The Grand Canyon, Bill Gates' pockets, poetic SNL thoughts by Jack Handy and fantasy third baseman all share one thing in common: they're insanely deep.
Is third really a bottomless cave of value in '07?
You bet your spelunking butt it is.
Entering 2006 drafts, many pundits, including this one, believed third was a position in transition. Outside of consistent old horses like Alex Rodriguez, Chipper Jones and Scott Rolen, general uncertainty about fresh faces loomed. Amazingly, young guns Garrett Atkins, Ryan Zimmerman and Mark Teahen exceeded expectation and breathed new life into the position.
The overall power resurgence at third in 2006 was a nothing short of a Festivus miracle. In total, nine more three-baggers hit 20 or more home runs compared to 2005. In fact, it was the highest amount of 20 home run clubbers (21) the position has ever yielded from 1979 to present.
The dramatic spike in production from a year ago reflects why fantasy owners have driven the third surge to new drafting heights. Based on Y! ADP totals, 12 three-baggers have been selected in the top 100 thus far.
I think not …
Here are the heroes, goats and future fortunes at third base in '07:
|2007 Third Basemen: On the Rise|
|Outlook: Now in his second full-season, Encarnacion is slated to become the new king of the Queen City. Although curtailed by a mid-season ankle injury and defensive inadequacies, Encarnacion did make strides in his plate approach, cutting down on strikeouts from 2005 by 19 percent. More improvement is in the forecast and with Rich Aurilia in San Francisco, he should surpass 25 homers with 90 RBI and a peppering of steals in 500 at-bats.|
|2||Mark Teahen||KC||3B, OF||147.8||$12|
|Outlook: If you're looking for a mid-round bat that will rack a .300 average and 25-30 homers, have a spot of Tea. Scheduled to shift to the outfield to make room for uber-prospect Alex Gordon, Teahen is a horribly undervalued fantasy product. A rise in flyballs coupled with an accurate eye (BB% 11%) helped Teahen reach the stratosphere in the second half of '06 (.321 BA, 14 HR, 50 RBI, 50 R, 8 SB). If he carries that production over, watch out.|
|Outlook: Surprisingly, Iwamura, not Dice-K or Kei Igawa, has me "turning Japanese." And yes, I really think so. In eight seasons overseas, Iwamura, a five-time Japanese All-Star, notched a career .300 BA and averaged a stout 35 homers since 2004. It's highly improbable his power numbers will translate to the American game, but, as we've seen with Ichiro and Hideki Matsui, his BA and run production should be sustainable given his gap power. With top prospect Evan Longoria waiting in the wings, Joe Maddon could shift the slick-fielding Iwamura to second, increasing his value significantly. Expect numbers around: .310 BA, 15 HR, 85 RBI.|
|Outlook: The clubhouse guinea pig this spring, Upton is expected to log significant innings at a cornucopia of positions (2B, SS, 3B, OF) in the hopes of making the Opening Day roster as a Ryan Freel-type super-utility man. Because of his limitless potential – especially his 40-plus steals upside – Upton's increased position flexibility could make him a highly desirable commodity. If he steps into the box 400 times: .270 BA, 10 HR, 55 RBI, 70 R, 35 SB.|
|5||Aubrey Huff||Bal||3B, 1B, OF||172.2||$3|
|Outlook: Thrilled about his newfound opportunity in Baltimore, Huff is slated to play everyday splitting time between left field and first base. Penciled in as the No. 5 bat behind bomber Miguel Tejada, he should see enough beach ball-sized pitches to launch 25-30 homers with 95-105 RBIs. Notorious for his snail-paced starts, don't be alarmed if Huff comes out of the gate with concrete shoes. Just 30 years old, his history of sky-high contact rates and quality walk totals (50 BBs in '06) means he'll turn things around quickly.|
|2007 Third Basemen: On the Decline|
|Outlook: Many might be shocked to see Chipper on the decline list after his best fantasy effort since 2002, but lingering concerns of foot injuries has me far from Jonesin'. In a recent interview, Jones noted that every time he runs his foot concerns are "on his mind." Sure, his 1.005 OPS led all third baseman last year, but the brittle downside is a major deterrent. If you click his name in Round 6, take out an insurance policy soon after. With 500 at-bats: .310 BA, 28 HR, 102 RBI, and 100 R.|
|2||Bill Hall||Mil||SS, 3B, OF||61.3||$15|
|Outlook: It's never wise to pay for a career year. Hall took a gigantic leap last season doubling his 2005 homer totals in only 36 more at-bats. His Swiss Army knife versatility drives his sticker price, but his alarming 162 strikeouts in '06 is a red flag that the homer honeymoon won't last. No longer an infield nomad, Ned Yost plans to move Hall permanently to center. With an ADP more bloated than Jabba the Hut, in reality, he's really a borderline Tier 5 or 6 third baseman.|
|Outlook: Fiery passion best describes the type of disdain I have for Hank Blalock. Every year his quick start teases me. And every year his second half swoon tortures me. Recently declared "fine" by Ron Washington following offseason shoulder surgery, Blalock's 26 percent cutback on strikeouts last year could reverse the fortunes of three straight seasons of power decline. However, even if he starts off fast once again, you bet I'm sellin' high come July. Think: .270 BA, 20 HR, 90 RBI, 80 R.|
|Outlook: Swallowed whole by a buffet of injuries two of the past three seasons, Chavez's batting average totals have dropped dramatically each year since 2003 despite a sharpening eye (84 BB in '06). Psychologically beaten, Chavez divulged recently his hamstring and forearm woes of '06 lingered well into the offseason. Based on his ADP returns, Chavez's perceived value has fallen off a cliff, which could spell an enormous profit for those willing to gamble on the risk. Of course, he has to keep the injury demons at bay. Consider him a medium-risk, high-reward three-bagger capable of a .280 BA, 30 HR, 100 RBI payoff with 550 at-bats.|
|Outlook: Ensberg's '06 downturn in production can be directly attributed to shoulder woes. In an attempt to play through the pain last year, Ensberg's end-season numbers were scarier than thoughts of Tommy Lasorda canoodling with a call-girl (.235 BA, 23 HR, 58 RBI, 67 R). Despite racking a career-low in batting average, ironically, Ensberg's third base-best 101 walks helped obliterate his pervious career-high in OBP, notching a .396 mark – a clear sign a turnaround could be eminent. Still, exercise caution. If he gets off to a slow start, Phil Garner may platoon him with Mike Lamb.|
|2007 Third Baseman: Top Prospects|
|Outlook: Flash has all but officially arrived. Reports out of Royals camp have Mark Teahen spending a majority of his time in the outfield this spring, which means, barring an unforeseen injury, Gordon will be the Opening Day third baseman. Highly sought after in fantasy as much as his Topps rookie card is for collectors, Gordon is the AL's answer to David Wright. A unique blend of power and speed, Gordon's offensive approach is well beyond his years. If he takes care of business this spring, he'll save every one of us – 500 at-bats, .285 BA, 24 HR, 95 RBI, 85 R, 19 SB.|
|Outlook: Originally pegged to compete with hobbled left fielder Scott Podsednik for at-bats this spring, Fields has worked out exclusively at third – bad news for his chances of making the club. Unless he rips the cover off the ball, it appears he will start 2007 at Triple-A Charlotte – the same place he racked a .305 BA with 19 homers, 70 RBI and 28 steals in 462 at-bats in '06. Rumors have already begun to swirl about Joe Crede's trade availability and considering he's arbitration-eligible after the season, a deal by the deadline seems very plausible. Only 24, bumps in the road should be expected, but his 25-30 homer ceiling and double-digit steals is awfully appealing. Stash him.|
|Outlook: The former Miami Hurricane followed up a .288 BA, 22 HR, 77 RBI, 26 SB season between Single and Double-A in '06 with a blistering .326 BA in the Arizona Fall League. With Corey Koskie still recovering from post-concussion syndrome, the Brewers will turn to the all-powerful platoon of Craig Counsell and Tony Graffanino at third. If Braun sees 300 at-bats at Triple-A, Chorizo isn't the greatest costumed sausage of all-time. Blasting two homers and tallying seven RBI in his spring debut on March 1, a man-crush is beginning to brew.|
|Outlook: Brother of Pittsburgh hook Adam, Andy, a former 39th-round pick, is on the fast-track to stardom in Dodger blue. A tenacious, aggressive hitter with tremendous 25-plus pop, LaRoche is a gap-to-gap hammer reminiscent of Scott Rolen. Fully recovered from labrum surgery, it's not a pipe dream to think LaRoche could supplant Wilson Betemit – especially given Betemit's concerns on defense – as the Dodgers No. 1 third baseman this spring. Grady Little has even toyed with the idea of using the rookie in the outfield to lock a roster spot. A real dark-horse in deep drafts, he will be a quality power source at some point this season.|
|Outlook: The crowned prince of the Rockies farm system, Stewart has lost some mojo. Over the past two seasons he's failed to eclipse 20 homers or hit above .280. Much of the blame should be pinned on injuries, but Stewart's pull-happy ways cannot be overlooked. When at the top of his game, he's a gifted hitter with incredible power skills who blankets the plate effectively. The Rockies will probably try to find a suitor come July or next winter for Todd Helton, in order to transition Garrett Atkins to first and pave the way for Stewart to start in 2008. Be patient, a little more seasoning at Triple-A is all he needs to regain his limitless promise.|