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Fantasy Baseball Preview: Third Basemen

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Alex RodriguezMuch like a year ago, third base is again stacked. While Alex Rodriguez is the top dog yet again after a monstrous 2007 season, David Wright, Miguel Cabrera and youngster Ryan Braun are all very comparable to the great A-Rod.

Sure, no third baseman can match Rodriguez’s 54 home runs, 156 RBI and 143 runs scored from a year ago, but Wright's season was nearly as impressive. He had a better average than Rodriguez, finished with a very respectable 113 runs and 107 RBI, all while swiping 34 bases. And now Cabrera, one of the most accomplished 24 year olds in the league, takes his bat to Detroit and helps form one of baseball's most fearsome lineups. Toss in one of 2007’s best fantasy surprises in Braun, and you have quite the selection of stud third basemen.

Okay, we’ll stop drooling over the studs. Aramis Ramirez took a step back last year, but both he and the Cubs should be better this season, while Chone Figgins again led all third basemen in steals with 41. The stars don’t stop there, however, as Ryan Zimmerman, Garrett Atkins, Chipper Jones and Mike Lowell round out a very productive group.

If you missed the chance to snag a top-10 third baseman, don’t fret – Adrian Beltre, Alex Gordon and Troy Glaus offer decent power production, although you’ll likely take a hit in average. The Rangers’ Hank Blalock and the Reds’ Edwin Encarnacion offer serious sleeper potential.

*NOTE: All analysis based on standard 5x5 roto leagues

The Studs

Alex Rodriguez, New York Yankees
.314, 54 HR, 156 RBI, 143 runs, 24 SB, 120 K, 95 BB, 583 AB

We’re not worthy. After last year's monster season, Rodriguez is once again the top pick in any fantasy format. He hits for power and average, scores a ton of runs, drives in even more, and he steals a few bases. Don’t over-think it: vote A-Rod in 2008.

David WrightDavid Wright, New York Mets
.325, 30 HR, 107 RBI, 113 runs, 34 SB, 115 K, 94 BB, 604 AB

Wright didn’t allow a brutal April to derail his overall fantasy production in 2007. He finished with career-bests in average, steals, home runs and runs, plus was amazingly consistent after his slow start. He also has a solid supporting cast and is only 25, making him a first-round lock and one of the premiere fantasy studs.

Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers
.320, 34 HR, 119 RBI, 91 runs, 2 SB, 127 K, 79 BB, 588 AB

We were tempted to rank Cabrera ahead of Wright but he doesn’t steal bases, so he comfortably fits into the third-stud slot. The biggest knock on Cabrera over the years has been his weight, but he’s reportedly slimmed down after being dealt to Detroit. He’s a major fantasy stud, blessed with great average and power potential, plus he now hits in a monstrous Tigers’ lineup. At only 24, he still has room to grow, too. Scary.

Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers
.324, 34 HR, 97 RBI, 91 runs, 15 SB, 112 K, 29 BB, 451 AB

Is it too soon to rank Braun a stud? Based on his rookie production and immense potential, no. Based on his inexperience, maybe. Braun had great success during his rookie campaign and appears to be the complete package; a player who can hit for average and power while swiping anywhere from 15 to 20 bases. Take him confidently after A-Rod, Wright and Cabrera, but keep your expectations somewhat in check as he enters only his second full season.

The Stars
Take 'Em Aramis Ramirez, Cubs
Tempted to pass on him after a disappointing 2007? Don’t be. The Cubs’ lineup improved over the offseason and therefore Ramirez is a prime candidate to have solid ’08.

Hank Blalock, Rangers
Great sleeper candidate after missing most of 2007 following shoulder surgery. He drove in 17 runs and hit five homers in the month of September last year.

Edwin Encarnacion, Reds
Solid late round pick. He has to hold off Ryan Freel, but he hit over .300 and knocked in 35 runs in the months of August and September last year.

Leave 'Em Mark Reynolds, Diamondbacks
Great potential, but Chad Tracy is going to eat into his at-bats at some point during the year.

Eric Chavez, A’s
Stick a fork in him. Unless you’re really desperate for the 15 home runs he might belt out, his average and injury concerns are more than enough reason to take a pass.

Scott Rolen, Blue Jays
Another veteran you can probably leave to someone else to take a chance on. He has major injury issues and doesn’t over a ton of value these days.

Aramis Ramirez, Chicago Cubs
.310, 26 HR, 101 RBI, 72 runs, 0 SB, 66 K, 43 BB, 506

Since he took a step back in home run, run and RBI production last year, owners might be tempted to pass on Ramirez on draft day. But with Derrek Lee and Alfonso Soriano expected to have bounce-back years in Chicago, Ramirez’s run production should increase, and he’ll likely hit close to .300 again. Don’t be so quick to pass on A-Ram – he’s still a solid choice.

Chone Figgins, Los Angeles Angels
.330, 3 HR, 58 RBI, 81 runs, 41 SB, 81 K, 51 BB, 442 AB

Figgins is going to attract a ton of attention based just on what he did following the months of April and May last year. He hit .376 with two homers and drove in 52 runs while also scoring 70 runs and stealing 36 bases. He has limited power potential, but his high average and stolen base production make him a very attractive pick.

Value Alert
Ryan Zimmerman, Washington Nationals
.267, 24 HR, 99 runs, 91 RBI, 4 SB, 125 K, 61 BB, 653 AB

Zimmerman didn’t have the season most expected (after he hit .287 with 20 long balls and 110 RBI in 2006), but he wasn’t bad, especially considering injuries limited him throughout most of the year. His average tumbled a bit, but he still belted a career-high 24 home runs and scored 99 runs. With the Nationals moving into their new hitter-friendly ballpark this year, we wouldn’t be surprised if Zimmerman raises his average while also coming close to 100 runs and RBI again.

Garrett Atkins, Colorado Rockies
.301, 25 HR, 111 RBI, 83 runs, 3 SB, 96 K, 67 BB, 605 AB

Owners were cursing Atkins’ name as he struggled mightily in the first half of 2007. He rewarded those who were patient, however, finishing with a .300 average and more than adequate home run, RBI and run production. Atkins once again enters this season as a top-10 third baseman and if he can carry his post-All Star Game momentum into 2008, he’ll be a steal in most drafts.

Chipper Jones, Atlanta Braves
.337, 29 HR, 102 RBI, 108 runs, 5 SB, 75 K, 82 BB, 513 AB

Sure, Larry’s 35, but look at those numbers from last year – he had a great season. With Mark Teixeira protecting him for a full season, his production shouldn’t dip much, if at all. He’s battled foot problems, which could limit his at bats, but he’s still one of the better third basemen and he won’t cost you a top draft pick.

Letdown Alert
Mike Lowell, Boston Red Sox
.324, 21 HR, 120 RBI, 79 runs, 3 SB, 71 K, 53 BB, 589 AB

Batting behind David Oritz and Manny Ramirez certainly helps your production, doesn’t it? Lowell had career highs in average (.324) and RBI (120) while protecting Big Papi and Man-Ram last season. His production may not be quite as good as it was last year – especially since he’s not in a contract year anymore – but Lowell should deliver some solid stats again. Just be sure to not overpay.
The Fallbacks

Adrian BeltreAdrian Beltre, Seattle Mariners
.276, 26 HR, 99 RBI, 87 runs, 14 SB, 104 K, 38 BB, 595 AB

Beltre has been a bit of a disappointment since his 48-home run season with the Dodgers in 2004. But after two below-average years, Beltre put up adequate fantasy numbers last season. He’s inconsistent, but he’ll give you decent power numbers and a few stolen bases for a late-round pick.

Alex Gordon, Kansas City Royals
.247, 15 HR, 60 RBI, 60 runs, 14 SB, 137 K, 41 BB, 543 AB

Some are going to overvalue Gordon, while some will undervalue him. He didn’t live up to expectations last season but after a poor start to the season, he did hit .327 in June and flashed some potential. He’s a perfect boom or bust pick, with the potential to have a breakout year -- or another sub-par one. Draft him with caution, but the 24-year-old has a high ceiling and should be a prime target for keeper leaguers.

Letdown Alert
Troy Glaus, St. Louis Cardinals
.262, 20 HR, 62 RBI, 60 runs, 0 SB, 102 K, 61 BB, 385 AB

Due to his massive injury concerns, Glaus comes with serious warning signs. He still has a fair amount of power and will benefit from being in a lineup with Albert Pujols, but just be wary of his injury problems. (Very wary.)
The Rest Value Alert
Josh Fields, Chicago White Sox
.244, 23 HR, 67 RBI, 54 runs, 1 SB, 125 K, 35 BB, 373 AB

Fields is similar to Mark Reynolds (below) in that he’s going to lose some at-bats to a veteran (Joe Crede), but he offers more versatility because he qualifies as an outfielder as well. He has good power potential, and with more seasoning might steal a fair amount of bases, too. He’s a solid late round option with a fair amount of upside.

Mark Reynolds, Arizona Diamondbacks
.279, 17 HR, 62 RBI, 62 runs, 0 SB, 129 K, 37 BB, 366 AB

Reynolds played plenty for the D-Backs down the stretch last year, hitting .319 with nine long balls. But there’s some concern that once he’s healthy, Chad Tracy will eventually eat into his at-bats. Draft Reynolds in the later rounds and definitely have an insurance policy.

Value Alert
Hank Blalock, Texas Rangers
.293, 10 HR, 33 RBI, 32 runs, 4 SB, 38 K, 21 BB, 208 AB

Blalock might have the most sleeper potential out of all the third basemen listed in this category. He missed most of 2007 because of shoulder surgery, but he did hit five homers and drive in 17 runs in the month of September (19 games). His power potential and is intriguing, although don’t expect him to near .300 again if he plays all year.

Edwin Encarnacion, Cincinnati Reds
.289, 16 HR, 76 RBI, 66 runs, 8 SB, 86 K, 39 BB, 502 AB

Encarnacion was sent down to the minors after some early struggles last year, but when injuries gave him a chance for redemption, he didn’t disappoint. He hit over .300 and knocked in 35 runs in the months of August and September. If he can hold off Ryan Freel, Encarnacion could be a nice fantasy surprise this season.

Eric Chavez, Oakland A’s
.241, 15 HR, 46 RBI, 43 runs, 4 SB, 76 K, 34 BB, 341 AB

Remember when Chavez used to be a solid fantasy option earlier in this career? Yeah, well, not so much anymore. Injuries have derailed his career and he’s a threat to join the DL at any point during the season, but he’s got decent power, making him little more than a reclamation project at this point.

Letdown Alert
Scott Rolen, Toronto Blue Jays
.265, 8 HR, 58 RBI, 55 runs, 5 SB, 56 K, 37 BB, 392 AB

Much like Chavez, Rolen has serious injury concerns. He has the potential to crank out 20-plus homers and drive in 80-plus RBI, but the injury risks outweigh the possible small rewards. Still, if you drafted a young prospect in earlier rounds and want a backup plan, you could do worse.