With perennial All-Star third basemen like Alex Rodriguez and Chipper Jones now out of the game, players like Adrian Beltre, David Wright, and Josh Donaldson filled in admirably. But their careers are moving quickly, so who is next? We just felt the new wave of shortstops enter the game, led by Carlos Correa and Francisco Lindor, but you probably did not notice that the 25 and under third basemen just put together a terrific second half and may be taking over the third base cover page sooner than you think.
Most turn to electric Orioles third baseman Manny Machado, but he’s not exactly a revolution in and of himself. This is not to discredit Machado, I was in Camden Yards for his Major League debut, and there’s no doubt he’s special. However, FanGraphs’ WAR ranking for third baseman under 25 suggests a mostly unheralded new wave of stars are emerging at the hot corner.
Here is that list in table format:
|Player||2017 fWAR Total|
Kris Bryant, admittedly heralded, leads all 25 and under 3B’s with a 6.7 WAR, followed by Jose Ramirez at 6.6. In third, many might expect Machado. But, it is Eugenio Suarez, who just had a breakout year for Cincinnati, hitting 26 homers with 82 RBI’s. He only hit .260, but combined solid defense with a very solid OBP and enjoyed the friendly confines of Great American Ballpark to post a 4.1 WAR.
Young Alex Bregman made his presence known on the Astros as they captured their World Series title just a month ago. Still, his excellence at the hot corner and atop the order was not just an October flash. He posted a .315/.367/.536 slash line in the second half to go with his 19 HR/ 17 steal mark for the year. Bregman, 23, would be a much bigger deal if it weren’t for the shadow cast by his infield teammates.
Speaking of home runs, Joey Gallo went deep 41 times this past season, 8 more than anyone else on this list. Still just 24 years old, Gallo’s main drawback is his 36.8% strikeout rate, which pushes him to the back of the order, explaining his underwhelming 80 RBI’s. But Gallo tossed in 7 steals and played all over the field for the Rangers in 2017.
Out of 9 third baseman under 25 years old, Machado only has the 6th best WAR, at 2.8. Sure, he hit 33 bombs with 95 RBI’s, but a .259 average is low for a player who will pursue a contract of $250 million or more next offseason. Expect executives all around baseball to pay close attention to Machado’s 2018 season, to see if he can return to 5-tool form before they throw half their payroll at him.
Right below Machado is Yolmer Sanchez of the White Sox. These two usually aren’t grouped together, but Sanchez had a better average and on-base percentage. Obviously, these guys get pitched differently, but on a rebuilding Chicago team, Sanchez was a pleasant surprise.
Is Yolmer Sanchez better than Manny Machado, who was once an MVP candidate? No, not at all. Sanchez has no guaranteed future in the league, but he is starting to make his presence known, and we should expect him to improve even more next season.
The flop of the group is former Phillies’ top prospect Maikel Franco, who posted a WAR of -0.5. His average dropped 25 points from 2016 to 2017, and RBI’s went down 12, from 88 to 76. Perhaps Franco’s biggest issue going forward is his 6.6% walk rate, which dragged his OBP down to .281.
The third baseman to watch the most in 2018 are Bryant and Suarez. If the Cubs have a chance of going back to the World Series, they are going to need more than 29 homers out of Bryant. He got his strikeout rate down almost 3%, and he’s starting to use the big parts of the field, rather than the big parts of the scoreboard.
There’s no doubt that the Reds are a few years away with competing, but Suarez can be decent protection for 2017 MVP finalist Joey Votto, and he can certainly be a catalyst towards Cincinnati’s return to meaningful baseball.