After taking a look at the first base position in last week’s column, we head across the diamond to assess the third base class in the American League for 2012. What you will quickly realize is that the situation isn’t as robust as it has been in the past. Yes, there is still some MVP talent at the top of the heap, but the position is littered with more question marks, risks and pitfalls than ever before. The biggest question facing drafters this season will likely center around Alex Rodriguez, who comes into the year as the biggest risk/reward play on the board. You've likely heard about his trip to Europe for special treatment on his ailing knee. The talent is still there, but so is another birthday in July, when he'll turn 37. In mixed drafts it'll be a lot easier to let someone else take the gamble of A-Rod, but AL-only drafters may be more inclined to gamble on the former MVP. I've kind of made my mind up to look elsewhere if I can this season, but know that he'll tempt me in more than one draft this year as his price drops to a new low. If you want a stud here, it’s going to cost you and if you miss out you will then have to decide where you want to place your bets this year. I just don't want to bet on A-Rod if I can avoid it. Maybe it's because I did last year and he killed my NFBC DP team. I'll admit it, I don't always forgive and forget in fantasy. Still, someone else will inevitably take a chance and how he performs may very well make or break their season. At least it won't cost them a 1st or 2nd round pick this year. I usually wait a bit at 3B, but I don’t want to get caught empty-handed here either. It's a tricky landscape to navigate, so you want to have a plan for where and when to strike. Otherwise, you'll wind up shopping at the dollar store. You also want to think long and hard about who you want to avoid and plan accordingly.
Now let’s take a look at my rankings for the AL this year:
Jose Bautista, TOR – He followed up his breakout 2010 by once again leading the Majors in homers with 43, and in the process silenced those who claimed he was a one-year wonder doomed to fall back to reality. Although he hit 11 less home runs and drove in 21 fewer runs, in many ways he had an even better year in 2011. After a torrid first two months, no one wanted to pitch to him, and he easily led the Majors with 132 walks (24 IBB). He adjusted to how opposing teams pitched him, and ended up hitting .302, which was a pleasant surprise from a player whose previous career high was .260. He may primarily be an OF in Toronto, but for fantasy purposes, we can hope he can squeeze another 20+ games in at 3B.
Evan Longoria, TB – He suffered an oblique injury to start the year, missed all of April, and once healthy took awhile to get back up to full speed. The injury and some bad luck undermined his batting average, which tumbled down to .241, and the speed he showed the previous season vanished as a result. Still, his power remained and I expect a full rebound in 2012. He is still a young star on the rise with 40 HR upside. Take whatever discount last year brings and reap the rewards.
Adrian Beltre, TEX – After signing with Texas as a free agent, Beltre had a great season, bashing 32 homers with 105 RBIs. The only thing fantasy owners had to complain about was a hamstring injury that interrupted a torrid July and cost him all of August. He was absolutely on fire in September, and showed that he enjoyed hitting in Arlington. He doesn’t chip in any steals anymore, but he delivered a solid BA for the second year in a row, dispelling talk that 2010 was all a product of Fenway Park. At 33, he’s likely to miss time with an injury again at some point, so build that into you calculations. However, with drop off in talent after him, Beltre is in a tier by himself. He’ll cost you less than the top two and he’s a step ahead of the rest. He may be the smartest guy to target on draft day.
Brett Lawrie, TOR – I ranked Lawrie this high in the preseason and drafted him in my first draft of the year, so I see no reason to change my thinking now and move him down my list. I admit to being a little biased, because I owned him on a bunch of my teams last year and he was such a sparkplug when he finally arrived in August. A broken finger ended the party prematurely in September, but before that he had more than lived up to all the hype he had after a hot start at Triple-A. Lawrie brings speed to the equation and 20/20 seems like a reasonable expectation in his first full season. There is upside for even better numbers, but at 22, you have to expect some bumps in the road. Still, the stolen bases will buoy his value all year and I’d rather bet on a youngster staying healthy than some of the names coming up next. As of this writing, he's shooting up draft boards at the NFBC. He's not going to come cheap, so if you want to own him this year, you might want to do what I did and grab him in an early draft just to make sure you get your fix.
Kevin Youkilis, BOS – Youkilis missed time with various injuries for the third straight year, finally getting shut down in September due to a hernia and a nagging hip injury. He struggled all year and it showed as he only hit .258 after topping .300 each of the previous three years. He’s such a gamer, but the way he plays the game takes a toll on his body. Add in the fact that he’s now back at 3B full-time and you just know he’s going to end up on the DL a couple of times a year. Even so, his talent is tough to pass up and it is reasonable to bet on him having somewhat better health and luck than he did last year. I'd feel good drafting him and hope for a rebound to .290/85/20/85. Still, if you do draft Youkilis, make sure to try to grab a backup just in case.
Michael Young, TEX – Michael Young started the year griping after the Rangers signed Adrian Beltre to replace him at 3B. He then just went out and played wherever the Rangers asked him and had a monster year, hitting .338 with a league leading 213 hits. He was indispensible to a Ranger offense that lost Beltre and Josh Hamilton for significant stretches. He drove in 106 runs despite only smacking 11 homers after topping 20 the two previous seasons. He basically traded fly balls for line drives, and should get some of those homers back this year. He’s always underrated because he doesn’t put up huge power numbers, but if you are going to wait at the position, this is the guy you should target. Young also played 14 games at 2B last year, which means check your league rules to see if he has even more value.
Alex Rodriguez, NYY – A little more on my whipping boy for this column. For the fourth straight season, A-Rod missed time due to injury, and last season he finally succumbed to his recurring knee problems. He missed 6 weeks after surgery in mid-July and when he came back he was clearly not 100% as he limped to the finish line. He was a non-factor in the playoffs as the Tigers knocked the Yankees out. Don’t kid yourself when it comes to Rodriguez, much like Youkilis (even more so, actually) admit going in that he’s not going to play every day or stay healthy all year. For those of you who want the best case scenario, if everything breaks right, he could still reach 30 homers and 100 RBIs, but be smart and account for more modest totals. In an AL-only league, I think the smart play is to pass and hope that someone else will gamble and take him higher than they should. In mixed leagues, if you can get him as a CI, I say go ahead and take a chance. Just realize that he is now officially the Chipper Jones of the AL.
Mark Reynolds, BAL – As the promise of 2009 fades, we can now accept Reynolds for what he is, a free swinging power hitter who will chip in a few SBs (not 24 again I'm afraid). With power on the decline around the Majors, there is always a place for a guy who can deliver 35-40 homers, but Reynolds struggles to make contact so much that hoping he figures out a way to hit .230 seems optimistic. He will kill your BA, so if you roster him you better be able to absorb the damage.
Mike Moustakas, KC – Moustakas had a decent debut season last year, but was easily overshadowed by fellow rookie Eric Hosmer. He didn’t show much power and struggled badly against LHP. Still, he consistently got more comfortable as the season progressed and finished with a nice September, when he hit 4 of his 5 home runs and hit .352. It gives a little glimpse of his upside and makes him a sneaky guy to sit back and wait on if you don’t want to overpay for Lawrie and want to avoid the land mines that will likely get drafted ahead of him. Just don’t expect miracles here. He’ll be a serviceable option, but he’s still got a lot of work to do as his struggles against lefties show.
Lonnie Chisenhall, CLE – Chisenhall is a very similar player in my mind to Moustakas, with much less hype. He was somewhat rushed up to Cleveland last year after the team's surprising hot start, and like most rookies struggled with his first exposure to major league pitching. He joins Lawrie and Moustakas as part of the new wave of 3B in the AL and should open the year as the Tribe’s starter. He’s never going to hit for a lot of power, but should be good for 15-20 homers and 70-80 RBIs.
Edwin Encarnacion, TOR – Encarnacion continued his reputation as a streaky hitter who can carry your fantasy team for a couple of weeks when he is hitting well. He’s a man without a position, but the Blue Jays will likely continue to find ways to get his bat in the lineup. He’s not a bad backup for an injury-prone veteran.
Chris Davis, TEX – Davis looks like he may finally get a shot at regular playing time this season in Baltimore. He qualifies at 3B, as well as 1B, and his power upside is definitely worth a shot in AL-only leagues if he shows he is healthy this March. He's teased us for years, but there is no doubt in my mind he can put up some numbers if he gets the at-bats.
The rest of the pack includes:
Danny Valencia, MIN – Had a decent year for the Twins last year, but there isn’t any upside here and there is the chance he falls into a platoon as he kills lefties but can’t hit righties a lick.
Scott Sizemore, OAK –I actually remember being excited about him when he came up as a 2B for Detroit and I actually think he has the best chance to break out of this pack and surprise a little this year.
Brent Morel, CHW – Don’t get fooled by his late season power outburst. He’s not going to turn into Robin Ventura anytime soon.
Brandon Inge, DET – He is the weakest link in the Tigers lineup and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if they made a play for Michael Young at some point this year. Or they could turn to rookie Nick Castellanos at some point. In any case, he could be out of a job by midseason.
Eduardo Nunez, NYY – Worth a late round pick, especially if you draft Rodriguez.
Alberto Callaspo, LAA – Someone else will be manning 3B full-time in LA this year. Pass.