It gets ugly, early: the third base minefield of 2016

Tampa Bay Rays' Evan Longoria doubles in the third inning of a spring training baseball game against the Minnesota Twins in Port Charlotte, Fla., Sunday, March 6, 2016. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Third base, what's happened to you? You once were such a fun, carefree fantasy position. Easy stats everywhere. 

A few weeks shy of the 2016 season, things sure look a lot different.

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I've spent the week perusing the projected third-base starters for all 30 MLB teams, and I had to tiptoe carefully – there are land mines everywhere. In no particular order, consider the fleas on some of these guys. Do you feel comfortable using a third-base or utility corner tag on players like this?

National League

Jake Lamb - Meager .386 slugging last year
Adonis Garcia - Five walks, .293 OBP in rookie year
Eugenio Suarez - Career .403 slugging over 182 games
Justin Turner - Rope machine, but how many games can you realistically expect?
Martin Prado - Batting average could be his only plus contribution
Aaron Hill - Last fantasy-relevant year came in 2012
David Wright - One full season out of five
Jung Ho Kang - Coming off a major injury
Yangervis Solarte - Career slugging percentage a mere .400
Anthony Rendon - Injury-prone tag dates back to college days

(As my friend Mike Gianella pointed out, good luck if you play in an NL-only format.) 

American League

Pablo Sandoval - In limbo after a terrible 2015
Juan Uribe - Feels like he's 57 years old
Luis Valbuena - Lives in fear of the Mendoza Line
Yunel Escobar - Has a piddly 49 homers the last six years
Chase Headley - Crash-landing since dream 2012 season

That's 15 guys, for crying out loud. And I could have been more critical with the grading if I wanted to be. Matt Duffy had a nifty rookie season in San Francisco, but remember he didn't hit a single home run in college. Danny Valencia is the very definition of journeyman, though he did have a handy year with the Blue Jays and Athletics last season.

In most of my standard Yahoo leagues, I try to focus on categorical needs more than positional needs with the primary offensive assembly. The two-utility format allows that, not to mention Yahoo's liberal position-qualification rules. Generally I'm not going to attack a position early just because I think there's scarcity to follow.

That said, I'm at least going to consider some different third-base guidelines this year, as I enter any new draft or auction. (I'm not saying third base is the scarcest position, I'm just saying it's the most surpisingly-thin position.) 

-- The first tier of third-base eligibles (Donaldson, Machado, Arenado, Bryant) sure looks appealing.

When I first recognized Manny Machado had shortstop eligibility in addition to the third-base tag, I assumed everyone would want him at what's traditionally the thinner position  shortstop. But now I don't think it's automatic that a Machado team will want him at that slot. Obviously it depends on how the draft flows from you later on, but I'd at least be open-minded to the idea that you might prefer Machado on the corner when your roster is ultimately filled.

-- The second tier at third might be a shade underrated

I recognize Todd Frazier had a messy second half in Cincinnati, but it feels like it's being overly priced into his 2016 ADP. The Regression Police laughs at Matt Carpenter's 28 home runs, but I think he can get to 20 or more again. Kyle Seager isn't even the buzziest pick in his own family, but he's given us a consistent return over four years. I've long felt Longoria is grossly overrated (wake me when that MVP parade starts), but his high floor forces me to recalibrate how I view him in the middle of a draft.

-- If I'm trying to break a tie between similar offensive profiles, I tend to select the infielder

With only four outfielders needed in most of my Yahoo setups, that's never a position I feel pressured to fill. But I don't like the depth at three of the infield spots this spring (second base appears rather deep, but the other three spots look like potential problems).

In my hometown draft a week ago, a middle-round choice loomed between Hanley Ramirez and Evan Longoria. We chose Ramirez, and will enjoy his dual-position tag (1B, OF) before April ends. But if I had considered how ugly the third-base pool would eventually look, I might have pushed harder for Longoria.

-- You might wind up being unconventional filling third base

Daniel Murphy isn't going to play third base in Washington, but he carries the 3B tag in Yahoo leagues and might fit there nicely by the end of your draft. I know it feels counterintuitive, but stay open-minded to the idea of using Machado at third base.

I always like having a few Swiss Army Knives to open any fantasy season, and I'll keep watching the games-played column like a hawk, eager to pluck extra positional tags when they come about. 

Your turn to kick the third-base bag around. Does the position look thin to you? What tier are you looking to target? Any Maikel Franco sympathizers want to speak? Is there a Mike Moustakas faction waiting for the podium?

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