to a disappointing 2015. Still, after delivering a strong performance following the All-Star break (.318 batting average, 11 homers, 61 RBIs) and undergoing offseason thumb surgery to repair a damaged ligament, the veteran could increase his productivity.
Few hitters changed their profile in 2015 to the same degree as Carpenter. Previously labeled as a high-contact, low-power sparkplug, the native Texan changed his approach and ripped 28 home runs last season. Now able to combine at least 20 homers with a helpful batting average and 100 runs, Carpenter can make a major difference in mixed formats.
Having hit between .259 and .268 with 20-26 homers in each of the past four seasons, Seager is the most stable asset in the second tier. The lefty-swinging slugger could still take a small step forward after lowering his strikeout rate last year.
Like Beltre, Longoria once dwelled among the top tier at third base. But the native Californian has seen his power dip in recent seasons. Still, the Rays' lineup cornerstone should be a stable source of roughly 20 homers, 80 runs and 80 RBIs.
Moustakas finally delivered on his promised potential in 2015 -- hitting .284 with 22 homers and 82 RBIs -- after teasing fantasy owners for several seasons. Having improved his ability to hit to all fields, the native Californian should be able to produce a fine follow-up effort to his last year's breakout campaign.
Those who wish to chase upside when handling the hot corner should look no further than Franco. Despite hitting in a mediocre Phillies lineup, the young slugger collected 14 homers and 50 RBIs across 304 at-bats in his rookie season. If Franco was not surrounded by a subpar supporting cast, he would have been a candidate to jump a tier this season.
Coming off a breakout season, Duffy rounds out this list. The 25-year-old is not spectacular in any area, but his ability to hit for average, reach double digits in homers and steals, and post solid totals in runs and RBIs makes him a valuable five-category contributor.
Fred Zinkie is the lead fantasy baseball writer for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @FredZinkieMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.