Bryant, Arenado, Donaldson, Machado all in first-round conversation
By Thomas Harrigan
Heading into 2017, third base is arguably the most star-studded position in fantasy.
Sure, the outfield group has premier talents like Mike Trout, Mookie Betts and Bryce Harper. And yes, baseball is in the midst of a middle-infield renaissance. But only one position has more than three players ranked among the top 10 overall in this year's MLB.com Fantasy Player Preview, with the hot corner's four leading men all receiving the honor.
Though fantasy owners will find a steep drop-off after the first tier, those who opt to make a smaller investment in the position will still have some quality options to choose from in the middle rounds.
In the quartet of third basemen in the first-round conversation, reigning National League Most Valuable Player Award winner Bryant leads the way. Bryant put the ball in play more often, as he reduced his strikeout rate to 22 percent (30.6 percent in 2015). The powerful youngster recorded 39 homers, with a spectacular .292/.385/.554 slash line over 155 games in '16. Moreover, Bryant was one of five big leaguers to reach the century mark in both RBIs (102) and runs scored (121). Just 25 years old, and locked into a premium spot in the Cubs' loaded lineup, Bryant should deliver another fantastic campaign.
Arenado was also among the five players to record triple-digit marks in RBIs and runs, leading baseball in RBIs (133) for the second straight campaign, and scoring a career-high 116 times. The Rockies' third baseman combined those superlative totals with 41 homers -- tied for first in the Senior Circuit -- as well as personal bests in average (.294) and on-base percentage (.362). With help from Colorado's hitter-friendly park factors and stellar lineup, Arenado should join Bryant as one of the NL's most valuable players in '17.
Over in the American League, Donaldson produced a dazzling encore effort to his 2015 AL Most Valuable Player Award-winning campaign. Not only did he increase his OPS by 14 points from '15 (.953 OPS in '16), but the third baseman also cleared the 35-homer (37), 90-RBI (99) and 100-run (122) hurdles again. With terrific power, elite on-base skills and a home park that is extremely favorable to hitters, the 31-year-old should continue to rank among baseball's premier producers.
Though Bryant, Arenado and Donaldson may be gone by the time the end of the first round rolls around, those with picks No. 10 or beyond may still have the chance to select Machado. The Orioles stalwart remained incredibly valuable for fantasy owners last season, despite falling from 20 steals in 2015 to zero in '16. Possessing the potential for further growth -- after finishing '16 with career-best marks in average (.294), homers (37), RBIs (96) and runs scored (105) -- the 24-year-old is a fine first-round option in all leagues.
Though Frazier lacks sterling on-base skills (lifetime .317 OBP) and is coming off a season in which he hit just .225, his combination of power and speed elevates him to the top of the second tier. Just one other player besides the White Sox third baseman produced both 40-plus homers and 15-plus steals last season (Brian Dozier).
The remaining players in this tier may struggle to record 10 stolen bases combined in 2017, and none can be expected to come close to Frazier's home run total. Still, all three can be slotted into mixed-league lineups on an everyday basis.
Beltre, Carpenter and Seager each combine solid contact skills and plus pop, with Beltre holding a slight edge over his counterparts in both departments. The Rangers' third baseman hit .300 for the sixth time in his career, and he recorded his fifth 30-homer effort in 2016. Carpenter and Seager have only one 30-homer season between them, and they are likely to finish with averages in the .270s this year.
The difference between the second and third tiers is minimal. The No. 2 overall Draft pick in 2015, Bregman may have more upside than anyone in either tier. The youngster did not hit the ground running after making his big league debut last season, but Bregman had a .313/.354/.577 slash line after a 2-for-38 start, and he smacked eight homers over his final 39 games. He is surely set to improve upon his rookie-year 24 percent strikeout rate and 0.3 BB/K ratio. The 22-year-old could emerge as one of the AL's most productive third basemen in his sophomore campaign.
Turner raised his offensive profile to new heights in 2016, riding career-high fly-ball (40 percent) and hard-hit (37.6 percent) rates to a personal-best 27 long balls and 90 RBIs. Turner is likely to improve on his batting average after he posted a .275 mark last season, which was his lowest mark since 2012. The career .282 hitter is another solid mixed-league starter.
Owners looking to get a bit of everything from their third baseman can consider Ramirez or Rendon, as both have the ability to contribute in all five standard fantasy categories. Preference between the two will likely hinge on draft strategy, as Ramirez can provide more speed, while Rendon is more powerful.
A reasonable case can also be made for Longoria as a solid starting third baseman in 12-team mixed leagues, as he is coming off a year in which he displayed a resurgent power stroke. Longoria hit a personal-best 36 homers, to go along with 98 RBIs and 330 total bases. While he is unlikely to regain elite status among hot-corner options, thanks to his declining on-base skills (career-low .318 OBP in 2016), the 31-year-old could easily top 30 home runs and 90 RBIs for the second straight year.
Thomas Harrigan is a fantasy editor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.