In this edition, we will be taking a look at baseball’s top 10 third baseman. Third base is of course known as the hot corner, and it’s not uncommon to see some of the game’s best power hitters at third base. They are also exceptional with the glove, as some current third baseman have previous experience at shortstop, the most complex position on defense in baseball. Prior experience at shortstop is the case for a few guys on this list.
Here’s a quick look at when the rest of our rankings will be released to the public:
Shortstops: March 25
Left fielders: March 26
Center fielders: March 27
Right fielders: March 28
Without further delay, here are our rankings of the top 10 third baseman in baseball entering the 2018 season:
1: Nolan Arenado, Colorado Rockies
2017 stats: 7.2 WAR, .309/.373/.586, 37 home runs, 130 runs batted in, 20 defensive runs saved
In our article discussing the top ten players at second base in the league, I mentioned that there was a very wide gap between Jose Altuve and the second-best second baseman in baseball. In the third baseman case, Nolan Arenado is the clear cut best third baseman in baseball, but it’s not as big of a gap.
Over the last three seasons of his career, Arenado has became one of baseball’s elite players, as he has made the all-star team each of those three seasons, and has 130-plus runs batted in for each since 2015. He would’ve had three straight seasons with 40-plus homers had he been able to crack 3 more home runs, but he was able to lead the National League in home runs in both 2015 and 2016.
With Manny Machado transitioning back to shortstop in 2018, Arenado is the clear-cut best defender at third base in all of Major League Baseball as well. Arenado has 58 defensive runs saved since the start of the 2015 season, and has been worth a defensive WAR over at least 2.3 in each of the three campaigns.
In 2020, we will likely still be talking about Arenado as being the best third baseman in baseball, and we will also likely be calling him the highest paid third baseman in baseball. He is scheduled to make a base salary of $17.75 million this season after earning $11.75 million last season, and he could very well make $20 million in 2019 in his final year of arbitration eligible.
Will Colorado have the funds to keep Arenado? They are said to be preparing to try and lock him up to an extension before he hits the free agent market, but this should be an interesting situation that will play out over the next couple of seasons.
2: Kris Bryant, Chicago Cubs
2017 stats: 6.2 WAR, .295/.409/.537, 29 home runs, 73 runs batted in, 2 defensive suns saved
Don’t let the down year in home runs and runs batted in fool you, 2017 season was the best overall hitting season of Kris Bryant’s young MLB career.
Bryant posted career highs by batting .295 and having an on-base percentage of .409 in 2017, with his slugging percentage of .537 being just 17 points off of his career-high .554 mark in his MVP season in 2016.
The two-time all-star also lowered his strikeout rate and overall strikeout total once again as well, and could very well draw 100 walks this season for the first time in his career. Bryant will likely bat second again for manager Joe Maddon, and could end up with more runs batted in this season now that the Cubs will have a stable leadoff hitter in Ian Happ.
Just like Arenando, Bryant also figures to have an interesting free agent case when he becomes a free agent following the 2021 season. He is already earning a record $10.5 million salary for a first-year arbitration player, and that salary figure will only increase at the second, third, and fourth stages of arbitration. Agent Scott Boras will surely get Bryant his lucrative long-term extension, and with the Cubs not yet reaching extensions with any of their young players yet, there is real hope that Cubs could be setting aside money for Bryant, who is their best player.
3: Anthony Rendon, Washington Nationals
2017 stats: 6.0 WAR, .301/.403/.533, 25 home runs, 100 runs batted in, 7 defensive runs saved
Somehow someway, Anthony Rendon once again flew under the radar in 2017, and I have been feeling Rendon has been underrated since the 2015 season where he only ended up playing 80 games.
2017 marked the first season of Rendon’s career with an on-base percentage over .400, and 25+ home runs to go with 100+ runs batted in. He finished with 25 home runs and exactly 100 runs batted in as well, which makes finding his true worth math wise easier.
Arenado and Bryant were the only two players at third base to top Rendon’s 6.0 WAR, and Rendon has had a positive number in terms of defensive runs saved in each year since 2015, which further proves that he continues to rebound from the nightmare season and get even better.
Rendon also didn’t let opposing pitchers strike him out very easily. He was among the league leaders in terms of lowest rate of swing and misses, and he even walked more times than he struck out with a 84-to-82 ratio. He’s part of the reason why the Washington Nationals have such a potent lineup, as he helps players like Bryce Harper, Daniel Murphy, Trea Turner, and Ryan Zimmerman see better overall pitches.
The 27-year-old Rendon will make $12.3 million in 2018, but is up for arbitration for the final time in his career in 2019. Washington will have important decisions to make over the next couple of seasons regarding their roster, and there decision on Rendon’s fate with the team could potentially be the most important one.
4: Josh Donaldson, Toronto Blue Jays
2017 stats: 4.8 WAR, .270/.385/.559, 33 home runs, 78 runs batted in, 3 defensive runs saved
There might not be a third baseman in the American League better than Josh Donaldson when he’s healthy, but the former American League MVP has struggled with his health over the last two seasons.
Injuries bit Donaldson at the end of 2016, and altered his availability big time in 2017, as he missed over 40 games due to a calf injury. Toronto will need Donaldson to be competitive in a tough American League East this season, and if they fall out of contention, it wouldn’t be crazy to see Donaldson traded for the second time in his career this summer.
Donaldson is set to become an unrestricted free agent after this season, and while the Blue Jays could receive draft compensation by attaching the qualifying offer to him, the organization could be better off receiving back highly-regarded prospects via trade. Prospects Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette will be making an impact in Toronto sooner rather than later, and while general manager Ross Atkins shook off trade rumors about Donaldson this winter, they very well could come to fruition.
The 32-year-old Donaldson still made a huge impact in his limited action last season, as he was still able to blast 33 home runs and still posted an all-star level WAR at 4.8. If the Blue Jays are able to contend for the playoffs throughout the entire season, it wouldn’t be crazy to see Donaldson’s name back under MVP consideration once again.
5: Jose Ramirez, Cleveland Indians
2017 stats: 6.9 WAR, .318/.374/.583, 29 home runs, 83 runs batted in, 17 stolen bases, 5 defensive runs saved
Perhaps the most important player on the Cleveland Indians is Jose Ramirez, and he for sure proved that once again when Jason Kipnis limped through the 2017 season.
While Ramirez still played a majority of his playing time at third base, he also saw significant playing time at second base in absence of Kipnis. Overall speaking, Ramirez is one of the best all-around players on this list, as there isn’t a thing on the baseball field he can’t do. He can hit for power and average, while also stealing bases and having an exceptional throwing arm and overall good defensive skills, making him a true five-tool player. He even is a switch-hitter too!
If you asked me to rank these third baseman just by all-around ability, it would be hard not to rank Ramirez second, or even ahead of Arenado. The fact of the matter is that no matter what way you spin it, Ramirez is elite by being in the top five. Also, it wouldn’t be shocking to see Ramirez draw more walks than strikeouts in 2018. He miraculously only struck out 69 times last season, and walked 52 times. His strikeout rate was so low because it’s very uncommon for the 25-year-old to chase pitches out of the strike zone. When you combine everything all together, it’s no surprise that Ramirez finished third in American League MVP voting last season behind only Aaron Judge and Jose Altuve.
Cleveland also has to love the contract that Ramirez is currently signed too, as it is very team friendly. Ramirez and the Indians agreed a new contract extension last March that included $26 million in guarantees. He is also set to make $2.8 million in 2018, which means that the Indians are undoubtedly getting Ramirez’s elite production at a lower than market value price.
6: Justin Turner, Los Angeles Dodgers
2017 stats: 5.8 WAR, .322/.415/.530, 21 home runs, 71 runs batted in, 6 defensive runs saved
The Los Angeles Angels are a really deep team, but it’s going to be tough playing the first 6-8 weeks of the 2018 season without Justin Turner.
Turner is set to begin the 2018 season on the disabled list due to a broken wrist suffered in a spring training game, which means that a lot of hard hit baseballs will be missing from the Dodgers lineup to start the year, and that Logan Forsythe will be the main player the Dodgers will turn to in-place of Turner for the time being.
What the Dodgers will miss the most in Turner’s absence is elite plate discipline. There are several good hitters on the Dodgers roster in Cody Bellinger, Corey Seager, Chris Taylor, and others, but none of them top Turner, who walked 59 times and struck out on 56 occasions last season. Only one of the best hitters in MLB history in Joey Votto did better in walk-to-strikeout ratio than Turner last season, who had his first career season with an on-base percentage over .400.
He cut his strikeout total in half, and in-addition to that career-high in on-base percentage, Turner also had career highs in batting average and slugging percentage. It’s likely that the Dodgers and Turner will both maximize their contractual agreement in terms of both sides getting equal value for Turner’s production, as the 33-year-old Turner will be due $51 million over the next three years after making $13 million in 2017 over the first year of a four-year, $64 million contract with the Dodgers.
7: Miguel Sano, Minnesota Twins
2017 stats: 2.5 WAR, .264/.352/.507, 28 home runs, 77 runs batted in, -6 defensive runs saved
Miguel Sano could potentially see a lot of action at designated hitter for the Twins in 2018, but since we won’t complete designated hitter rankings, we are going to place Sano among the players at his primary position on defense.
Sano made significant strides on the offensive side of the ball last season, and it should be interesting to see what his numbers will check out to be once he plays in more games. So far in his three years at the Major League level, Sano has yet to play over 120 games, but as mentioned above, more appearances at designated hitter could lead to improved health for Sano, and the Minnesota Twins will certainly need him in the lineup everyday to provide power.
Minnesota signed Logan Morrison to beef up their power this off-season, and I firmly believe that a fully-healthy Sano can challenge second baseman Brian Dozier for the best power-hitter on the Twins.
With 100 games played being the minimum criteria here, Sano posted career highs in batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage in 2017. That statistics show that if Sano cuts down on his strikeouts, he could take his hitting to another level. However, the more realistic option for a power-hitter like Sano may be to start drawing more walks. Still, it would be nice to see Sano chop down his strikeout rate that has been above a 30% clip every single year of his career. Sano doesn’t chase pitches out of the strike zone, he just misses them far too often right now. If he finds a way to correct it in just a slight way, it could lead to more money being thrown his way one day on a potential contract extension with the Twins.
8: Alex Bregman, Houston Astros
2017 stats: 4.1 WAR, .284/.352/.475, 19 home runs, 71 runs batted in, 17 stolen bases, -5 defensive runs saved
In this series of rankings, one of the hardest things I had to do was decide to rank Sano over Alex Bregman at third base.
Trust me, it wasn’t easier either. On paper, Bregman appears to be the better all-around hitter and is more versatile on defense, and at a younger age than Sano, it seems inevitable that Bregman would be ranked ahead of a hitter who has a major strikeout problem.
But I went with Sano because he is always going to have more power than Bregman, and with baseball continuing to focus more on slugging percentage and on-base percentage plus slugging percentage, it’s likely that at least a handful of executives would consider taking Sano over Bregman.
After the 2018 season, however, I will be taking Bregman over Sano. Here’s a couple of reasons why:
Bregman was a complete different player in the second half of the 2017 season. He slashed .315/.367/.536 with 11 home runs and 44 runs batted in after slashing just .256/.338/.419 with 8 home runs and 27 runs batted in across 84 first-half games. This means Bregman started to look more and more like the player the Astros decided to take 2nd overall in the 2015 MLB Draft.
The Astros also have the luxury of being able to use Bregman at multiple other positions. The Twins have tried shuffling Sano around, but the results haven’t been as good. Bregman can handle shortstop, second base, and the outfield when he has too, and he played some shortstop last year when Carlos Correa was on the disabled list due to injury.
Overall in the playoffs, Bregman didn’t have a great first run, but he still had his moments. His biggest moment was game-winning hit off Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen to seal a Game 5 victory for Astros in one of the craziest World Series games in recently.
Bregman grew up idolizing New York Yankees legend Derek Jeter, so it’s very likely that he has more clutch moments ahead of him in what should be a lengthy career.
9: Mike Moustakas, Kansas City Royals
2017 stats: 1.8 WAR, .272/.314/.521, 38 home runs, 85 runs batted in, -8 defensive runs saved
While Mike Moustakas had one of his worst defensive seasons in 2017, many still see Moustakas as a good defender across the game, and when you have the offensive season that Moustakas did, the decline in defense is kind of a byproduct.
Moustakas belted a career-high 38 home runs last season, which also means that his .521 slugging percentage was also a career high. The 29-year-old Moustakas and second baseman Whit Merrifield will likely be the two best players on the Kansas City Royals this season, with Merrifield having the edge.
It should be noted how the Royals were able to get Moustakas back on a team-friendly contract. It was widely speculated that Royals were going to lose Moustakas just like they lost Eric Hosmer and Lorenzo Cain this off-season, but they were able to bring back the two-time all-star on their own conditions.
Moustakas will make $6.5 million this year, and then has the potential to make $15 million with Kansas City in 2019 via a mutual option. It could be very likely that Moustakas would like that $15 million option to be picked up, especially after his agent Scott Boras said the MLB free agent system ‘failed’ his client.
10: Adrian Beltre, Texas Rangers
2017 stats: 3.6 WAR, .312/.383/.532, 17 home runs, 71 runs batted in, 6 defensive runs saved
Adrian Beltre may never stop being a top hitter at the third base position, and that is perfectly okay with me.
While injuries limited to him to under 100 games in 2017, Beltre still was able to bat over .300 in the game action he saw, and even collected his 3,000th hit. His defense obviously isn’t what it used to be, but it is still highly impressive that at age 38 Beltre is able to put a positive number in the defensive runs saved column.
How much longer will Beltre is the question on everyone’s mind. His contract expires after he makes $18 million this season, which could very well spell the end for the four-time all-star. However, Beltre is just 38 home runs away from 500 career home runs, and likely won’t hit 38 home runs this year. Could he return to Texas on a one-year deal for a shot at 500 home runs in 2019? I’d say it’s extremely possible.
If 2018 marks the end for Beltre, he will finish his MLB career with 21 seasons played, with eight of the 21 coming with the Rangers. Beltre spent seven years with the Dodgers in Los Angeles, five years with the Seattle Mariners, and spent one season with the Boston Red Sox.
Kyle Seager, Seattle Mariners
Travis Shaw, Milwaukee Brewers
Jake Lamb, Arizona Diamondbacks
Evan Longoria, San Francisco Giants
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